Council readies to battle water board

Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner defends support for septic ban.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

The city council at its Monday night meeting outlined the next steps in Malibu’s battle against the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s recent decision to ban septic systems throughout the broader Civic Center area.

The council directed staff to continue to fund the drafting of an environmental impact report and final plans for a centralized wastewater treatment facility in the Civic Center. It also directed City Manager Jim Thorsen to continue to work with a finite group of stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive wastewater management plan is developed prior to the State Water Resources Control Board hearing, which is expected to take place within the next two to six months.

The state board and the Office of Administrative Law must still approve the septic ban before it can be enacted. The city says it will not sue until a final decision is made.

City Attorney Christi Hogin warned residents that the city would not be able to appeal the state board’s final decision. The state board has a choice of accepting the septic ban approved by the regional board-which would take effect after approval by the Office of Administrative Law-or rejecting it and sending it back to regional board with comments.

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“That’s important because there won’t be an opportunity to explore an alternative,” Hogin said. “Ultimately, it’s the regional board that decides what the [septic ban] is going to look like.”

Numerous residents who attended the meeting advised the council to improve the state and regional board’s image of the city by taking actions-such as passing an ordinance requiring septic disinfection in certain areas-that would prove Malibu is committed to a wastewater management plan.

“They have an image of Malibu that it has [avoided] doing anything about the wastewater issue,” Malibu Road resident David Rosenick told the council. “ … In order to gain traction with state board and environmental groups [it] is [necessary] to take some positive steps and show that you’re moving toward it [a centralized wastewater treatment facility]. If you take steps, it’ll help you get political cover toward some groups and show them you’re serious.”

Councilmember Andy Stern, however, said the city has already proved its commitment to water quality improvement, especially with the inclusion of a stormwater treatment facility at Legacy Park, which is currently under construction.

“We have been good stewards of the environment,” Stern said at the meeting. “It’s almost like we’ve done everything we could, and got burned for doing it. I don’t think we’ve gotten credit for doing anything in the minds of [the regional board]. I don’t personally have a lot of faith that continuing on that same path and being really nice [will improve our chances]. We’ve seen zero evidence that that’s the case.

Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner on Monday night also discussed his support for the septic ban, which has been a source of controversy among some residents. Wagner in a written statement slammed stories that appeared last week in both local newspapers, one of which mentioned his recent interview with columnist Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times in which Wagner referred to residents opposed to the septic ban as “hypocrites.”

In the written statement, Wagner said his quotes in Lopez’s column were accurate and listed more than a page of reasons he supports the septic ban. He wrote that he was adamant about “eventual clean ocean waters for our residents, businesses, visitors, and our children’s future. I ran for office on three fundamental statements, density diminishes desire, clean water, and public safety.”

Wagner also suggested the city present a “cumulative presentation package” to the state board as part of a bargain that the city will not “introduce lawsuits in exchange for additional time to implement a plan. By doing so it would put the board in a position of appearing ‘unabliging’ in the eyes of concerned and active environmental activists as well as the yearly 15 million visitors to Malibu.”

The prohibition approved by the regional board includes an end to future permitting of septic systems in the commercial areas of the Civic Center and the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway from Serra Road to Sweetwater Canyon, as well as the residential areas of Malibu Colony, Malibu Road, Serra Retreat, Sweetwater Mesa and the Malibu Knolls. Current septic systems in commercial areas must be phased out by 2015, and those in residential areas by 2019. Projects that are already underway or in the permitting process will be allowed to install septic systems, but must also meet those deadlines. The regional board could issue fines of up to $10,000 per day or $100 per gallon of wastewater discharged to those who do not comply.

With the regional board’s plan, the city projects that 425 residential parcels would have to pay between $400 and $500 per month, and 45 business parcels would have to pay between $6,800 and $17,000 per month to help finance an estimated $52 million centralized wastewater treatment facility capable of treating 600,000 gallons per day.

City officials say the board’s prohibition plan is technically unfeasible, in part because the available percolation area may not be sufficient to disperse the large quantity of treated wastewater.

“We don’t feel the Winter Canyon area can hold all the flow expected from the regional board’s prohibition area,” City Manager Jim Thorsen said at the meeting. “We can build a plant to any size but we need an area to discharge the effluent. If we can’t discharge it into the ground, the only option is an ocean outfall.”

Malibu City Council Nov. 23 meeting actions

– Adopted an ordinance to create landscape water conservation standards at least as effective as the state’s updated water efficient landscape ordinance

– Authorized the city manager to execute a professional services agreement with American Capital Acquisition for custodial services at Malibu Bluffs, Las Flores Creek, Malibu Equestrian and Trancas Canyon Parks

-Approved the proposed 2010 Calendar of City Council meetings

-Adopted a resolution authorizing the city manager to submit an application for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, to accept a grant award, to execute all necessary contracts and agreements, and to implement and carry out the purposes specified in the grant application

-Continued to the Dec. 14 regular city council meeting an application for three zoning text amendments, a coastal development permit and revised mitigated negative declaration for a single family residence located on Pacific Coast Highway

-Adopted a resolution joining with the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California in calling upon the federal government to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the California Gray Whale, to include all current research covering the migration routes, population dynamics and mortality of the California Gray Whale and the impacts of threats to its population, including that of global warming on critical feeding ground

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