The head of a local environmental group said this week that she plans to seek help from Malibu's unofficial City Council in a bid to block approval of two massive housing projects in the Santa Monica Mountains.
A development proposed for the 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch, owned by entertainer Bob Hope, and the larger Ahmanson Ranch development both could create "disastrous" drainage problems for Malibu Creek and Malibu Lagoon State Beach, said Ellen Stern Harris, executive director of the Fund for the Environment.
"There is every reason to believe these projects pose an overwhelming negative impact on the quality of water and therefore the quality of recreation in the coastal zone near Malibu," Harris said.
An official with Ahmanson Land Co. dismissed the idea that the company's project would harm the creek and lagoon. "We're planning an on-site treatment plant and perhaps a storage reservoir on the property for reclaimed water, and we think those measures will go a long way toward alleviating any drainage problems," senior project manager Guy Gniadek said.
A spokesman for Potomac Investment Associates, which has an option to buy Jordan Ranch from Hope, was unavailable.
Although the projects, in southeast Ventura County, are more than 10 miles from Malibu, they are within the Malibu Creek watershed, which drains into the ocean at the lagoon.
The creek and lagoon, and anything that might affect them, are of intense interest in Malibu. Surfers, swimmers, environmentalists and residents often complain that pollution generated elsewhere and drained by the creek threatens to ruin the lagoon.
Although reputed to be among the best surfing beaches in the world, some surfers who have gotten sick after surfing at the beach near the lagoon say they will no longer go there because of the pollution.
Harris said she will ask the Malibu council to push for an independent study to be presented to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to explore the possible effects the developments might have on the creek and lagoon. The supervisors must approve the projects if they are to proceed.
Malibu council members were elected in June at the same time voters overwhelmingly approved cityhood for the community. Although legal obstacles have delayed incorporation, the council has been holding weekly meetings.
As proposed, the Ahmanson development would include more than 3,000 houses, 3 million square feet of office space, two hotels and two golf courses on nearly 2,000 of its 5,477 acres. About 3,000 acres are to be left in open space or used for community recreational facilities.
Jordan Ranch would contain 750 residences and a tournament golf course just south of Simi Valley.
Draft environmental impact reports prepared for Ventura County last month said that the projects would have "unavoidable, significant" impacts on air quality, traffic and the rural environment of the area closest to them.
Harris contends that the environmental reports did not adequately consider possible adverse effects on the creek and the lagoon.
"If growth can be accommodated (in the area nearest the projects) that is one thing," she said. "But if there are going to be adverse consequences (for others outside the immediate area) these developments shouldn't be allowed to unleash their problems on the rest of us."
The creek and lagoon have been the focus of increased attention in Malibu in recent months, with some residents accusing a municipal water district that serves the fast-growing west San Fernando Valley----and whose reclamation plant next to the creek spews effluent into it that ends up in the coastal lagoon----of making conditions in these areas worse.
The critics say effluent from the Tapia Reclamation Plant five miles upstream from the beach has not only contributed to algae and pollution in the lagoon but has also helped to swell the creek's banks near expensive homes during heavy rains and has fostered occasional outbreaks of stinging black flies along the creek.
These critics were upset in June when the California Coastal Commission approved a plan to increase capacity of the plant from 10 million gallons a day to 16.1 million gallons. Officials of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves about 80,000 residents, including Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Hidden Hills, have said they hope to begin work on the $30-million expansion by the end of the year and finish by late 1992.
Water district officials have denied that effluent from the plant, which they say is suitable for body contact, has negatively affected the creek or the lagoon.
They note that the creek collects drainage from 150 square miles, and insist that the plant's effluent is one of the few good things that goes into it. However, such assurances have failed to comfort those who fear that further development in the watershed will only make matters worse for the creek and lagoon.
"We're talking about a precious coastal resource that belongs to everyone," Harris said.