Leaders of the Malibu incorporation drive have launched an intense lobbying effort to persuade the Local Agency Formation Commission to approve cityhood for the coastal community.
Officials from the Malibu Committee for Incorporation have initiated a massive letter-writing campaign to commission members and began meeting privately with them this week as part of their crusade for cityhood.
Although Ruth Benell, executive director of LAFCO, said in a recent report that a city of Malibu could raise enough money to support itself, leaders of the cityhood effort said that incorporation is "far from a certainty." The commission, which handles incorporation issues, will hold a public hearing on the report on May 25.
"We're very pleased with the recommendation, but there are no guarantees and we're not taking any chances," said Walt Keller, co-chairman of the incorporation committee. "We want to show that we have widespread community support."
Keller said the group has forwarded more than 250 letters to the commission so far and has taken out ads in two community newspapers encouraging Malibu residents to write letters asking LAFCO board members to approve the cityhood proposal.
Challenge to Report
Malibu cityhood campaign officials say they will contest some of the figures in the LAFCO report at the hearing. The study estimated that the city could face a deficit of up to $2.1 million in its first year. Benell said the proposed 21-square-mile city could handle the deficit by spreading the cost of large public works projects over several years.
Keller said the figures are misleading, because they are based on last year's county budget, which he said was "top-heavy" with construction costs of more than $3 million. In addition, he said, the report does not factor in more than $1 million in federal and state funds available to the new city for road maintenance and other construction work.
"The range in construction costs varies so much from year to year that last year's numbers should not predict the budget for the next year," Keller said. "We don't think we have to snipe about the budget figures too much, but we do have some concerns about them."
Mike Caggiano, a former RAND analyst and a member of the incorporation committee, said that since much of the construction on major projects, such as improvements to Kanan Dume Road, has been completed, the amount a new city would need for capital projects should be reduced.
"Since the construction has been done it means less work for the city, so we look at it as good news," Caggiano said. "A prudent city council would spend only what it could afford and pay for the larger projects over a period of years."
According to the LAFCO report, the new city would receive approximately $4.75 million in annual revenues, with the largest chunk, $1.1 million, coming from property taxes transferred from the county. Sales tax revenues would total about $950,000, and the rest would come from motor vehicle license fees, gas taxes, fines and other sources.
Local law enforcement would be the city's biggest expense, the report says, with almost $2.3 million needed for Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department services. The estimated $560,000 cost for fire services in the wilderness areas of Malibu, however, has been disputed by members of the incorporation committee, who claim the figure is too high.
As part of their campaign, members of the incorporation committee and their supporters will take buses to the LAFCO hearing en masse, much as many residents did in October to oppose a county plan to build an $86-million regional sewer system in Malibu.
Although county supervisors bowed to their demands and postponed action on the plan pending a recommendation from a sewer committee, the residents' anger over the proposal fueled the drive for the cityhood campaign.
If LAFCO members approve the incorporation proposal, it will go to the supervisors for a vote. If there are any delays in the process and the supervisors do not approve the proposal by early August, cityhood backers will not meet their deadline to put the issue on the November ballot.
Incorporation proponents say the lobbying campaign is necessary to avoid a scenario similar to the one they found in 1976, in which cityhood advocates lost a narrow election. At the time, Pepperdine University, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and several developers lobbied against cityhood.
Although no formal campaign has been launched against the cityhood proposal this time, Pepperdine University officials have said they would not support the initiative. Officials from the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which owns 1,600 acres in the Malibu area, said they will ask LAFCO to exclude the club from the proposed city.
Supervisor Deane Dana, whose district includes Malibu, said in a recent interview that he believed the cityhood issue should be decided by the voters. He stopped short, however, of saying he would support the proposal if it reaches the Board of Supervisors.
"The important thing is that they've got to understand that the sewer issue and cityhood are totally unrelated," Dana said.
However, cityhood backers say that the intense lobbying effort is needed to capitalize on the angry feelings generated by the sewer proposal and what they consider to be a lack of representation by county officials.
"This is the best shot we've had for years and probably for years to come," said Leon Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council, a civic group representing more than 1,000 families. "The last time we came within a hair's breadth of winning, but we don't want there to be any question about it this time."