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Council Could Ban Feeding Birds Around Pier

By Jorge Casuso

November 13, 2023 -- If an effort to tackle persistently high levels of bacteria in the waters near the Pier, the City Council on Tuesday is expected to ban feeding birds and animals on the beach and Pier.

The move comes five months after Heal the Bay ranked the Pier as the most polluted beach in California, giving it straight Fs for the second straight year ("Santa Monica Pier Is California's Most Polluted Beach," June 15, 2023).

"Studies have indicated that high bacterial readings in the ocean just south of Santa Monica Pier could be primarily related to pigeon droppings," staff wrote in a report to the Council.

"Pigeons are attracted to the Pier because it provides both a roosting structure and access to food," staff said. "The City recently installed new bird netting under the Pier to limit bird roosting.

"However, the birds may still congregate in the area because of the available food sources," staff wrote.

The municipal code -- last amended in 2004 to restrict feeding birds and animals in designated off-leash areas in dog parks -- currently does not prohibit the feeding of birds on the pier and beach.

The change would eliminate the "potential food source for birds," according to staff.

"Animals and birds can become accustomed to human food, negatively impacting their health and ability to forage and successfully find natural food sources," staff said.

It also causes them to "congregate in large numbers near human areas," which "increases health and safety risks for humans and disease transmission."

Los Angeles County health officials consistently issue advisories for the water around the Santa Monica Pier for exceeding State standards for bacteria.

The water 100 yards north and south of the pier -- especially in the area around the Pico-Kenter storm drain -- poses a danger to swimmers, surfers and those playing in the ocean, health officials say.

For two years in a row, Heal the Bay gave the Pier failing grades during summer dry weather (from April to October), winter dry weather (from November to March) and during wet weather year round.

The grades are based on "concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria measured at ocean beaches" that "indicate the presence of pathogen-containing fecal matter."

In the 2022-23 report card, the Pier was tied for most polluted beach with Playa Blanca in Baja California, Mexico, which is "impacted by sewage-contaminated runoff from the Tijuana area," where some places have "nonexistent sewage infrastructure," according to the report.

The water quality near the pier suffers from its proximity to the Pico Kentor storm drain, which receives runoff that carries bacteria, from natural factors including bird debris and from large crowds.

City officials note that the Pier water represents only 5 percent of Santa Monica beach, which consistently receives an 'A' grade or above for water quality on average ("Water Quality Under Pier Gives Santa Monica Beaches a Bum Rap, City Officials Say," August 21, 2023).

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