L.A. Officials Join to Blast Plan to Trim Sewer Funds

Times Staff Writer

In a rare moment of political agreement, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky joined Tuesday to blast a state staff recommendation that they said would cripple the city's attempt to clean up pollution in Santa Monica Bay.

If the state Water Resources Control Board adopts its staff recommendation, the formula for distribution of federal environmental funds would change. Jess Diaz, a board staff spokesman, said the proposal would better distribute the money statewide by placing a $44-million limit on the amount any single government agency can receive.

As proposed, the formula would cut anticipated financing for Los Angeles' sewage treatment improvement program at the Hyperion treatment plant near Playa del Rey and the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys.

Would Lose Millions

The city would lose at least $47 million and as much as $109 million over the next two fiscal years, Bradley said at a City Hall press conference. Without the money, he said, the city could be forced to get the money from local taxpayers through higher sewer fees or a bond issue.

The state board will discuss the proposal at its meeting in Sacramento on Sept. 3.

The proposed cut in financing, just as the city is trying to improve the treatment of sewage that is piped into the Santa Monica Bay, is "wrong procedurally, wrong legally and wrong environmentally," Bradley said. If the cut is approved by the state board, Bradley said, the city might sue.

Sewage spills have been a source of political embarrassment for the Bradley administration in the last two years. Last month, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board fined the city $10,000 for recent sewage spills; last year the city agreed to pay a $625,000 fine, the largest imposed on a municipality under the federal Clean Water Act, for repeatedly polluting the waters of the bay with sewage. The city also agreed in a federal court settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency to stop pumping sludge into the bay by the end of this year.

Yaroslavsky, a likely contender for the mayor's job next year, recently has been a vocal critic of the way Bradley appointees on the city's Board of Public Works have handled the sewage and spill problems. Bradley has countered by calling some of Yaroslavsky's proposals to change the bureaucracy that oversees the sewer system "ridiculous."

But Tuesday, they joined forces, along with City Council President John Ferraro and a representative of Heal the Bay, an environmentalist group that seeks to clean up the waters. Ferraro said the state proposal "seems strange when one department is denying us the opportunity to improve the bay . . . and another fines us because we don't improve."

Politics Questioned

City officials were asked whether Los Angeles is being singled out for punishment, as some claimed last year when the regional board fined the city while Bradley and Gov. George Deukmejian were battling for the state's top job.

"I can only tell you we've had nothing but problems with the state," Yaroslavsky said. " . . . We don't think that's fair."

Diaz admitted that the demand for funds statewide "ends up meaning it's not an equitable situation" for areas, like Los Angeles, that have major projects. Many agencies and localities are pushing for funds this year because the Clean Water Act grant program phases out next year and becomes a low-interest loan program instead, Diaz said.

The state board in the past has declined to adopt proposals by the staff to put a ceiling on the grants, Diaz said. But because the program is changing this year and the demand is greater, he said, the board "is debating it very carefully."

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