Cities Earn Poor Marks on Environmental 'Report Card' : Pollution: They're criticized for not complying with the first phase of a program to clean up storm water runoff. Municipal officials call the grades simplistic and unfair.


Several Westside cities are dragging their feet in complying with the first phase of a program to clean up storm water that empties into Santa Monica Bay, according to a "report card" issued by two environmental groups.

Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council lambasted Beverly Hills, Culver City and West Hollywood for failing to provide all the information required under a federal storm drain permit. All three cities received D grades, or worse.

Santa Monica was rated higher, because it provided more information on current storm drain conditions and because city officials have proposed a novel ordinance designed to reduce runoff from new developments. The city received a B, the top mark awarded by the environmentalists.

But officials in all four cities, and 16 other jurisdictions, called the grades simplistic and unfair. They said Heal the Bay and the NRDC failed to credit cities for tasks they had completed. And they said they were blamed for other shortcomings that were actually the responsibility of Los Angeles County officials.

Under the federal permit program, the county and most of its cities are required to make plans for reducing pollution that flows into the ocean through storm drains. County officials coordinated efforts by Westside and South Bay cities to comply with the first phase of the permit by July 1.

The permit required the cities to:

* Supply data on rainfall, water quality and storm flows.

* Detail storm drain pollution problems and procedures for detecting contamination.

* Document practices, such as street cleaning, that reduce pollution.

* Submit plans for comprehensive monitoring of storm drain pollution and describe future plans for improving storm water quality.

Malibu was exempted from the deadline because it did not incorporate as a city until earlier this year.

"Compliance with this permit is singly the most important thing any city can do to clean up the water quality in Santa Monica Bay," said Mark Gold, staff scientist for Heal the Bay.

The first phase of the permit required a relatively simple compiling of information, so cities had no excuse for noncompliance, Gold said. "If you can't (fulfill permit requirements) in the first year," Gold said, "what's to say you can do it in the second, third and fourth year, when the requirements are much tougher?"

All 20 jurisdictions subject to the July 1 deadline were criticized for failing to complete three tasks deemed by the environmentalists as the "most important": submitting plans for cleaning storm water, formulating a plan for monitoring the contents of runoff, and assessing their legal powers to manage storm water and punish polluters.

But several city officials said they were relying on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works to submit much of that information. The county controls most of the region's storm drains and coordinates storm drain permits.

Gary Hildebrand, the engineer supervising the program for the county, conceded that some of the requirements were not met by the July 1 deadline. But he said the county would have the work completed by the end of the year.

"This being the totally new program that it is, and with all the new twists, I think the county and the (cities) are doing the best they can," Hildebrand said.

The environmentalists gave Beverly Hills and West Hollywood Ds, in part because the cities failed to provide rainfall data, storm water flow measurements and quantities of oil, grease and solids in their drains.

But Hildebrand said the county had provided that information in its own report. The cities were not credited for providing the information because of a "miscommunication," Hildebrand said.

The environmentalists rejected the explanations, though, saying cities should take responsibility for the filing of all the required information.

"If they are not sure who is putting together the data, they ought to make sure," said Heal the Bay Director Adi Liberman. "All these cities signed up for this new program and when we found out that not a single one of them had done what they promised to do, we were deeply disappointed."

The grades were particularly hard to swallow in Westside cities that take pride in their environmental ethic.

In Santa Monica, the B grade was interpreted as a black mark, prompting an extended discussion at a recent City Council meeting.

Craig Perkins, the city's environmental services manager, said the city has now submitted all the information required under the permit. But he said Santa Monica should have been awarded an A because it has exceeded the permit requirements with several programs--blocking more than 100 drain inlets with covers that warn against pollution; passing the ordinance to limit pollution from new developments; cleaning drain catch basins as many as four times a year, and planning for a treatment plant to purify water in one polluted drain.

"We feel what is being dwelt on (in the grading) is the formalities," Perkins said. "And what is being lost is the real purpose of the permit."

Dan Webster, superintendent of public works in Beverly Hills, said his city was also being nit-picked for paperwork, while important programs were ignored. He said, for instance, that the city sweeps streets in its commercial districts six days a week.

"I don't know of any other city that does that," Webster said, noting that clean streets reduce contaminants that can be washed into drains. "We are very committed to the storm water program and cleaning up the bay."

Culver City officials said their city deserves more credit for an exemplary water conservation record.

The state official overseeing compliance with the permit said the cities should have been aware of the permit requirements.

"Everybody knew what they were getting into," said Xavier Swamikannu, an engineer with the state Regional Water Quality Control Board. "There have been several meetings with the cities and the county."

Swamikannu said he believes the report card will inspire better compliance by the cities in the future. "It's gotten their attention," he said, "and I think that is a good thing."

How Cities Fared on Storm RunoffTwo area environmental groups, Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently graded local cities on their compliance with a federal program to clean up storm drain pollution. The cities were required by July 1 to compile information on the volume and quality of the water in storm runoff, describe efforts to control pollution and make plans for future improvements. Some city officials have disputed the fairness of the grading. Los Angeles County, which is coordinating the program, received a B- grade from the environmental groups.

Westside Cities:

Beverly Hills: DCulver City: D-

Los Angeles: BSanta Monica: BWest Hollywood: DOther Coastal Cities:

El Segundo: DInglewood: C-

Manhattan Beach: C-

Redondo Beach: CTorrance: C Malibu, only recently incorporated, was not graded.

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