By John Davis
City Councilperson Mike Bonin and County Supervisor Don Knabe should be greatly concerned about the proposed Sewer Main Project in Venice and Marina del Rey. Both the City and County ignored the federal interest. Both concealed known public safety issues that remain unaddressed.
The City authorized an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in 2007. The last public comment was in 2006. It is over seven years old and is out of date. It does not reflect changed circumstances or even very important issues known at the time. The California Environmental Quality Act requires complete and current information. This EIR is like spoiled milk left on the shelf.
First, it failed to address important matters of federal jurisdiction. The U.S. Rivers and Harbors Act of 1947 established the lower reach of Ballona Creek as a federal project.
The U.S. Rivers and Harbors Act of 1954 established a second federal project, Marina del Rey. However, the EIR engaged in an omission error, it completely failed to identify the federal interest.
From a public safety standpoint, the City and County failed to fully address the issue of methane hazard. The gas is explosive in small concentrations and can accumulate in buildings, garages, and elevator shafts, reaching explosive levels. Hydrogen Sulfide, also a gas, is deadly and occurs throughout the Venice and Playa del Rey oil fields.
Sempra Energy also stores vast quantities of methane deep below the surface at the project site under high pressures. Leaks to the surface have occurred. Natural pockets of methane exist underground too, and at pressure.
Along Admiralty and Via Marina in MDR there are wildcat oil and gas pipelines that never received approval of the County Board of Supervisors, according to a response to a request for public records. The lines leaked in 2004, alerting the public to their existence when a Hazmat team swarmed the area.
The unapproved lines are old and rusty and have leaked. Oil and gas from the subsurface can contaminate such lines with dangerous materials, including low level radioactive waste associated with such works.
Given the lines are neither approved nor decommissioned or abandoned, they remain a clear threat to the environment and public safety. Tunneling under them could undermine the already fragile state and cause unknown environmental consequences such as toxic releases to the atmosphere, soil, and groundwater. Tunneling may also cause soil and groundwater that has already been contaminated by the wildcat lines to spread to other areas.
Yet, the old 2006 EIR omits these issues, at the expense of public safety, to rush the project.
From a procedural aspect, the City is cheating.
The State Open Meetings Act requires a public body to approve permits like Coastal Development Permits (CDP)s. A public hearing is held in conformance with the Brown Act, public comment is taken on the final staff report, and then the public body takes action to either approve or disapprove. The public may sue at this point.
Here, the City has bent the rules for years. The City Engineer purported to hold a hearing on the CDP in January. The public was presented with a “Draft Staff Report”.
The City Department of Public Works claims that a “Final Staff Report”will be produced by the Department, but the public may not comment.
The City Engineer is not a public body authorized under the Brown Act to make a decision to issue or not issue a Coastal Development Permit. The City cannot disallow the people from commenting on a final staff report as with all other public hearings, but that is what has been going on for decades. City law does not trump State law in this respect.
Here the City has cheated the public for years. Mike Bonin could help could fix this, if he wanted to. This CDP should not be handled like this. The City Council should consider it, and as a public body, step up and be held accountable.
As soon as the City Engineer “approves” its own CDP, the public can appeal it to the California Coastal Commission. If anyone wishes to make an appeal, it should contact the City Engineer and keep track of the approval date. The appeal period is short, but may force a public hearing before the Coastal Commission.
The County has also applied for a CDP for its portion of the project.
The Regional Planning Commission, a public body, under the Brown Act, will hold a public hearing. Interested persons should contact Regional Planning to attend the hearing to comment verbally or in writing. That permit can also be appealed to the Coastal Commission if the County Department of Regional Planning approves it.
By comparing the unlawful City Engineer CDP process to the legitimate role of the County Regional Planning Commission it is obvious the City has cheated the public again. Only a public body can approve a CDP, not a single person. It is clear the City has disregarded the Brown Act for years.
This City claims this large sewer line would be bored remotely with little impact to the surface. However, there are dangers underground the planners have overtly omitted from the planning process.
Tunneling through old oil and gas fields next to wildcat lines that are leaky and dangerous, under a highly pressurized antiqued gas storage facility is a gamble at best. But it can be done, if proper planning is in place.
Every effort must be made to protect the public from environmental hazards and to ensure a superior project that benefits the public without placing it in harm’s way.