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El Segundo Defies L.A. Sewer Law : Officials Claim Limits on Use Could Stifle Development

February 16, 1989|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

Even though their city has been served with a lawsuit by the city of Los Angeles, El Segundo officials said last week that they will ignore a law that aims to limit El Segundo's use of Los Angeles' beleaguered sewer system.

In the lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, Los Angeles claims that El Segundo--and Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale and Culver City--have failed to file reports on how many new building permits they have issued and, as a result, how much new sewage will be generated by the projects.

Los Angeles, under laws it passed last year, is temporarily seeking to curb growth in Los Angeles and in surrounding cities that contract with it for sewage treatment. The laws limit

$20,000 Fine

Los Angeles Assistant City Atty. John Haggerty said last week that each city could face a $20,000 fine for failing to file a report. The suit seeks a court order forcing the cities to comply with the requirement, he said.

At issue is the cities' concern that Los Angeles, by limiting the number of building permits they can issue, could stifle development within their boundaries. The cities maintain that Los Angeles has no jurisdiction over them and that the longstanding contracts they hold with Los Angeles to treat their sewage are still valid.

"Basically, I guess we don't feel they have the right to unilaterally cancel a contract," El Segundo City Manager Fred Sorsabal said.

Sorsabal and city attorneys in Culver City, Burbank and Glendale said their cities have no intention of filing the building permit reports.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Beverly Hills officials have indicated that they will file the report, Haggerty said.

Permits Limited

Under an ordinance passed last year, the Los Angeles City Council limited the number of building permits issued throughout that city to ensure that new development adds no more than 5 million gallons to the average daily amount of sewage treated each year.

Soon afterward, Los Angeles passed a similar ordinance designed to limit the amount of new construction in the 27 separate cities and agencies that are connected to the sewer system. The ordinance allows the cities and agencies to add a combined total of 1 million gallons to the average daily amount of sewage treated each year.

The new laws are designed to remain in effect until Los Angeles' sewage treatment capabilities are expanded, perhaps by 1991.

Haggerty said the five cities named as defendants in the lawsuit sent a letter to Los Angeles soon after the second ordinance was passed. The cities stated that they had a contractual right to use the city's sewage system up to certain levels. Those levels are spelled out in each city's separate contract with Los Angeles.

Public Safety

However, Haggerty said, Los Angeles maintains that because of the crisis facing the sewage treatment system, it is within its right to "infringe on contractual rights" for public health and safety reasons.

"We feel they should have the same limits imposed on them as we have imposed on ourselves," Haggerty said.

Haggerty said Los Angeles has no evidence that the cities are disobeying the ordinance by generating too much new sewage.

Officials in El Segundo and Culver City maintain that their cities are being unfairly penalized for the rampant growth that has occurred in Los Angeles in recent years.

Jim Davis, city engineer for Culver City, said that city has "been very conscious" over the years not to exceed the sewage limit established in its contract with Los Angeles, and typically has been far below it.

"Going back to 1970 or so, our growth rate as far as sewage treatment has only averaged half of 1% a year," Davis said.

"It's kind of like we bought into a bus going someplace and we have our seat paid for, and the bus driver says, 'I promised this seat to my cousin and you'll have to get off now,' " Davis added.

Davis said Culver City, population 40,778, will pay Los Angeles $2.3 million this fiscal year to treat its sewage and will also contribute $1.8 million for capital improvements to the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant.

In El Segundo, population 15,420, officials said the city's contract with Los Angeles calls for treatment of up to 2.75 million gallons per day of sewage. Since July, 1988, the most the city has had treated on a given day has been 2.3 million gallons.

Figures on how much El Segundo pays Los Angeles to treat its sewage were not immediately available.

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