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Van Nuys Firm’s Fine to Pay for Environmental Programs

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The financial penalty imposed on a Van Nuys firm for illegal waste-water discharges led Tuesday to a mini-windfall for two conservation groups, which received $165,000 at ceremonies held in Pacific Palisades and at the Sepulveda Basin wildlife reserve in Encino.

With the wildlife area as a backdrop, City Atty. James K. Hahn presented a check for $82,500 to officers of the Los Angeles Audubon Society, which will use the money to develop a master plan to enhance the bird sanctuary.

Earlier Tuesday, at a news conference adjacent to a storm drain at Will Rogers State Beach, Hahn gave another $82,500 to Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica-based group that has campaigned to halt pollution of Santa Monica Bay from city sewers and other sources.

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The $165,000 came from ICI Americas Inc. A Municipal Court judge ordered the firm to make the contributions last month after it pleaded no contest to 10 counts of illegally discharging heavy metals, acids and corrosives into city sewers from its ARBCO Electronics plant, a circuit board manufacturer in the 7800 block of Gloria Avenue in Van Nuys.

ICI, which owned the now-defunct ARBCO, is a subsidiary of giant Imperial Chemical Industries PLC of England.

The illegal discharges were detected in late 1989 and early 1990 during routine monitoring by city Bureau of Sanitation inspectors.

Money paid in fines usually “just goes to the general fund . . . and it disappears down some black hole,” Hahn said. On the other hand, he said, the contributions were meant to “establish a nexus” between violations of environmental laws “and the actual solutions that we’re trying to work for,” he said.

The Sepulveda Basin project is “close in proximity to where the crime occurred,” Hahn said. “We like the symmetry of it all.”

Adi Liberman, executive director of Heal the Bay, said the policy would raise environmental consciousness. “I have a feeling that other D.A.’s in other cities are going to begin catching onto this,” Liberman said. “This is what I’m excited about.”

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Hahn said city prosecutors in prior cases had obtained penalty funds for environmental projects, but that the $165,000 was a record amount for Los Angeles. He said he thought the strategy had been used by prosecutors elsewhere, but added: “It’s probably not done often enough.”

The 108-acre wildlife area, which is near the junction of the San Diego Freeway and Burbank Boulevard in the southeast corner of Sepulveda Basin, includes a small lake surrounded by grasslands sprinkled with trees and seasonal wildflowers. Canada geese and other birds winter there already.

But Hartmut S. Walter, a UCLA geography professor and scientific adviser to the Audubon Society, said the master plan to be funded by the forced donation could lead to great improvements in the habitat area.

Walter said that once enhanced--through such measures as replacing non-native plants with indigenous species--the refuge could support rare or endangered species of birds, such as the Bell’s least vireo and the peregrine falcon, and a rare fish, the unarmored three-spine stickleback.

“This will be an excellent facility for the pursuit of bird watching, hiking and nature study,” he said.

Liberman said Heal the Bay would use its funds to pay for a campaign to educate the public about pollution of the ocean by storm-water drainage--which is contaminated by factory and parking lot runoff as well as deliberate dumping of motor oil and other pollutants.

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“Five years ago, no one knew about sewer problems in Los Angeles,” Liberman said. Today the issue “is on the map. Now we’re trying to do the same thing with storm drains,” he said.

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