Kissel gets one month to finish Paradise septic system

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The project at Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park has been delayed for years. The Kissel Company said it will complete the project by July 20.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

In a Malibu municipal court hearing last Thursday, Judge Lawrence Mira extended a stay of penalties lodged against the Kissel Company, which owns the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park, in anticipation of its compliance with orders to complete installation of an onsite wastewater treatment system. The Kissel Company is facing fines of tens of thousands of dollars for failure to upgrade the septic system at the mobile home park in a construction project initiated more than two years ago.

Residents have been long anticipating the upgrade of the system. In early May, raw sewage had run down the center of one street in the park, a regular occurrence, residents said.

“We have been waiting seven and a half years to complete this process,” Paradise Cove resident Ronald Imhoff said. “You have to be dead not to get something done in seven and a half years.”

The agreement to upgrade the septic system at the park began in 2005 when the Kissel Company, wanting to raise rents, entered into a complex agreement with the city of Malibu to shoulder $2.2 million of the costs of the project and then pass on the overages to residents through rental increases.

Before Mira issued the ruling, the judge, defense attorneys for the Kissel Company, the district attorney (who was third in a line of district attorneys assigned to the case) and vocal residents argued about why it’s taken so long for the septic project to be completed.

According to representatives for the Kissel Company, they had to wait literally years to get proper permitting from the city of Malibu before construction could begin.

“This was a very complicated project,” Steve Dahlberg, president of Kissel Company, said. “Not only are we talking about the removal of a decades-old patchwork of about 60 different septic systems, the new system is state-of-the-art and required permitting by the city as well as the Regional Water Quality Control Board.”

Malibu city offices deny delaying any of the permitting processes for the project. In a memo dated Sept. 13, 2006, the city manager for Environmental and Building Safety, Craig George, wrote, “The city was not responsible for any delays in the review of the proposed Advanced Wastewater Treatment System … Significant changes were … made within the system during the plan review process. These changes caused an increase in review time as new elements of the system had to be assessed.”

George said the Kissel Company was “routinely languid in their responses to the City” for appropriate review data. Finger pointing between the city, the RWQCB and Kissel Company have continued throughout the permitting process.

Imhoff suggested that a large part of the delay was in resolving who was going to pay for the system upgrade, as well as the company’s negotiations with the city allowing them to pass along overages to Paradise Cove residents through rental increases.

“Paradise Cove is the only affordable housing left to low income residents,” Imhoff said. “Malibu’s rent control ordinances should prevent Kissel from passing the cost of this onto us, but they negotiated incremental increases with the city.”

Other Paradise Cove occupants speculate that an effort by Kissel to drive away longtime residents so that home site rental fees can be sharply increased is behind the extended delay in finishing the project and repaving the streets. “Some people are just getting so fed up with the open trenches and overflows and dust, because the streets are still not paved, that they just move,” resident Steve Rocco said. “I’ve even offered to buy the asphalt if Kissel’s crews would install it temporarily just to take care of the dust, but Dahlberg refused.”

Dahlberg insisted that he shared the residents’ frustration with the long delays but said “the installation of the septic system is complete and houses are being hooked up right now.”

He also said the “aesthetic issues” affecting Paradise Cove would be addressed immediately. “Our paving contractor has been retained and they should start repaving the streets next week,” Dahlberg said. “The 15,000 gallon water disinfection tank is in, we’ve tested it and all results are very positive.”

Dahlberg said he expects any fines levied against Kissel Company will be vacated by the final July 20 compliance date, when they face Mira in court again.

Weary residents are not so sure. Jamie, a local citizen who declined to give his last name, complained, “They have three guys working on a project when they should have 15. They’ll never get this finished.”