Council discusses monitoring of pollution from outside sources


Some council members take issue with Mayor Pro Tem’s comments about the city not doing enough to combat pollution in Malibu’s watershed.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

In its latest attempt to solve Malibu’s ongoing quagmire of wastewater management, the Malibu City Council at its Monday night meeting discussed the possibility of implementing clean water receiving standards for Malibu Creek.

The standards would exist to help determine the sources of pollution in the Malibu watershed by monitoring the water quality of flows that enter city limits from surrounding businesses and localities such as the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility, which has been charged with violating water discharge regulations in past years.

By pinpointing the pollution sources, the city aims to challenge the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s recent ban of septic systems in the broader Civic Center area, which was approved based on the water board’s assessment that septic systems are the major contaminants of the watershed.

But City Manager Jim Thorsen at the meeting said the city is not authorized to establish receiving water standards, and that only the state and the Environmental Protection Agency can do so. However, Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner insisted that the city do something to identify outside polluters.

“We can’t be responsible for people upstream or up at the top of the mountains, but we have to at least identify that we’re not the only contributors to the pollution in Malibu,” Wagner said at the meeting, suggesting the city explore possibilities of funding tests to help prove that fouled water is entering the city. Doing so, he said, would prove to the State Water Resources Control Board-which must approve the regional board’s ban for it to take effect-that Malibu is taking initiative to clean up the pollution.

Though the city cannot legally impose its own water quality standards on outside entities, Wagner said the city should adopt language that would hold contributors of poor water quality accountable, possibly by including them in water quality lawsuits filed against the city by environmental groups.

“We can’t do it legally but you can still have something on the books,” Wagner said. “Like the cigarette ban. We have a cigarette ban in Malibu but everyone smokes in restaurants anyway.”

Wagner, who publicly supports the septic ban and implementation of a sewer in the Civic Center area, in a Times article last month recommended implementing receiving water quality standards for outside sources. In the same article he also accused the city of not making adequate efforts to clean up the pollution in Malibu’s watershed, which has frequently received “F” grades in water quality tests by Heal the Bay.

“If we’re out here saying we’ve been doing the most for clean water over the past 20 years, we’re being hypocrites … there’s a new guy in town and he says let’s move forward,” Wagner told The Malibu Times last month.

Mayor Sharon Barovsky, and council members Andy Stern and John Sibert at the meeting voiced their disagreement with Wagner’s statement, while Thorsen said the city has done a “fantastic job improving water quality” through projects such as Legacy Park, which will treat storm water in the Civic Center. (Wagner and Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich last year voted against the construction of Legacy Park because it lacked a wastewater treatment facility.)

“If there was one more vote that night there would be nothing going on at Legacy Park right now,” Stern told Wagner. “I don’t want you or anyone else to think that any of this council is standing in the way of cleaning up that creek. Respectfully, you’ve been on the council for two years. I don’t think it’s fair to say you’re the new guy in town.”

Sibert at the meeting said the city has been doing “a whole bunch of things,” including various water tests and projects, to improve water quality, but recommended that the city’s efforts be compiled into a list to show the public what measures are being taken to clean up the watershed.

Defending the city’s commitment to water quality improvement, Barovsky said the devising of a plan for a wastewater treatment facility in the Civic Center area has been ongoing since she joined the council in 2002.

“You are not the new boy in town on this,” Barovsky told Wagner. “I’ve been working on it for a long time …”

Barovsky and Stern also called to question Wagner’s stance on the septic ban, following resident Lloyd Ahern’s presentation of a 2003 publication of Malibu Tribune that listed Wagner’s opposition to a ballot measure that would create a wastewater treatment facility in the Civic Center area.

In response, Wagner said he supported the city’s alternative plan to the water board’s septic ban, which entails the implementation in phases of a smaller $30.8 million centralized wastewater treatment facility that would serve the central core of the Civic Center area, including parcels that contribute to Malibu Creek groundwater. In addition, home in Malibu Colony and two commercial zones along the east side of Malibu Creek and adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway would be required by city ordinance to install disinfection treatments to their existing septic systems.

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.

Conley Ulich also suggested the possibility of offering a $10,000 reward for anyone who reports entities contributing contaminants into the Malibu watershed.

Actions from the Jan. 11 regular City Council meeting

€ Adopted a resolution to consider changes regarding the processing of temporary use permits, and directed the Planning Commission to schedule a public hearing regarding the matter.

€ Appropriated $900,000 from the Undesignated General Reserve Fund for the expansion of the Michael Landon Center and directed staff to allocate the remaining $100,000 when funds become available.

€ Authorized the city manager to execute a new agreement with the County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control for services through June 30, 2014.