A plan to build an aluminum roof over Elysian Reservoir to protect drinking water should go ahead without an environmental impact study, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power declared last week. However, several neighborhood and environmental groups sharply criticized that stand and said they may challenge it in court.
"That is not sufficient. It's sort of a cop-out," Geneva Williams, president of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, said of the DWP's action. Her group contends that the proposed roof would destroy one of the most beautiful spots in Elysian Park for hiking and jogging.
The DWP filed a notice of categorical exemption for the $4-million project, which means the department would not have to conduct a costly and time-consuming environmental impact study. It also means that any legal challenge to the project must be mounted by the end of this month, officials said. If the DWP had not filed for the exemption, opponents would have had six months to consider court action.
No New Use Undertaken
Henry Venegas, DWP's senior water planning engineer, said state law allows such an exemption because the roof does not involve any expansion of the reservoir's use and is being undertaken to protect the public's health. "We've done what we believe to be sufficient study," Venegas said.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 11, 1986 Home Edition Glendale Part 9 Page 3 Column 6 Zones Desk 3 inches; 75 words Type of Material: Correction
In the Dec. 4 Glendale section of The Times, an article discussed how some neighborhood and environmental groups questioned a plan by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to put a roof over Elysian Reservoir without first conducting an environmental impact study. The article reported that those organizations were also considering filing a lawsuit against DWP. One of those groups, the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., has called for a full impact study but is not considering legal action, a representative said.
He said the filing was "a safety guard to make sure we don't get caught in the middle of construction with a serious challenge."
The state Department of Health Services last year said Elysian Reservoir's water is safe, but measures had to be taken to better protect water quality. DWP said a roof would cut algae growth by blocking direct sunlight, provide a shield from wind-blown pollutants and bird droppings and prevent vandalism.
However, Williams said DWP has not given enough study to alternatives to the proposed roof, including putting either a reflecting pond or ball field over a concrete roof. The DWP says such alternatives could cost $28 million--seven times the price of the aluminum roof--and would not completely block seepage of pollutants.
Additionally, leaders of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park--veterans of many fights with the city--say they are frustrated because recent redistricting of the Los Angeles City Council has placed the park in the 1st District, which will be without a council member until a special election in February.
Sallie Neubauer, the committee's secretary, said the group is upset that the roof construction "could happen at a time like this when we don't really have anyone to turn to."
A caretaker staff is handling 1st District matters. Paula MacArthur, one of the district's aides, said she would like to see DWP present more details on alternatives to the roof. But, MacArthur added, "I honestly think that very little could be done even with an elected representative. The DWP is virtually autonomous."
Last spring, the seven-acre reservoir was repaved and footings were built that could hold wooden beams to support a roof. A final decision about the roof has not been formally made by the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. However, Commissioner Walter Zelman, who had voiced some criticisms of the project in the past, said this week that he expects unanimous approval soon.
DWP hopes to award the contract for the roof construction in February, drain the reservoir in October and finish the roof by May, 1988.
"I would prefer to leave it uncovered, but there really isn't a choice from a health-care standpoint," said Zelman, who also is executive director of California Common Cause, a public-interest organization.
Zelman will not call for an environmental impact study, he said, because "it is obvious what the impact is. You are not going to see the water. You don't have to spend a million dollars to understand that."
Zelman said he expects DWP to offer some compensation, perhaps money for a jogging track or soccer field elsewhere in the park, in exchange for the visual intrusion of the roof.
The reservoir is not on parkland, but is surrounded by Elysian Park in a thickly wooded hollow just north of the Pasadena Freeway and east of Dodger Stadium. It has a 55-million-gallon capacity and provides water to parts of downtown and Northeast Los Angeles.
When filled, the reservoir looks like a mountain lake, even though it is surrounded by a chain-link fence and the freeway's hum can be heard, park enthusiasts say. It is a much-needed oasis from urban crowding and is within walking distance of Chinatown and City Hall, they stress.
The roof is part of a citywide plan to cover aging, small reservoirs or convert them to storage tanks.
DWP is about to spend $2 million to put a floating cover over Eagle Rock Reservoir, just north of the Ventura Freeway near Pasadena. That plan has not raised protests because the reservoir is not in a park or a residential area.