Taking a long-anticipated step to reduce coastal pollution, the Malibu City Council has voted to approve construction of a wastewater treatment plant in the Civic Center area.
The project's roughly $40-million first phase, which is expected to be operating by June 2017, would provide sewage treatment for nearly 50 property owners, including the city itself. Others include the Los Angeles County public library and fire station, the Malibu Colony Plaza shopping center and the Malibu Country Mart.
"We commend the City Council for taking this important step to improve the water quality in Malibu Lagoon and the Malibu groundwater basin," said Samuel Unger, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Water quality officials have long criticized Malibu for what they perceived to be its slow pace of addressing water pollution in Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach. In 2009, the water board approved a prohibition on septic systems in the city's core.
Most commercial and residential properties in Malibu use septic systems. The agency said pollutants leaching from aging, overtaxed systems caused much of the ongoing water quality problems.
City Manager Jim Thorsen said Malibu would seek a low-interest state loan, to be guaranteed by the affected property owners, and form an assessment district to cover the costs of building and operating the plant. If the district is approved, property owners would be assessed amounts ranging from $4,000 a year to as much as $500,000 a year.
The membrane bioreactor plant would be located just north of Pacific Coast Highway along Civic Center Way, according to a map on the city's website. The plant would initially be capable of treating about 190,000 gallons a day to a level that would allow the water to be reused in Legacy Park, the city's highly praised stormwater treatment zone, and elsewhere.
The second phase, which would begin to incorporate some residential properties, would bring the level to 360,000 gallons. The regional water board has said that phase must be online by late 2022. A third phase would raise the total to 500,000 gallons a day in 2025.
Dozens of people spoke for and against the project at the council meeting Monday night. Many residents have expressed concern that installing sewers would unleash a wave of development. The five council members voted unanimously to approve the environmental impact report just before 11 p.m.
"It was the outcome we hoped for," said Sarah Sikich, vice president of Heal the Bay, an environmental advocacy group.
The project is expected to get other necessary approvals and permits in coming months from the regional water board and the California Coastal Commission.
"This is a landmark step," Sikich said, "to move from local permitting to state permitting and from concept to implementation."