City Wants Two-Year Extension on Sewer Project

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Story Poles for Civic Center Treatment Plant

Hoping to tap the brakes on the controversial Civic Center sewer project, the Malibu City Council is petitioning L.A.’s regional water board for a two-year extension to complete the first phase of the $43 million project.

In a 5-0 vote at its last meeting, the city also approved a request from Serra Retreat homeowners who are hoping to eventually opt out of the sewer system. The neighborhood wants to conduct testing aimed at bumping back its deadline to hook up from Phase II in 2019 to Phase III in 2022.

Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, the city is legally required to complete the first phase of the centralized wastewater system in November 2015. As part of the second phase, Serra residents would have to hook up by 2017.

City Manager Jim Thorsen cited an incomplete environmental report and uncertain funding while stressing the necessity of moving the completion date for Phase I — construction of the sewer lines, pump stations and main treatment plant that will primarily serve commercial properties in the Civic Center — from 2015 back to June 2017.

“We need that additional time to finalize the EIR (environmental impact report), obtain permits from the regional board, go out and get funding through bonds and through an assessment district and then to actually construct the plant,” Thorsen said at the Nov. 24 City Council meeting.

If that request is approved, the city will enter into discussions to consider allowing Serra Canyon to “test out” of the sewer project, meaning that if official tests prove that there is no environmental need for the neighborhood to hook up, they could join the third phase of the program, where exemptions are easier to come by. 

If Serra is granted its wish, it could create a precedent for other Civic Center neighborhoods such as the Malibu Colony, which are also required to eventually hook up to the system. 

“What we’re requesting is that the regional board consider a testing program for Serra Canyon that shows that if they’re not contributing to the bacteria nutrient program [they could opt into Phase III],” said Thorsen.

Several community members spoke at the meeting in favor of conducting tests aimed at untangling Serra Canyon from the second phase of the project, contingent on test results proving the existing infrastructure in the neighborhood does not contribute to the contamination of Malibu waterways.

“We don’t believe we could be contributing,” said Geoff Gee, former president of the Serra Canyon homeowners association. 

Council members said they were willing to work together to present their requests to the regional water board. 

“I think that the more science we get, the more information, the more we ask for that, it’s important and that’s what we’ve been trying to do all along, so I think that’s a great idea,” said Councilmember Laura Rosenthal.

As for who could be footing the bill, that’s a bridge the city hopes to cross when they come to it.

“We would have to agree with the regional board on a testing program. Based on that program, we would have to get an estimate on what that’s going to cost and from there we could decide who’s going to pay for it,” Thorsen said. 

Cost was not an issue raised at Monday’s meeting, with more focus on time and testing. City officials and staff hope to get moving as quickly as possible.

“I would fully support going back to the board on Dec. 4, I plan on being there, to make the case that we ought to put this testing protocol in place that will be overseen and seen to by the regional board [and] the city,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert, who has been heavily involved in the sewer project to date.

Sibert, along with Thorsen and other staff members, will be at the Thursday regional water board meeting to request an amendment to the MOU, the document outlining the sewer plan, which would allow for these changes.

According to Thorsen, if the board reacts positively, the next step will be to negotiate and finally write an official letter to the board, likely around early March, allowing the project’s extension.

“If they don’t approve a new MOU, we have other issues to resolve,” Thorsen said.

Editor’s Note: In the original version of this story, Geoff Gee was incorrectly identified as the current president of the Serra Canyon homeowners association. Jeffrey Follert is the current president and Gee is past president.