In the Sewage Pipeline
Illustration by Bob AulA bill by don't-call-me-an-environmentalist Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) is shaping up as Orange County's best chance to clean up the 240 million gallons of sewage it flushes into the local ocean every day. But to become law, Assembly Bill 1969 still must clear what may be its biggest hurdle: getting the signature of doesn't-stand-for-much-of-anything Democrat Governor Gray Davis.
"The governor has not taken a position on the bill," Davis spokesman Russ Lopez told the Weekly after Maddox's bill—which has already sailed through the Assembly—passed the Senate's Environmental Quality Committee by a 5-1 vote.
That's probably not as neutral as it sounds.
In April, two officials of Davis' administration blasted the California Coastal Commission for opposing San Diego's application for a waiver to the federal Clean Water Act of 1972—the same waiver that OC uses to avoid full treatment of its sewage.
In a strongly worded letter, California Resources Secretary Mary Nichols and Environmental Protection Secretary Winston Hickox told Coastal Commission members that their action was "clearly beyond the scope of the commission's authority and without any legal basis."
Beyond relaying Davis' "no position" position on Maddox's bill, Lopez went on to send an ominous signal, pointing the Weeklytoward a recent vote by the State Water Resources Control Board that opposed AB 1969. Said Lopez, "The water board is against it."
The water board couched its opposition to Maddox's bill on a matter of procedure. AB 1969 would prohibit the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) from re-applying for its waiver to the Clean Water Act. That waiver permits OCSD to dump substandard sewage into the ocean through a pipe that extends 4.2 miles off the coast between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. The OCSD will take a preliminary vote on the matter July 17, but Maddox's bill could make the decision for them.
The water board doesn't like cutting through the bureaucracy like that, which is the gist of the blah-blah-blah in this June 10 letter to Maddox: "Our opposition to your bill is based on our view that the determination of the appropriate level of treatment for OCSD, or for any of the hundreds of other wastewater-treatment facilities in California, is best left to the regulatory review of regional boards and/or the United States Environmental Protection Agency, rather than established by a specific treatment standard in state statute."
"See, that's just a turf battle," says Maddox. "They didn't have anything new to add—they're just in that food chain, and they're sensitive to the fact that I'm superceding the ability of that loop to make their calls."
Despite the opposition, Maddox remains exuberant about the progress of AB 1969, which next heads to the Appropriations Committee. He intends to approach Senate Republican leader Ross Johnson (R-Newport Beach) about introducing the bill on the floor, but Johnson's cooperation is not essential. "I want to show Senator Johnson the respect he deserves," says Maddox, "but if he declines, I may turn to my own state senator." That would be Joe Dunn (D- Santa Ana).
If approved by the Senate, Maddox's legislation could be on the governor's desk by mid-summer. The assemblyman remains optimistic about its fate there, too.
"I haven't had a conversation with the governor's staff, but I fully expect him to sign it," Maddox says blithely. "For him, it would be good policy—and good politics."
Maddox realizes the bill will get to Davis about the time the race for governor heats up. Davis' constituency has traditionally included environmentalists.
"He's going to be very concerned about making sure his base turns out to vote," said Maddox confidently. "I don't expect him to poke his finger in the eye of the environmental community."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss OC Weekly's biggest stories. Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts