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Bruce Reznik, the executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, announced his resignation today, leaving San Diego’s environmental community at risk of losing one of its most prominent voices.

Reznik, 42, a Los Angeles native with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, had led Coastkeeper since 1999, overseeing efforts to curb water pollution and expand environmental education throughout the county.

His departure was announced the same day as the Coastkeeper laid off three of its 17 staffers, a result, Reznik said, of the economic downturn and what he described as San Diego’s lagging philanthropy.

Reznik oversaw the organization’s expansion, as it grew from two full-time employees to the 17 it had until today. Under his leadership, it started educational programs in schools, successfully sued the city to improve leaky sewer pipes and enlisted thousands of volunteers in beach cleanups. Coastkeeper said sewage spills have declined 90 percent since 2001 and beach advisories have dropped 77 percent since 2000.

But the organization’s growth also increasingly pushed Reznik from an advocacy role — his clear passion — into the less-desirable role of nonprofit manager.

“I didn’t become the [executive director] of a group like Coastkeeper to do human resources and personnel manuals,” Reznik said. “As you get larger, those become more challenging.”

He said his decision to leave was tough. But he said he knew it was the right time to make a change.

“It’s a hard job to be in this position,” he said. “It got to the point where I just couldn’t muster it to be the one to try to address all the issues. That’s the point where you go: I’m not serving myself or the organization as much as I should be.”

Though he plans to do advocacy work for Coastkeeper until year’s end, Reznik said he’ll look for jobs here and elsewhere, possibly Sacramento. He said he doesn’t have anything lined up and needed to resign to be able to figure out his next move. His job search starts next week. If you work in environmental policy and get a call from him Monday morning, you’ll know why.

Marco Gonzalez, an Encinitas environmental attorney and friend of Reznik’s, said Coastkeeper’s willingness to litigate — to sue to achieve its goals — had differentiated it from other green groups and distinguished Reznik’s tenure. The organization, he said, would “never be even close to what it is today without Bruce at the helm.”

“He turned it upside down and took it where no clean water group in town has been able to go,” Gonzalez said. “Some groups out there don’t do policy. They don’t do advocacy and they don’t litigate. You need that in the community if we’re ever going to accomplish our goals.”

The ultimate word on Reznik’s tenure may come long after he’s moved on to another job. A Coastkeeper settlement with San Diego over its outdated major sewage treatment plant has led the city to study whether opportunities exist to reuse sewage to boost drinking water or irrigation supplies, the first step in a citywide re-examination of the value of wastewater.

Though Reznik has been the architect of Coastkeeper’s growth and its public face, David Field, president of its board, said the mission there would not change. The layoffs and Reznik’s departure allow Coastkeeper to re-position, not re-trench, he said.

“It’s not changing the priorities of the organization, it’s adjusting slightly to the economic realities,” Field said. “Bruce has been purposefully the public persona and spokesperson for the organization. But all the depth and organizational strength has been across the team.”

Gabriel Solmer, Coastkeeper’s legal director, will serve in an interim leadership role.

Please contact Rob Davis directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/robwdavis.

Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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