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(photo by Mike Vaughn)

CITY HALL One of the dirtiest beaches in the state is finally set to get cleaned up.

Facing criticism over the lack of completed projects funded under Measure V more than two years after it was approved by voters, City Hall is expected to commence the replacement of the Santa Monica Pier storm drain in the late winter.

“We are moving forward on a very aggressive schedule,” Lee Swain, the director of public works, said.

Construction bids for the estimated $2 million undertaking, which includes replacing deficient storm drain pipes, opened last week and will conclude on Jan. 13. The City Council is scheduled to award a contract at its meeting on Jan. 27, beginning construction several weeks thereafter.

The storm drain replacement has been identified as the highest priority for City Hall, mainly because the current infrastructure has led to poor water quality beneath the pier for years, earning it the perennial distinction of being home to one of California’s dirtiest beaches.

The project, which is estimated for completion in June, also includes the construction of a diversion box that would pump captured urban runoff and divert it to a nearby sewer. Officials said the goal is to eliminate dry weather urban runoff from being discharged onto the beach, which should reduce bacterial contamination on the beach.

City Hall also faces a strict deadline of reducing the total maximum daily loads for bacteria levels beneath the pier by 25 percent by 2013. The deadline is enforced by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

More than three million people visit the pier every year.

“The fact that it is … basically the icon for the city and also the most polluted beach along all of Santa Monica Bay makes it by far the largest priority,” Mark Gold, the executive director of Heal the Bay, said. “People voted for Measure V to clean up Santa Monica Bay and the first place to start is the most polluted beach, which is the pier.”

Gold has long urged city officials to do their part in cleaning up the bay.

“We’re encouraged by the fact that we’re seeing that action move forward,” he said.

City Hall has been criticized for the seemingly slow pace in which the projects are being pushed.

The reason for delay could be attributed to the collection in Measure V property tax money, which didn’t begin until about eight months after it was approved.

Dean Kubani, who heads the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said that several mechanisms needed to be established before City Hall could begin collection, including setting up a system to provide exemptions for low-income residents and creating a database to send to the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office.

While City Hall began collecting taxes in 2007, the money didn’t start flowing until July of last year.

The measure brings in about $2.5 million every year.

After the money came in, city staff began evaluating potential projects and starting ranking them in order of priority. Some additional time was also spent determining whether the projects should be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis or debt financed, ultimately opting for the latter which would expedite the process.

Up to $22 million — covering roughly 10 projects — will be debt financed over the next two decades.

“The number of projects we have to do to meet Clean Water Act requirements exceeds the amount of money that is coming in on an annual basis,” Kubani said. “It makes sense to issue bonds to begin the process rather than wait each year.”

City Hall also needed to establish a Measure V Funds Oversight Committee for which the council has already seated three members, including Gold, Mark Peacor, the director of planning and design for Loyola Marymount University, and Susan Bracey. Two more members could be appointed.

The committee is responsible for reviewing projects after they are proposed, including looking at the expenditure of funds after the fact to make sure they are spent in a manner consistent with the language of the measure.

The pier storm drain project is just one of several that could be funded under Measure V, including upgrades to the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility, a potential reservoir at Memorial Park, and the greening of both Ocean Park Boulevard and Bicknell Avenue, which would help clean and infiltrate urban runoff. The projects have yet to be reviewed by either the oversight committee or council.

Once the projects are approved, they go through a lengthy process that includes hiring a designer, project manager and formal bidding to find a contractor.

“The end goal is to meet some of these TMDL requirements and to do what is most cost effective in cleaning up the bay and that involves quiet a bit of science and engineering,” Swain said.

melodyh@smdp.com