Saying it is concerned that Los Angeles County will railroad through its plans for a huge sewer system in Malibu, the committee investigating waste-water treatment alternatives in the area decided this week to ask the county not to interfere with its work.
The sewer committee was formed by county supervisors after a public outcry stalled their plans to build an $86-million sewer system in Malibu last October. The committee made its request in the form of a resolution after the county asked the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to grant the county jurisdiction over sewers in Malibu, even if the coastal community becomes a city.
"I would hate to see any precipitous action take place that would screw up all of the good things that we've done here," said committee member John Sibert. "I'm concerned that there might be some undue pressure to rush things because of the supervisors' request."
The committee has hired several engineering consultants to investigate ways to treat waste water in Malibu, which now relies on private septic systems. The county contends that numerous leaking septic tanks have caused a health hazard in the area and contributed to landslide problems in Big Rock Mesa.
The consultants are expected to finish their studies early next month, shortly before LAFCO commissioners are scheduled to vote on the county's request to retain jurisdiction over all current assessment districts in Malibu.
Harry Stone, deputy director of county public works and the chairman of the sewer committee, said the county wants to keep control of the assessment districts as long as litigation continues over the destruction of homes by Big Rock landslides. Although the state Court of Appeal last week overturned a $3-million judgment against the county, potential liability in the web of lawsuits against the county, state and insurance agencies has been estimated at up to $500 million.
"The county is going to have to continue with liability in the area as long as these suits go forward," Stone said. "But if there were some way to take them off the hook financially, then they (supervisors) might look at it differently."
Stone added that the county was not trying to usurp the work of the sewer committee, which he said had been moving more swiftly with its task than he thought it could.
"Frankly, I have not gotten any pressure to railroad something through (this committee)," Stone said. "If we can come up with an alternative that is technically and economically feasible, then I'm sure the supervisors will consider it."
However, committee member Leon Cooper said the supervisors purposely entangled the cityhood and sewer issues. He said any future City Council in Malibu would consider the work of the committee, which is made up of developers, realtors, major landowners and residents.
"What angers me is their attempt to obfuscate and obscure the issue of whether we become a city or not," said Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council. "They're exploiting the whole situation."
LAFCO commissioners postponed the vote on the county's request until July 13. Ruth Benell, LAFCO's executive director, said no determination has been made on whether the state panel has the authority to grant Los Angeles County jurisdiction over sewers in Malibu.
Recently, the state legislative committees that oversee local government policy said the county's request exceeds even the broad powers LAFCO has to impose conditions on new cities. Although the Legislature provides LAFCO with the ability to order new cities to maintain current assessment district or form new ones, Peter Detwelier, principal consultant to the Senate Local Government Committee, said the state panel must turn jurisdiction of such districts over to the cities.
However, Bill Pellman, senior assistant county counsel who advises LAFCO in Los Angeles, disagrees. And the commission voted at its last meeting to retain Pellman as counsel for the Malibu sewer dispute.