Regional Water head says board members can’t talk to city

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The City Council at its meeting on Monday created a subcommittee to extend an olive branch to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency it has been at odds with in recent months. But that subcommittee will not be able to do much until next year at the earliest.

Regional Water Executive Officer Tracy Egoscue said in an interview on Tuesday that board members cannot meet with city officials at this time because Malibu has pending issues that will be voted on next month and in December. She said state law prohibits ex parte communication on pending issues.

“After the December board meeting, the board will want to engage in discussion with the city of Malibu as the board does with all cities at all times, barring this ex-parte exception,” Egoscue said.

Next month, the board will vote on rescinding an agreement with the city that allows Malibu to handle wastewater discharge permits for smaller projects. The board will vote in December on the wastewater discharge permit for the Malibu Lumber mall.

Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said at Monday’s council meeting that she was at her “wit’s end” on dealing with Regional Water. She complained about trying to discuss issues with the state agency’s board members, but being blocked from doing so by Egoscue. Conley Ulich proposed the subcommittee as a final attempt at communication. Council members John Sibert and Sharon Barovsky will be on the subcommittee.

“This city has done so much [in support of water quality]. We have basically sacrificed a City Hall and I don’t know how much further we can go,” said Conley Ulich, referring to the council’s vote last month to have the developers of the La Paz project offer to build a wastewater treatment plant as part of a development agreement rather than the original proposal of a City Hall. La Paz officials have not publicly stated how they feel about that request. A council hearing on the project will take place on Nov. 10.

Conley Ulich further stated, “And I hope they [Regional Water] appreciate the gravity of all our actions, all the money we’ve put up for Legacy Park … and I just hope you [the subcommittee] can communicate with them that we are really at our wit’s end right now. And hopefully we can come together and solve the issue without having to go the other way, which is not working together at all.” At the conclusion of her comments, Sibert said, “I couldn’t agree more.”

The latest dispute between Regional Water and the city involves the under-construction Malibu Lumber mall on the city-owned Legacy Park and the shopping center’s pending wastewater disposal permit.

The city and Regional Water have had a memorandum of understanding in effect since 2004 that allows Malibu to issue wastewater disposal permits for all projects that generate less than 2,000 gallons of water per day. Larger projects are handled by Regional Water. The lumber yard, when it initially opens, possibly later this year, will generate less than 2,000 gallons of water because it will not have its two future restaurants. So the city has decided to handle the wastewater permitting. This has not set well with the Regional Water staff.

Egoscue said on Tuesday that since the mall will need a permit from Regional Water once the restaurants open, the state should handle the whole permitting issue. She said told this to the city earlier this year. But the city refused to listen to Regional Water’s demand. In response, Regional Water staff sent a notice to the city of a proposal to rescind the memorandum of understanding. The board will vote on this at a Nov. 13 meeting.

The notice inspired City Manager Jim Thorsen to write an aggressive letter to Egoscue, which, among other accusations, claimed she had a bias against the city because of her former position as head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Baykeeper, which has often been at odds with the city.