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Controversial water-quality bill shelved

April 20, 2001

Paul Clinton

NEWPORT-MESA -- A state bill that originated in Newport Beach and that

environmentalists worried would limit the regulation of urban runoff is

dead in the water.

The bill, initially sponsored by state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine),

has been shelved after 5th District Supervisor Tom Wilson asked Johnson

to pull the bill last week.

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The legislation, known as Senate Bill 816, would have limited regional

water boards in issuing cleanup orders for urban runoff. The board uses

the orders as its primary enforcement mechanism.

Johnson introduced the bill Feb. 23, and promptly drew criticism from

environmentalists, who said it would have made it easier for polluters to

illegally discharge waste into the bay.

"Since there were concerns that were raised that could not be worked

out, we dropped the bill," said Susie Swatt, a spokeswoman for Johnson.

Newport Beach Deputy City Manager Dave Kiff, who wrote the bill for

the senator, said he still hopes to find a way to protect cities from

cease-and-desist orders on urban runoff. Such orders can required a city

to eliminate runoff by a fairly strict timeline.

That approach is unrealistic, Kiff said.

"No city is going to be able to eliminate urban runoff in any less

than three years," Kiff said. "It isn't some nebulous polluter you can

just fine. What we're talking about is everyday runoff from our homes."

A cleanup order naming Newport Beach would force the city to use its

officers to police water use, Kiff said.

Defend the Bay founder Bob Caustin, who lobbied heavily against the

bill, rejoiced over its demise.

Cities should work to educate the water-using public and adopt tougher

rules for bigger commercial users, Caustin said.

"It was a bad idea from day one," Caustin said about the bill. "Joe

Sprinkler is not the problem. You've got guys in the commercial business

and restaurants that are dumping stuff in the bay. . . . For [city

officials] to sidestep their responsibility is totally unacceptable."

Kiff attributed the bill's failure to a quirk in the language. Kiff

said he regretted using the term "non-point" to describe urban runoff

that can't be traced to a specific source. Runoff can legally be traced

to a "point" source when it enters a city gutter, according to the

regional board.

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