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 month, 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."