In a key development, county supervisors this week approved $100,000 to fund three separate studies for a committee investigating alternative sewer systems for Malibu.
The citizens committee, which was formed after more than 1,000 angry Malibu residents and business officials protested a plan to construct an $86-million regional sewer system in Malibu last fall, has been awaiting county funding for several months. Several committee members said the funding request was a test of the county's commitment to considering a smaller-scale sewer system in the coastal community.
"I'm very pleased that the county has shown the confidence to reward the good efforts of this committee and the subcommittees," said panel member Andy Benton, vice president for administration at Pepperdine University in Malibu. "I now foresee a period of great productivity."
The money will be divided almost equally among the three subcommittees of the panel which are studying alternative sewer systems for the Malibu civic center, the landslide-plagued areas around Topanga and Big Rock canyons and on-site waste disposal systems for the entire community.
The engineering firms studying waste-water treatment in the area will also consider whether some parts of Malibu can continue to rely on septic systems, which the county claims pose a health hazard.
Supervisors unanimously approved the funding Tuesday, with $80,000 of the money coming from a county sanitation district and the rest from the county's general fund.
More Requests Likely
Although panel members were nearly unanimous in their praise of the county for delivering the funding, one committee member suggested that the county be prepared to spend more money to reach a solution to the sewer problem in Malibu.
Leon Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council, a community organization, said that there should be "a clear understanding" that this would not be the last request for additional funding. He criticized the county for assessing Malibu residents more than $1 million for a study done by James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers, which recommended the $86-million regional system for Malibu.
"I regard it as grossly unfair," said Cooper, who called the study a "bomb."
However, panel chairman Harry Stone, deputy director of county public works, said that if additional funding is requested by the committee, based on the findings of the engineering studies, community residents would probably be assessed for that cost.
In a related development, Teresa Henry, the California Coastal Commission's lead analyst for the Malibu Land-Use Plan, told committee members that the state agency would allow a regional sewer system in Malibu as long as the system would not promote growth beyond the limits set by the county and the state.
Henry said that construction of a sewer system in Malibu must not "unreasonably interfere" with traffic along Pacific Coast Highway and must include protections for marine resources in the Santa Monica Bay. In addition, the commission would also require a geologic study to ensure that any sewer lines built along the landslide areas in eastern Malibu would be able to withstand shifts in the hills.
The committee is expected to deliver a preliminary report on its findings to the Board of Supervisors April 1.