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Hefty fine proposed for Malibu mobile home park over sewage spills

Water quality board suggests $1.65-million penalty for Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park.

February 06, 2009|Martha Groves

The owner of the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park in Malibu has been hit with a proposed $1.65-million fine for allowing about 2,000 gallons of raw or partially treated sewage to spill into local creeks and the ocean in 2007 and 2008.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board notified the Kissel Co. and its president, Steven Dahlberg, of the proposed penalty this week after the company failed repeatedly to meet deadlines for replacing its water treatment plant and discontinuing use of old septic systems.

Residents of the 72-acre park on Pacific Coast Highway have complained of seeing raw sewage leaking from manholes, flowing into storm drains and "running down the street to the playground area," among other violations.

Although it wouldn't be the largest fine ever issued by the board, the amount is "substantial," said Stephen Cain, a board spokesman, adding: "It speaks to the importance of what's going on there."

Roger Holt, Kissel's attorney, said Thursday that he had not yet read the complaint. "It's premature for me to comment," he said.

Describing the number of violations as "unbelievable," Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, said his group was "ecstatic" about the action.

"It sends a strong message that cleaning up the bay and our waterways is a high priority," he said. "Paradise Cove has been one of the most polluted beaches on Santa Monica Bay for the better part of a decade."

The 257 mobile home sites in the park, which evolved from a rustic recreational vehicle campground in the 1950s and '60s into a chic seaside enclave, are nestled among trees and shrubs. All sit within 1,500 feet of the ocean, according to the regional water board's complaint, filed Wednesday.

Over the years, laid-back surfers have shared the locale with such celebrities as "The Wild Bunch" director Sam Peckinpah, known to locals for shooting bullets from his couch into the back wall of his mobile home when he got drunk.

"Paradise without the airfare" is how Kissel advertises the private beach and mobile home area on its website. But for years the paradise has been plagued with stinky runoff from broken pipes and overloaded septic systems. The 17 spills ranged in size from 5 to about 250 gallons.

"No amount is acceptable," said Deborah Smith, the regional water board's chief deputy executive officer. Although the board has taken "aggressive enforcement action" over the years, Smith said, it decided to propose the penalty because "enough was enough."

Porous sands and broken bedrock under the park have served as pathways for wastewater from nearby pits, causing the local groundwater table to rise, the complaint says.

Under orders from the regional water board, Kissel began building a new wastewater treatment system several years ago. After the company missed its original completion deadline of November 2003, the board granted an extension. It was the first of many delays. Dahlberg contended in November 2006 that the system would be completed a month later, but the job took nearly two years longer.

In November 2008, the first laboratory results from the new system indicated that the site was in compliance with water pollution limits.

A water board panel has scheduled an April 20 hearing on the matter. The panel's recommendation would go to the full regional board.


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