BY BILL KOENEKER
At a Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board hearing this week, members unanimously agreed to direct staff to renegotiate the memo of understanding between the City of Malibu and the state agency that gives the municipality authority to issue discharge permits.
The board could have terminated the agreement on Thursday, but didn’t. Instead the panel agreed to leave the current MOU in place for one year, while the two sides renegotiated its terms.
Revisions could include the state agency taking over all commercial discharge permits and seeking a legally binding commitment from the city to build a centralized wastewater treatment plant for the Civic Center.
Another staff recommendation adopted by the board is to direct its staff to study the possibility of a septic prohibition in Malibu.
However, executive officer Tracy Escogue made the staff’s intentions clear on the purpose of calling for a prohibition. "The prohibition is the stick,” she said, to prod city officials to accept the terms of the RWQCB staff renegotiating a new MOU.
The board heard from RWQCB staffers that the matter was before the board because of a dispute with the city over permitting for the Malibu Lumber Yard shopping center.
Some board members appeared displeased that the matter had to be resolved at the board level. They told the staff they wanted elements inserted into any new memo of understanding that would avoid a similar dispute rising to the level of board resolution.
A contingent of Malibu city officials appeared before the panel and touted the city’s environmental credentials.
“We are about the ocean, and we can make the ocean clean,” said Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, who ticked off a laundry list of the environmental accomplishments of the city and vowed Malibu was making inroads on acquiring land and building a wastewater treatment facility.
Other municipal officials testified, including Councilmember John Sibert, City Manager Jim Thorsen and City Attorney Christi Hogin, who said they did not oppose the staff recommendations.
However, Mark Gold, the head of the environmental watchdog group Heal the Bay, said it was not about city’s environmental credentials or accomplishments. “The problem is not solved. The lagoon and Surfrider Beach are still polluted,” he said.
Gold noted that commercial development is still pending in the Civic Center, and there is no firm commitment from the city that wastewater in the Civic Center will be treated by a centralized facility. “There needs to be a legally binding contract from the city,” he said.
Despite the connection between the lumberyard dispute and the issue before them, board members said they did not want to hear about the former since it will be on their agenda next month for a discharge permit.
Likewise, they said they did not want to discuss La Paz, the shopping center office complex recently approved by the city that has, as part of a development agreement, set aside land for a sewage treatment plant.
La Paz consultants were on hand, nevertheless, to tell the board why their no net discharge wastewater treatment system planned for La Paz should be excluded from any septic prohibition.
The board asked extensive questions of the RWQCB staff, including whether there would be additional staff or staff time required to assume the duties now taken on by the city in overseeing the current permitting system. Yes, they were told.
They were also queried about how many more commercial systems may need to be permitted. When a RWQCB staffer told the board there were anywhere from 200 to 500 unregulated commercial properties, everyone from Malibu including the municipal staff laughed because of the large number cited.
None of the board members turned to city officials for answers to any of these questions, choosing to solely rely on their own staff.
Board member Madelyn Glickfeld, a Malibu resident, made the motion for the board to approve the staff recommendation. Glickfeld offered extensive comments on what she thinks should be in a future MOU.
Glickfeld, a former California Coastal Commissioner, said there is the potential for almost 150,000 square feet of commercial development in the Civic Center and it should not all be allowed to hook up to septic systems. She said there needs to be a time schedule for Malibu to work that out.
Glickfeld also briefly talked about Legacy Park. “I am really sad and disappointed about Legacy Park. That it has become a detention basin for stormwater. I would like to see the treatment capacity reconsidered,” she added.
Talking about the efficacy of septic systems in Malibu, Glickfeld noted, “There are so many commercial properties that don’t function properly.”