In the first enforcement of its kind against a public agency, the state water board announced Tuesday that it has reached a $6.2-million settlement with the city of Long Beach for violating regulations governing the storage of petroleum and waste oil in underground tanks.
The State Water Resources Control Board "will not tolerate violations of these important environmental protection laws, and will take swift action against all violators, whether public or private," said Reed Sato, director of the board's office of enforcement.
Long Beach has failed to install leak-prevention equipment and adequately monitor 40 of its underground storage tank facilities, many of which are at city fire and police stations, board officials said. The measures are aimed at preventing leaks that would pollute groundwater.
Long Beach did not deny responsibility for the violations, which City Atty. Bob Shannon called a "systematic failure" that city leaders chose not to spend money to address.
"Their position was that the city did not have the money to make the necessary repairs, and that if it had spent the money it would have had to come from somewhere else, such as decreasing the level of law enforcement," Shannon said. "So a choice was made, and a mistake was made. Now it's time to move on."
Mayor Bob Foster was unavailable for comment.
Under terms of the settlement, Long Beach, which is facing a budget shortfall of about $40 million over the next two years, will pay a penalty of $1.5 million in cash within 30 days, in addition to $200,000 in reimbursement for the board's costs of enforcement.
The city must also provide $2.5 million in financial assurance that will become due if it violates the storage tank laws again in the next five years.
The city will be credited $2 million against additional penalties for actions it takes to enhance compliance, including the development of a program to track and remedy leak-prone storage tanks.
The settlement requires the city to take out a full-page advertisement in the Sunday edition of the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, detailing the settlement and mapping the tanks.
The board's enforcement office, with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plans to review as many as 500 local, state and federally owned underground storage tank facilities.
The board began its Long Beach investigation in January 2003 after an anonymous tipster "reported that the city was not doing required testing of underground storage tanks," said David Boyers, the board's lead attorney in the case.