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Did LA Waste Taxpayer Money On Stormwater System That Doesn't Work?

MAR VISTA ( — The city of Los Angeles is in hot water over an environmental project in Mar Vista.

A CBS2 News David Goldstein investigation has revealed that the city may be forced to pay back millions of taxpayer dollars to the state for a stormwater-treatment system that does not operate properly.

Using grant money from the state, the stormwater treatment site, known as a centrifugal-cleaning system, is designed to clean stormwater runoff and then use that water to irrigate a park in Mar Vista. But the irrigation system was never installed, and the facility has never run the way it should.

The project was completed in 2011 but doesn't operate the way that the grant said it should.

"We never said it would be done at the same time," said Enrique Zaldiver, head of the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation

The state put in just over $2 million for the project, and the City of L.A. funded almost $2.5 million, bringing the total to over $4.5 million.

Letters obtained by CBS2 News from the California Water Board, the organization that gave the state grant, said  the city "stated that the project included the beneficial use of disinfected stormwater for park landscape irrigation."

But after an inspection they found that "certain components paid for with grant dollars were not functional."

They concluded "the project is not, and has never been, operated in accordance with grant terms and conditions." And they want their money back.

So did the city try to pull a fast one over the state?

"I would say pull a fast one as you described it would require that they got away with it. I'd say that at this point, they are not going to get away with it," said Cris Carrigan, director of the Office of Enforcement at the State Water Resources Control Board.

"Did the city lie to the state in order to get this money? Absolutely not," said Zaldiver, who calls it a misunderstanding. But a potentially costly one.

Kris Vosburgh with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an organization that advocates for taxpayer rights, said the city got caught.

"Sounds like the state should get its money back," Vosburgh said. "They don't think anybody is going to notice. After all, it's only going to be a few million dollars. The taxpayers are not getting a good return on their investment. It's horrible."

The city has until the end of the year to bring the facility up to par, which would be six years and $5 million dollars after it was built.

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