The sun hadn't peeked through the overcast dawn sky, but rainbows were everywhere. It was a protest, Malibu-style--a demonstration filled with colors, slogans, placards, balloons and, most of all, people.
More than 800 of them turned out this week for the 90-minute bus ride from the Malibu Civic Center to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hearing on a proposed $86-million regional sewer system for the coastal community.
The protesters were angry that they could be forced to pay for a system that a vast majority of Malibu's 20,000 residents believe outpaces their needs and would overwhelm their pocket books. So on Thursday morning, they assembled en masse to begin a rally that would last most of a working day.
It was a quiet rally, which began as early as 5 a.m. for some residents who showed up to blow up balloons and clip placards together to carry down to the county hearing.
The "Save Our Coast" insignias, which featured a prominent rainbow, were painted on T-shirts and signs that were later fastened to the 17 chartered buses that carried the demonstrators to the meeting.
"People in Malibu are pretty low-key, and they don't feel like they have to yell and scream to get their point across," said Blanca Para-Sibert, explaining the lack of cheering and chanting that usually accompanies large demonstrations.
"It's been a lot of work, and even if it doesn't seem that apparent, we're all psyched up about this," Para-Sibert said. "There's a lot of angry people here."
The early morning gathering time may have contributed to some of the solemnity at the Civic Center, as nearly all of the buses were filled to their 51-passenger capacity by 7 a.m.
Several demonstrators admitted to being tired, but said that they could not afford to miss the hearing on what Malibu Township Council President Leon Cooper has called "by far the single-biggest issue for Malibu today and in the future."
At the hearing, Pepperdine University President David Davenport said the university could not support the regional system, terming it too costly and impractical for the size of the community.
Davenport, acknowledging the presence of nearly 1,000 Malibu residents at the hearing, said, "We have a proposal before us today that has managed to unify an entire community, and as far as I can tell, it has almost no support from the community."
Barry Haldeman, one of the organizers of the bus delegation, said it took several weeks to prepare for the demonstration, which ended with more than 1,000 people from Malibu packed into the board chambers. They lined the walls and sat on the floor, all the while applauding a series of specialists who offered a variety of reasons why the sewer proposal should be defeated.
"We were in a position last night (Wednesday) that we had so many people signed up for the buses that we had to hustle to find three more," Haldeman said. "Malibu has always been a community that galvanizes when they are faced with a distasteful proposal for the community. People here realize that if you want to offset something you don't like, you have to fight for it."
The protesters ranged from the old to the young. About 75 children from Malibu Park School rode a bus to the hearing, as part of a teacher's civic lesson on American government.
Although many of the demonstrators spent hours blowing up balloons and painting signs for the rally, they were told by county sheriff's deputies that they could not carry them into the board chambers. However, a few managed to sneak them in and several popped during the early morning testimony.
"This thing has been a lot of fun," said 17-year-old Gabe Chavez. "I think most of us are concerned that the ocean will be polluted if the sewer system is built, and people came to Malibu because it was the cleanest area in all of Los Angeles."