Sewer vs. septics issue resurfaces


Inflaming the decades-old sewer debate that drove Malibu to incorporate, The Regional Water Quality Control Board voted Monday to implement a resolution that could impose a moratorium on septic systems and possibly a large sewer system on the city.

In a letter dated Oct. 16, the board cited the city for violations concerning septic system impacts on Malibu Lagoon and that the city had not filed a work plan for technical studies related to water quality.

City Attorney Christi Hogin responded that the city had shown its willingness to cooperate with the RWQCB in identifying and evaluating water quality problems in and around the lagoon and that the city was in the middle of a tracer study of flows and discharges related to the shopping center on Cross Creek.

Mayor Joan House, who had to leave the RWQCB hearing early to attend the City Council meeting, said later, “I would hope that water quality would be of such importance that the commissioners could meet with the council and staff to create a plan to clean up the whole watershed. There’s a lot of people dumping into that creek.”

Malibu clean-water activist Mary Frampton read aloud at the hearing House’s letter, which said, “If the objective of the board is to have clean water throughout the city of Malibu, the board will have full cooperation of the city to work and to meet that objective. If the objective is to require a big sewer for Malibu, the city will not support that objective.”

Representatives from Heal the Bay and the Natural Resources Defense Council appeared to side with the board. Heal the Bay attorney Steve Fleischli said, “I’m giving you some free legal advice . . . Malibu is being far too defensive.”

One of the points the board cited as a violation was the city’s failure to prepare and submit a master plan for Malibu Lagoon. Hogin maintains the city’s plan is contingent on results of a UCLA study made on behalf of the Coastal Conservancy and that results of that research and its associated analysis would provide critical information as to the nature, extent and possible causes of water quality problems in the lagoon.

“It’s a dismal day, and we’ll have to take it to an appeal at the state board,” Frampton said later.

Hogin said Tuesday she interprets the board’s action as a direction to staff and not appealable to the state board. “Who knows what kind of follow-through will occur. The primary purpose was to send a message to the city that they are serious and behind the staff to get information and reports out of the city,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think the city’s message was heard.”

Attorney David Kagon, a longtime member of the Malibu Township Council, which helped lead the last fight against sewers, said, “If it’s going to be a sewer, there will be another fight. We will be there to fight again.”