Avalon city officials and business owners, arguing that Santa Catalina Island's air is pristine and does not contribute to pollution in the Los Angeles Basin, want out of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
In a letter presented to an AQMD official last week, Catalina Chamber of Commerce President George A. Escofie disputed the logic of having islanders conform to the district's air quality regulations.
The island's business community, he wrote, "simply fails to understand its contribution to the air quality problems of the Los Angeles Basin or the inclusion of Catalina Island in the South Coast Air Quality Management District."
The letter asks that AQMD boundaries be redrawn to exclude the largely undeveloped, 76-square-mile island from the district.
City officials say that although the district's geographic boundaries are drawn along county lines, Catalina could become part of another less urban district, or the island's unique location could be considered when permit fees for smog-emitting equipment are levied.
As a third alternative, they suggested forming a new Channel Islands district, in addition to the 41 existing districts, said City Manager Chuck Prince.
"We've got 22 miles of open water between us and the balance of the district, and we don't see that we're in the same air basin," Prince said.
The movement was sparked by recent visits to several island businesses by AQMD officials, who have begun notifying small businesses countywide of new permit fees and requirements for certain kinds of equipment.
Much of the increased attention on the island results from the district having redrawn--in late 1988--its list of equipment for which permits are needed. Claudia Keith, an AQMD spokeswoman, said a lot of equipment that previously did not require permits were added to the list, including restaurant charbroilers, bakery ovens and cleaning equipment at dry-cleaning stores.
In Avalon, an AQMD inspector notified owners at more than half a dozen businesses with such equipment that they would have to get permits and pay fees. The businesses included the Avalon Hospital, a golf cart rental facility, the Southern California Edison electrical generating plant and several restaurants, Keith said.
But when they got the message, the Avalon business community balked. Merchants argue that the fees are exorbitant and wonder how they will help clean up the air.
"For our little island it gets to be a pain in the butt, all the rigmarole they put us through," said a secretary who fills out air quality reports for a waste disposal business on the island. "They're treating us like a big city."
Islanders cite a number of reasons why Catalina is different from everywhere else. For example, the number of cars in Avalon is limited by city ordinance to about 800. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has already excluded Avalon from smog certificate requirements, and about half the residents walk to work in the one-square-mile town, officials say.
The tourist-oriented island--86% of which is preserved by a nonprofit conservancy in its natural state--has virtually no heavy industry.
AQMD spokesman Bill Kelly said part of the problem is that the district is beginning to focus enforcement on smaller polluters, including businesses.
"Everyone thinks that what they pollute is minimal," Kelly said. "The air from Catalina does come on shore very often. . . . Therefore, whatever pollution is produced out there is going to be transported to the mainland."
Islanders contend that the prevailing winds are usually from the northwest, and if any pollution blows ashore from Catalina it would blow more in the direction of San Diego than Los Angeles.
"We think the air here is beautiful," said Wayne Griffin, executive director of the Catalina Chamber of Commerce. "The only time we have a pollution problem is when the Santa Ana winds blow it over from Los Angeles."
However, Kelly said the wind direction can change from hour to hour, sometimes coming from the west or the southwest.
Among the businesses taken by surprise was the Catalina Visitors' Country Club.
"It was something out of the blue to me," said Dudley Morand, a general partner at the club. "I had no idea they were looking at small pieces of equipment for air control."
Morand said he would have to pay an annual permit fee of more than $200 for a charbroiler at the club's restaurant.
Tom Jordahl, owner of the Catalina Disposal Co., said an AQMD official advised that he would have to pay evaluation and permit fees totaling $5,020 each for two air compressors and a pump.
"I was kind of shocked," said Jordahl, who disposes of trash in an incinerator for the city. "It was astronomical."
City Manager Prince said the city is facing fees totaling more than $35,000 for equipment, including a portable electric generator and a backup generator at the sewage treatment plant.
Avalon is already more aggressive than other communities in monitoring the environment, said Prince, citing the city's assertive program of fining boat owners who discharge waste into Avalon harbor and the city's restrictions on the numbers of cars, golf carts and other vehicles.
"The community is very concerned about the quality of the water and the cleanliness of the air," Prince said. "That's why people come to the island."
Tiny Avalon, with a population of about 2,500, has been feisty in the past about taking on big government agencies. In May, the city decided to fight a $35,000 fine from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board for sewage discharge violations.
City officials maintained that the fine is unfair because it failed to take into account that the discharges were due to changeovers in personnel and equipment. Prince said this week that the city would likely pay the fine rather than face mounting legal costs.
Prince said city and Chamber of Commerce officials have already started contacting local politicians with their request to be removed from the South Coast AQMD, and will also contact the state Air Resources Board in Sacramento with their proposal.
"I'm optimistic we can work something reasonable out," Prince said.