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Highly Regarded Chief of Vehicle Smog Check Program Is Demoted

February 11, 1989|MYRON LEVIN | Times Staff Writer

The chief of the California Bureau of Automotive Repair, whose leadership of the state smog check program won him kudos from environmental and auto repair interests, has been demoted to another post in the agency.

Without fanfare, bureau chief Martin B. Dyer was replaced by John Waraas, former deputy secretary of state and consumer services, two weeks ago.

Richard Sommerville, air pollution control officer for San Diego County and chairman of a state smog check advisory committee, expressed disappointment at Dyer's removal, calling him "an activist" who focused on the program's "real purpose and that is to clean up the air."

"We were stunned, because . . . he (Dyer) has an excellent reputation on both sides of the aisle politically," said John Goodman, executive director of the Automotive Service Councils, which represents 1,600 California garages and repair shops. "The industry felt that he was firm but fair in enforcing the law and was willing to listen to anyone who had ideas on how the program could be improved."

In a formal statement and an appearance this week before a legislative committee, a Deukmejian Administration official said the move was not punitive and does not signal a retreat in the fight against smog.

'No Softening'

"There is no softening of the Administration's position on smog check," Michael Kelley, director of the Department of Consumer Affairs and Dyer's boss, said in the statement read by a spokesman.

Kelley declined to be interviewed. "Because it's a personnel matter, he does not want to discuss it," the spokesman said.

The smog check program, which requires checks of car emissions every two years, is considered the centerpiece of California's smog-fighting effort. Since the program began in 1984, it is estimated to have cut vehicle emissions between 11% and 17%, according to state officials.

Dyer, who was assigned to run the repair bureau's "lemon law" program--which assists owners of defective new cars--was reluctant to discuss the change.

This is "not something that was on my agenda, but it's a challenge which I welcome," said Dyer, 44. He predicted that the smog check program will "remain at least as tough as it is."

Dyer's reassignment occurred after publication of news stories about the bureau's crackdown on smog check stations that improperly issue smog check certificates.

Citations, Fines

Hundreds of the state's 8,300 smog check stations have been hit with citations and assessed hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in recent months for certifying state cars that were obviously missing key components of their emissions control systems. A small group of smog check operators has joined together to try to rein in the bureau's under-cover enforcement.

Leo McElroy, a public relations consultant for the group, said he "would love to think" its protests were the cause of Dyer's transfer. But he added: "I don't believe that is the case."

Several sources also discounted the influence of the group, arguing that Deukmejian Administration officials were uncomfortable with Dyer's activism and jealous of his increasing standing with lawmakers, environmental and auto repair interests.

These sources said Dyer made waves by aggressively pushing to beef up the budget for smog check enforcement and for his impolitic suggestion that the bureau be split off from the Department of Consumer Affairs.

A proposal to put the bureau under Environmental Affairs Agency to emphasize its clean-air mission was dropped from last year's legislative overhaul of the smog check program. According to several well-placed sources, Dyer's support for the change was regarded as a disloyal act by superiors at the Department of Consumer Affairs.

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