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Owner of Carwash Wins Battle for Sewer Hookup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Foothill Car Wash owner Marvin Berkman reached the end of a lengthy bureaucratic battle to save his business Tuesday when the Crescenta Valley County Water District agreed to let him connect to its sewer line.

State water quality officials have threatened for years to shut down the 27-year-old carwash because it still dumps waste water into storm drains, not into a sewer line. But a political spat between La Canada Flintridge, where the business is located, and neighboring Glendale has kept him from connecting to a sewer.

The issue was finally resolved when officials in both cities approved a plan to let Berkman hook up to the Crescenta Valley line, which serves mostly the adjacent unincorporated county territory. On Tuesday, the Crescenta Valley water board gave the final approval.

“It was a real political education,” Berkman said. “It verged on exhaustion for a while. It gets very frustrating when you want to do what everybody wants you to do, but you can’t.”

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Although his carwash recycles about 85% of its water, the California Regional Water Quality Board has objected to the 15% that Berkman dumps down a storm drain. Agency officials said the water has too many impurities, including detergent, oil and grease. Berkman’s is the only carwash in the county that still uses a storm drain, water quality officials said

In 1989, the agency ordered the carwash to find another disposal outlet, such as a sewer, by June 1, 1990. But La Canada Flintridge has no trunk line sewer system--most of its residents and businesses use private septic tanks, leach lines and drain fields.

Last spring, La Canada Flintridge officials asked neighboring Glendale to allow the carwash and other nearby houses and businesses to tie into Glendale’s system. In a 2-3 vote, the Glendale City Council rejected the plan. The dissenting Glendale officials said La Canada Flintridge should build its own sewer system.

“I see no reason why we should give them piecemeal help,” Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg said at the time. “I feel very strongly that they should not remain on septic tanks. Where I live, I can smell them all summer.”

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State water quality officials granted Berkman a one-year reprieve to seek an alternate solution.

Under a new plan, Berkman sought a direct tie-in with the neighboring Crescenta Valley district. But because the district bought its sewage capacity rights from Glendale, that city’s approval was needed.

Late last year, Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian changed his vote to support the new plan, which was then approved 3 to 2 by the council. Earlier this month, the La Canada Flintridge City Council endorsed it, and the favorable vote from the Crescenta Valley water board this week clinched the plan.

Berkman said he will work with the water district to install his sewer connection within the next few months. “I’ll breathe a big sigh of relief the moment the hookup is completed,” he said.

Robert Argenio, general manager of the Crescenta Valley County Water District, said saving the carwash was particularly important because of California’s continuing drought.

“The carwash is the only one in this area,” he said. “They use less water to wash a car than a homeowner would in his driveway. Their water is captured and recycled, so it’s used very efficiently. They provide a community service.”

The bureaucratic battle was not entirely a negative experience, Berkman said. “The best thing that came out of this was the amount of support from the community,” he said. “It was almost worth it to find out how many friends we had out there.”


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