By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing foresees less-benign scenarios. “If we don’t get changes through the courts, we may have to impose new costs on property owners. You as a property owner might be responsible for measuring runoff, monitoring bacteria. And you would be subject to city enforcement and fines. Cities have to think about these options, especially if we face lawsuits from third parties. We‘re going to be searching around for other pockets as deep or deeper than ours, or many little pockets.” Signal Hill’s entire general fund is $11 million, to which half a million already goes toward storm-water-related matters, said Farfsing.
The city of Bellflower‘s new anti-pollution program already has prompted budget cuts, said Public Affairs Manager Jeff Hobbs, including ending a drunken-driving education effort and terminating a children’s recreation program. And these cuts are just the beginning, asserted Hobbs.
The water board‘s Dickerson counters that the doomsday scenarios are overdrawn and even misleading. Some cities, for example, are listing street sweeping as a new cost, even though they’ve provided this service for decades. His department‘s own study, which he provided to reporters this week, estimated the increased annual cost per household as about $1 per year more than current levels, which already run a bit over $16 per household.
On the other hand, the cities’ study, which was conducted by USC professors, estimated a per-household cost that could surpass $40,000 over a 20-year span. But this study assumed at least a six-fold increase in the number of wastewater treatment plants, all of which would completely purify water to a reverse-osmosis level of quality -- a higher standard than current wastewater treatment plants.
The USC study was presented at a raucous Tuesday press conference hosted by the coalition of small cities. But regional water-board officials also appeared and made their own impromptu counterpresentation in the small, tense conference room. Water-board chair Francine Diamond dismissed the USC study as “ludicrous” and a “scare tactic.” Water officials listed how little cities are actually spending. City officials then complained that current costs bear little relation to the financial pain to come.
So take your pick: $1 a year, $2,000 a year per household, or somewhere in between.
“It will cost more, but it won‘t cost near as much as the coalition or some of the other cities are saying it will,” said Heal the Bay attorney Leslie Mintz. “That’s a huge, insane amount.”
A court will have the opportunity to decide the competing money claims -- if cost even matters. The case could hinge on other legal issues. The water board is under pressure on both ends. Environmental groups such as Santa Monica BayKeeper, Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council are well-organized on this fight. Earlier litigation by these groups produced court-monitored deadlines for waterway and ocean cleanup.
“A lot of people look at the L.A. River and say it‘s not really worth protecting,” said water official Dickerson. “That is debatable, though not to me. But you also have to face the fact that the river and Ballona Creek run into the ocean. Beaches are heavily used in both areas, and having people swimming in highly polluted water is simply unacceptable.”