BOOK: David, Goliath and
the Beach Cleaning Machine

Book Cover: David Goliath and the Beach Cleaning Machine AUTHOR: Barbara Wolcott


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About the Book

One morning when Saro Rizzo, a young attorney from Avila Beach, California, stumbled again over picnic debris as he ran along the beach, he determined to get his little town a beach-cleaning machine. Ringed by mountains and nestled between Santa Barbara and Monterey, Avila Beach was an isolated tiny oil hamlet of some four hundred aging hippies, scattered professionals, and active octogenarians.

Rizzo innocently began his crusade by requesting a donation from the local oil giant Unocal to get the beach cleaning machine. Through a series of events rich in deceit, controversy and greed, a massive oil spill and an environmental disaster were exposed. In David, Goliath and the Beach-Cleaning Machine, the inspiring story of Rizzo’s determined quest to rally his town of staunch independents succeeds against the corporate giant that had polluted their town. Rizzo’s was the first of nearly sixty legal suits, including some filed by Ed Masry of Erin Brockovich fame. However, it was the brash beginner who made history as well as made it happen.

About the Book (cont)
Eventually, the townspeople won big––to the tune of $18 million in damages as well as an estimated quarter billion dollars for the clean-up. But there is another side to this story of citizen victory that raises difficult questions.

As a result of the massive clean-up, old and funky downtown Avila Beach has been almost totally leveled, even though the townspeople fought to save those buildings that represented their history and sense of place. Now that the town is in the spotlight as a model of environmental rescue, the beach cleaning machine has arrived, but few of those who fought for the clean-up remain. They took their community spirit with them.

Avila oil spill

Crews uncover an oil spill under the town where only hardened petroleum products were expected by global oil company Unocal.


LA Photos Website:

“Barbara Wolcott did a wonderful job of summarizing the events of the case and settlement. Complex legal ideas were explained in plain English.”

Rain Taxi:

“The lengthy and contentious legal battle necessary to force Unocal to do something about the toxic underground ooze stirred plenty of emotions among community members who fought for their little pieces of heaven. Barbara Wolcott reveals a complex tale of divisiveness within solidarity as she portrays individual lives torn by the implications of holding the oil company accountable for its misdeeds.”

Booklist, Carol Haggas:

“What begins as a simple case of trying to correct what appears to be a small problem quickly snowballs into the discovery of an environmental nightmare to rival the Exxon Valdez. Pulitzer Prize-nominee Wolcott presents a balanced expose of one company’s arrogant response to an ecological and economic disaster and what one town and one man accomplished in the face of overwhelming odds.”

Yocheved Golani – Jerusalem, Israel

“Unlike the occasionally hard-to-believe Erin Brockovich story ( she and her boss appear with decreasing credibility in the narrative ), this one has the gritty, credible feel of real life due to the manner in which it was written.

“Wolcott’s calm, competent coverage of reactions by Avila’s aggrieved citizens comes across as a reasonable, easy-to-follow narrative from her to the reader. Wolcott reports in brilliant and compelling detail Unocal’s offer of remarkably untried solutions in response to the health crisis it had caused. The people who took action in David, Goliath and the Beach Cleaning Machine proved themselves to be the stuff of true American spirit. The details of the impact on the Chumash, a group of Native Americans adds to the cultural worth of the book as an historical record.”

Progressive Engineer, Tom Gibson:

“Nowhere else has anything like this been done for an environmental disaster…the case set an industry standard with extraordinary closure.”

Sustainable Development Law & Policy

“In Wolcott’s exploration of Avila Beach’s struggle, the book provides a great introduction to the ins and outs of what happens in an environmental lawsuit for the novice lawyer.”

Ken Alex, Deputy Attorney General, California

“Ms. Wolcott tells the human story of a hundred years of oil operations and its devastating impact on the fiber and nature of the town and its 350 residents. While the devastation was much smaller in scale than Love Canal or Times Beach, the lives of the residents were no less affected. Ms. Wolcott's narratives evoke the emotional rollercoaster ride through the eyes of the people who were there and who struggled for recovery.”

Evelyn Delany, former San Luis Obispo County, District 3 Supervisor, 1985 to 1997

“David, Goliath and the Beach-Cleaning Machine captures the spirit of the people of Avila Beach while showing the true colors of Unocal in their efforts to shine the people on. As the drama unfolds, Barbara Wolcott is true to the facts, reporting the many characters and conflicts of the unfolding story, following it to the birth of a new Avila Beach. It’s an interesting read that moves right along.”


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