Regional Water Board Official's Attendance at Council Meeting Is Viewed as a Positive Sign
• Members Continue to Work on Wastewater Facility Design
BY BILL KOENEKER
In an apparent effort to underscore the importance of the breakthrough in talks between Malibu city officials and Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board staff on the Civic Center septic ban, Sam Unger, the executive officer of the state agency, came to the Malibu City Council chambers this week to confirm where the two stand together.
Discussions between city staff and the staff of the RWQCB over the past two months now seem to offer a glimmer of hope that potentially lengthy and costly litigation may be avoided and a final design plan agreed upon.
Unger told the council there were some critical steps worked out with the city's staff and those elements have been informally reviewed by the regional board.
City Manager Jim Thorsen also told the council positive steps were in evidence, but hastened to add much more work needs to be done. "At this time, there has been progress in our discussions with the RWQCB on the Phase 1 and deep well injection dispersal plan. It is understood that we still need to concur on the ultimate phasing of the entire prohibition area before we can fully complete any of the final plans and [Environmental Impact Report]," he said.
Another positive sign came from Steve Soboroff, who said his project, the Whole Foods shopping center, was willing to offer a $2 million estimated assessment fee upfront if need be. "We pledge $2 million. We see a lot of progress. We have had meetings with city officials and been kept up to speed," he said.
After the meeting, Soboroff explained his actions were taken to show the city and the RWQCB the stakeholders are willing to pay their fair share.
Thorsen explained to the council he wanted members to show a positive response to the RWQCB's support of the Phase 1 and deep well injection plan "and with the anticipation that the RWQCB and the city will be able to agree on an ultimate phasing plan of the entire prohibition area, I am recommending that the city council authorize the staff and [the consultants] RMC Water and Environment to re-initiate efforts to design the central water treatment facility and the city attorney to negotiate a six-month extension on the existing tolling agreement that is set to expire March 31," Thorsen said.
The city manager insisted that approval of a deep well injection system is required to discharge excess treated effluent when no more recycled water can be used.
However, Unger said there are other options. "Deep well injection is tertiary-treated water," he said.
Some council members praised the two men and the preliminary results of the discussions.
"You are collaborating. We appreciate that. We don't want an ocean outfall,' said Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich.
"I'm greatly encouraged by your efforts," agreed Councilmember Laura Rosenthal. "It is a step in the right direction."
Councilmember Lou La Monte wanted to know what happens in Phase 2. Thorsen answered him by saying in the next 60 days, the city would probably spend up to $80,000 in design funds.
Mayor John Sibert noted the money had already been allocated. The mayor added, "It is important when looking at phases to know that this is a modular design. We need to make sure of that design for the plant."
Thorsen went on to say that given the money the city has already spent on the design process, a final resolution of the boundaries and phasing "will need to be reached within the next 60-90 days."
The city manager maintained that a quick resolution of the phasing and boundaries will enable the design team to complete its work in a timely manner without further changes or delays.
The regional board approved the prohibition last year and the state board upheld the septic ban. The adopted plan stipulates that all commercial properties must cease discharge by 2015. All residential properties must cease discharge by 2019. No new discharge is allowed from any property in the prohibition boundary. The city estimates the cost for a centralized wastewater treatment facility and associated infrastructure range from $30-$52 million depending on size, location and other factors.
Cost for the treatment plant is anticipated to be borne by the property owners through the formation of an assessment district, according to city officials.
The city immediately brought suit against the state agency but that litigation has been tolled by an agreement between both parties, while the regional board staff and city staff discuss the matter.
Initially, the board had shown little will to compromise for what the city wanted to do for adjusting the phasing and boundaries of the prohibition.