A change of position by one member of the County Board of Supervisors and the pending election of another supervisor may clear the way for the long-postponed incorporation of Malibu.
Four of the five members on the county board previously voted to delay Malibu's cityhood until at least March 28 to give the county time to build a sewer system in the community, but it now appears the votes may materialize to speed up incorporation.
Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said Wednesday that he is prepared to vote to allow the Malibu City Council, elected by voters in June, to take control of the coastal community at the earliest possible date. That represents a reversal of Hahn's earlier position.
In addition, the four top candidates to replace retiring Supervisor Pete Schabarum in a Jan. 22 special election said this week that they would vote for an earlier cityhood date.
With a February runoff election between the two top finishers expected in the 1st District supervisor's race, the new board member would take office March 8. That not only could permit a vote to expedite incorporation, but it also could ward off further delays that have been hinted at by the county.
Malibu Mayor-elect Walt Keller said he has seen so many incorporation delays that he remains skeptical, but the news from Hahn and the four 1st District candidates is encouraging.
"It sounds like we might be getting a wind of change on the Board of Supervisors," Keller said.
Hahn spokeswoman Lynn Sakamoto said the longtime supervisor's shift is partly an outgrowth of the federal voting rights case that mandated a predominantly Latino 1st District and led to the special election. That case also resulted in new district boundaries for all the supervisors.
With Malibu now a part of Supervisor Ed Edelman's 3rd District, Hahn said he would support Edelman's wishes for cityhood for the community, Sakamoto said.
Edelman has cast the lone vote for an expedited cityhood. Malibu's previous representative, Supervisor Deane Dana, favored the delay, along with Hahn, Schabarum and Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
Hahn's shift also was influenced by the knowledge that Schabarum's replacement might provide the third vote for Malibu's immediate incorporation, Sakamoto said.
Sakamoto added that, despite Hahn's new position, "The supervisor is still very concerned that the Malibu area have a sewer system, for the health and safety of people in that area."
Also this week, all four major candidates for supervisor in the 1st District--Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina, state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), state Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier) and former Schabarum aide Sarah Flores--said they support incorporation of Malibu at the earliest possible date.
"The new supervisorial election may very well be the most direct route for us to cityhood," said Malibu City Councilman Larry Wan. He noted that efforts to expedite incorporation in the courts and through the state government so far have failed.
Malibu voters overwhelmingly approved cityhood in June and elected a five-member City Council, but the county has refused to permit the incorporation to go ahead. County officials have said they need the time to start construction of a sewer system before Malibu city officials have a chance to block it. They say the system is needed to prevent septic tank pollution of Santa Monica Bay.
Malibu officials say sewers are nothing more than a device for the county to bring more development to their coastal community.
Their discontent about the status of cityhood increased last month when a county lawyer hinted that incorporation might be postponed even beyond March 28 because of a delay in construction of the sewer.
Hoping the new board member would not only speed incorporation but support their slow-growth ideology, Malibu political leaders plan to back a candidate in the upcoming special election.
The Malibu City Council-elect and the Malibu Alliance for Constructive Solutions, a community political action committee, plan to discuss the Jan. 22 election in the county's 1st District at their meetings next week.
With all four of the major 1st District candidates backing a speedy incorporation, Malibu leaders said they will focus on the candidate who provides the strongest guarantees of support. They will also ask questions on other topics.
"Other issues are important to Malibu," said Joy Ellis, director of the Malibu Alliance for Constructive Solutions. "We have gridlock out here. The environment is also an extremely important issue. And also, we are for slow-growth."
City Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn said the makeup of the Board of Supervisors will be important even after cityhood takes effect because the board will continue to control development and other policies in the adjoining Santa Monica Mountains.
"We need a change in the balance of the board," Van Horn said.
Ellis said her organization--a political action committee that has raised money to support the fledgling city before tax dollars begin to flow--will consider donating money to the supervisorial candidate who will best serve Malibu.
Wan said it is ironic that the Latino voting rights case might have the unintended effect of securing voting rights for Malibu citizens.
"This is not an ethnic question but one of a community not having representation," Wan said. "So in some ways, our constitutional rights have been violated, too."