Malibu Sewer Panel Can’t Screen County Data

Times Staff Writer

The committee appointed to advise the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on alternative sewer systems for Malibu will not be allowed to review sensitive county reports before they are submitted to the board, the panel’s chairman said this week.

Chairman Harry Stone said he will continue to release data to the supervisors first, despite the adoption by the advisory panel Monday of a formal resolution requesting a chance to review sewer-related studies conducted by the county.

Recently, the county declined to give the committee a controversial report that contains recommendations to draft an ordinance banning home sales in Malibu until experts certify that the property’s septic system works properly and to restrict building permits in known landslide areas in the community. Members of the advisory panel repeatedly requested a chance to see the documents, but Stone refused, saying that they are not subject to committee review.

Panel Members Suspicious


The action fueled further discontent between the county and several committee members, who remain wary of the county’s attempt to build an $86-million regional sewer system in Malibu. The supervisors postponed a vote on the sewer plan in October, after more than 1,000 angry Malibu residents turned out at a public hearing to protest.

Supervisors then created the 11-member panel to advise them on alternative sewer proposals, but the committee has not had access to data that a majority of its members say they need to make recommendations.

Stone, deputy director of public works, said this week that as a county employee, his primary obligation is to report to the supervisors. And as a result, he said, the advisory panel’s resolution is not binding.

“We’re not trying to hide anything here,” Stone said. “Our intention is to cooperate with this committee on all reports. But we’re not proposing to turn over the direction of (county) staff activities to this committee. So we will continue to do as we have in the past. “I don’t think (the resolution) will be helping the relationship between the committee and the board. If anything, it would hurt the credibility of the committee.”


However, panel member Leon Cooper, who proposed that all county reports dealing with waste-water issues in Malibu be subject to committee review, said it is Stone’s credibility that is hurt by his refusal to release the information.

“We just don’t want to be surprised,” Cooper said. “We want to have a chance to comment on any reports before the supervisors see them. How can we be expected to make decisions after the fact? We’re not attempting to usurp the role of the county departments.”

Whether the committee will be able to perform its assigned role, panel members say, will largely depend on the county’s ability to find funds for various independent studies it wants to do on alternative sewer systems in Malibu.

The panel’s three subcommittees, which are researching three separate sewer-related issues in Malibu, are seeking about $100,000 from the county to finance the studies. That is less then one-tenth what the county paid for environmental studies conducted by James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers, the firm that recommended the $86-million sewer system for Malibu, a proposal ultimately rejected by an ad hoc coalition of landowners, developers and local residents.


Some Source of Funds

Stone said Monday he is hopeful that he will be able to find some money before the county makes its next progress report to supervisors in April. He said he will report to the panel at its next meeting, on Feb. 8 at Pepperdine University.

In response to questions from panel members, Stone also said that any ordinance banning home sales until an expert certifies that its septic system works properly would apply to all areas of Los Angeles County, not just Malibu. In addition, Stone said the county is looking at other ways to strengthen its ability to enforce building code and health violations.

All applications for building permits must meet provisions of county health, building and plumbing codes, Stone said. However, the county wants to strengthen the requirements so that homes in landslide areas of Malibu include a report from a licensed geologist certifying that the property is stable.


The county is attempting to avoid further litigation in landslide areas such as Big Rock Mesa, where it and the state face as many as 200 related lawsuits with a combined potential liability of $200 million to $500 million. The suits accuse the county and the state of responsibility for a massive 1983 landslide that was caused in part by rising ground water.