Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has filed criminal charges against the management company for a Del Rey condominium complex where a sewage spill forced the closure of two local beaches last year.
Mission Hills-based Bowker & Roth Property Management, the management company for Marina Gateway Condominiums at 5000 S. Centinela Ave., was charged with six criminal counts on April 23rd for improper discharge of sewage into the storm drain that eventually entered Ballona Creek and subsequently into the ocean.
When officials learned of the spill, which was estimated to be approximately 11,700 gallons of raw sewage, the county’s Department of Public Health closed Venice and Dockweiler Beaches within half a mile of the coast.
Joseph Dabovich, 40, a representative of the management company, and Leopoldo Furlan, the building’s plumber, are also facing similar charges.
The action by the city attorney is the culmination of a yearlong investigation of an incident at the complex, where according to a resident, a handyman hired by the association and the management company allegedly removed a sewer pipe cap on March 27th last year after homeowners at the complex complained to the board of directors about unpleasant odors from a sewer line two days earlier.
In the course of fixing the plumbing problem in order to prevent a sewage backup of two units, residents told The Argonaut that the sewer pipe cap was apparently taken off the complex’s private drainage line, allowing raw sewage from the sewer line to enter a storm drain within the complex.
Delgadillo’s office confirmed that finding during its investigation.
“There was an extensive investigation conducted by various city departments,” said Frank Mateljan, a Delgadillo spokesman.
The results of the investigation have been forwarded to Patricia Bilgin, supervising attorney of the environmental justice and protection unit of the city attorney’s office, who will prosecute the case.
Several city and county agencies were dispatched to the site on April 27th of last year.
“We were notified late Sunday afternoon about the incident,” Eric Edwards, chief environmental health specialist for the county’s Department of Public Health Water Quality Program, explained in an interview last year. “We then took the precaution of closing the beach a half a mile north of Ballona Creek toward Venice Beach and a half a mile south of Ballona Creek toward Dockweiler Beach.”
The Los Angeles Department of Public Works also responded, as did the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the department’s Hazardous Materials Unit and the Los Angeles Fire Department.
“Our crew found that a plumber hired by the condominium’s management company had been working on a private lateral pipe at the condominium and was unable to contain the blockage,” said Stephanie Interiano, then a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Sanitation. “Our crew responded immediately to the location and was able to contain and clean out the blockage.”
Interiano said that the city workers installed a temporary bypass on the city’s sewer line that is connected to the condominium’s pipe to prevent any more sewage from entering into the waterways.
Mark Redick, president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, is a former resident of Marina Gateway.
“They were having problems with the plumbing when I lived there,” Redick recalled.
If convicted of the charges, each defendant could serve up to one year in jail and/or $30,000 in fines, plus penalty assessments.
Redick, a hotel executive who once worked with Chem-Care, a waste management and disposal service, said while he believes the defendants are entitled to a fair trail, he hopes that the charges will put property owners on notice regarding environmental impacts to the ocean.
“This should send a message to building owners that they have to be considerate of the wildlife that is returning to the area,” he said. “Anyone who acts in a negligent manner should be held accountable and feel the full force of the law.”
Arraignment is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27th in Division 81 at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse.