By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Forester’s coalition contends that the ultimate cost of meeting these standards will reach $54 billion or more because municipalities will have to build a series of storm-water treatment plants that use an expensive technology called reverse osmosis.
However, the water board envisions that the standards can be met largely without such expensive, centralized treatment plants by preventing or cleaning up pollution at its source — such as in new developments — before storm water becomes more polluted as it moves downstream to the ocean. Indeed, storm water, which equals about half the water the region imports, according to regional-board chairwoman Susan Cloke, eventually could become a major source of water for Southern California as the spigot from the Colorado River and Northern California is turned down. To encourage cities to view storm water as a valuable resource, the regional board has given cities that opt to meet the new bacteria limits by using it for irrigation, drinking water and creating recreational areas up to 18 years to comply, instead of 10 years for those that opt merely to clean up pollutants in runoff before it flows to the ocean.
The rules are largely designed to protect swimmers from a variety of illnesses, including gastrointestinal infections, colds, skin rashes, and eye and ear infections. A 1996 epidemiological study showed that one person in 25 swimming near a storm drain along Santa Monica Bay gets sick in the summer. “In wet weather, that number will probably be higher,” said Renee DeShazo, a staff scientist with the water board. While nobody knows how many people swim at Southern California’s shore, DeShazo said that 55 million people visit the beach annually along Santa Monica Bay, including 7.5 million during winter.
“These are extremely important public-health and public-policy issues,” said Dr. Stanley Shapiro, an infectious-disease specialist in Panorama City. Bacteria and viruses in the surf not only cause minor infections, he said, but can cause more-serious health problems. “Coxsackie B virus can damage your heart,” according to Shapiro.
Ken Seino is one of the unlucky. In the morning fog, the 47-year-old Asian-American enters the Cow’s End Café near the Venice Beach pier. Seino looks vigorous, yet remains alive only by virtue of a pacemaker that keeps his heart beating regularly after it was damaged by a viral infection he believes he contracted in 1997 while riding the waves in Malibu.
“I got sick as a dog after surfing,” said Seino. Within a few weeks the flulike illness had passed, but three months later he felt lightheaded on a surfing trip to Ensenada. After later dining with friends, Seino collapsed face-down in the street. “I stepped up onto the curb, and that’s the last thing I remember,” he said. “I woke up looking at people’s feet.”
Paramedics found that Seino’s blood pressure was sky-high, so they took him to a clinic. Eventually, Seino stabilized and his friends tried to take him home to Los Angeles. By the time they reached Oceanside, however, he felt faint again, so they took him to a hospital there.
In the emergency room, an electrocardiogram showed he was suffering from a highly erratic heartbeat. The attending physician said he would need a pacemaker installed to survive. After an agonizing night of being shocked by a defibrillator each time his heart missed beats, Seino underwent surgery. “I said, Please, please. I don’t want to live like this.” Slightly pulling open the collar of his polo shirt, he revealed a 3-inch scar on the left side of his upper chest where his pacemaker is implanted.
“I got really angry because this sport, which I love, is supposed to be healthy and vital and suddenly was the reason my life was in jeopardy,” said Seino, who resumed surfing two years later.
Especially at risk of infection from polluted waters are swimmers with compromised immune systems, according to Dr. Gina Solomon, an assistant professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School. Los Angeles County has hundreds of thousands of people with compromised immune systems, including some 300,000 with diabetes, 9,000 with AIDS, and an untold number under cancer treatment or suffering from other immune disorders, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Better medical therapies have made it possible for many of them to lead active lives that include swimming, the doctors note.
The biggest beneficiaries of the lawsuits aimed at undoing the water-pollution rules could be land developers. “There is an unholy alliance between the Building Industry Association and a small group of city officials,” said David Beckman, an attorney with the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Financial records obtained from Signal Hill, which administers the Coalition for Practical Regulation, show that the Building Industry Association of Southern California is the sole industry group that has financially supported it. A May 10, 2000, memo to coalition members from Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing outlined a plan to spend $70,000 to appeal the storm-water rules for new homes, shopping centers, office parks and other projects to the State Water Resources Control Board. “The Building Industry Association has agreed to pay for one-third of the petition costs and to provide technical support. The cities would fund the remaining two-thirds of the costs,” wrote Farfsing. Those records show that the Building Industry Association made the first contribution to the coalition for $5,000 on May 2, 2000, and over the ensuing 11 months contributed a total of $29,682. Thirty small cities contributed $60,000 during the period. The money was run through the city of Signal Hill, which paid out $97,297 in an effort to overturn the development requirements before the state board.
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