From the Publisher / Arnold G. York


Septic system tsunami on its way

There is a tsunami coming our way and so far most of Malibu is totally unaware of its presence. If you live in the Malibu Colony, on Malibu Road, or in Serra Retreat, Sweetwater Mesa, Malibu Knolls or any of the condo complexes near the Civic Center, it will impact you. If you pray at Our Lady of Malibu or your kids attend Webster Elementary School, it will affect you also.

If you shop, go to the movies or eat in any of the restaurants in the Civic Center area, you will also be affected.

The tsunami I’m talking about is the moratorium on installation of septic systems that the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is about to slap on the Malibu Civic Center area and most of the adjacent communities in early November. The moratorium freezes everything. It means that nothing new can be built or renovated. It affects every home that’s up for sale because once the moratorium is in place, it appears that the buyer is pretty much buying as is, without the prospect of being able to make major renovations to old houses in any of those areas. No one is sure how it’s going to effect real estate financing or how it will impact the value of existing homes. It certainly will block Santa Monica College from erecting a new building. The consequences are wide and broad in their impact, and it is far from clear how the details will play out and who exactly will be impacted.

The moratorium is to be followed in five years by a total prohibition of septic systems in those areas, which could totally shut down the center of this town. And, if it went all the way, it would literally destroy us as a community, plus impose some major daily fines.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me try and explain what this is all about.

The waters around the Malibu Civic Center-in the creek, the lagoon and in the surf line-are polluted, not all the time but enough that there is some danger at times to public health. That shouldn’t come as any great shock. Your nose can tell you that there are septic problems in the Civic Center. The Regional Water Quality Control Board believes the culprits (among others) of this pollution are the septic systems in the Civic Center area and the immediate surrounding communities. There is some science supporting this position, although it is strongly disputed. There is also some science contradicting this position, again deeply challenged. But it’s probably fair to say that some of the septic systems in the Civic Center and surrounding areas, and along the beaches area, are old and at the end of their effective working lives. The RWQCB has issued a number of notices of violations for faulty systems or faulty paperwork and they want the problems corrected. They are of the strong belief that there is really only one effective correction-that is, a sewer, (wastewater treatment facility, if you prefer) that hooks into Hyperion in L.A. or the Tapia wastewater treatment plant in Malibu Canyon, or some alternative localized, community septic treatment system.

This is where it gets political. The moratorium and threatened prohibition is a sledgehammer to push us as a community to fix the problems. It’s not at all clear yet how much we contribute to the pollution problem. But all indications are that they’re looking to us to fix the entire problem even though significant portions of this problem may be coming from the watershed outside of Malibu or that the pollution may not be from human waste.

This is no small matter because the city estimates a Civic Center wastewater treatment facility would cost $40 million to $60 million to build-to be paid for by the 500 to 600 property owners in the area-which they calculate would cost $650 to $1,000 per month, even with a low interest state loan. The wastewater facility would have to process up to 600,000 gallons per day of effluent and requires a two-acre site, which the city probably has to purchase or make some sort of a deal to get.

My apologies for being somewhat vague with the details but this issue is just beginning to play out and many of the facts are unclear or highly disputed, but one thing is not disputed-unless the RWQCB changes its mind-we’re going to have a moratorium imposed on us at its early November meeting.

There are things to do in the interim. Every homeowners association should be looking at the issue, talking to the city and the RWQCB. Every stakeholder, including the churches, school district, county and the fire department, should be intensely involved in this issue, because it’s the biggest thing to impact this town in years, and it affects everyone’s budget-substantially.

For those of you who don’t live in or near the Civic Center area and therefore believe it’s not your problem-you better look again. It’s fairly apparent that after the Civic Center, all the beach homes and the canyon homes that front a stream-even a dry stream-are going to be sucked into the controversy and the expense.

Sooner or later we are going to have to deal with the dreaded “S,” which stands for sewer. This city was created because of our opposition to a county sewer, because we were afraid of runaway growth. We have control of our growth. We may need a paradigm shift, and go back and address the problem of septics and whether or not in today’s world there are better alternatives to such systems.

P.S. Some of you may be thinking that Legacy Park will fix the problem. Sadly, that is not the case. The Legacy Park treatment facility can only handle the storm and urban runoff water. Treatment of wastewater is not part of the Legacy Park plan.