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Sewage Dumping Charges Prompt Recall Petition

Environment: Taxpayers protest Capistrano Beach Water District's plan to fund defense of staff.


DANA POINT — Taxpayers angry about paying for the legal defense of a water district that allegedly dumped sewage began signing a recall petition Wednesday against Capistrano Beach Water District board members.

The water district, which faces criminal charges filed by the district attorney's office, voted last week to continue to provide legal counsel for supervisor Steven Cory Sanchez, who allegedly instructed employees to dump the sewage in San Juan Creek, and general manager Dennis Emerson MacLain, who oversees district operations.

"These were employees of the district whose actions are alleged to have occurred in the scope of their duties," legal counsel Steve DeBaun said. "The district believes it could be liable, so it is better to defend them."

Tim Bolen, editor of a community magazine, circulated the recall petition at a meeting Wednesday. Bolen said he planned to recall all board members except acting President Douglas Erdman.

The charges come after a yearlong investigation of the agency. It is accused of dumping sewage from the backs of tank trucks from April 29, 1994, to May 29, 1996.

Board members said Wednesday that the material allegedly dumped was storm drain waste and sand from the sand filter on district property and not raw sewage. The allegations are "technical in nature" and did not affect the health or safety of residents, they said. The allegations concern practices that happened more than a year ago and have since changed, they said.

"What is being alleged is not even happening," said district director Jim Hayton. "This is not a current hazard that warrants taking a qualified person off the job."

MacLain, who is charged with eight misdemeanors, including negligence, said the district has always "complied to the best of my knowledge with all the spill regulations." Sanchez, who was not present at the meeting, is charged with 12 felony counts and eight misdemeanors.

Still, residents said it was not fair for them to pay to defend staffers who are accused of polluting their water. "I don't understand why I have to pay for people to be employed and people to be defended," said Nora Shea.

Several surfers from the Doheny Beach Longboard Surfing Assn. who attended the meeting said they don't get in the water at Doheny State Beach because the pollution is so bad.

The district attorney's office says samples taken from the alleged dump sites revealed "extremely high fecal coliform levels" from human or animal waste. Erdman said he was prepared at last week's meeting to suspend MacLain and Sanchez, but on the advice of legal counsel, the board postponed that action pending a report from their own criminal defense attorney.

The board will review that report and consider further action at its meeting June 4.

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