City Council Approves Sewer MOU with Two Water Boards
■ Homeowners and Environmentalists Are Critical of the Document and the Councilmembers' Decision
Despite pleas from the public to delay the vote so they could have more time to study the complicated and controversial document, the Malibu City Council on a 4-1 vote with Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich dissenting, approved going forward this week with a memo of understanding between the municipality and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the State Water Resources Control Board regarding implementation of the Malibu Civic Center area septic prohibition.
Conley Ulich said it is the single biggest issue before the city and that to give the public only four days to study the MOU and related documents "is wrong."
None of the speakers whether homeowners nor environmentalists liked the MOU and both sides said the approach was either too stringent or not restrictive enough.
Councilmember Lou La Monte said he did not agree with the water boards' ban but said the bottom line is of all the options available "this is the best option."
Councilmember Jefferson Wagner said the policy of the city should not be bent. 'We are on a mission here to build a plant in the Civic Center, no matter," he said. "We need to take care of the septic water. We need to do this. We need to treat the water."
Councilmember Laura Rosenthal said she wanted to know why there were only four days for public scrutiny of the document.
City Manager Jim Thorsen, who brokered the MOU with the RWQCB executive officer Sam Unger, said it usually is 10 days, but that most of the stakeholders had been kept appraised of the issues on an ongoing basis.
Rosenthal said she was excited the city and the water boards had come to some kind of compromise. She said it would be too difficult to delay the matter since the next regular council meeting was not for another month. "It is in good faith and we need to go forward," she added.
Mayor John Sibert said the MOU allows for the continued study in the area.
As was pointed out, the MOU is structured so that as new information comes in, it can be used to assess what happens in the different geographical regions outlined by the so-called butterfly boundaries and the different phases.
Phase three might not go forward if information proved to the contrary for a need for hook up to a treatment plant.
City Attorney Christi Hogin said she wanted to put the MOU in perspective for what had gone on before and what could go on in the future.
She said the MOU does not give up the city's right to later litigate the matter and that the MOU is an attempt "to set aside our differences. This is not a contract."
If there is a failure for the formation of the assessment districts or by the voters refusing to fund the project and it can't be funded, then the city and the water boards are back at square one.
Hogin said the tolling stops and the clock starts again for the statute of limitations for the city to sue. "This is different than a settlement," she added.
However, one Malibu resident has sued the water boards. Malibu Road attorney and property owner Joan Lavine called the document "virtually incomprehensible and convoluted." Lavine also told the council there is no legal basis for the ban.
Other homeowners, from Chris Benjamin in the Malibu Knolls to Ozzie Silna, who represents homeowners in the Serra Retreat area, talked about the adverse impact the continued ban has on property values. He said there is no support in the canyon. "We are not going forward even if we have to sue,' he warned.
However, environmentalists from Heal the Bay, Santa Monica Baykeeper and Surfrider Foundation were just as critical of the MOU, but for other reasons.
They complained that the MOU was loosening the restrictions of the ban with the possibility that not all areas would necessarily be hooked up to a centralized treatment plant.
One environmentalist stood out. Marcia Hanscom said it was premature to approve the MOU, given the new research that suggests the ban was approved under "old science."
"Sewage spills are far worse. Sewers will facilitate more development which will add to the pollution," she noted.
Thorsen was asked what would happen if the assessment districts do not get approval and/or the voters do not approve the funding. "If there is no funding the RWQCB will take appropriate steps for compliance," he said.
Unger, who came to seek support for the MOU, told the council if nobody likes the MOU and there were those who said it was too stringent and those who said it was not, then there must be something right with the document.
He said the RWQCB is scheduled to consider the MOU at its meeting on July 14 in Simi Valley.
Thorsen said the MOU's phase one includes the core commercial areas of the Civic Center and includes those properties in and around Legacy Park. Properties on the south side of PCH and the Malibu Colony Plaza would be included. The deadline would be 2015 for the completion of a design, Environmental Impact Report and the formation of an assessment district.
Phase two includes many of the residential areas such as Serra Retreat, the Colony, Surfrider Beach, Civic Center condos and the racquet club. The deadline is 2019.
Phase three includes Malibu Knolls, Bluffs Park, HRL Labs, Our Lady of Malibu and portions of Malibu Road.
The MOU recognizes that the problem of not enough effluent dispersal area could be solved by deep well injection, but studies must be completed to find out with certainty that can be done.
"This program is a very good plan. It was negotiated in earnest and it is working forward with the city becoming compliant with the ban," the city manager said.
BY BILL KOENEKER