SACRAMENTO — A proposal to establish a state "super agency" with broad powers to clean up the San Gabriel Valley's polluted ground water cleared its first committee hurdle this week but faces an uncertain legislative future.
State Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), who introduced the measure, maintained that "people don't feel in the San Gabriel Valley that anybody's taking care of the cleanup." Because of that, the Legislature should establish a new agency "to get things done," he said.
On Monday, the Senate Toxic and Public Safety Management Committee, chaired by Torres, took a first step toward that goal by approving the "super agency" bill and sending it to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The vote was 5 to 0.
Torres, a candidate for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a newly drawn 1st District that covers much of the San Gabriel Valley, said that if he is elected in the Jan. 22 contest or in a subsequent runoff, he will still press for passage of his legislation.
The bill would provide a new direction for cleaning up the San Gabriel Valley's polluted ground water, which supplies drinking water to as many as 1 million people.
Under current law, at least 10 federal, state and local agencies play some role in combatting the contamination. But Torres' legislation would set up a 13-member agency to coordinate the cleanup. The panel would be given authority to regulate pumping of ground water to control toxic contamination and to enact ordinances to protect ground water.
Under Torres' bill, four of the panel's members would be named by public water agencies serving the San Gabriel Valley, four would be appointed by the San Gabriel Assn. of Cities and those eight would pick the remaining five members.
At this week's committee hearing, the bill was supported by the Sierra Club. No group appeared to oppose the measure, but some San Gabriel Valley water agencies have expressed reservations about it. They have maintained that they could take the lead in the cleanup if they were granted additional powers.
The bill may also face opposition from Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), who chairs the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. Saying she plans to study the bill carefully, Tanner added: "I'm not really crazy about putting together another layer of government."
W. Don Maughan, chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board, has taken a wait-and-see attitude. He said his board would prefer to give local authorities more time to clean up the water. If they fail, Maughan said, "we would certainly support some bigger authority that Torres has in mind."
The super agency bill was part of a package of five Torres toxic cleanup measures approved by the committee.