A little-noticed measure that would ban Los Angeles County from issuing building permits in Malibu beginning in December may pose a threat to the county's bid to speed construction of its proposed $43-million sewer system there.
Although not its intended purpose, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) could, if it became law, deal a severe blow to the county's efforts to start work on the sewer before a new Malibu government has the chance to block it.
The measure was approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. George Deukmejian during the final week of the legislative session last month. Deukmejian has until Sunday to act on it.
Los Angeles County officials, who have urged the governor to veto a measure that would nullify their attempt to delay Malibu's becoming a city until next March, also are trying to persuade the governor to veto the Costa measure.
In a letter to Deukmejian obtained by The Times, a lobbyist for the county warned that, if the measure becomes law, it may "deny the county the right to issue a building permit" for the sewer system.
In urging the governor to veto the bill, lobbyist Clancy Leland called it "unnecessary legislation" that would inhibit the county's efforts to safeguard Malibu residents from "a serious health problem."
County officials have long insisted that the sewer system, which opponents say is intended to open the door to widespread development of the Malibu coast, is necessary to remedy pollution caused by leaking septic tanks.
The Costa measure, which has the support of the state's building industry, would allow counties to continue to issue building permits in communities where voters have approved cityhood but where incorporation has not yet taken place.
It would replace an existing law that is to expire Dec. 31. Builders and real estate groups generally support the measure because it offers them time to get projects approved in communities where new governments----and often more slow-growth-oriented city governments--are waiting in the wings.
However, as the legislative session drew to a close, in a bid to avoid last-minute opposition from legislators sympathetic to Malibu cityhood, the measure was amended to exclude Malibu.
If the measure becomes law, Los Angeles County's authority to issue building permits in Malibu would expire Dec. 3. In addition, permits previously issued by the county where no actual construction has taken place would become void on that date.
"It's really ironic that a bill coveted by the building industry may be the vehicle to stop the sewer project," Malibu City Councilman-elect Mike Caggiano said.
Although voters overwhelmingly approved cityhood in June, the county has gone to court to delay the incorporation until next March and wants to start work on the sewer before Malibu's five-member City Council can officially take office.
In approving a bid by Malibu residents to vote on cityhood last year, the Local Agency Formation Commission stipulated that the county be allowed to retain control over the sewer system for up to 10 years after incorporation.
Some members of LAFCO, however, expressed doubts about the legality of the provision, and members of the unofficial City Council have made it clear that they favor challenging it once Malibu becomes a city.
Although the county needs only to issue itself a building permit to start work on the sewer, it cannot do so without the approval of the California Coastal Commission.
The county hopes to go before the state panel in November for permission to speed construction of the sewer without having to wait for other incremental approvals that ordinarily could be expected to take several more months.
If the commission approves it, the county would be able to issue the permit before Dec. 3, and, barring unforeseen delays, could start work on the sewer almost immediately.
Malibu cityhood supporters view the bill as a backstop to legislation sponsored by Sen. Ed Davis (D-Santa Clarita)--which is also awaiting action by the governor--that would nullify the attempt by the County Board of Supervisors to delay cityhood until March 28.
Cityhood advocates have said that in the event Deukmejian rejects the incorporation bill, the Costa measure could prevent a rush of last-minute building permits from being approved by the county.
The measure has raised the ire of real estate brokers and prospective home builders in Malibu, who contend that, if enacted into law, it could wreck the plans of would-be builders who have already obtained permits from the county, and whose permits would automatically become invalid.
"You have a situation where, if the county's permits expire at the beginning of December, and there's no city, and no (official) City Council with authority to extend those permits, everything is at a standstill," real estate broker Tom Bates said.
A spokesman for the Malibu Board of Realtors said the group has urged Deukmejian to veto the bill.
"It changes the rules in the middle of the game as far as we're concerned," said the spokesman, real estate broker Don Posey. "How would you like to spend a half-million dollars for a piece of land and thousands more as part of the permit process only to be told your permit is no longer valid?"
Some backers of both the Costa measure and the cityhood bill, meanwhile, have urged Malibu residents to flood the governor's office with phone calls of support for the measures.
A flyer that was distributed in the Point Dume area, which did not identify its sponsor, urged residents to call Deukmejian's office "many times," adding that they should "give a different name" each time.