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That appeal eliminated some minor requirements, but ultimately left the plan intact, according to Richard Montevideo, an attorney with the law firm of Rutan & Tucker, who represents the group.
The group is pressing the issue in a lawsuit challenging the regional board’s 2001 storm-water permit in Los Angeles Superior Court. Montevideo explained, “Part of our lawsuit seeks to have the standard urban storm-water-mitigation plan declared invalid.”
The coalition’s suit challenges other requirements — including the duty of the cities to inspect businesses and to face enforcement action when water-quality standards are not met. However, development politics may be at the heart of the case.
“When you talk about standard urban storm-water practices, many people believe the environmental groups are pushing a no-growth agenda,” said Montevideo. NRDC’s Beckman counters that the development standards are actually intended to accommodate growth.
The coalition’s primary goal is to overturn the standards. If that fails, however, it would settle for allowing storm water to be cleaned at regional facilities rather than at individual developments, according to Montevideo. Developers would help pay for such regional facilities, though cities would have to operate them on an ongoing basis at public expense.
The coalition also filed a suit in a federal district court to overturn an earlier trash standard set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that required cities to clean trash off streets and out of storm drains to prevent it from being carried to the beach by storm-water runoff. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong dismissed that suit on May 16, calling the group’s claims “moot, meritless or unripe.” Undeterred, the group is pressing ahead in Los Angeles Superior Court to challenge the regional board’s trash standard, according to Montevideo.
“The problem,” observes Los Angeles attorney David Nahai, who sits on the regional board, “is that their legal expenses are mounting and they’re losing.” The builders lost a suit in state court earlier this year challenging similar development standards included in the storm-water permit for San Diego. ‰
Ironically, the city councils supporting the coalition may not be fully aware of the group’s aims and activities. A series of letters to Montevideo shows that in a rush to meet a legal filing deadline, many city managers authorized participation in the permit appeal before consideration by their elected councils. Moreover, the records show that the coalition actually considered billing cities for a University of Southern California study on the costs of the storm-water rules before those cities had authorized their participation in the project. “I think we should invoice the coalition cities NOW for the USC study,” wrote coalition activist Gerald Caton, city manager of Downey, in a December 14, 2001, e-mail to Farfsing. “You will be surprise [sic] how many cities automatically pay invoices. I would bill each city, [sic] $3,500.”
Caton could not be reached for comment on the e-mail. Farfsing said that at a meeting of the coalition — which was held behind closed doors on the basis of a legal opinion that the group is not subject to the open-meeting rules of the Brown Act — 18 cities agreed to fund the study. Farfsing said he garnered additional participation to raise the requisite $100,000 before sending invoices to the cities for the study.
Meetings of the group are attended by “a mixture” of city representatives, including council members, public-works directors and city managers, according to Farfsing, who said that he sends out regular memos to keep those in the coalition apprised of the group’s activities. “If they read it or don’t read it, I can’t account for that.”
Montevideo said that while he was “uncomfortable with discussing the communications process” between his law firm and the cities in the coalition, “on the lawsuit issue, that is something we felt needed to go to the council[s]. In some cases, some of the councils may have ratified it afterwards.”
South Pasadena — which joined the coalition in 2001 — appears to be among the cities that have paid scant attention, at least at high levels, to the details of the coalition’s efforts. In a brief February 20, 2002, memo, former public works director James R. Van Winkle wrote to the City Council: “The Coalition has submitted invoices to the City in the amount of $5,000 for annual membership dues and $5,000 as South Pasadena’s share of the legal expenses associated with the appeal process. Neither of these actions were anticipated by staff during the development of the current budget.” The council approved the invoices, though one of the two members present during 2001 who remains on the council today could not recall why the city had joined the coalition. “Without having to bone up on it, I couldn’t speak on it intelligently,” said Council Member David Saeta. “I supported the city’s position.”
South Pasadena City Manager Sean Joyce said the cities joining the coalition were concerned about the complexity of the storm-water standards and their potential expense. “Most of the cities have allowed the coalition to take the lead and deferred to their judgment,” said Joyce. However, he said that South Pasadena will be “revisiting” its participation in light of its budget and the recent federal-court decision on the coalition’s lawsuit against the trash standard. “The decision was enlightening,” Joyce said.