(More recent readings show just how variable bacteria levels can be: This year, the OC Health Care Agency measured enterococcus levels at central Aliso Beach as low as 4 units per 100 milliliters on April 29, and in excess of 980 on May 8.)

Generally, the agency will not mandate closing the beach for a high bacteria count unless there's an actual sewage spill, or a mysterious contagion for which it can't locate the immediate source. The guests at the Montage Resort probably don't realize what flows directly into the azure waters below them, which certainly look beautiful on a clear day.

But will the Athens development make the creek water better, or worse? When pressed on the issue, all environmentalists interviewed for this story, as much as they may not get along with Butow, ultimately agree with his assessment that the pollution levels probably won't get worse and might even get slightly better—one specific positive step being the clearing of the non-native plant arundo, which chokes out native vegetation.

Looks pretty, smells awful
Jennie Warren
Looks pretty, smells awful
Toxic Avenger: Roger Butow
Jennie Warren
Toxic Avenger: Roger Butow

But Mike Beanan of the South Laguna Civic Association argues that isn't good enough. "Is 'a little bit better' what we aim for in life?" he asks, semi-rhetorically. "The same engineering firm that's doing the Aliso Creek Golf Course for the Athens Group—Geosyntec is their name—they did Pelican Hills for Newport Coast. And they designed a system that catches every drop of storm water, up to a 50-year storm event. And they're going to capture everything on the property, and none of it's going to go in the ocean. So we're saying, well, if you guys can do that level of sophistication, why can't you do it for the Athens Group?"

For video footage of Roger Butow and Michael Hazzard at Aliso Creek, go to

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