Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park owner fined $1.65 million

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The Kissel Company had been under orders to clean up its act at the mobile home park, where sewage spills had been a common occurrence for several years.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board issued proposed fines in the amount of $1.65 million to the Kissel Company, owner of the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park, for allowing, among other things, raw sewage spills into a local creek and the ocean.

The fines, which Kissel can either pay or appeal, or the water board can increase, decrease or dismiss, will be discussed in a court hearing scheduled for April 20 at the State of California General Office of Administrative Services in Downtown Los Angeles.

The RWQCB issued a complaint that states the Kissel Company, headed by President Steven Dahlberg, failed to properly manage wastewater from its 72-acre property of 257 mobile homes, all of which are located within 1,500 feet from of the ocean. The board also states that Kissel Company allowed 17 raw sewage spills into Ramirez Creek and the ocean between April 2007 and July 2008, disregarded regional water board orders to construct and operate an effective wastewater treatment plant according to prescribed schedules, and failed to submit groundwater-monitoring reports.

Under orders from the regional water board, Kissel began building a new wastewater treatment system more than five 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 said 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 wastewater treatment system at the mobile home park indicated that the site was in compliance with water pollution limits.

“Raw sewage has flowed down driveways and streets, threatening human health and water quality,” Deborah Smith, chief deputy executive officer and lead prosecutor for the RWQCB, said in a press release. “Not meeting deadlines for constructing and effectively operating new facilities to protect water quality is unacceptable.”

Roger Holt, attorney for Kissel Company, said in an interview Friday, “Our position is we have reviewed the complaint, we consider their claims to be unfounded and will vigorously defend Kissel. I’m not going to get into the merits of why. They will be heard at the appropriate time. We don’t consider the claims to be meritorious.”

Smith said in a telephone interview Monday that the claims are “crystal clear.”

“The violations we have in the [complaint] order speak for themselves,” she said. “We had clear deadlines articulated in our order, all of which were violated. Compliance with board orders is paramount to ensure our coastal waters are protected.”

Dahlberg sits on the board of directors for Santa Monica Baykeeper, an environmental group whose mission is to protect and restore water quality in the Santa Monica Bay and in other bodies of water throughout Los Angeles County. Calls to Dahlberg were not returned.

“It [the proposed fine] reflects the other steps that the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board has been taking lately,” Tom Ford, president of Santa Monica Baykeeper, said Monday in a telephone interview. “They seem very serious about addressing water quality violations along the Malibu coast.”

Ford said it was difficult for him to comment on his opinion of the proposed fine against Kissel Company because he had not spent adequate time evaluating it and, though he refused to comment, he said that his opinion would in no way be affected by the fact that Dahlberg is on Santa Monica Baykeeper’s board of directors.

Heal the Bay President Mark Gold said Monday in a telephone interview he feels the proposed fine is justified “because the sheer number of violations over such a long period of time is extraordinary.

“I’ve been with Heal the Bay for 20 years and this issue has been discussed for over a dozen of them,” Gold said. “People make mistakes and you can be lenient, but when you have a chronic pollution problem that’s not addressed and has the potential to harm public health, a strong message needs to be sent.”

Kirstin James, water quality director for Heal the Bay, agreed with Gold.

“The fact is that they [the Kissel Company] have been violating their permit requirements,” James said. “They’re the permit holders so they are ultimately responsible. We support the decision and think it’s a step in the right direction.”

City of Malibu Manager Jim Thorsen said Monday in a telephone interview he had not fully evaluated the potential fine, but that “the City of Malibu has always supported clean water and ensuring that our rivers, creeks and ocean are clean.”