Kissel says no contest


For former residents Roger Goldingay and Saria Kraft, last week’s resolution of the environmental crimes case against mobilehome park owner The Kissel Company was good news. They had testified, one for 4-1/2 days, one for five hours, about a failing septic system which frequently leaked sewage in and around the Paradise Cove mobilehome park.

The criminal case, titled “People of the State of California versus The Kissel Company,” was settled last Thursday when mobilehome park owner Kissel pled no contest to 14 counts of illegally discharging sewage. The six-week trial, heard by Malibu Municipal Court Judge Lawrence Mira, resolved 45 counts of criminal charges filed by the L.A. County District Attorney for 21 sewage spills that occurred in 1997 and 1998 in or near the park.

“The spills I documented were a small percentage of the total number” said Goldingay, a 17-year resident. “Instead of fixing or replacing the system, [Kissel] pumped pits out daily and took the wastewater to a leach field on the property and dumped it. The horrible smell 10 feet from our living room was equivalent to harassment.”

There were numerous overflows into the children’s playground, exposing people to all forms of infectious bacteria, Goldingay added. “We were living under Third World conditions in one of the most beautiful and environmentally conscious cities in the world.”

According to Deputy District Attorney Rob Miller, who prosecuted the case, Kissel pled no contest to 14 counts of violating Health & Safety Code Section 5461, illegal discharge of sewage. The court sentenced Kissel to three years probation, imposed a $50,000 fine, which would be stayed if the company fulfilled all terms of the probation, and imposed a $1,400 restitution fine.

Under the terms of the probation, Kissel must immediately implement a preventive maintenance program to stop any further spills in the park, Miller continued. Kissel also must design and install an adequate new septic system within a “reasonable period of time,” Miller said.

In addition, Kissel must select and fund a wastewater disposal expert to continuously report on the progress of the maintenance program and new septic system, Miller continued. The initial reporting date is Jan. 7. As a further indication of the court’s supervision, the expert is to be paid through a trust account and only upon the court’s order, Miller said.

Seven-year park resident Saria Kraft said she was pleased by the outcome, noting children often couldn’t get to the playground without going through sewage. “The most frustrating thing about the situation was trying to get action,” she said. “I’m very happy about the outcome because it took many of us so long to get the attention of public agencies.”

Effect on other cases

The criminal case resolution will affect at least two other cases growing out of the Paradise Cove Mobilehome Park disputes.

A recent Superior Court decision vacated the city’s 1998 denial of Kissel’s application for a rent increase. The City Council is to discuss a response to that decision in a closed session before its meeting Monday.

The city can either appeal to a higher court or send the matter back to the Rent Stabilization Commission for further hearings. Settling 1994 and 1995 federal cases over Malibu’s rent control ordinance has cost the city more than $2 million.

In another civil case, a number of the coachowners are suing Kissel for failure to maintain the park properly. It is set for trial in January.