As Glendale Mayor Jerold Milner sees it, if he can't beat the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the next best thing is to join the agency and force change from within.
So after a year of battling the AQMD over how to clean up gas leaks at the inactive portion of Glendale's Scholl Canyon Landfill, Milner entered the race for a seat on the agency's 12-member board. The contest will be decided tonight by city delegates at the agency headquarters in El Monte.
Although personalities could play a role in deciding the winner, the election will serve as a referendum on whether the AQMD should enforce policy or merely provide guidelines to the cities in the region, or do a little bit of both, an agency official acknowledged.
"It sure will be an indication of where the cities stand," said AQMD spokesman Tom Eichhorn.
The election was forced by the resignation of Baldwin Park Councilman Leo King, who has moved to Oklahoma. King represented 61 cities in the board's eastern region, which stretches from Long Beach to Pomona and as far north as Santa Clarita.
The AQMD board is responsible for implementing the agency's ambitious 20-year plan adopted last March to bring the Los Angeles Basin, one of the most polluted in the country, up to federal and state clean-air standards.
The AQMD plan calls for stiff pollution controls on industry, traffic-reduction measures and balanced residential/commercial growth so residents can work in the cities they live in and avoid long commutes.
Milner is vying with four others for King's position: San Dimas Mayor Terry Dipple and Covina Councilman Henry Morgan from the east San Gabriel Valley; Santa Clarita Councilwoman Jan Heidt and Long Beach Councilman Jeffrey Kellogg.
Milner left no doubt that his election would represent a setback for the district's aggressive pursuit of clean-air standards and a victory for home-rule advocates in local cities.
"AQMD is a resource--it should not be an omniscient dictator," Milner wrote in a candidate statement filed with the League of Women voters. "The goal should be to reduce the total pollutants. AQMD can set goals and objectives, but they should encourage--not force--cities and counties to meet and exceed their objectives."
On the other side of the spectrum, Heidt noted that the only fault she could find with the AQMD was that the agency was not acting aggressively enough.
"AQMD's present plan is a step in the right direction," she wrote in her statement. "My major concern is that they could have done a better job sooner."
Kellogg, while agreeing with many of Milner's critiques, said he was not uncomfortable with the AQMD enforcing regulations--provided that it consulted with the cities first and came up with financing mechanisms for compliance measures.
"We can't sit back and force cities and companies into doing things they can't afford without knowing their specific problems," Kellogg said in an interview. He said the state, county and/or federal government should subsidize at least part of the AQMD programs.
The two candidates from the San Gabriel Valley advocated compromise positions in their candidate statements. "Frankly, the more I look to both sides of this argument, the more I see individuals with relatively extreme positions in both directions," Dipple wrote in his statement. "I view my position in the middle ground . . . the SCAQMD can explore new opportunities and, where necessary, force the development of new technology."
On a similar note, Morgan wrote that the AQMD plan is "a dynamic document built to be revised and adjusted to meet the compliance capabilities of cities and their industries."
Eichhorn said he was not surprised that cities such as Glendale and Long Beach would be less supportive of the AQMD plan than their counterparts in the valleys.
Because the predominant winds blow from east to west into the mountains, he said, "the cities in the Inland Empire and the valleys are more concerned about air pollution and want greater controls because they suffer the brunt of it,"
"Along the coast there is less pollution and the cities don't want as much agency controls," he said.
Adding to these broad regional generalizations, Eichhorn said, are the histories of the candidates and their cities in dealing with the AQMD will play a role in the election.
The AQMD threatened at several hearings last year to fine Glendale $25,000 a day for operating a faulty gas collection system in the sports complex on the inactive portion of Scholl Canyon. Glendale officials said they needed to keep the old system operating while they installed a new one or the gas leaks could get out of control.
In an attempt to comply with the AQMD demands, the city in October stopped burning collected methane and redirected the gas to the AQMD in the active portion of the landfill where it has a cleaner-burning system.