Bills Target Lead Paint Companies Ahead of Ballot Fight

Thursday, March 22, 2018

California Democrats say they're introducing legislation to hold chemical companies accountable for fixing the harms of lead paint.

Jonathan J Cooper, Associated News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Democrats said Thursday they're introducing legislation to hold chemical companies accountable for fixing the harms of lead paint as manufacturers try to get a measure on the ballot to make taxpayers cover the costs.

The legislation is the latest shot in a growing battle since court rulings declared lead paint to be a public nuisance and required three companies to pay for cleanup.

With costs that could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars in just the 10 cities and counties that filed suit, paint companies are gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would eliminate their liability. The initiative would declare that lead paint is not a public nuisance and include a $2 billion bond for lead abatement to be repaid from the state general fund for an average of $110 million a year for 35 years.

"For many decades a handful of giant paint manufacturers sold toxic lead paint to California homeowners," said Assemblyman David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat. "These toxic paint companies did this knowing the very serious risk to human life."

Chiu and five other Democrats are promoting six bills that, in various ways, seek to limit homeowners' liability and make it easier to successfully sue lead paint companies. One bill would add a fee to paint sales that would only apply if the industry's ballot measure passes. The author, Assemblyman Bill Quirk, said his goal is to raise more money than the $110 million annual cost of repaying the bond.

A Santa Clara County judge found lead paint to be a public nuisance and required three paint companies — ConAgra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries Inc., and Sherwin-Williams Company — to pay $1.15 billion for abatement. A state Court of Appeal in November upheld the finding of public nuisance but said the companies only have to pay for abatement in homes built before 1951. The final bill for those homes has not yet been determined.

The three companies have put $2 million each into political committee, "Californians for Safe and Affordable Housing," that's currently collecting signatures for the industry's ballot measure.

They have until July 25 to collect 365,880 valid signatures and reported last month that they've reached 25 percent of their goal.

Homeowners face the prospect of decreasing property values if they have paint labeled a public nuisance, and those living outside the 10 cities and counties that sued would get no mitigation assistance from the lawsuit, the ballot measure proponents say.

The Democratic package "does not solve the significant threat to homeowners," said Kendall Klingler, a spokeswoman for the ballot measure committee.

"We're pleased that the state legislature is paying attention to the issue, and we look forward to working with them to find a solution," Klingler said.

The cities and counties that filed the lawsuit are: Santa Clara, San Francisco, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano and Ventura counties along with the cities of Oakland and San Diego.