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Reduced fine granted for sewage spills in Malibu

November 19, 2009|Martha Groves

A Malibu mobile home park that was hit with a proposed fine of $1.65 million in February for repeatedly allowing raw or partially treated sewage to spill into the ocean and local creeks will be ordered to pay a mere fraction of the penalty, an outcome that has infuriated a key environmental group.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board slashed to $54,500 its proposed fine against the owners of Paradise Cove, which sits on one of the most polluted beaches along Santa Monica Bay.

Calling the action a "travesty of justice," Heal the Bay President Mark Gold excoriated the board's staff and attorneys for making what he called "egregious" procedural errors. The revised order was issued late Tuesday.

"This inaction sends a loud message that it's a lot cheaper to pollute than it is to comply with the Clean Water Act and protect public health," Gold said in an interview. In an e-mail, he described the errors that led to the whittling down of the fine as "inexcusable and unconscionable."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 21, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Sewage spills: An article in Thursday's Section A about a Malibu mobile home park that spilled sewage into the ocean referred to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board. It is the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The order says the water board's attorneys concluded that the proposed $1.65-million penalty was improper because the board had failed to issue a cease-and-desist order or a cleanup-and-abatement order. The absence of such a measure made the fine unenforceable, the order indicates.

The decision by the regional water board can be appealed to the state Water Resources Control Board within the next 30 days, said L.A. board Chairwoman Mary Ann Lutz. She declined to comment further.

Roger Holt, whose firm represents Kissel Co., the owner of Paradise Cove, said he could not comment because "we . . . haven't really completed our thorough review" of the order. Kissel is headed by Steven Dahlberg.

Paradise Cove was the site of TV private eye Jim Rockford's mobile home in the 1970s series "The Rockford Files." The park itself is a spread of about 72 acres that includes a restaurant and private beach. All of the homes sit within 1,500 feet of the Pacific Ocean, according to the regional water board, and wastewater is discharged through a system of seepage pits, which flow into local groundwater.

Residents long complained of raw sewage leaking from manholes and running down the street to the playground area. Gold said Paradise Cove repeatedly failed to meet deadlines for replacing its water treatment plant and discontinuing use of old septic systems.

Under orders from the regional water board, Kissel began building a new wastewater treatment system several years ago. The company missed its original completion deadline of November 2003, and the board granted an extension. It was the first of several delays.

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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