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Residents Protest : County OKs Tax for Malibu Sewer Study

April 25, 1985|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

The county Board of Supervisors has approved formation of a widely disputed tax assessment district in Malibu to pay for a $1.2-million study into the feasibility of building a regional sewer system.

The board voted 4 to 0 on Tuesday to create the district, encompassing 2,582 acres owned by about 3,300 people along a 25-mile stretch of the unincorporated coastline community. Supervisor Kenneth Hahn abstained from the vote because he missed a public hearing on the controversy April 11.

Despite hundreds of protest letters and petitions that overwhelmingly opposed the tax district, county officials said they followed a county code that allows the board to proceed unless owners of 51% of the land in the proposed district oppose it.

Supervisor Deane Dana, who made the motion Tuesday, said widespread opposition from small landowners was not enough to scuttle the county's proposal because opponents represented only 6.1% of the acreage.

500 Filed Protests

Although the decision was based on acreage owned, staff members who tabulated the protests received by the county said opponents of the tax district vastly outnumbered supporters.

Michael Nagao of the Department of Public Works said about 500 landowners, representing 158.7 acres or 6.1% of the acreage in the district, opposed the plan, far short of the 51% majority needed to reject it. In contrast, the county received only 17 letters in favor of the tax district, Nagao said.

The board's decision was immediately assailed by Malibu homeowners who oppose construction of a sewer system and have argued for two months that their "votes" should have been counted without regard for the amount of land they own.

Barry Balmay, treasurer of Malibu West Swimming Club, a homeowners association, said the county's method prevented a legitimate protest by small landowners. "This entire process has been unfair, and it's a totally unfair method to levy these costs," he said.

Some Systems Established

Balmay and other residents had argued that some neighborhoods in the new assessment district should be excluded because, unlike most of Malibu which relies on septic tanks, they have small sewer systems that do not require improvements.

In Malibu West, 237 homeowners paid more than $1 million six years ago to build a neighborhood sewer system, Balmay said. In addition, dozens of homeowners along Sea Level Drive in Malibu recently decided to join the Malibu West sewer system and will pay about $13,000 apiece to hook up their homes, residents said.

"We paid for our sewer system already, as have others in Malibu," Balmay said. "Our system is installed and it works. Why are we paying again?"

County officials have argued for a regional sewer system because of Malibu's heavy reliance on septic tanks that sometimes leak into the ground and ocean. The county has refused to exclude neighborhoods where half a dozen small sewer systems exist.

According to Nagao, the Department of Public Works will begin mailing tax assessment bills to the 3,300 landowners in the district next week. The bills must be paid within 30 days.

Most of the landowners, whether commercial or residential, will be assessed $290 apiece for the study. Owners of more than five acres will be assessed larger amounts, county officials said.

The study--into the project's feasibility, environmental impact, costs and acquisition of rights of way--will begin as soon as the county awards contracts, Nagao said.

Final approval of the proposed sewer system must clear several hurdles, including the state Coastal Commission. County officials said they hope to present their plan to the commission in late 1986, with construction to begin in 1988.

However, Malibu residents, who have rejected sewer bond issues three times since 1966, have promised a bitter fight against the sewage system, arguing that its construction will invite widespread development of the coastline.

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