Border Cleanup Bond Issue Clears Senate Committee

Times Staff Writer

A bill authorizing a statewide bond election to finance a cleanup of sewage that spills from Tijuana onto San Diego County beaches and farms won quick approval Monday in the Senate Toxics Committee.

Without a word of opposition, the bill by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) breezed by, 8-0, in its first Senate test, moving the proposed $150-million bond issue for cleanup of sewage and toxic pollution closer to reality.

Several local, state and federal officials from San Diego and Imperial counties had flown here Monday to testify in favor of the measure, which passed the Assembly in June.

But the officials were never asked to speak at Monday's hearing, after Committee Chairman Art Torres (D-South Pasadena) and other senators indicated their agreement that the comprehensive border cleanup package is needed.

Gov. George Deukmejian has repeatedly said that sewage spills and toxic contamination along the border are an international problem that the U.S. and Mexican governments should solve. But the specter of a gubernatorial veto was never mentioned Monday.

Brown said "the entire San Diego County delegation, both the Democrats and the Republicans," supports his bill.

Under Brown's bill, 95% of the money would be spent on studies, surveys and design work, and for "construction, operation and maintenance of facilities for mitigating, reducing or reversing contamination flows across the U.S.-Mexican border." The bill stipulates that 5% of the expenditures can go to administrative expenses.

Besides the bond money, the bill would appropriate $2 million for start-up costs and for studies to determine how to begin "remedial action" to clean up the badly polluted New River in Imperial County.

A separate bill by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) that would give $500,000 to Imperial County for the same types of studies also won the committee's approval, 8-0, Monday.

The City of San Diego paid for a similar study of its border area with Mexico, but officials say Imperial County could not afford to pay for its own.

For years, pollution from Tijuana and Mexicali has been a persistent problem.

Officials say the border pollution problems continue despite an agreement signed by the two countries in July to modernize Tijuana's sewage lines and build a treatment plant.

Since the mid-1960s, much of the sewage from Tijuana has been treated (under an emergency agreement) in the City of San Diego's municipal treatment system. Some officials estimate that the city treats 15 million gallons of Mexican sewage daily, while an additional 30 million gallons of untreated or inadequately treated waste water pollutes border area beaches, rivers, farms and canyons.

Brown introduced his bill in February, 1985, saying the border contamination posed a major health threat that California could not afford to ignore.

He said the federal government's responsibility "is clear in this issue" but said the state had lived with "50 years . . . of unfulfilled promises."

In October, when he vetoed a $1-million New River study, Deukmejian said: "It is inappropriate for this state to unilaterally deal with (the border pollution) problem."

Lawmakers said at the time that the governor's comments were a bad sign in gauging his disposition toward Brown's cleanup package. But Bergeson, a Republican whose district includes Imperial County, has since taken some of Deukmejian's top aides on a tour to examine New River pollution firsthand.

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