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Stringent Controls Sought in Slide Areas

December 27, 1987|KENNETH J. GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County will review a plan that would restrict building permits in hillside areas "or areas of known geologic hazards" unless the sites can pass a stringent inspection by geologic experts.

The recommendation, aimed at reducing the county's liability in landslide areas in Malibu, will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors this week in a preliminary report by the Department of Public Works, which is investigating septic system problems in the coastal community.

The controversial draft report also includes a recommendation that the county draft an ordinance banning any home sales in Malibu until experts certify that the property's septic system works properly.

Harry Stone, deputy director of public works, said that county attorneys had not determined the scope of the restrictions yet and whether they would apply only to Malibu. The draft report is scheduled to be delivered to supervisors on Tuesday, but no public hearing is scheduled.

Must Meet Codes

Currently, all building-permit applications must meet county health, building and plumbing codes. However, Stone said the county wants to strengthen the requirements by requesting that the applications include a report from a licensed geologist certifying that the property is stable.

The county is attempting to avoid further litigation in landslide areas such as Big Rock Mesa, where the county and the state face up to 200 related lawsuits that could add up to a liability of $200 million to $500 million. The lawsuits accuse the county and the state of responsibility for a massive 1983 landslide that was fueled by rising ground water.

About 30 homes were condemned by the county as unsafe and the value of nearby homes plunged. Parts of the landslide are still moving, according to a 1986 geologist's report commissioned by the county.

Two years ago, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered the county to pay more than $2 million to Margaret and August Hansch, a Big Rock couple whose home was destroyed.

The county has argued that Big Rock residents caused the slide because they stopped operating a private drainage system and that water leakage from septic systems contributes to landslides in the area.

The county's liability in the Big Rock area was the prime reason cited for the need to build an $86-million regional sewer system in Malibu, but the supervisors balked at the plan during an Oct. 22 hearing when an ad-hoc coalition of more than 1,000 homeowners, developers and environmentalists showed up to oppose it.

Committee Formed

At the request of supervisors, an 11-member citizen's committee was formed to study alternative sewer proposals. The Department of Public Works preliminary report to supervisors was read at the committee's meeting in Malibu this week but will not be made public until it is released to supervisors.

Despite several requests, Stone, the committee chairman, refused to release the report to the other members, saying, "It is not subject to committee review." If any committee member wants to address the recommendations in the preliminary report, Stone said, he can write to the supervisors after it is released.

"The board made a very specific order for us (the department) to report back on, and that's what we are obligated to do," Stone said. "This is not an agenda item, and it doesn't require any formal action by the board. We just don't like to distribute working papers."

Several committee members said the action underscored the panel's powerlessness and questioned Stone's motives for not letting them review the plan.

Stone was asked by committee member Leon Cooper to resign as chairman at a previous meeting but Stone declined. Stone agreed to put a disclaimer in the report noting that it was being forwarded without any approval from the citizens committee.

Margaret Richards, a Big Rock resident and president of Concerned Citizens for Water Control, a slide-oriented homeowners' group, said the county's recommendation to restrict building on unstable hillsides was far too late to accomplish anything.

"The county has been extremely remiss in dealing with the whole issue," Richards said. "Where were they 20 years ago when they were approving developments for the area? They should have dealt with this long ago."

"I can't see how they can just single out a specific area," she said. "There has to be a general plan for all types of land issues, so I don't know what this recommendation could accomplish."

Stone said that he will ask the County Administrative Office for money to fund several committee studies now being planned and will try and seek federal funds for any future sewer projects in Malibu.

He said an updated draft report will be sent to supervisors April 1.

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