The county Board of Supervisors has put off a decision on its proposal to construct sewers in Malibu until its staff can sift through a pile of protest letters and petitions it received at a public hearing Thursday.
The hearing, which drew about 150 residents, was called to air public concerns over the board's plan to create a tax district in Malibu to pay for a $1.2-million study on constructing a sewer system.
"We have received several hundred protests in petition form and in letters," said Bill Pellman, a county counsel.
Supervisor Deane Dana asked that the board take the issue under advisement until the Department of Public Works can "determine the exact level of protest" within the proposed tax district.
Most of the 3,300 landowners in the proposed district have been billed $290 apiece for a study of the feasibility, costs and environmental impact of building a sewer system.
About 120 of the residents at the hearing stood up to indicate their opposition to the plan, while the other 30 who attended said they supported a sewer system.
Opponents criticized the county's method of billing within the tax district, noting that large commercial enterprises, such as the Sea Lion restaurant, have been billed the same amount as individual homeowners.
Sarah Dixon, a longtime Malibu resident, said Malibu is viewed as a haven for the wealthy, but that many homeowners have lived in the area for years "and do not have a great deal of money."
She cited the 1980 U.S. Census, which showed that 2,137 Malibu households had an annual income of less than $25,000, including 443 homes with incomes of less than $5,000.
"Most of these people live on small properties and they are the ones that will be hurt the most," she said.
County officials said all owners of parcels five acres or smaller were asked to pay the same amount.
Pellman, the county counsel, said the $290 bill was not based on the present use of the property.
Pellman assured residents that if a multimillion-dollar sewer system is eventually approved, commercial and high-density developments would be asked to pay "significantly more" toward construction than individual homeowners.
While much of the opposition centered on alleged disparities in the taxing method, many speakers took the opportunity to discuss the larger issue of whether Malibu should have a sewer system.
Several speakers accused the county Department of Health of erroneously portraying Malibu's sewage problems as a major health hazard to justify building the system.
Richard Powell, a spokesman for the Malibu Township Council, said that the county implied that "residents of Malibu, who are notoriously health-conscious, are willing to live in the midst of disease and filth rather than approve a sewer system."
One resident of Malibu Colony, Herbert Klein, told the supervisors he was "simply baffled and appalled" by what he described as the county's failure to back up its claims that the waterfront is being polluted by leaking septic tanks.
The county has attributed high levels of bacteria in the water off Malibu to chronic sewage leaks. Klein said, however, that the county has not broken down the bacteria counts to find out how much of it is caused by natural plankton growth.
Several other speakers, citing the area's chronic problems with septic tanks, said they supported the construction of a sewer system.
Kurt Simon, who lives on Pacific Coast Highway, said widespread fear that construction of a sewer system would lead to excessive development in Malibu is not a legitimate argument against the county's plan.
He cited a 1976 county Grand Jury report that concluded that inadequate sewer systems should not be used as a population control method.