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Molina Calls for Investigation of Contamination at Old Hotel Site

April 07, 1988|DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council will consider an emergency proposal Tuesday to set up a task force to investigate a report of toxic chemical contamination in the soil near an abandoned Echo Park hotel.

Councilwoman Gloria Molina introduced a motion Tuesday asking the city to assemble city experts to investigate the extent of contamination near the building at Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue

Perchloroethylene (PCE), a cancer-causing solvent commonly used as a dry-cleaning agent, was detected in testing conducted as part of the sale of the hotel and commercial building to a group that planned to convert it into a home for the mentally ill.

After the discovery, the Los Angeles Men's Place pulled out of the transaction because of possible delays and financial liability, said LAMP director Mollie Lowery.

Lowery has declined to make public the results of the testing. However, the building's owner, Thien Ng, a South Pasadena attorney, said he was unable to determine from the technical language in the engineering report how serious the problem is.

'There Is a Problem'

"Obviously, they talk about so many parts per million," said Ng, president of the Sunset/Echo Corp. "I don't fully understand the problems. All I know is that there is a problem."

Ng said he sent letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Water Resources Control Board about the discovery but has not received a response.

"This problem is so new that no one knows what is required," he said.

Meanwhile, the immediate fears of residents and business owners were calmed last week after preliminary tests of water samples from businesses around the building, which is one block north of Echo Park Lake, showed no contamination by PCE.

A spokesman for the Department of Water and Power said there are no drinking-water wells near the building and any leaks in underground water pipes would tend to carry water out of the pipes, rather than in.

However, the possibility of ground water contamination or migration of the chemical to other areas led Molina to call for a city investigation.

Her motion, if adopted, would create a task force made of representatives of the Departments of Building and Safety, Water and Power, Fire and Public Works and the Bureau of Sanitation.

The group would be required to report its findings to the council in two weeks.

The withdrawal of LAMP's proposal brought a sudden end to an angry debate over the wisdom of placing housing for the mentally ill in the struggling business district a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

Both supporters and opponents of LAMP's venture found irony in its conclusion but agreed that the episode had a positive effect on the community.

"I guess a lot of people got activated that didn't before," said LAMP supporter Jacques Chambers, president of the Echo Park Coordinating Council. "I hope they don't just go back home and close their doors on graffiti paint-out days and street cleanups."

"On the positive side of all this, it brought a lot of people together and sparked an interest to be concerned and vocal," said Pia Montoya, spokeswoman for the Property Owners and Residents Assn. of Echo Park-Silver Lake Elysian Area. "Consequently, the powers that be are responding."

Montoya said she hopes the building will be considered as a site for a new Echo Park branch library.

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