Los Angeles County officials have for the first time agreed to conduct talks with Malibu’s leaders on the future of a controversial sewer system the county wants to build in the seaside community.
However, a spokesman for Supervisor Deane Dana, who suggested the talks, warned that the county’s willingness to discuss the issue does not mean it is ready to abandon its plans to build the proposed $43-million sewer system.
“The supervisor has instructed (officials of the county Department of Public Works) to sit down with them (Malibu officials) and see what they’ve got in mind,” said Dennis Morefield, a Dana spokesman. “I would call it exploratory.”
Officials said Wednesday that the talks, which would involve representatives of Malibu’s elected, but not yet empowered City Council, may begin as early as Friday.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that they want to talk with us,” Councilman-elect Larry Wan said. “I would say it is long overdue.”
Both he and Councilman-elect Mike Caggiano said that now would be an ideal time for the county to demonstrate good faith by clearing the way for Malibu to become a city immediately.
“If they’re really sincere in wanting to solve the sewer issue, a halt in trying to delay us from becoming a city would certainly be the appropriate thing to do,” Caggiano said.
Although voters overwhelmingly approved cityhood last June, the county has delayed the actual incorporation until March 28 in a bid to start work on the sewer before a new Malibu government has the chance to block it. And county officials have hinted that they may try to delay cityhood until 1992 if their efforts to build the sewer continue to be stymied.
The announcement of talks comes after the California Coastal Commission last week signaled its impatience with the county’s attempts to build the sewer while it continues to stall Malibu’s efforts to become a city.
Faced with almost certain defeat in its bid to get the commission to allow the work to begin, county officials asked for a last-minute postponement of the matter. The panel is scheduled to decide the issue at its April meeting in Santa Barbara. But the commission warned that unless county officials work with Malibu’s leaders to settle the sewer dispute, the panel probably will not approve the county’s proposal.
County officials acknowledged that the invitation to meet with Malibu’s leaders was a response to the Coastal Commission’s action.
“Several key commissioners expressed their concerns,” said Harry Stone, the county’s deputy director of public works. “This is our way of saying we hear you.”
Stone said that “everything will be on the table,” including the county’s choice of a six-acre site near Pepperdine University as the location of a waste-water treatment plant, and its proposal to empty effluent from the plant into Corral Creek.
But one of the county’s top lawyers offered a different view.
“I don’t see these meetings as representing a dramatic shift on the part of the county as it pertains to control over the sewer,” assistant county counsel Bill Pellman said.
Pellman said the county “has always encouraged representatives of the city (to-be) to offer alternatives to the various aspects of the sewer plan, and thus far they’ve not come forward with any.
“There are some people who obviously don’t want a sewer system at all in Malibu, and we don’t consider that an alternative,” he said.
The Coastal Commission staff has criticized the county’s plans to build the plant next to an expensive subdivision. The staff also said that plans to dump up to 1.3 million gallons of effluent per day into Corral Creek could destroy an environmentally sensitive plant and animal habitat and may seriously erode Corral State Beach.
As a result of a court decision in December upholding the redrawing of district boundaries, Supervisor Ed Edelman now represents Malibu, not Dana. However, the supervisors are continuing to exercise joint interest in areas where the old boundaries overlap until March, when a new supervisor to replace the retiring Pete Schabarum is sworn in.
In an interview, Edelman--the lone supervisor to oppose delaying cityhood--said, “I certainly support the discussions, and would hope that something meaningful comes from them.” He said he had been unaware of the overture to meet with the Malibu leaders until Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Malibu leaders said they will continue to push a measure in the state Legislature to nullify cityhood’s being delayed that they hope will be ready for Gov. Pete Wilson’s signature next month.
“Given the recent boost from the Coastal Commission, which made it clear it wants to deal with Malibu as a city before deciding what to do about the sewer, we’re optimistic,” Wan said. “At this point, the county has no choice but to deal with us.”