Los Angeles County last week suffered another setback in its bid to speed construction of a controversial sewer system in Malibu after the staff of the California Coastal Commission said that it would not include the matter on the state panel's agenda this month, as had been expected.
"Our goal is to be ready to consider it in January," coastal commission official Pam Emerson said.
Emerson said the county's application to speed construction of the proposed $43-million sewer system "is simply too complicated an issue that the staff feels will require additional time to analyze before it can be heard."
County officials expressed disappointment with the delay, but expressed confidence that it would not significantly affect the county's ability to go forward with the sewer.
"We're disappointed. It means another month, but under the circumstances, we'll do our best to live with it," said Harry Stone, the county's deputy director of public works.
The coastal panel is scheduled to meet in San Diego Dec. 11 to 14. The delay means that the matter will likely be heard when the commission meets in January in Marina del Rey.
Meanwhile, a proposal by the Adamson Cos., which wants to construct its own waste-water treatment facility for a luxury hotel it wants to build in Malibu, has also been bumped from consideration in December by the coastal panel.
Emerson said the staff needed more information about how the firm plans to dispose of the waste water generated by the "package plant" being proposed for the hotel site.
The Adamson Cos., one of Malibu's largest landowners, wants to build a 300-room, $65-million hotel overlooking the Pacific on a 27-acre hilltop near Pepperdine University.
Although the state panel approved the hotel in principle five years ago, it stipulated that a sewer system to serve the hotel must be in place before the hotel is allowed to operate.
Earlier last month, the commission approved the firm's final grading plans, leaving the sewer matter as the lone hurdle standing in the way of construction. The company wants permission to build its own plant at the site as an alternative in the event the county's sewer proposal is not approved.
For its part, the county wants permission from the panel to speed construction of its sewer system without having to wait for a series of incremental approvals that could take several more months.
County officials are trying to start work on the sewer before a new Malibu government has the chance to block it.
Although Malibu voters, many of them opposed to the sewer system as a prelude to widespread development, overwhelmingly approved cityhood last June, county officials have gone to court to delay the incorporation until at least March. Meanwhile, they have attempted to speed the necessary approvals for the sewer construction.
All five members of Malibu's elected but, as yet, unempowered City Council, have said they will go to court to block the sewer plan after Malibu becomes a city.
In July, the coastal commission rejected the county's request to go ahead with construction of a key component of the system, a waste-treatment plant to be built on six acres near Pepperdine University that the county wants to acquire.
The panel rejected the proposal as a "piecemeal approach," and several commissioners, including Madelyn Glickfeld, who lives in Malibu, expressed irritation that the county should even suggest such a plan.
Since then, the county has spent a great deal of time working on a renewed application that it had hoped would be heard by the commission at its November meeting.
However, a few weeks before the meeting, sewer opponents raised new questions about the county's plans to discharge treated water from the sewer plant onto property in adjacent Corral Canyon, triggering a request from the commission for more information, and a further delay.
The county's proposed sewer plant site, which it has said it will acquire by condemnation if necessary, is entangled in a dispute between the sisters of the late Merritt Adamson, who control the Adamson Cos., and Adamson's widow, Sharon Adamson.
The sisters, Sylvia R.A. Neville and Rhoda-May Dallas, agreed to deed their interest in the property to the county as a gift, but Sharon Adamson has resisted the county's overtures to get her to relinquish her rights to the property.
In addition, residents of the nearby Malibu Country Estates subdivision have filed a lawsuit to prevent the county from building its sewer plant at the site, saying that it would damage the property values of their million-dollar homes.