LOS ANGELES — Three paint companies that lost a $1.15 billion lawsuit requiring them to remediate lead paint hazards are trying to get California taxpayers to foot the bill through a bond measure.

The $2 billion statewide general obligation bond measure would fund remediation of lead paint, mold, asbestos and other environmental dangers in homes, schools and senior citizen facilities.

It also would negate a November state appeals court decision requiring ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams to remove lead paint abatement from homes in the state’s major metro areas.

The lawsuit was brought by Santa Clara County, Los Angeles County, the City of San Diego and several other local governments.

Proponents of the Healthy Homes and Schools Act say the initiative allows for a more wide-ranging solution than the judgment, because it covers other environmental safety issues in more buildings and applies to the entire state, not just jurisdictions in the lawsuit.

Voting in San Francisco
California voters may be asked to approve a bond measure to fund lead paint remediation. Bloomberg News

The Act is a “holistic and comprehensive approach to cleaning up existing homes in California and it provides a broader public benefit for all Californians versus cherry-picking winners and losers by targeting the areas included in the lawsuit,” said Tiffany Moffatt, a spokeswoman for the bond campaign.

“HUD recommends a more comprehensive approach to solving problems including addressing multiple healthy house problems, rather than just one,” Moffatt said.

The bond measure would help tackle the housing crisis, Moffatt said, by making more existing homes habitable.

“The public nuisance language in the court ruling is bad public policy, because it declares all homes covered in the lawsuit a public nuisance, but only select communities and counties named in the lawsuit would receive funding,” Moffatt said. “It creates haves and have nots in the housing market in which homeowners not in regions covered in the lawsuit would have their home declared a public nuisance, but not be able to fix it lowering the value of their home.”

Given that the lawsuit was brought by the largest metropolitan areas in the state, Sean Hecht, a UCLA School of Law professor, says reparations from the court judgment would probably cover at least 70% of housing stock with lead paint problems, because most of the state’s older housing stock is in the jurisdictions included in the lawsuits.

The way the measure is written it would not only apply to the court case that the three paint companies just lost on appeal, Hecht said, but would eliminate liability for any future cases against companies for lead paint.

“It seems fairly clear that the proponents are trying to remove liability from paint manufacturers and have it paid by taxpayers through a bond initiative,” Hecht said.

While it’s technically true that the bond measure would cover a broader geographic area, other cities and counties could file their own lawsuits against the paint companies, Hecht said.

“The main difference is that the state would end up paying for it and issuing bonds,” Hecht said.

"This appears to be a cynical, brazen attempt by a few select corporations to get themselves off the hook at taxpayers’ expense," said Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium.

Pearl's organization, which advocates for affordable housing construction, supports a $4 billion bond measure for affordable housing and veteran home ownership that state lawmakers placed on the November ballot.

Backers of the bond measure have not yet been cleared to begin gathering petition signatures, Moffatt said. They need 365,880 valid signatures before May 4 to qualify for the November ballot.

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