Residents Furious at Latest Delay on Malibu Cityhood

Times Staff Writer

Furious Malibu residents ended a heated cityhood hearing Wednesday by screaming at members of the Local Agency Formation Commission, after the state panel voted to delay action on the community's incorporation proposal for one more week.

Frustrated community members, who have waited nearly two years to get the issue on the ballot, erupted after the commissioners agreed to reconsider requests from two landowners to be excluded from the city limits and a county plea to attach a new condition to the cityhood petition.

The estimated 300 people in attendance began yelling and chanting, "We want to vote," for several minutes after LAFCO member Hal Bernson, a Los Angeles city councilman, quickly closed the public hearing following the panel's 4-2 vote to continue the matter until May 18. The request to continue was made via telegram by vacationing county Supervisor Deane Dana, who is expected to ask fellow commission members to allow the county to retain jurisdiction over sewers even if Malibu becomes a city.

The commission rejected a similar request last July, noting that the proposed city could deal with its own waste-water issues. But the county, which approved a $43-million sewer system in Malibu earlier this year, has argued that a Malibu city council would block plans to construct the sewer. County officials say the sewer system is needed to remove a health hazard created by failing septic systems in the area.

'No-Win Situation'

Officials from Hughes Aircraft Co., which has a research lab in Malibu, and VMS/Anden, a developer of a custom-home project being considered by the county Regional Planning Commission, have asked to be excluded from the proposed 20-mile-long city boundaries.

"We're disappointed but not surprised that they delayed it," said Walt Keller, co-chair of the Malibu Committee for Incorporation. "It's a basic flaw of the LAFCO system that the county retains so much power over the ability to vote. We're in a no-win situation."

Even if LAFCO approves the cityhood proposal, the County Board of Supervisors must also give its approval before Malibu voters get the chance to decide. When the matter came up before supervisors last year, the board delayed it for several months and then asked LAFCO to impose the sewer condition. Cityhood leaders are afraid that the board will delay the matter again, killing any chance to place the measure on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"It has not been a happy tour for the people of Malibu," incorporation attorney Graham Ritchie told LAFCO members Wednesday. "The board's history in this case is not one of expediting this matter. It's been one of foot-dragging. You are pushing us right against the wall."

Nearly two-dozen Malibu residents pleaded with the panel to spare the community further delays and give them a chance to vote on cityhood. After LAFCO approved the proposal in August, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge rescinded the action and ordered an environmental impact report on the impact of cityhood. LAFCO commissioners certified the report by a unanimous vote Wednesday.

"We should have had an election last November," actor Rob Lowe told the commissioners. "But it's unfortunate that some people would stand in the way of the people's basic right to vote."

However, a majority of commissioners agreed with LAFCO member and county Supervisor Ed Edelman, who said that postponing a vote on Malibu's incorporation proposal one week would not harm the chances of placing the issue before voters later this year.

"I believe that this matter has dragged on for many, many months, years in fact, and I think we should finally decide it," he said. "But I think as a courtesy to Deane Dana, who represents Malibu, that we ought to set it for a vote next week."

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