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Simi Campaign to Regulate Toxics Suspended During Inquiry on Leak

Times Staff Writer

Backers of an initiative that would require Simi Valley to regulate hazardous materials have agreed to stop campaigning for the measure while city officials work to prevent a recurrence of last week’s chlorine gas leak.

Paul La Bonte, a spokesman for Help End Local Pollution, said the homeowner group decided not to gather signatures in support of the measure after meeting Sunday with city officials. The meeting was convened at HELP’s request, La Bonte said.

“We’ve conceded to let the city take the lead on this issue, although we can always reintroduce the initiative if we’re not satisfied,” La Bonte said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen because the City Council has a real sense of urgency about getting tough on toxics after what happened last week.”

Last Thursday, a square-mile cloud of chlorine gas leaked from a tank at the Travelin’ West Textiles plant on Easy Street, forcing the evacuation of more than 12,000 people for almost 12 hours until firefighters capped the leak. Twenty people were injured.

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The incident has “emphasized the need to do something about toxics sooner than later,” Councilwoman Vicky Howard said. An ad-hoc committee, appointed by the council last summer to review permit and inspection procedures for businesses that use hazardous materials, will hold its first meeting Jan. 18, she said.

Strengthen Local Control

The City Council expects a report from the committee “as soon as possible” on ways to strengthen local control over the storage and use of toxic substances, Howard said. The committee is made up of Councilwoman Ann Rock, a planning commissioner, a Chamber of Commerce representative and two residents.

“It’s conceivable we’ll hire some sort of specialist to inspect businesses,” Councilman Glen McAdoo said.

But the specialist would not replace inspectors from the Ventura County Fire Protection District, which is responsible under state law for inspecting businesses that use hazardous materials, McAdoo said.

About 461 businesses in Simi Valley use toxic substances, said Bob Holoway, deputy chief of the district.

The City Council has also appointed Howard and Rock to investigate the cause of Thursday’s accident. Ventura County fire officials have said they suspect that employees of Olympic Chemical Co., an Orange County firm hired to remove chlorine from the tank, failed to completely close a valve.

Tank to Be Removed

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The tank will be removed this week by Olympic Chemical, which leased it to Travelin’ West Textiles, Battalion Chief Dick Perry said. The leak occurred as Travelin’ West was in the process of closing after a long legal fight with the city over the dumping of dyes and chemicals into the sewer system, authorities said.

The City Council has asked Rock and Howard to develop plans to keep roads clear in the event of future evacuations, Howard said. A three-mile stretch of the Simi Valley Freeway was closed Thursday, snarling traffic for hours.

La Bonte praised the City Council’s response to Thursday’s incident and said HELP’s initiative appears unnecessary. The initiative--drafted last summer after residents complained about odors emitted by a spa manufacturer--calls for the city to establish a program to regulate the use and storage of hazardous materials by businesses. Funding was to come from fees levied on the businesses.

Sponsors must collect the signatures of 6,667 residents--15% of the city’s registered voters--by March 20 to put the initiative on a special ballot by July, City Clerk Alice Redondo said.

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