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City takes steps to curb urban runoff

Barbara Diamond

“Only rain in the storm drain” is a new city motto after the City

Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay its share of the county’s costs

for a plan to fight pollution from urban runoff.


The plan is part of the requirements adopted by the San Diego Regional

Water Quality Control Board in February for the new South County Urban

Runoff Permit, which is being opposed by some cities.

“Some other cities are determining whether to fight the requirements


through the state or the courts, but we have put our resources into

working toward implementation as soon as possible,” said John Pietig,

assistant city manager.

A standing-room-only crowd came to hear the city staff’s update on the

permit and the subsequent proposal for a grease control ordinance.

The hearing on that ordinance was continued for 90 days to allow

restaurateurs time to negotiate with the city for some changes.

Though not directly related to the urban runoff permit, the grease


control ordinance is kissing kin in that it attempts to prevent spills

into the storm drains or ocean and is of interest to environmentalists.

“I am so proud that Laguna Beach is not appealing the permit,’ said

Rick Wilson of the Laguna Beach chapter of Surfrider International.

The permit hearing was conducted by a group of Laguna Beach High

School students. Cosima Qazi, Sean Austin, Mark Bernhardt, Carras Paton

and David Bean questioned staff on the presentation and voted first on

the request for $28,200 to defray the county’s costs and then on approval


of a local public education plan. They endorsed both staff


“Do we have to pay the $28,000?” asked Bean, appropriately sitting in

for Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman, a certified public accountant.

“No,” said Assistant City Manager John Pietig, but then the city would

not benefit from the county’s plan to implement the countywide urban

runoff program, with model components that can used by the cities as part

of their urban runoff management plans.

The county project will reduce a duplication of efforts that costs

both time and money, he added.

The new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, also

known as MS-4 or the Urban Runoff Permit, requires each city to have a

management program in place by Feb. 13. The program will include

provisions for watchdogging prohibited runoff discharges and enforcement

of the regulations. Repeat violators may be cited and fined or, in

extreme cases, taken to court.

“This is a strict program and I am 100% for it,” said Mayor Wayne

Baglin, a former chair of the regional water board.

Baglin has been a frequent critic of what he considers the city’s

lackadaisical implementation of policies to safeguard ocean water

quality, particularly the pollution of Laguna Canyon Creek, which flows

into the ocean at Main Beach.

“The city has done nothing to clean its backyard, while pointing

fingers at communities along Aliso Creek,” he said.

Surfer and marine biologist Corky Smith was even more critical. He

read aloud a 10-point program for fighting water pollution signed by

Baglin and City Manager Ken Frank in 1996 and only minimally implemented,

Smith said.

He called the staff’s update and proposals a slap in the face.

The update included steps the city has taken to fight water pollution,

including hiring a water-quality analyst and reassigning environmental

specialist Michael Phillips to work on urban runoff water quality.

“I have only been here four months and I am happy to see what has been

accomplished,” said Craig Justice. “For the most part, we are doing what

we are supposed to be doing.”

The city conducted a water-quality workshop in June 2001; updated its

water quality Web site; submitted grant proposals for water quality

projects; formed a water quality task force of city department

representatives; increased weekly street cleaning; conducted a beach

cleanup in September 2001; and installed eight urban runoff water

diversions while planning to install five more.

Three grant applications to the San Diego regional board were denied,

but the request for a low-cost state loan for sewer projects has been

placed on the board’s priority list.

An ad hoc Water Quality Advisory Board was established last year,

co-chaired by Mayor Baglin and Councilwoman Toni Iseman. The city will

begin this month a series of activities that includes raising community

awareness of “best management practices,” known as BMPs.

The city will be promoting BMPs in publicity releases for local

newspapers, the Chamber of Commerce and school newsletters. Staff will

make presentations on the practices to water districts that serve the

city, the Emerald Bay Services District and Laguna Beach Unified School

District personnel, the city Planning Commission and schools. A public

workshop is planned for June.

Costs to participate in the county’s program are expected to be

$114,000 next year.

The spending didn’t sit well with the entire council.

“We didn’t just print $114,000 tonight,” Kinsman said. “Some other

project won’t get done. When we take money from a project to fund

another, I want to know what project is getting shafted.”

The appropriation will be included in the 2002-03 budget.