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Torres Probe of Superfund Listing Draws Political Flak

May 11, 1986|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — State Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) has announced that he will lead a Senate committee investigation to find out why the state is resisting efforts to put a 45-acre dump site in Monterey Park on the federal Environmental Protection Agency Superfund list.

The announcement drew an angry reaction from Monterey Park Mayor G. Monty Manibog, who accused both Torres and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley of trying to further Bradley's campaign for governor at Monterey Park's expense. A spokesman for Bradley denied the accusation, and Torres said, "I don't want to dignify it" with a response.

At issue is whether 45 acres across the Pomona Freeway from the closed 135-acre Operating Industries landfill should be included with the dump on the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list, establishing priority for the use of federal funds in cleaning up toxic sites.

Agreement on Large Site

City, state and federal officials all agree that the 135 acres south of the freeway should be on the Superfund list. Part of the 45 acres north of the freeway was used as a dump for household trash from 1948 to 1952, but state and city officials say it never received hazardous waste and does not require the sort of effort that will be needed to clean up and maintain the 135-acre dump south of the freeway.

The city of Monterey Park wants to keep the 45 acres off the Superfund list and work with a developer to build a $60-million-to-$100-million complex of offices, stores and auto sales and service facilities called the Southeast Redevelopment Project.

Gov. George Deukmejian is backing the Monterey Park plan. State and city officials say their tests show that the property can be cleaned up without federal help. Putting it on the Superfund list, they say, would raise liability problems that would kill the commercial project. But regional EPA officials say the property should be on the Superfund list until its safety is assured through further tests. They have recommended treating the 45 acres and the 135-acre Operating Industries dump, which closed in 1984, as one Superfund site. The entire 180 acres are under one ownership.

Decision Up to EPA

EPA officials in Washington are in the process of placing the Operating Industries site on the Superfund list, and must decide whether to exclude the 45 acres.

Although state and city officials insist that the 45 acres have been studied, Torres said the studies are deficient in the EPA's view.

Torres said it will take a couple of months for his committee to look into the matter and conduct hearings. He said he wants to find out how the state arrived at its conclusions on the site.

He said the dispute between state and federal officials is delaying the cleanup and "I think it's important to resolve the issue."

Top state health officials have twice gone to Washington to seek exclusion of the 45 acres from the Superfund list.

Those efforts have drawn criticism from Bradley, who has noted that the dump owners gave $19,250 to Deukmejian's campaign in 1981-82.

Radio Spots Criticized

Manibog said Bradley's radio commercials, which refer to "an effort by the Deukmejian Administration to allow construction of a shopping center without removing toxic poisons" misrepresent the project.

The state and city plan would clean up the 45 acres, he said, while a federal Superfund listing would not guarantee that federal money would be spent. In addition, he said, the city-state plan would produce $7 million from the sale of the property to go into a court-administered trust fund to help clean up the 135 acres all parties agree should be on the list.

Manibog, who described himself as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat and said that he supported Bradley's campaign for governor four years ago, released two letters he sent to the mayor complaining about references to the Monterey Park project.

One letter accused Bradley's political staff of "a continued campaign to misrepresent and villainize" the state and federal dispute over the 45-acre site. The other letter said that the Monterey Park project is similar to an effort by the city of Los Angeles to devise a way to clean up Santa Monica Bay without putting it on the federal Superfund list, and accused Bradley of using Monterey Park as a political football.

Ali Webb, spokeswoman for the Bradley campaign, said the Santa Monica Bay and Monterey Park projects are not alike. While Monterey Park is fighting an EPA proposal, she said, neither the EPA nor Bradley has taken a position on whether the Santa Monica Bay cleanup should be on the Superfund list.

'A Complete Injustice'

In a letter to Torres, Manibog said, "The Monterey Park City Council and I have been very surprised and disappointed at your persistent opposition to our community's Southeast Redevelopment Project as part of the Democratic gubernatorial campaign." He added: "What you are attempting to do to Monterey Park is a complete injustice."

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