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Panel Urged to Reconsider Centralized Smog Tests : Pollution: Shop owners say the plan would cost them business and inconvenience motorists. Schillo withdraws his support.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County auto dealers and smog shop owners urged the county’s Air Pollution Control Board on Tuesday to reconsider its support for centralized smog-testing stations.

Officials told the 10-member board that the centralized stations would hurt their businesses and inconvenience motorists, who would be forced to get their vehicles tested at one station and repaired at another.

They asked for a chance to come up with an alternative plan that would help reduce smog and still protect their businesses.

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“There is no clear-cut path,” said Randy Johnson, who owns a smog test station in Port Hueneme. “But one thing I know is that centralized smog-testing is not the answer.”

Board member Frank Schillo, who earlier supported the concept of centralized smog stations because of the promise of greater testing accuracy, said he no longer backs the proposal. He said he is concerned about the financial effects it would have on small businesses and the hassles it would create for the general public.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “I see all the problems with it, and I’m not in favor of it.”

Schillo said he believed that other members of the board will eventually change their position.

“I would suspect that once all the facts are laid out before the board that they will see that this is not the way to reduce smog,” he said.

The Air Pollution Control Board agreed to postpone until Sept. 12 a final decision on whether to continue pushing for legislation for centralized smog-testing stations.

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The board in January agreed to seek legislation that would expand the agency’s authority over automobile pollution after large industries complained that they were unfairly singled out by smog regulators. The county’s air pollution panel is under a federal mandate to clean its air by the year 2005.

The board decided to follow the recommendation of its director, Richard Baldwin, and pursue establishing several large centralized smog-testing stations in the county.

Baldwin told the board that automobiles are responsible for more than half the county’s smog and that studies have shown that a large percentage of the vehicles that pass smog tests in the state have been improperly inspected.

Centralized stations would have state-of-the-art equipment that would cut down on the number of faulty inspections, he said, which would force needed repairs and in turn help improve air quality.

Moreover, he said that centralized testing stations would be cheaper and more convenient because of the high volume of vehicles they could handle.

“The proposal was made as a way to get a handle on the largest source of emissions that we have here in the county, motor vehicles,” Baldwin told the board Tuesday. “It is probably the most cost-effective thing we can do to clean up the air.”

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Although he has acknowledged that centralized testing stations would hurt the county’s 235 local smog shop owners, he said they would benefit from increased repair business because the centralized stations would do inspections only.

Still, Baldwin said Tuesday that he is willing to look for alternatives in reducing smog.

Janet Dillon, a member of the Ventura Economic Development Assn., told the board that she is forming a task force to meet with auto dealers, smog shop owners and representatives of several large industries over the next two weeks to try and come up with other options for reducing smog.

Dillon said she wants to gather as much information as possible on alternative plans and compile them in a report that she would bring back to the board at a later date. A public forum on the issue is planned for Aug. 10, she said.

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