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GET TO KNOW: Mandy Sackett, Surfrider's California Policy Coordinator, defender of beaches

"My favorite days are when I get to go to a hearing where decisions are made and stand up – alongside community members, advocates and volunteers – for what is right."

– Mandy Sackett, Surfrider Foundation

Welcome to the debut of "Get to Know," a weekly series highlighting Surfrider staff, chapter activists, friends and other folks we think people who care about California's ocean, beaches and waves ought to know! We're kicking the column off with none other than one of Surfrider's most dedicated California team members. When she's not road-tripping to California's state parks, you might see her slicing along waves at SanO – and you'll definitely see her at a California Coastal Commission meeting (or six)... Friends, we introduce San Clemente resident and Surfrider Foundation's California Policy Coordinator, Mandy Sackett!

What led you to become Surfrider’s policy coordinator?

For me, like many people who work in the environmental conservation field, it all started with personal connection to the outdoors. I had the great fortune to grow up on Lake Erie where I spent long summer months racing sailboats and the rest of the year skiing at the local bunny hill (Ohio is mostly flat but with the highest precipitation rates in the country, there’s always fresh snow! We made do with any change in elevation we could). 

After I graduated college, I lived in Mexico teaching English to preschoolers, surfing and taste testing the many varieties of tequila. While I was there, I witnessed a large wetland fill project getting underway in Manzanillo. Locals protested but the project moved forward anyway. My interest was piqued (and my heart was bleeding thinking of all the subsistence fishers, beautiful mangroves and countless marine life that would be harmed) and I wanted to know how to fight bad development projects. There had to be a way! I went back to school in California to learn how. 

After I graduated from graduate school with a degree in environmental policy, I held several positions that lined me up to be well prepared for Surfrider’s policy coordinator position. Now I get to do just what I originally set out for – fighting bad coastal development projects! I’ve been a Surfrider employee for nearly 4 years now, originally hailing from the San Diego County chapter as the chapter manager. I’m honored to work to protect all of California’s 1,100 miles of coastline every day.

What does that even mean, to be a "policy coordinator"?

As the policy coordinator, I work closely with our California policy manager to carry out Surfrider’s core mission – to protect our ocean, waves and beaches! I cover a pretty wide breadth of activities. I track coastal permitting and planning across the entire state and advocate for outcomes that are most protective of natural resources. I support our work to create effective laws in Sacramento. I also get to work closely with our amazing chapter network and support their efforts to protect the coast. 

What's a typical day in your work life?

I spend a lot of time working in coalitions and partnerships – which means lots of conference calls! Between calls, I’m usually preparing for the next local or state government hearing. This means lots of research and preparing written or oral testimony to advocate for outcomes that protect our coast, which could mean opposing a new seawall (seawalls increase erosion and cause beaches – and surf – to disappear completely) or a poorly designed desalination plant, or supporting smart sea level rise adaptation policies.

My favorite days are when I get to go to a hearing where decisions are made and stand up – alongside community members, advocates and volunteers – for what is right – for public access to the coast, beach preservation, habitat protection and all the environmental issues that would otherwise go unvoiced.

What's a typical day in your non-work life?

I try to spend my weekends in the surf, in the mountains and/or in the yoga studio. Today (Sunday), my day went something like this – meditation, log session at SanO, bhakti yoga class, dinner with my neighbor, ukulele practice (I’m a beginner!), sleep early to prepare for a long Monday! 

If you had one California-coast-related wish you could make come true in 2019, what would it be?

Not one more seawall!

Describe a winning moment you've had in the past year.

We played an important role in ensuring that an illegal seawall in Laguna Beach be ordered for removal by the California Coastal Commission. The L.A. Times set the stage (super stoked to get a quote in this one) and ultimately the Commission voted to support an enforcement action.

This victory sets a great precedent and sends a clear message to other violators in California – we won’t tolerate illegal seawalls and their undue impact on public resources! Beaches belong to all Californians and private property is not necessarily entitled to protection at the expense of our public beaches.

What's the most frustrating part of your work?

Environmental progress, much like moral and civil progress is incremental and at times slow and tedious. It’s small wins in the aggregate that make a big difference. If you look back a century ago, we’ve made great strides in protecting and conserving our land, ocean, wildlife and other natural resources but day-to-day it can feel frustrating.

There is always a two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance happening. In California, we have many great laws and regulations. Much of my work is making sure those are carried out effectively because sometimes they are not.  

I recently listened to this interview with environmental historian Dan Flores, author of American Serengeti. He talks about how the concept of ecology and our understanding of our ability to influence natural systems is actually very recent. We’ve come a long way – and have much further to go.

Any advice for people who want to get involved?

Just do it! We are so lucky to live in the U.S. where anyone can make a difference. With a little bit of your free time, you can get involved in your local planning and permitting processes. City councils, boards of supervisors, state agencies – they want to hear from you! And your voice DOES make a difference. You don’t have to be an expert, just a constituent with an educated opinion! Check in with your local Surfrider chapter, follow your interest and run with it! 

Favorite beach?

Currently, San Onofre!

Favorite post-surf meal?

Massaman curry in the winter. Acai bowl in the summer.