Saying their patience has worn thin, Malibu cityhood backers filed a lawsuit this week aimed at forcing the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to set an April election to let voters decide whether the seaside community becomes an incorporated city.
"We think we've done the only thing left for us to do," said Walt Keller, co-chairman of the 1,000-member Malibu Committee for Incorporation, which filed the suit along with the Malibu Township Council.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses the supervisors of violating a state law that allows them 60 days from when they began hearing the cityhood matter to conclude the hearing as a final step before setting an election. The supervisors took up the issue Oct. 19, but voted 4 to 1 last month to indefinitely postpone a decision until construction permits are issued for a Malibu sewer system that the county wants to build.
Supervisor Deane Dana, whose district includes Malibu, through a spokesman issued a terse statement concerning the lawsuit, saying, "We expected it."
The law gives the supervisors 60 days to conduct the hearing, and an additional 30 days to set an election date, barring protests from at least 50% of Malibu's 8,300 registered voters.
Control Over Sewers
However, Assistant County Counsel Bill Pellman described the law as "directory, not mandatory," and said the supervisors are under no obligation to abide by such a timetable.
"We think they (cityhood supporters) are looking at the law in a very narrow manner, and that our own legal advice is sound," he said.
Graham Ritchie, a lawyer for the incorporation group, called the county's position "absolutely ridiculous," and accused the supervisors of "complete disregard for the rights of Malibu residents."
Cityhood supporters, many of whom have long opposed the county's sewer plan as a recipe for widespread development, see incorporation as their best chance to wrest control of the sewer system from the county.
In approving a bid by Malibu residents to vote on cityhood, the Local Agency Formation Commission in May stipulated that the county be allowed to retain control over the sewer system for up to 10 years after incorporation.
However, county officials, fearing that a newly elected Malibu government would mount a legal challenge to that provision, want to make sure that a sewer they consider adequate is under way before Malibu residents vote on cityhood.
As proposed, the 20-square-mile city would stretch from Topanga Canyon to Leo Carrillo State Beach along Pacific Coast Highway and nearly one mile inland. About 20,000 people reside within the proposed city's borders.
Last month, Dana blamed the delay on the California Coastal Commission, after it approved a sewer plan that opponents said would result in a sewer system 25% to 40% smaller than what the county had insisted upon. County officials have said it could take a year before the commission approves the construction permits.
Cityhood backers argue that to delay the vote further is unreasonable. They have long accused the supervisors of holding the 2-year-old incorporation effort hostage to the county's imposing a sewer system.