Septic ban plans go forward

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The city is working with the regional water board on details of a centralized wastewater treatment facility, as well as costs and businesses affected by the septic ban.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

The city has negotiated a preliminary agreement with the Regional Water Quality Control Board that details what commercial properties would be included in the Civic Center area septic ban, and who would share the costs of building a centralized wastewater treatment facility. The city would also resume plans for the design of the treatment facility in the Civic Center area.

City Manager Jim Thorsen made the announcement at Monday night?s city council meeting.

The agreement, as part of a two phase plan, would require commercial properties in the Civic Center to cease using septic systems by 2015 and share the cost of building a central wastewater treatment facility, estimated to be anywhere from $32 million to $52 million. Although not finalized, residential properties would be required to cease using septic systems by 2019.

In earlier estimates by the city, about 425 residential properties would be affected by the ban, and the owners of each one would have to pay $400 to $500 per month for a $52 million wastewater facility. City staff had also estimated that 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.

The regional water board passed the controversial septic ban for the Malibu Civic Center area in September of 2010. The State Water Resources Control Board later upheld the ban.

Thorsen has been negotiating for two months with regional board Executive Officer Sam Unger on a phased approach to wastewater treatment in the area.

Thorsen said he and Unger have agreed on the outline of Phase 1. Under the agreement, commercial properties such as the Malibu Country Mart and Malibu Village (formerly called the Cross Creek center) must cease all septic wastewater emissions by 2015. The revised Phase 1 plan includes the major commercial developments in the Civic Center area, as well as the Malibu Colony Plaza shopping center, which was left out of the regional water board?s original plan. The Malibu Lumberyard is also included in the plans, although the owners built their own wastewater treatment facility, for which the regional board issued a permit, at a cost of $3 million.

The council voted to authorize city staff to reinitiate design plans for the Civic Center wastewater treatment facility, which have been on hold since the impasse began. Thorsen estimated that the city will spend about $80,000 during the next 60 days on “exploratory geophysical work” for the design plans. That money has already been budgeted for this fiscal year, Thorsen said.

Phase 2, which requires residential properties in the Civic Center area to cease using septic systems by 2019, has not been finalized, Thorsen said. Since negotiations are not complete, the city directed City Attorney Christi Hogin to arbitrate a six-month extension to a tolling agreement between the city and the state water board that is due to expire March 31. The tolling agreement puts on hold any litigation between the city and the state until the negotiations have finished.

The final outcome of the phasing plan may be influenced by the results of a city-funded study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on impacts of wastewater on groundwater and its connection to Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach. The USGS study will be reviewed in upcoming months by a state water board-approved peer reviewer. The USGS study has apparently found that human specific bacteria from groundwater discharge are not associated with higher bacteria concentrations in Malibu Lagoon. That conclusion could help the city negotiate more favorable terms with the regional water board.

Developer Steve Soboroff, whose planned Whole Foods Development in the Civic Center area is also included in Phase 1, told the council that he is willing to pay “at least $2 million” to contribute his part to the cost of the treatment facility. Council members assumed he meant the offer as a donation; however, Soboroff later told The Malibu Times that he had estimated that would be his share as part of the assessment district, which he would be legally obligated to pay.

City Council actions

– The council at its Monday night meeting voted to authorize City Manager Jim Thorsen to negotiate a contract with Rincon Consultants, Inc. to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for the 2008-2010 Housing Element update.

The EIR is expected to cost the city approximately $153,000.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development requires that local governments plan for a certain amount of low-cost housing. Furthermore, an amendment to the law by former Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2008 requires that emergency shelter and provisions be provided to the homeless.

The city is looking at several locations in Malibu where it could build low-cost housing.

Several people spoke against the item, saying that Rincon was not a reliable company, and were opposed to the Housing Element update in general.

– John Payne, president of Malibu Navy League, said the USS John Paul Jones, a 505-foot Navy ship, has agreed to make a port visit to Malibu on the weekend of June 10. The ship, which has a crew of 33 officers, 38 petty officers and 210 enlisted men and women, will anchor off the Malibu Pier for the weekend.

Payne said the Malibu Navy League was planning a “Malibu Navy Weekend,” which would feature a variety of activities for the public, including having the public take tours of the ship.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich asked if there was anything the city could do for the sailors. Payne replied that the captain of the ship had asked him “if there’s any celebrities his crew could meet.”

[Correction: Regarding the item below, the city council did not pass this item; the council postponed a decision to create an agency fund to purchase land near Heathercliff Road on Pacific Coast Highway for a future park with sports fields and possibly a skate park. The city council directed City Manager Jim Thorsen to continue negotiations with developer Zan Marquis, who owns the property, to determine if Marquis will agree to sell the property at a set price. A set price is a prerequisite to creating the fund. If Marquis agrees to a set price, the motion will come back at a future council meeting.]

– The City Council also unanimously passed an item proposed by Conley Ulich to create an agency fund to buy property and develop a park at a location on Pacific Coast Highway near Heathercliff Road.

Citizens will be able to donate money to the fund, which would be used to help buy the property, which is owned by developer Zan Marquis.

The park envisioned by Ulich would include athletic fields. Ulich described the fund as “a mechanism by which people in our community can take ownership in this park and help us create the field of dreams.”

Councilmember Lou La Monte told Ulich, “I would love to have this park. I don?t think the city can afford it, and if you can find somebody to pay for it, I?m all for it.”