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Don't Rush Malibu Sewers

October 22, 1987

Malibu residents depend on septic tanks to handle their waste. Some tanks leak or overflow and create a raw-sewage problem that threatens public health in the beachfront community. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors must take action, and that response must include sewers --but on what scale?

The supervisors are scheduled to consider today a regional sewage collection system and treatment plant recommended by the county health and public works departments. The waste disposal plant would handle the current needs of residences and businesses. It would also handle the future demands of residences and businesses, but only the growth allowed by the too-generous land-use plan approved by the California Coastal Commission. The supervisors should not allow the vote to be used for the easing of those controls on growth, inadequate as they are.

A vote today would be premature. The dimension of the problem remains at issue. As Times staff writer Jill Stewart reported Friday, county officials have overstated claims of septic problems, although there is no question that a health-and-environmental problem exists.

The dimension of the solution is also at issue. Is the large, expensive and unpopular regional sewer system properly planned or an overreaction?

Are the Malibu residents who oppose the regional plan willing to live with multiple small-scale sewer treatment plants, perhaps in their own backyards?

Are the county experts who want the large, traditional waste treatment plant willing to consider the neighborhood-sized plants or any of the new technology, including the untested alternatives?

A sewer system is necessary in Malibu, although legitimate questions remain about the type of treatment and disposal. Legitimate questions remain, too, about the extent of the health-and-environmental problem. There may be a way to get sewers to Malibu without adopting the big sewage treatment plant proposed by the county.

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