Mayor pro tem, environmentalist blast reduced Paradise Cove pollution fine

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Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner says the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s fine reduction means “it pays to pollute.” The ruling can be appealed to the State Water Resources Control Board.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s decision earlier this month to lower the water pollution fine for the Paradise Cove Mobilehome Park from $1.65 million to $54,500 drew sharp criticism from Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner and Heal the Bay head Mark Gold. But regional water and Paradise Cove officials are not talking.

Paradise Cove is accused of dumping raw sewage into the Malibu watershed among other allegations. The nine-figure fine was proposed by RWQCB staff earlier this year. But since it never issued a cease-and-desist order to Paradise Cove owner Kissel Co., the water agency was forced to drastically reduce the fine.

Wagner said in an interview this week that he was “disappointed in the amount of the ruling.”

“It pays to pollute,” Wagner said.

He continued, “I hope this isn’t an indicator of future fines … because if it is, the water quality will continue to diminish.”

In his blog entry last week titled “A Shameful Screw-Up,” Gold compared the fine reduction to “a serial felon getting released on probation because the police failed to read the accused his Miranda rights.”

“Because of the technical mistakes, the Kissel Co. saved over a million dollars in penalties and even more millions in the opportunity cost gained by not upgrading, operating and maintaining a First World wastewater treatment system for a decade,” Gold wrote. “It definitely pays to pollute.”

Gold added, “The Board should be ashamed and Steve Dahlberg, who leads the Kissel Co., owes the public and the local community an apology and more. All of those men, women and children that got sick from swimming in the sewage polluted waters of Paradise Cove in the last 10 years have the Regional Board and the Kissel Co. to thank.”

Dahlberg did not return numerous calls for comment. Kissel attorney Roger Holt told The Malibu Times on Tuesday it was “premature to comment” on the ruling because Kissel officials “haven’t had a full discussion about the order.”

RWQCB officials would not comment on the ruling. The agency’s response was limited to a pre-written statement from RWQCB Chair Mary Ann Lutz.

“This enforcement decision by the Regional Board can be appealed to the State Board at any time within the next 30 days,” Lutz wrote. “Until the time for a petition has run, the Regional Board is unable to comment.”

The RWQCB discussed the $1.65 million fine during a meeting in June. Due to questions regarding legal arguments, board members decided to continue the matter to a public meeting in December. But that meeting will not take place because the board members reached their final decision during a closed session meeting earlier this month.

The RWQCB’s order declaring the fine and reasons for it states, “There is no need to reopen the proceeding for an additional hearing or further arguments.”

Kissel has been accused of polluting the water for several years. The RWQCB ordered the company to build a new wastewater treatment system more than five years ago. But getting that done was slow, and the system was not completed until last year.

When Kissel missed its original completion deadline of November 2003, the board granted an extension. Dahlberg said in November 2006 that the system would be completed a month later, but that did not happen.

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.