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El Segundo Plans to Sue L.A. Over Sewage Plant

December 17, 1989|TIM WATERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

El Segundo city officials say they will file a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles alleging that its sprawling Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant is a public nuisance.

At a special meeting this week, City Council members voted unanimously to begin collecting affidavits from residents to support the city's contention that the plant poses serious health and safety problems.

At the same time, Los Angeles, under federal court order, is updating and expanding the plant.

"We're proceeding to go to court, period," said Councilman Jim Clutter. "Frankly, we have gotten tired of trying to work with them."

El Segundo officials said it could take 30 to 60 days to prepare the lawsuit. The only thing that would prevent their taking legal action would be if Los Angeles solves the odor, noise and other problems caused by Hyperion that have long plagued El Segundo residents, they said.

"We are confident, from everything we know, this lawsuit can be successful and will be of benefit to citizens being touched by bad health and odor problems," El Segundo City Atty. Leland Dolley said.

"David wouldn't be willing to go up against Goliath" unless he had thought he would win, said Councilman Scot Dannen.

Los Angeles City Engineer Robert Hori said some of the foul smells will disappear as the court-ordered expansion under way at the plant continues. He said he did not know what effect a lawsuit would have on the expansion work.

If a suit is filed, "I think our attorneys would have to look at it," he said.

Sam Furuta, a Hyperion engineer who attended the Tuesday night meeting, acknowledged that there have been longstanding odor problems at the plant. However, he said, Hyperion officials have been trying to reduce them.

For years El Segundo and Los Angeles have had a rocky relationship because of complaints from residents about the plant.

El Segundo homeowners living on the bluffs above the plant say that despite Hyperion's promises to the contrary, the odors have actually grown worse.

Last year, some homeowners on the bluffs alleged that their homes had been damaged by constant vibrations caused by construction crews operating bulldozers in the expansion project. More than 20 property owners subsequently filed claims against Hyperion. Los Angeles has settled at least seven of those claims.

And last month, more than 200 residents took to the streets to protest Hyperion's proposal to build a row of 105-foot-tall sewage treatment tanks at the plant. The tanks, known as digesters, would block ocean views and breezes and drive down property values, the residents said.

Hori has emphasized that a final decision on whether to build the giant digesters has not been reached.

Some residents who live near Hyperion were quick to support the lawsuit. "I think it's great. I think it's about time," said Sandi Teleso, who lives about 500 feet from the plant. "We have been totally disregarded by the city of L.A."

Hyperion officials, attempting to improve relations with residents, have rented an office in downtown El Segundo and hired an ombudsman to assist them in handling complaints.

Besides authorizing collection of the affidavits, council members instructed the city's staff to meet with the Environmental Protection Agency to determine what changes can be made in Hyperion's construction to minimize its impact on El Segundo residents.

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