As expected, the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday approved the Civic Center Area septic system ban for Malibu. But the prohibition that covers more than 500 homes and businesses could still be altered. The board directed Malibu and Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board officials to continue talking about a compromise on certain features of the prohibition.
Proponents of the prohibition say it will curb pollution of the Malibu watershed by eliminating what they consider to be the biggest culprit. The Regional Water board approved the ban last year after a contentious series of meetings and accusations traded between city and Regional Water officials.
The prohibition puts an immediate halt to permitting of septic systems in the commercial areas of the Civic Center and certain nearby residences. Existing commercial systems must be eliminated by 2015 and residential systems must go away by 2019. Those with projects that are already underway or in the permitting process will be allowed to install septic systems, but they must also meet the deadlines. The ban does not include a solution for how wastewater should be disposed, but most people believe it means some sort of wastewater treatment plan must be constructed.
The city has proposed an alternative plan that covers significantly fewer residences. City officials say it is the better political and practical solution because, among other reasons, there is not enough support to create the assessment district that would be required to fund a wastewater treatment system under Regional Water’s plan. They also contend that septic systems are not to blame for much of the watershed pollution, and look to recently completed city-affiliated studies and studies near completion as proof.
Sam Unger, whose role as Regional Water’s interim executive officer was recently made permanent, said at Tuesday’s hearing that he and others from the agency would be willing to meet with Malibu officials about possible compromises.
“We always have the ability to look at new science, new plans, new engineering,” Unger said. “And we are happy to sit down with the city to look at those plans, science and engineering, and consider changes that may result from that information. We look forward to sitting down with the city and considering the information that they could bring forward.”
City Manager Jim Thorsen had similar olive branch-like words.
“We’ve been wanting to establish a working relationship where we are able to provide that input and receive feedback,” Thorsen said. “We’d love to sit down with the new director and board members and come to a collaborative decision.”
State Water board Chair Charles R. Hoppin said he would contact Thorsen and Unger twice a month through December to see how discussions are progressing. He jokingly said, “What I am proposing to do is shave my head and act like Dr. Phil for a period of time.”
Numerous public speakers were at the meeting. Malibu attorneys, land-use specialists, Realtors, residents and city officials mostly spoke in opposition to the prohibition. Environmentalists from organizations such Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation spoke in favor of the ban. Several people said they were impressed with the tone of the meeting and the chance for collaboration.
“We see an attitude that’s so refreshing,” said Mike Barsochinni, an architect and head of the homeowners association for Malibu Knolls, one of the areas in the prohibition zone. “I think I see the light of day finally by cooperation between the city and the regional board, and getting them talking to each other.”