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Paint Companies' Ballot Initiative Would Hand Lead Paint Removal Costs To The State

Chitose Suzuki / AP Photo

Contractors Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint at a contaminated building in Providence, R.I., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006

Chitose Suzuki / AP Photo

Three paint companies are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would undo a decision by the California Supreme Court this week that requires them to spend millions to clean up lead paint hazards in the state.

California’s Supreme Court denied an appeal from Sherwin Williams, Conagra Company and NL Industries, saying they must pay $600 million to address lead paint hazards in a number of densely populated cities and counties.

But the companies are now trying to nullify that decision with a ballot initiative. If passed, it would instead institute a $2 billion state bond to pay for paint clean ups and other environmental hazards across the state.

James Williams, county counsel in Santa Clara County — which was involved in the suit­ — says this is a ploy by the paint companies to get out of it, and have taxpayers pay for it instead.

"For them to now try to evade court judgement is just plain wrong," Williams said. "They should be held accountable to clean up the toxic mess they created."

But Tiffany Moffatt, a spokesperson for the initiative, said it should be up to the voters to decide who should pay.

"Policies that impact public health and costly mandates on consumers should be carefully considered and vetted by the state legislature and California voters," she said.

She added that the initiative, if passed, would address lead paint hazards across the whole state, not just the cities and counties named in the lawsuit. "It's for every home throughout California, in addition to schools and senior facilities," she said.

The initiative needs 365,880 signatures to qualify. The three companies have already contributed $6 million to the effort.

Santa Clara, San Francisco, Solano, Ventura, Monterey and other counties were a part of the suit, along with the cities of Oakland and San Diego. The court battle went on for about 18 years.

Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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