Updated at the bottom with a statement from the Wyland Foundation, which suggests the new plate is a “poor imitation” of the artist's original. First posted at 8:09 a.m. Tuesday.

In typical Hollywood fashion, California's iconic whale tail license plate has been retired for a hotter, younger model.

And yeah, it had to do with money. The guy who designed the original whale tail wanted his cut — a 20 percent royalty rate. And like Frank McCourt, the state said hell no.

And so today the California Coastal Commission and the DMV are launching the whale tail specialty license plate, part 2.

The new design was was a collaboration between two winners — one from Southern California, one from the north — who were tops out of 300 entrants in a contest to save the whale tail plate.

The commission describes the design, to be unveiled today, in a statement:

The vibrant new plate features a sunny sky with puffy clouds and the tail of a humpback whale splashing droplets of water into a deep blue sea …

Ah. Somewhere Ed Begley Jr. is sighing.

The 1997 version designed by Laguna Beach's Wyland was retired, with the commission paying him a “declaration of appreciation” but none of the $60 million or so it has helped raise for coastal conservation.

(It costs you more to get the whale tail vs. a regular plate, and the CCC says they'll roll out some “special incentives” to get you to buy it. We'll let you know just how special in an update).

So, the first thing we wondered when we received thick-stock custom invitations to the press conference — cards made to look like custom whale-tail plates with our names included — was where the hell did this red-ink plagued state get the money for this?

A spokeswoman quickly answered: Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau, LEGOLAND, Aquarium of the Pacific …

Whew. Saving the planet has corporate sponsors now. Thanks Ed Begley Jr. Now go plate up.

Update: Guess we inadvertently exposed the new design with the “LAWEEKLY” plate mock-up above. (Sorry 'bout that).

New left, old right (kind of like politics in California).; Credit: California Coastal Commission

New left, old right (kind of like politics in California).; Credit: California Coastal Commission

[Kind of looks like the old plate, eh. Like, uh, Yeah, instead of paying Disney we're going to design a new mouse with slightly bigger ears).

Anyway, here's the deal of the day, according to a statement paraphrasing the words of Santa Monica mayor and commissioner Richard Bloom:

The first 1,000 people to order on www.ecoplates.com will score a standard Whale Tail® Ecoplate for 50 percent off ($25 instead of $50) or $25 off a personalized plate ($73 instead of $98) plus two tickets to a California aquarium.

By the way, the design winners are Painter Elizabeth Robinette Tyndall of Bethel Island in Contra Costa County and graphic designer Bill Atkins of Laguna Beach.

Update No. 2: Late Tuesday the Wyland Foundation gave us this statement. Who knew a whale tail could inspire such drama? Anyway, the Wyland folks say they just wanted a little cut to keep the foundation, dedicated to marine-life conservation, afloat during hard times. Here it is:

After nearly 20 years of loaning the image to the state of California, Wyland asked the Coastal Commission [to allow some of the] whale tail proceeds to help fund environmental education programs through his Wyland foundation (www.wylandfoundation.org) on an ongoing basis. You can see that these were exactly the type of programs the whale tail plate was designed to fund. Wyland had loaned this image to the coastal commission to benefit millions of people throughout the state. But when the economy collapsed, he was doing what any responsible foundation president was doing in a downturn – he was looking for ways to continue his foundation's environmental outreach programs during a particularly tough economic period. Whether we, like many others, think the new image is a poor imitation of a Wyland artwork is beside the point. We know the state of California is suffering from numerous environmental problems – rampant over-development along our coast, non-point pollution, etc – and are working to raise awareness about those problems. We're happy to move forward and continue, as a foundation, to do what's best for the state's environment. We just feel like this side of the story seems to be continually overshadowed by the Coastal Commission PR machine.


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