West Coast
If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Ocean Corps would create jobs to help coastal issues like coastal erosion, dune and wetlands restoration and emergency response for oil spills and other disasters. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

CA - Ocean Corps proposal hopes to give coast helping hand, provide jobs for young people

A workforce corps is proposed by lawmakers to help restore and protect one of the state’s greatest – and most vulnerable – assets, the coastline. Creation of a California Ocean Corps won the support of the California State Legislature last week and is now making its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for a signature.

Newsom has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill, which would direct the 46-year-old California Conservation Corps to create the offshoot Ocean Corps in the next four years with the help of grants and local conservation groups in coastal counties.

The bill’s author, Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), said the idea came from a conversation with Orange County Conservation Corps CEO Katharyn Muniz, who talked about the need for a trained workforce to respond quickly and efficiently to issues such as last year’s oil spill that dumped 25,000 gallons of the crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach.

“The impacts were quite considerable for us – tourism, fishing and the larger economy. If you can prevent these things or address them quickly, everyone is better off,” Newman said.

It was an idea Muniz thought of years ago, following an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, wondering why California didn’t have its own response team.

“The state borders the ocean, it makes sense to have a program like this,” she said.

When the October 2021 spill started washing oil up onto Orange County beaches, her Conservation Corps tried to help, she said. “We tried to lend our assistance. We called every single agency. We can have boots on the ground.”

But specific training is needed for oil spill response teams, she was told.

“The spill triggered an environmental catastrophe that devastated local wildlife, damaged the ecosystem and had a detrimental effect on the local economy,” Newman’s office said in an announcement about the Ocean Corps legislation. “The cleanup required more than 1,800 people and three months to complete.”

The Ocean Corps would have a trained force ready to respond, which could also be addressing ecosystem restoration and climate resiliency efforts the rest of the time.

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