City Council to Decide on Trancas Water Project

Following almost a year of lobbying from frustrated residents, and nearly 13 years after the issue was first introduced, the Malibu City Council next week will decide the fate of the Trancas Utility Improvements Project, a neighborhood-funded utilities project that seeks to bring water and natural gas to residents of the Trancas Highlands area. 

Staff is recommending the council pass the measure, by which they are agreeing to facilitate a neighborhood vote as to whether area residents and parcel owners support a city-facilitated, privately funded project to bring water to homes and parcels located in Trancas. 

The primary concern for residents pushing for the water system is public safety, with Trancas Highlands Home Owners Association (THHOA) members citing fire concerns as a major issue in the neighborhood. 

Those in opposition to the city-facilitated water project have been vocal at several city council meetings over the past year, arguing that Trancas residents will be forced to pay for a project that is unnecessarily costly, compared to privately contracted water services — a benefit that some do not find worth the hefty price tag. Engineers have estimated some homeowners could pay up to $274,000 individually for the project, plus interest. 

“It’s a tough situation. The alternative is for this project not to happen, and that’s unacceptable,” Eric Myer, leader of the THHOA, said during the last public hearing about the project in May 2013. “We are proving a major public safety issue on our own dime…It’s a challenge and I wish there were a better way to structure this so we could get a good price, but this is it.” 

The Trancas neighborhood has never had running water. Originally, the homes operated on private wells, though since the wells were first dug in the 1960s, the vast majority of them have dried up, leaving homeowners to truck in water every day. The mile-long neighborhood, mostly on Anacapa View Drive, consists of about 75 parcels, all dependent on water wells or trucked-in water. 

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The project’s official history stretches back to 2001, although THHOA members claim that neighbors have been looking into a water system for over 40 years. 

The price is a major sticking point for neighbors who oppose the action, with dissenting groups of residents pushing for a private water system, outside of LA County Water District 29, that they believe will save money in the long run. 

The project, which according to the staff report for Tuesday’s council meeting is estimated at $13,771,888.46, will be divided amongst lots in proportion to their need for improved potable water service and improved fire protection, with each parcel assessed separately for water and gas needs. 

Art Mortell, a resident of Trancas for over 30 years, addressed the issue of cost with the council at the meeting in 2013. 

“Behind the scenes, people in the neighborhood have been told that if you can’t afford to pay for this project, you can’t afford to live in Malibu,” Mortell said. “That’s just not true.” 

As recently as April 29, meetings have been held in the Trancas Highlands neighborhood between concerned residents and City Manager Jim Thorsen. 

According to reports out of that meeting, the opposing group presented an estimate they say could save up to $8 million, compared to the $13.7 million estimate presented by the THHOA. 

Tuesday’s meeting, which was moved from Monday, May 26 in observance of Memorial Day, will determine whether the City of Malibu will be conducting a neighborhoodwide vote on the utilities project. Funds for the vote have already been collected from neighbors and submitted to the City. 

Jimy Tallal contributed to this report. 

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