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Laguna Won't Require Grease Disposal Units

City Council: Ordinance calls for inspections at restaurants, training to prevent clogged sewers. That's not enough, environmentalists say.

June 28, 2002|CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move criticized by environmentalists but welcomed by restaurant owners, Laguna Beach officials have backpedaled on an ambitious plan that would have required eateries to install underground grease disposals.

The City Council unanimously passed a grease-control ordinance Tuesday night that drops an earlier plan to require so-called interceptors at all restaurants, opting instead to develop comprehensive training, inspection and enforcement policies.

Mayor Wayne Baglin said the ordinance strikes a fair balance that officials hope will reduce grease blockages--that are blamed for sewer overflows--without creating hardships for restaurants.

"I don't think I'd call it watered down," Baglin said of the measure, which would take effect after a second reading. "I think I'd call it pragmatic.

"We started with an extreme approach. What we found is that there were maybe 85 food establishments that would need the devices.... It's not economically or physically feasible to require all of the restaurants to have them."

Rick Wilson, local chairman of the Surfrider Foundation, disagreed: "We're disappointed in the ordinance. We think it's very weak and will prove to be ineffective."

The push for grease interceptors has been driven by evidence that urban runoff and blocked sewers are polluting California beaches, rivers and creeks. Officials and environmentalists agree that too much hot fat from skillets and fryers is sliding into sewer lines, then hardening and causing blockages that lead to spills.

But soon after the proposal for grease interceptors was made, restaurateurs argued there was not enough room in some seaside districts to bury the collection tanks. And with installation costs that could reach $50,000, many mom-and-pop operations said they could not afford the expense.

The city hopes to develop a training program by August.

Officials will review the ordinance in a year to determine its effectiveness.

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