Plenty of Questions, Few Answers on Civic Center Project

Story Poles for Civic Center Treatment Plant

City officials last week failed to shed light on the price homeowners will have to pay for the city to construct a $41-million wastewater treatment site in the Civic Center, a project that has made many residents skeptical.

During a public workshop hosted by the Malibu Planning Commission on Wednesday, many were left with more questions than answers as officials tried to clear the air on the city’s plans for a wastewater treatment plant set to be built in the Civic Center, near Webster Elementary School and Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church. 

The workshop included details about planned development but did not reveal hard figures on how much the project will cost to individual homeowners and how long construction will take — two questions that came up repeatedly during the two-hour meeting.

“It was in the paper, I think, anywhere for the three tiers, from $9,000 to $25,000. Are those accurate figures?” asked Paige Jacobs, who is considering buying a condo in the area affected by the second phase of the treatment plant project.

Project Manager Steve Clary, who works for the city-contracted firm RMC, said those numbers seemed to be within the normal scope for this type of project, but did not suggest that the prices for Malibu homeowners would necessarily fall in that scope.

“We’ve not calculated that in detail,” Clary said, when asked about the hookup costs for individual homes. “I must say, I don’t want to try to pull a number from memory that I would get wrong.”

“Is it possible that it could be something like $50,000?” asked Jacobs.

“There will be more information about assessment district formation and costs as those phases move forward,” answered Senior Planner Bonnie Blue.

Officials said residential estimates have not been made because current plans only cover Phase 1 of construction — the building of pump stations and sewer lines to mainly serve commercial centers in the Civic Center.

Under a development prohibition placed on the City of Malibu in 2011 by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the city is required to build a centralized wastewater treatment system in the Civic Center by November 2015. However, the city is nine months behind on its construction timeline.

The agreement also stipulates homeowners living within the Civic Center prohibition area must connect to the system by 2019 and phase out their septic systems.

When asked for the timeline of residential costs, Clary said the second phase may not begin until close to 2020, meaning costs may not be forthcoming for up to five years.

Sewer location raises eyebrows

Other people were livid about the location of the pump stations, one of which will be directly across the street from Webster Elementary School.

“How does it make sense to build next to the highest density residential area in the city and across the street from the largest elementary school in Malibu? What precedent is there for this sort of siting decision?” asked Malibu resident Steve Bobsan. 

The planners and project manager did not answer the question. Other pumps are set to be located below ground in Legacy Park and below ground near Bluffs Park. The stations will also include above-ground electrical boxes.

According to RMC Water and Environment representative Leslie Dumas, the stations will be able to treat water for what’s called “non-potable purposes such as irrigation and toilet flushing.” 

Dumas also stated that there would be steps taken to keep the sewage smell at bay, “kind of a biological version of Febreeze, for lack of a better term.”

What good will the system do? 

The final speaker at the meeting, Steve Uhring, struck a common chord with those gathered in the audience. “We’re spending a ton of money,” said Uhring, “nowhere in the EIR [Environmental Impact Report] does it say ‘this is what this is going to do for us.’ 

“Are we just spending money to spend money?” he asked, drawing applause from those gathered.

Clary responded that the sewer project will monitor water quality in the area and added that the reusable treated water will be returned to the community free of charge.

“Everyone who contributes flow will have access to the treated flow on the return,” he said. 

Copies of the Draft Environmental Impact Report are available now by going to City Hall, Malibu Library or on the city’s website. Comments on the Draft EIR will be accepted in writing between now and July 28, with a public forum on the draft EIR scheduled for the Planning Commission meeting on July 21.

The final EIR is tentatively scheduled to be released in October 2014.