More than 10 years have passed since Malibu residents last took a stand on cityhood, but a decade of development without local control and a recent string of incorporation victories throughout Southern California could provide the momentum to turn the famed coastal area into a beachside city.
Cityhood proponents point to this week's overwhelming victory for incorporation backers in the Santa Clarita Valley, where the confrontation between developers and slow-growth forces closely resembles previous campaigns in Malibu.
Recently, developers, environmentalists and large landowners along the Malibu coast joined forces for the first time to fight a Los Angeles County proposal to build an $86-million sewer system in the area.
Malibu cityhood sponsors, hoping to capitalize on the rare show of unity and widespread "anti-county sentiment," are attempting to use the sewer issue to launch their campaign and to keep community leaders galvanized.
"The Santa Clarita vote is very encouraging to us," said Walter Keller, chairman of the cityhood committee established by the Malibu Township Council.
"There was a lot of money spent by some developers in Santa Clarita to stop incorporation, and that's what happened here (in Malibu) last time. But this time they won, and I think the support is here for us to win this time around," Keller said.
Cityhood drives are also under way in Calabasas and Diamond Bar, with the primary issue being growth and who should control it. The desire for local control also triggered incorporation victories this week for two other new Southern California cities, Mission Viejo and Highland.
A 1976 cityhood campaign in Malibu, opposed by developers, Pepperdine University and the Chamber of Commerce, was narrowly defeated by voters.
However, incorporation proponents say the county's repeated attempts to build a regional sewer system and force a majority of residents who do not support it to pay for it, may have turned the tide in favor of cityhood in the coastal enclave.
Key Objection Gone
The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 removed a key objection to cityhood that had been raised every previous incorporation campaign in the Malibu community. Opponents had warned that incorporation would mean escalating taxes.
And Malibu residents are using the same argument that those in Santa Clarita used to push the cityhood campaign:independence from the five-member County Board of Supervisors, which meets about 40 miles away in downtown Los Angeles.
"We want to get out of the Babylonian captivity that we've been under for years," said Leon Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council, a civic group representing more than 1,000 families. "There are a bunch of people out here who are quite angry over what the county has tried to do regarding the sewers and they are chafing under the bit. The county is making decisions that vitally affect our lives. . . ."
Whether that anger translates into votes in an election at least one year away remains to be seen, but even opponents of incorporation for Malibu believe that there may be enough support to make Malibu a city, citing the slim margin of defeat--108 votes out of more than 7,000 votes cast--in 1976.
Since then, however, merely getting cityhood on the ballot has been difficult. At least two incorporation campaigns were grounded after the state Local Agency Formation Commission turned down cityhood elections for Malibu, saying that they were not economically feasible. The same argument was raised by LAFCO to reject a cityhood campaign in Marina del Ray last year.
LAFCO once again will have final say on whether Malibu residents have a chance to vote on cityhood. Keller said the incorporation committee is beginning to gather signatures from 25%of registered voters in Malibu, about 2,500, and will pay a $1,000 filing fee and $1.23 per signature to have them verified.
LAFCO also must approve the boundaries drawn by cityhood campaigners, who plan to aid their cause by excluding the Sunset Mesa area of Malibu, where residents consistently have opposed incorporation.
The boundary issue could prove a sticky one for Malibu cityhood proponents. LAFCO performed radical surgery on the lines drawn by incorporation backers in the Santa Clarita Valley and the Calabasas area, undermining one of the key goals of cityhood supporters by removing large tracts of undeveloped land from the proposed city maps.
However, Keller said the Malibu campaign has been careful to leave out many of the surrounding undeveloped hillside parcels in their preliminary boundaries, which stretch about 26 miles west from Topanga Canyon and about five miles inland.
He said the cityhood application may be completed sometime in December. Township council officials are shooting for a November, 1988, election date to decide whether Malibu becomes a city of about 20,000 people.