City strives to modify septic bill

A bill that could cost Malibu homeowners thousands of dollars for state-mandated septic system upgrades is pitting officials of coastal communities against environmentalists who support the measure.

The city sent Environmental Health Specialist Larry Young and Senior Building Inspector Craig George to Sacramento last week to meet with Justin Malan, author of Assembly Bill 885, which calls for development of statewide minimum discharge standards for onsite sewage treatment systems in the coastal zone.

While there was consensus on the bill’s intent, the devil apparently is in the numbers — the allowable levels for contaminants in treated wastewater from private septic systems, which some say approach those levels used for drinking-water standards.

Building and Safety Official Vic Peterson told the City Council Monday that not a lot had been accomplished except to establish that there is still a lot of work to be done to make it a viable bill.

Santa Barbara, Contra Costa and Sonoma counties also sent representatives to the meeting with the State Health Department and the Water Resources Board. Assemblywoman Hanna Beth Jackson, who sponsored the bill, sent Michael Endicott.

“They all seemed to agree that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach won’t fly,” Peterson said.

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Heal the Bay Director Mark Gold disagrees. “It is so essential to provide uniformity in onsite systems. That’s sorely lacking right now,” he said. “There needs to be a decision on how the uniform performance standards are developed. The most important thing is there are deadlines set to create and approve standards for onsite systems.”

However, Gold agreed that of the three numbers listed in the bill, one was too high, one too low and one just about right. “We need to develop numbers that make sense.” Describing the process by which a bill works its way through committees to the floor of the Assembly and Senate, he said, “There’s a chance the final bill won’t have any numbers in it, that they will be added by regulators later.”

Meanwhile, the Malibu Township Council, an organization of local property owners and residents, has voiced its own opposition to the bill and has urged the City Council to take whatever steps are necessary to defeat it. “If this bill, or a modified version thereof, is passed by the Legislature, the financial impact on almost all residents and property owners in Malibu, as well as the ultimate potential for urban growth, could be incalculable,” wrote MTC attorney David Kagon.

In a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Kagon states MTC’s support for efforts to protect coastal water quality but opposition to a single standard for maximum contaminant levels for all onsite treatment plants, regardless of their operating condition and without respect to whether there is any impact or lack thereof on the coastal waters. “We are informed that these standards would result in the closure of almost all private septic systems in the Malibu area regardless of whether they were operating properly or not.”

The city remains opposed to the bill in its current form and, at Endicott’s suggestion, is planning a meeting in Malibu to pursue modifications to the bill while it is still in committee. Peterson said he hoped all the people from the Sacramento meeting would come. City lobbyist Anthony Gonzales is working on that, Peterson said. “They seem to be getting a reality check that the cookie-cutter form is not going to work.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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