Septic Tank Waste Plan Called Threat to Park Space : Environment: The city proposal would allow sewage to be trucked to a treatment plant in the Sepulveda Basin. Critics challenge it.


Park advocates, homeowner activists and private septic tank haulers are fighting a plan by the city Bureau of Sanitation to truck septic tank wastes from throughout Los Angeles and adjoining areas to a sewage treatment plant in the Sepulveda Basin, it was learned Thursday.

The septic tank plan is a threat to the San Fernando Valley's premier park space, according to the coalition of opponents, who have appealed a recent city Planning Commission action clearing the way for the waste trucks.

On April 8, the commission granted the Bureau of Sanitation, operator of the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in the Sepulveda Basin, a permit to widen a road that septic tank waste haulers would use to take their loads to Tillman under the plan. The sewage treatment plant is surrounded by a park, the largest and most heavily used in the Valley.

If that permit can be blocked, it is hoped that the entire septic tank plan will unravel, said Peter Ireland, president of the Coalition to Save Sepulveda Basin, the lead group challenging the Planning Commission action.

The appeal will be heard by the Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land-Use Management Committee. No date has been set.

The bureau's septic tank plan is seriously flawed because its environmental impacts have not been adequately studied and because the city has failed to properly notify interested parties that it was considering such a plan, Ireland said.

But a top city official later defended the plan, saying it will not have "any real impact" on the basin's environmental quality and is needed to comply with federal environmental rules. About 90 to 200 trucks are expected to use the site daily, said Sam Furuta, deputy director of the city's Bureau of Sanitation.

Foes of the plan announced Thursday however that they have gained a new, and potentially influential, ally in Laura Chick, candidate for the 3rd District seat on the Los Angeles City Council, representing the southwestern portion of the San Fernando Valley.

Chick, who faces Councilwoman Joy Picus in a runoff election June 8, said at the coalition's news conference Thursday that she is "totally opposed" to the septic tank plan. "This is sacred land that's to be preserved for passive recreational uses, certainly not for raw sewage," Chick said.

She and other critics said the plan to dump the waste at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant threatens the basin with new noise, traffic and odor problems.

"We're delighted to see Laura Chick attempting to give focus to this important Valley issue," said Jill Swift, a longtime Valley environmental activist. "Nobody downtown has been listening to us."

Appealing the conditional use permit are the coalition, Homeowners of Encino, the Encino Civic Assn., the West Van Nuys Homeowners Assn. and two local Audubon societies.

Ireland, who ran unsuccessfully against Picus in 1989, also praised Chick and damned city administrators for not doing a full environmental review of the project.

"They're proposing to bring septic tank wastes to the largest open-space area in the Valley without an environmental analysis," Ireland said. "The city said it's exempt--that's just unacceptable."

Chick also accused Picus of failing to take a stand to protect the huge Sepulveda Basin recreation area from the septic tank plan and condoning what Chick characterized as the secretive way in which the city has advanced that plan.

"I don't know if it's another example of Joy's lack of energy," Chick said, "or of her unwillingness to take tough stands. Whatever--it's not OK."

In reply, Picus later accused Chick of "having an attack of campaign hysteria." That portion of the Sepulveda Basin in which the septic tank dumping would occur "has not been part of my district for 10 months," Picus said. "Nor has this matter been approved by the council. I don't know why she's attacking me on this."

Picus acknowledged, however, that she is still undecided on the plan. "I have not looked at it carefully," the councilwoman said. "The intent is for the plan to be an improvement."

Meanwhile, Furuta from the Bureau of Sanitation said the city must proceed with the septic tank plan to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that require the city to maintain strong controls over what goes into its sewer system and to see that all users pay their fair share of the costs of the city's vast sewage treatment system.

Currently, the sanitation haulers that service the 20,000 to 50,000 local homes on septic tanks dump their cargo at seven sites scattered throughout the city, all of which feed the waste into the city's sewer treatment system.

But none of these far-flung sites--some of which are simply manholes in the street--are monitored by city officials. "We have no control over what ends up being dumped by the haulers now," Furuta said.

Under the new system, city officials at Tillman will be able to spot-check waste-hauler loads to prevent illegal dumping of industrial waste.

"In our long history, there have been one or two instances where it looked like industrial strength waste was dumped," Furuta said. "But our problem is that we have to prove to the federal Environmental Protection Agency that we have control over the system--and we don't."

Federal rules also require users to pay their fair share of the cost of the city's sewage treatment system, Furuta added.

At present, septic tank haulers pay a flat fee per load. Under the new system, they will be charged fees based on the volume and nature of the waste they are dumping--with these costs presumably passed on to their customers.

Furuta said the new system will cost the average homeowner who has a septic tank an additional $50 a year in treatment costs.

But Furuta acknowledged that the city failed to inform park fans of the septic tank plan. "In retrospect, we probably should have done a better job of involving the interested parties," he said. "We've started addressing their concerns . . . and I believe all of them can be addressed and satisfied."

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