The unprecedented request this week by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that it be given the authority to install sewers in Malibu even if the coastal community becomes a city hinders the chance of getting the incorporation measure on the November ballot.
Officials of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) said Wednesday that even if LAFCO commissioners vote on the county's request during a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors could delay approving a vote on cityhood for up to 155 days--well beyond the deadline cityhood backers must meet to get the measure before Malibu voters this year.
No Similar Proposal
In addition, it remains unclear whether LAFCO has the authority to implement the supervisors' request. LAFCO officials said Wednesday that they had never received a similar proposal to limit a city's autonomy.
The cityhood campaign was launched by opponents of a county proposal last October to build an $86-million sewer system in Malibu.
If the supervisors delay the vote, the next election could not be until March, which incorporation proponents say could mean that a city of Malibu could lose up to $500,000 in free services from the state and the county.
Mike Caggiano, a member of the Malibu Committee for Incorporation, said that if the cityhood measure is approved in November, the California Highway Patrol and the county still would be required by law to provide services to the Malibu area until the fiscal year ends on June 30. These services would be provided for a much shorter period of time if the cityhood election does not take place until March, he said.
Caggiano said incorporation backers will lobby LAFCO commissioners again, as they did before the state panel's 6-1 approval of the cityhood petition last week.
The county's quick action in asking LAFCO to suspend its vote and add a condition to the cityhood petition that would give the county control over sewers caught many incorporation backers by surprise.
More than 500 attended the LAFCO hearing last week, but only about six were able to attend the supervisors' hearing on Tuesday after receiving news earlier in the day that a last-minute addition had been made to the board's agenda by county Public Works Director Tom Tidemanson.
"It's an obvious ploy by the county to continue with its effort to sewer Malibu," Caggiano said. "Good public policy decisions can and should be made by a city council (in Malibu), but obviously the county doesn't believe that."
Supervisors said that they were concerned that any city council elected by residents would block the county's sewer plans.
Public works officials said they raised the issue because they were concerned that the county still could be held liable for lawsuits filed in landslide areas of Malibu such as Big Rock Mesa, where the county has lost numerous multimillion dollar lawsuits.
The lawsuits charge that leaking septic tanks in the area contribute to hillside instability, and county officials have said that they want to place a sewer there to reduce the landslide hazard.
Supervisor Ed Edelman, who as a member of LAFCO supported the cityhood proposal and also voted for the board's request to LAFCO, said he believed that if LAFCO grants the county's request that it be allowed to retain control over sewers, there probably would be plenty of time to get the issue on the November ballot.
Questions to Be Answered
"I'm sympathetic to allowing incorporation to go forward, but I think LAFCO needs to address the problem of land stability and the county's liability," Edelman said Wednesday. "My vote was an effort to have those questions answered."
Edelman successfully blocked an attempt by fellow supervisors, including Malibu Supervisor Deane Dana, to ask the LAFCO board to delay the cityhood vote for a year.
Although Dana previously said that the sewer issue and cityhood proposal should remain separate, the board's action seems to indicate otherwise.
"Certainly in the minds of many, the desire to go ahead with cityhood is an attempt to do away with any sewer proposal," Peter Ireland, Dana's field deputy in Malibu, said Wednesday. "I think the board was concerned that if Malibu becomes a city, then they could just jettison it (sewers)."
What remains unclear is whether the county would have any legal jurisdiction to control sewers in a newly incorporated city. That is why county officials hope to include the measure in any cityhood measure submitted to voters.
Michi Takahashi, LAFCO staff administrative assistant, said that if commissioners vote approval of the amended petition on Wednesday, supervisors would have up to 155 days to place the cityhood issue on the next county-wide election ballot.
But she said that supervisors must act by Aug. 9--62 days after the June 8 hearing--for the cityhood issue to make the November ballot.