By Jorge Casuso
November 17, 2023 -- The City Council Tuesday approved a law banning feeding birds and animals on the Pier and beach but worried it could be undermined by a single individual.
Meant to help curb persistently high levels of bacteria from bird feces in the water around the Pier -- which is California's most polluted beach -- the new law carries fines of between $5 and $25 per infraction.
That will likely not deter Augustine Hurtado, a homeless man who according to an LA Times article believes it is his God-given mission to feed LA's cats and birds.
According to the article, Hurtado feeds the seagulls at Santa Monica beach more than 30 pounds of dry dog food a day.
"He's using all he money that he has to feed these birds," said Councilmember Caroline Torosis. "I'm not sure (a monetary fine) is going to deter him.
"Have we attempted to talk to him and offer him more positive interventions?" Torosis asked staff.
The answer was no.
Councilmember Zwick, who said he read the October 2022 LA Times article "multiple time," suggested the City "try to work with him and try to put him in a position of trying to be positive."
Torosis agreed. "We're not trying to criminalize bird feeding," she said. "We don't want to saddle him with thousands of fines that he can't pay."
The ban -- approved with a unanimous 6 to 0 vote -- is the City's latest attempt to improve water quality around the Pier, which Heal the Bay named the state's most polluted beach ("Santa Monica Pier Is California's Most Polluted Beach," June 15, 2023).
Birds -- especially pigeons and sea gulls -- are considered primary culprits, staff said in a report to the Council ("Council Could Ban Feeding Birds Around Pier," November 13, 2023).
The City recently installed new bird netting under the wooden structure to limit bird roosting, but "the birds may still congregate in the area because of the available food sources," staff wrote.
The amendment to the Municipal Code approved Tuesday would eliminate the "potential food source for birds," according to staff.
But first the City must convince Hurtado to stop feeding the birds, which may be no easy task.
“If I don’t feed the animals," he told the LA Times, "who will?”