Council changes strategy on septic bill


With tough new septic system standards moving perilously close to passage in the state Legislature, the City Council Monday officially registered its opposition to the proposed measure, a position that some in the community believe the council should have taken weeks ago.

Assembly Bill 885, which could potentially cost local homeowners thousands of dollars in septic system upgrades, was passed by the Assembly last week and sent on to the state Senate. (See related story, “Septic bill passes Assembly”, page A12.)

The council had originally instructed its Sacramento lobbyist to push only for amendments to the bill and to advise the bill’s sponsors that it would oppose the measure unless those changes were made.

The Malibu Township Council, a long-established group of homeowners and community activists, pressured the council to take a more aggressive approach by opposing the bill outright, because of the strict uniform testing standards in the measure and the threat of increased scrutiny by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Members of the Township Council argued to council members that because the goal of the bill is to clean up California’s coastal waters, generally regarded as a laudable effort, the measure was sure to win the broad support of the Legislature unless it met with vocal opposition.

The council declined the advice and chose to rely upon the efforts of its lobbyist and of city staff to negotiate changes to the bill.

But after the measure sailed through the Assembly — and Mayor Walt Keller and Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn personally visited Sacramento — the council changed its mind.

Chiding council members for not opposing the bill outright to begin with, Township Council Member Frank Basso said, “I hate to say it, but you’ve been proved wrong. This is a bad bill, and it’s going to cost each and every member of this community money.”

The council members were clearly not happy with their previous approach.

Seeming to concede the Township Council’s better judgment, Councilwoman Joan House told Basso, “Hats off to you guys.”

Keller blamed the failure of the original strategy on a lack of insider information. He described receiving a tip from someone whom he described as an “old pro” in the halls of the state Capitol who told him that bill sponsors typically promise amendments but often do not add them. Keller also said the city’s lobbyist had not kept the council abreast of the bill’s progress.

Van Horn described her trip to Sacramento as a real eye-opener.

“I think the thing that is most frustrating is that very few people want to hear how septic systems work, especially the [people] pushing for this bill,” she said.

The council unanimously voted to send a notice in writing to the bill’s sponsors and to Malibu’s elected representatives indicating the city’s opposition to the bill. In the event the bill moves as effortlessly through the Senate as it did through the Assembly, the council is also requesting specific changes, most significantly that Malibu, rather than the Regional Water Quality Control Board, regulate local septic systems.