Septic problems daylight in Civic Center

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In an apparent indication of a stepped-up enforcement policy relating to faulty septic systems, Vic Peterson, the City of Malibu building official, served a 60-day letter on both the Malibu Bay Company and Koss Real Estate Investments. The letters concern septic systems serving the businesses operated on their properties in the Civic Center. The 60-day period refers to the amount of time both recipients have to act on the demands made by the city.

The letters were sent on Sept. 22. The one sent to the Malibu Bay Company (MBC) relates to the Winter Canyon Wastewater Disposal plant, located between Pacific Coast Highway and Civic Center Way, across the road from several condominium complexes. That site handles the waste disposal for the Colony Plaza Shopping Center. The city told David Reznick of the MBC “it has become apparent the seepage pits for your wastewater disposal system are not functioning and your system has failed.

“In order to reduce stress on the seepage pits you are required to pump your system as often as is necessary … We will be monitoring the system closely.”

The city goes on to warn, if the surfacing (of effluent) does occur, they will require the seepage pits be abandoned and the septic tanks be pumped daily.

“You are hereby ordered to submit, within 60 days” a plan for renovation of the facility. The city then warned that “failure to comply could result in an interruption of service to your tenants.” Copies were also sent to L.A. County Health Services and the L.A. County Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Resnick said he was not surprised when he received the letter. He said MBC has made a number of improvements to reduce odor problems over the summer and this is an additional problem that has come up recently.

“The focus will be to upgrade the treatment facility that is there now,” said Resnick.

This upgrade will involve additional treatment beyond the primary treatment that is already done.

“We have the same objective in mind,” said Resnick, who stated the city and MBC are working together to solve the problem.

The letter sent to Koss Real Estate Investments related to their properties at 3835 Cross Creek Road and the Malibu Country Mart. In that letter, the city referenced an earlier agreement between Koss and the city, in which Koss indicated they wanted to install a secondary treatment facility or an alternative. The city gave Koss the same terms as MBC–pump as necessary, if that fails, pump daily. The city also gave Koss 60 days to come up with a plan to renovate the entire septic system — at the end, the same threat if there was no solution; “Interruption of service to the tenants.”

Greg Kozak of Koss said the city has since retracted his letter.

“That was a letter sent out to me because they needed plans and I sent them the plans,” said Kozak, who did not want to comment any further.

No one is officially saying it, but it is rumored the city is under pressure from the RWQCB to take action. Additionally, the Governor just signed two new bills, which takes more local authority away from city officials. In the case of AB 988, it gives authority to the California Coastal Commission to create a Local Coastal Plan for Malibu. AB 885 creates a timetable for coming up with statewide septic system standards. The city had opposed and lobbied unsuccessfully against the bill.

City officials did not want to comment on the issue.

“Because it’s an open code enforcement matter, our policy is not to discuss that,” said Christi Hogin, interim city manager.

“Our goal is to get some cooperative solutions and I’m hopeful of the outcome of this,” she said.

“Department heads are not supposed to comment on any issues,” said Peterson.

But practical problems do exist for commercial septic tank systems in the city.

Tom Lubisich, owner of W.A.S.T.E.C. Inc., said there are several problems with commercial septic tanks.

“Most of the time, they overflow prematurely,” he said.

The Civic Center area is particularly affected because the ground is already saturated.

Businesses in areas like these usually need weekly pumping, he added. However, others said the tanks do not need to be pumped that often, once every six months is enough, they said.

One possible solution for businesses in the Civic Center area is a mini-treatment plant. But a disposal method for the purified water is always controversial and using the water to irrigate the landscape is only part of the solution, since watering is not needed in the winter.

However, Lubisich insists the installation of a citywide sewer system is not necessarily the answer either.

“Malibu became a city because people don’t want a sewer system since it would be costly and people would still need septic tanks,” he said.

Technically, building a sewer system is not a good idea because of the way the Pacific Coast Highway shifts — pipes could break often, he said.

Additionally, it would open up Malibu to more development, he added.

But the biggest impact would come from the work itself. The highway would be torn up for at least five years, creating many problems for residents who are already here.

“That’s just for the first phase,” said Lubisich.

And the expense is forbidding for residents as well. The cost to residents would be a minimum of $10,000, said Lubisich.

“If people would just give me the $10 000, I will pump them free for the rest of their lives,” he said jokingly.