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April 12, 2002
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- 850 words
Contact: Bill Orton at (562) 598-9630
Orton laments passage by Assembly of 'urgent' sewage district bill      (ORANGE COUNTY) -- As Californians prepare to mark another Earth Day, state Assembly candidate William R. "Bill" Orton (D-Seal Beach) lamented passage of legislation that will ultimately make it easier for Orange County's largest sewage district to waive the federal rules that govern how wastewater is treated before being pumped into the ocean each day.
"Innocent as Assembly Bill 1892 appears," said Orton, who is running against the measure's author, "this bill will be one more tool that the Orange County Sanitation District will use to keep their controversial waiver."
It is odd to go against an "environmental" bill that cleared the state Assembly on a 75-to-0 vote, says Orton, but he argues that the bill is not what it seems.
The measure, AB 1892, would allow the OCSD to divert up to 10 million gallons a day of runoff from city storm drains. This task would be in addition to the OCSD's primary job, which is to treat sewage created by the people living in the 25 cities served by the sewage district.
The proposal for stormwater diversion first emerged in January, when Seal Beach City Councilman Sean Boyd -- a member of the OCSD's 25-city governing board -- declared war on urban runoff.
Boyd -- who chaired the OCSD subcommittee on runoff -- has since lost his reelection, but the sewage district's efforts continue under hired lobbyist Scott Baugh.
Baugh, himself a former state lawmaker, brought in Orton's opponent -- Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) -- to carry the legislation that would let the OCSD take on the new job of diverting urban runoff.
There is no issue more important to voters than cleaning the coastline and riverways, says Orton, but the source and timing of this bill makes him suspect that the legislation is intended to backfire.
"Diversion of urban runoff is a logical first step to regionalizing the issue of sewers, runoff and wastewater treatment," said Orton, "but the OCSD needs to deal with the undertreated sewage first before picking up side work."
Orton wrote to OCSD board members in January to support the runoff concept. In his letter, Orton outlined a proposal for a $100 million state infrastructure matching fund that would help to pay for upgrades in the sewers, storm drains and wastewater treatment plants.
Under Orton's plan, $10 million a year in state money would be directed to an obscure agency known as the California Development Bank, or CalBank. The agency's primary mission is to pay for noncontroversial infrastructure projects, like sewers, roads, and wastewater treatment plants. Orton recommends "hijacking" the CalBank for use as the primary state vehicle to bring about substantial action on regional infrastructure problems in Orange County.
Some of the $100 million that Orton talks about would come from existing state resources. Other money would be raised by the CalBank's authority to sell better-than-municipal-grade bonds. All money would be put into a matching fund, where districts like the OCSD and cities would use the money to help pay for upgrades, repairs and expansions of sewers, storm drains and wastewater treatment plants.
Orton repeated the proposal in an appearance before the Huntington Beach City Council, and to all who will listen.
But Orton now worries that the OCSD's official mission of treating sewage will be given short shift if Harman's bill becomes law this year.
Some news reports say it already is.
The OCSD pumps 243 million gallons of sewage into the ocean each day, half of which receives only the barest treatment. A giant underwater sewage plume caused by this outfall is now believed to be washing inland far enough to possibly affect the health of people in local waters, according to a study described in this week's Orange County Register and Huntington Beach Independent.
The OCSD is one of only three districts of its size in the nation allowed to waive the rules that govern how sewage is to be treated. Under the federal Clean Water Act, more than 16,000 other sewer districts in the nation must follow the federal rules and perform a complete primary and secondary treatment for every gallon of sewage they handled each day.
With the waiver soon set to expire, quick passage of Harman's bill will give OCSD officials a way to justify extending the waiver for another five years, says Orton.
And quick passage appears to be just where AB 1892 is headed.
If the bill sails through the state Senate with as much ease as it flew through the Assembly, then it could land on the Governor's desk before summer. And because it is called "urgent," the bill would become law immediately upon the Governor's signature.
"Scott Baugh is earning his money," said Orton, referring to the former Assemblyman who is the OCSD's lobbyist in Sacramento and who is pressing ahead on the measure.
Baugh also represents the AES power plant and is now trying to cut Huntington Beach into five easy pieces, with a redistricting plan that has been attacked as a thinly veiled attempt to oust the slow-growth moderate councilmembers now in office.
Orton's district includes the coastal cities of Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, whose councils have each passed resolutions calling for an end to the federal waiver. The 67th district also includes five communities along the San Gabriel River, including Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Cypress and La Palma. The 67th also includes portions of Anaheim, Stanton, Garden Grove and Westminster.
Orton has been endorsed by Seal Beach Councilman Paul Yost, San Gabriel Mountains Conservancy executive director Ann Croissant, Friends of the LA River boardmember Joan Greenwood, anti-waiver activist Doug Korthof and Rossmoor Sewer District trustee Jack Rosenthal.
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