City pledges $6.6M to settle lawsuit

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The City of Malibu has agreed to pay two environmental groups $750,000 in legal fees and committed to a $5.6 million plan to update 17 storm drains in order to settle a lawsuit brought by the groups in 2008.

Santa Monica Baykeeper and the National Resources Defense Council sued the city in 2008 in an effort to force the city to implement better pollution controls over its stormwater runoff, particularly near public beaches and the Malibu Creek and Malibu Lagoon. In August 2010, a federal district court found the city liable for violating the federal Clean Water Act for discharging polluted runoff to a coastal preserve known as an Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) that extends from Latigo Point to the Ventura County line.

The city has met for years with the nonprofit organizations trying to reach some kind of settlement or to come up with a solution for managing stormwater runoff they would find acceptable.

City Attorney Christi Hogin announced Friday after a closed session meeting of the council that the two sides had reached agreement on a settlement.

In addition to the $750,000 in legal fees, the city has pledged to outfit 17 storm drains in Civic Center and the ASBS with new technology to curb harmful discharges into Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon, and the nearshore ocean. Hogin told The Malibu Times Friday the city must outfit the drains within 4-6 years with an expected cost of $5.6 million. Hogin said $2.9 million of that total is already being funded through grants to upgrade 11 storm drains on Wildlife Road and Broad Beach Road.

Hogin said the additional $2.7 million would be paid out of the city’s general fund. She attributed the settlement to the progress the city had made in recent years in building Legacy Park and other stormwater treatment facilities.

“We’re thrilled to be on the same team,” Hogin said of the agreement with two environmental groups. “A lot has changed since 2007. Legacy Park is up and running, we’re showing enormous strides in being able to treat virtually all the stormwater that comes into that watershed.”

Representatives from the two groups also commended the settlement.

“By curbing the biggest sources of pollution in the Santa Monica Bay, we can keep trips to Malibu beaches carefree, and prevent people from getting sick when they go in the ocean,” NRDC Senior Attorney Steve Fleischli said in a press release issued Friday by the two organizations.

“I think this is a really significant step towards a cleaner Santa Monica Bay,” Liz Crosson, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper added in a telephone interview Friday with The Malibu Times. “We at Baykeeper are really looking forward to working with the City of Malibu to improve public and ecological health. As you know, stormwater is one of the biggest sources of pollution in the Santa Monica Bay, so something like this is really is significant for all of us that use it.”

Crosson confirmed that the $750,000 in legal fees the city will pay the two organizations would not cover all of the legal fees from the lawsuit.

The city will also allocate $250,000 toward its ocean health water assessment project with the marine biology department of California State University, Northridge. The partnership, announced recently by the council, will pool resources between city staff and professors and students at the university in order to conduct research marine research on the Malibu coast and wetlands.

Hogin also said Santa Monica Baykeeper had expressed “a particular interest” in the water quality impacts of equestrian uses in Serra Retreat. As a result, Hogin said the city would “partner with them to see what we can do to see there’s no adverse impact there.”