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Political Outfall Swirls Over City Sewer Policy

July 22, 1987|KEVIN RODERICK | Times Staff Writer

On a gorgeous morning at the beach, Mayor Tom Bradley struck back Tuesday at critics who blame him for the Los Angeles sewage that is poisoning the fish and polluting the waters of Santa Monica Bay.

With television crews and the press gathered, ostensibly to see a new turbine dedicated at the Hyperion sewage treatment plant, Bradley began by announcing steps to cut down on the spills that have diminished swimmers' enjoyment of the beaches this summer.

But it wasn't long before the mayor, normally a reserved man, began poking the air with his finger and lashing out at one of his chief critics, City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, in a preview of the dramatics Los Angeles could witness during the 1989 mayoral campaign.

Bradley accused Yaroslavsky--who has said he intends to seek the mayor's job--of offering "ridiculous" solutions to the sewage spills. The mayor also said Yaroslavsky contributed to the bay's sewage problems by joining in a 1977 lawsuit filed by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation that delayed removal of sewage sludge from the ocean.

Trigger for Controversy

The mayor's anger apparently began to stir over the weekend when Yaroslavsky and the newest City Council member, Ruth Galanter, held a press conference on Santa Monica Pier to call for removal of the city Bureau of Sanitation from the city's large Department of Public Works, which is headed by a close Bradley confidant, Maureen Kindel. The two council members also gave their support to a plan by Rep. Mel Levine (D-Los Angeles) to restrict building in Los Angeles if the spills continue.

"I think it's ridiculous to talk about separating the Bureau of Sanitation from the rest of the Department of Public Works," Bradley said. As for Levine's suggestion, Bradley asked, "Why do we need a complicated, inflexible law to tell us to do something we are already doing?"

Told Tuesday that the mayor blamed him for a share of the sewage problem, Yaroslavsky said: "The mayor was misinformed. I think he knows better than that."

Changes at Plant

The outburst against Yaroslavsky diverted attention from the Bradley Administration's most forceful move to fix problems at the Hyperion plant, a frequent source of embarrassment for the mayor.

The most significant step gave added responsibility to Don Smith, a private consultant who has run the Hyperion plant--from a position outside the normal city management ranks--since December, 1985.

Smith, 37, has made several key improvements at Hyperion and will now oversee management of the city's entire sewage system, which includes 6,500 miles of sewer tunnel and pumping plants around the city. Smith, a vice president of the James M. Montgomery consulting firm, is expected to remain on the new job at least a year.

The mayor acknowledged that the city's normal manner of recruiting managers and Civil Service workers had failed to provide the technical expertise needed at Hyperion. "Our Civil Service system, I dare say, does not always have the mechanism to make sure we have the very best . . . to run a plant this complicated," Bradley said.

In addition, Bradley said he would recruit a "crack team" of trouble shooters from engineering firms in Southern California to help solve the city's sewage troubles.

Other Steps Cited

He also asked city crews to finish in 120 days a new transformer that will help avert spills at Hyperion, set up a new training program for workers at Hyperion, and said emergency generators would be added at the Venice sewage pumping plant where a power failure caused 2.4 million gallons of raw sewage to spill last month.

Smith's expanded role could relieve some of the criticism directed at Bradley from environmental groups who have--in the past--sided with both the mayor and Yaroslavsky on many issues.

"It's a step in the right direction, but it's just a first step because the problems facing the Los Angeles sewage system are so massive," said Joel R. Reynolds, an attorney for Heal the Bay, a group of homeowner and clean water organizations. "He is someone who has been open to us."

Other activists greeted the mayor's announcements Tuesday with something between mild enthusiasm and disappointment that he did not offer more progress.

"The perception is that the mayor, just as he did on LANCER (the trash-burning incinerator that Bradley recently ordered killed), is merely reacting to public pressure," said Robert Glushon, a member of the city's Environmental Quality Review Board.

Tests Show Improvement

Under Smith, effluent pumped into the ocean at Hyperion is significantly cleaner than when the plant was run purely by city workers, according to the city's laboratory tests.

For example, the amount of solid material that is discharged into the ocean has fallen to 60 milligrams per liter of waste water, well below the nearly 200 milligrams the city is permitted to discharge. The plant's effluent carried more than 250 milligrams of fecal and other solids per liter of water through most of 1985.

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