Flush TwiceIts a Long Way to Huntington Beach

Why wont the sanitation district clean up the massive sewage plume off the countys coast? Follow the money

That's what Anderson keeps telling the Environmental Protection Agency, too. It's what he must say for the EPA to continue granting the OCSD a temporary 301 (h) waiver to the Clean Water Act. The current five-year waiver expires in 2003, and the OCSD is already preparing to apply for another.

"Bottom line: the sewage that goes into the ocean cannot be damaging," asserts Janet Hashimoto of the EPA's regional office in San Francisco. "If it is, the situation does not warrant a waiver."

The OOG is asking the OCSD to drop its application for the waiver. So are several OC politicians—from such moderates as Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) to conservative Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove), whose Assembly Bill 1969 outlawing the OCSD from applying for another waiver passed through the State Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials on April 23 by a 5-1 vote.

Meanwhile, Anderson has been putting off action for months, keeping the OCSD board in line and critics at bay by insisting that they "wait for the science"—the results of a $5.1 million OCSD-funded study taken last summer. The first of three sections of the study was posted on the agency's website on April 26—but none of the findings dealt with the plume. Instead, there were analyses of the Santa Ana River, AES power plant and other potential land-based causes for bacterial outbreaks at local beaches. The rest of the study will be presented to the board of directors on May 15, and their vote on the waiver application is scheduled for June—leaving opponents scant time to influence the decision.

In one form or another, the OCSD has been employing this wait-for-the-science strategy for years.

"But the reports of their science have been hiding data, obfuscating data, minimizing data—or not releasing interpretations of that data at all," says Jan Vandersloot, the Newport Beach dermatologist who has been leading the OOG.


In April, the Orange County grand jury excoriated the OCSD for withholding for nearly six years the results of a publicly funded 1996 study of bacterial contamination near the shoreline.

"They say their science is showing this or that, but when you actually look at it, it is bad science," Vandersloot added. "Bottom line, we are winding up with an ocean that is dirtier and dirtier."

Yet the OCSD will again make its case with the minutiae of measurements gathered from water-sample tests, which will then be compared to a range of readings that are deemed "acceptable."

As for that 11,500-acre Hershey squirt hovering just off the coast, which is amplified by another 240 million gallons of undersanitized sewage every day? Sorry, but the official EPA forms don't have a category for that.

The board got a little nervous when bacteria readings on Feb. 11 showed the plume had crept within a half-mile of Newport. But rather than order full secondary treatment of OC sewage, it followed Anderson's suggestion: kill the bacteria by pouring massive doses of bleach into the sewage before it reaches the ocean. In other words, the OCSD is trying to solve a pollution problem with more pollution.

The OCSD is not the only cross-governmental agency that pays its directors for showing up to meetings. In fact, in an era of closely monitored personal-income statements and limits on campaign contributions, paid appointments to various boards and commissions are among the few legally pickable plums for elected officials.

For example, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), which oversees Orange County's toll roads, pays directors $120 per meeting, plus a driving reimbursement of 39 cents per mile. And the Vector Control board, which oversees mosquito infestation, pays $50 per meeting.

The range in compensation among various boards has an impact on the appointments of city council representatives.

"I'm finding they aren't made according to our expertise," says Carolyn Cavecche, who joined the Orange City Council 10 months ago. "I asked for the appointment to the Sanitation District because, with my background in medical microbiology, I have a basis of knowledge—I understand the terms, at least. But the Sanitation District appointment tends to go to the more senior council members, so [Mayor pro-tem] Mike Alvarez got it. I got Vector Board. That's how appointments go. I think the Sanitation District pays the most, so of course people want to be on it."

Huntington Beach City Councilman Peter Green pitched a major hissy fit in December when incoming Mayor Debbie Cook appointed herself to replace him on the OCSD board. Huntington Beach's mayors have tended to serve on the OCSD board, and Cook is a longtime environmental activist with a passion for the issues.

But Green was desperate to keep his seat on the board, which paid him $8,007.73 in cash and another $1,007.18 in lodging and expense reimbursement in 2001. He tried unsuccessfully to rally his longtime colleagues to go over Cook's head and pass a resolution that would preserve his lucrative post. It didn't work.

Always one of the juiciest appointments, the OCSD got even juicier in 2001 when the board voted itself a 70 percent raise—from $100 to $170 per meeting. The board itself convenes only once a month, but a variety of subcommittees get together according to various schedules, needs and whims. By attending the maximum-allowable six meetings per month, a director can rake in $1,020 per month—or $12,240 per year. As chairman, Eckenrode is permitted 10 meetings per month, which propels his potential haul to $20,400 annually.

« Previous Page
Next Page »