Los Angeles' Filthy, Fecal-Laden, Sickness-Inducing Beaches: Who Should Pay to Treat the Rain Runoff from Oily, Dog-Poop Streets?

By Matthew Mullins and Jill Stewart

Update: The Board of Supervisors rejected the Clean Water, Clean Beaches plan today in a big upset, thanks to what many say was exceedingly poor outreach on the massive tax plan to pay for it. See next page for details.

Hundreds of angry people today demanded that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors toss a years-in-the-making Clean Water Clean Beaches plan to treat the horrific soup that flows off streets, sidewalks, roofs, lawns and lots -- directly into rivers, the Pacific and beaches -- whenever it rains. But who should pay $270 million to treat the filthy rain runoff?

L.A. County's Department of Public Works for months kept its plan -- to tax the county's landowners only -- all but secret. When County Supervisor Gloria Molina got a tiny notice about it, she mistakenly tossed it as junk mail. Apathetic L.A. voters? Not even! Now, 113,696 people have said No to Public Works on its website. And get this: Public Works management spent $3 million creating this PR mess. Colleges, non-profits, many others are slamming the scheme to charge landowners only -- in a region where half the sidewalk-spitters, dog-poop foulers and crankcase drippers are renters, Orange and Ventura Co. commuters and tourists:

Kirsten James, director of water quality at Heal the Bay, said this morning before the crowded, revved-up Board of Supes hearing that these yawning divisions "should be able to be sorted out in the next few months."

At a January 15 hearing, L.A. County and the enviros got hammered by many groups and people who actually agree that the billions of gallons of filth flowing into Santa Monica Bay and other waterways must be cleansed before hitting the water.

But the fundamental question of "Who should pay?" could set this plan back months or years.

As L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KNX news radio today: "It's going to be very difficult because people are not in a taxing mood right now."

No kidding!

Los Angeles residents resoundingly voted down the Proposition A sales tax hike on March 5, despite the fact that LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck claimed that "Public safety is now in danger" if voters did not pass Prop. A.

Turns out Beck's spin was pure BS. Chief Beck scared a lot of old folks and people who live in bad neighborhoods. But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa knew a few days before the March 5 vote that the deficit was far, far lower than he and Beck were saying to the microphones.

Public safety is hardly "in danger" because voters said No.

Villaraigosa kept his little report largely under wraps -- until Los Angeles Times reporter David Zahniser outed him. Nobody knows if Beck was duped by Villaraigosa, or went along with the charade.

Now, Los Angeles County wants to put a property tax on the ballot -- after all that dissembling and exaggerating by Villaraigosa?

A few politicians were positively poetic with anger at the Board of Supes today, such as a Santa Clarita politician who said:

"If this passes a tax on God's good rain, than I as a fellow politician have a few other great ideas. Perhaps a tax on sunshine, it's free and were not getting our piece. Or a tax on air, this would be a very popular tax because we politicians would have to pay the most, because we generate the most hot air."

Heal the Bay asked Molina and Don Knabe and the rest of the board -- a five-member body that has for decades been controlled by a Democratic majority -- to provide "more certainty" about a bipartisan compromise plan Molina and Knabe had put forth weeks ago.

But today, Supervisors Molina, Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky were all calling to put the poorly sold Public Works plan on hold indefinitely.

It brings up an old adage, long aimed at Los Angeles City employees rather than Los Angeles County employees: "The Los Angeles Department of Planning is an oxymoron."


On 3-2 vote, the Board of Supervisors rejected the plan by instead approving a proposal to rework the controversial program. Yaroslavsky commented, "What is clear is that this is not ready for prime-time."

Mark Gold, associate director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, had asked for its approval, calling the dead-for-now proposal "the most important water quality, water supply and flood control measure that the region has ever seen."

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