Coastal Commission OKs Sewer, Holds off on ‘Edge Project’

Civic Center Sewer Plan

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) meeting at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Chambers last Wednesday almost felt transformed into Malibu City Hall Chambers, as heavyweights from the City drove up the coast to accept the CCC’s offer to accept a modified plan for the impending Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility, challenged by the same team of dissidents who have opposed the project throughout.

Those who spoke in opposition, including Webster Elementary dad Steve Bobsin, former City Council candidate Andy Lyon, Malibu Community Alliance member Lucille Keller and Malibu resident Ryan Embree, hardly stood a chance against the CCC, which expressed unanimous support for the sewer project plans, with modifications.

“This is a huge step forward, and … I just want to thank you very much. Great job,” said Commissioner Mary Shallenberger to City Manager Jim Thorsen, Mayor John Sibert and Planning Director Bonnie Blue, who all came to Santa Barbara for the Wednesday, May 13 meeting.

The CCC approval, which allows the land designated for the sewer to be rezoned in the Local Coastal Plan, is in essence just one step forward on a multistep campaign the City must complete before the sewer facility will be operational. 

According to data by Thorsen, now that the LCP amendment has been approved, the City of Malibu must approve a land purchase agreement, establish an assessment district, apply for a state revolving fund loan and accept bids for a final sewer construction plan, before commencing building the actual wastewater treatment plan. In all, Thorsen estimates the project will be operational by June 2017.

The modifications to the plan that were approved by the 12-person, statewide governing body include changes to wording in the proposed LCP that detail environmental protections, including strengthening language for protecting environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA) “to the maximum extent feasible,” rather than the City’s proposed wording: “as much as feasible.”

The CCC also lowered maximum fence height from seven feet to six feet.

However, the largest issue raised by those who oppose the project namely, its location across the street from Webster Elementary and Our Lady of Malibu School, was not addressed by the Commission. In the report prepared by CCC staff, it was noted several times that “the Commission is not the arbiter of the scope and adequacy of the City’s CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] process, nor can the Commission determine the scope of an LCP amendment that is submitted by a local government for review and certification.”

In other words, the Commission did not address these concerns. 

Following the meeting, Mayor John Sibert noted that, despite allegations by Lyon and others, there is no other viable site for the sewer. Sibert told The Malibu Times that sites suggested by Lyon, including a parcel once considered for Malibu City Hall, do not fit size requirements.

Sibert’s words to Commissioners at the meeting betrayed that he was used to defending the sewer facility.

“I can guarantee there will be opposition to just about anything we want to do, and of course Malibu was founded on ‘let’s not have sewers,’” Sibert wryly told the CCC.

Commissioners acknowledged Malibu’s historic distaste for sewers as well.

“I think Malibu’s come a really really long way to come here before us” Shellenberger said.

“This is a good first step,” Commissioner Bochco said. “We also know that it’s a place where these old septic tanks are getting older and older and they’re threatening the ocean and threatening the groundwater.” 

The ‘Edge Project’ sent back to the drawing board — again

Last Thursday, the California Coastal Commission met to discuss a five-mansion project proposed for a blufftop overlooking Malibu Bluffs Park and owned in part by U2 guitarist The Edge, deciding unanimously to continue discussion of the controversial project to a later date.

Known colloquially as the “Edge Project,” the subdevelopment has been in the works for eight years, since The Edge, whose legal name is David Evans, first proposed the project in 2007, located in the Sweetwater Mesa area above Serra Canyon. 

The Coastal Commission, which meets monthly in various locations in California to discuss development along the coast, most recently saw plans for the project in October 2014, at which point it declined to make a decision, stating there was a failure to notify stakeholders of the agenda item within a reasonable timeframe.

This time, Commissioners claimed the project violates the new local coastal plan, a plan put in place to protect the natural habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains.

At the Thursday, May 14 meeting, public speakers and Commissioners proposed the same changes that had been brought before developers in the past, including requests to make the mansions lower to the ground and closer together.

The decision was in opposition to recommendation by Coastal staff, who urged the CCC approve the project. It is not clear when the project will next appear on a CCC agenda.