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City's Geologist Shows Apparent Change of Heart in Supporting Recommendation

February 20, 1992|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — Of all the geologists who argued two years ago that the state should zone the Malibu Coast Fault as active, none was more vocal than Donald B. Kowalewsky.

While some recommended that only parts of the fault be designated as special studies zones under the Alquist-Priolo Act, Kowalewsky said it would be "impractical" to take a piecemeal approach.

"I believe it would be beneficial for the California Coastal Commission to request the State Geologist to perform additional geologic studies of the (fault) and for the entire system to be designated as a special studies zone," he wrote to the commission in May, 1990.

A year later, while applying to become Malibu's city geologist, Kowalewsky again referred to the fault as active.

"Many of (Malibu's) landslides result from the intense fracturing caused by mountain uplift along the active Malibu Coast fault system," he said, in a letter to the City Council.

Since being hired as city geologist last year, however, Kowalewsky has been espousing a different view.

Citing problems with the way Alquist-Priolo is written, Kowalewsky now says he understands why Jerry Treiman of the state Division of Mines and Geology has recommended that only a small section of the fault be considered active under the law, which requires the state to identify active faults in California and strictly regulate construction in areas near them.

"My personal feeling is that there are many branches of the Malibu Coast Fault that we have yet to find, and that have yet to meet the active criteria," he said.

Critics who accuse the state of buckling under to Malibu development interests say Kowalewsky's apparent change of heart is noteworthy not only because he is the city geologist but because of his reputation as someone who wields considerable influence among his peers.

Kowalewsky insists his views have not changed, and bristles at the suggestion that he may have tried to influence the state's investigation.

"I don't care whether the state zones it (the fault) or not, because we already have," he said in a recent interview with The Times, referring to his own plan to require trenching at every construction site in Malibu, a proposal the City Council has yet to consider.

After the interview, Kowalewsky sent a memo to City Manager Ray Taylor clarifying his position regarding the fault and the state's investigation.

In the memo, Kowalewsky said that he had never been contacted by any Malibu City Council member or anyone else, other than Treiman, regarding his opinion about the fault.

"No one has ever asked me to modify or tried to change my opinion regarding zoning on the Malibu Coast Fault," he said.

Kowalewsky, 44, is described by those who know him as a gifted geologist who isn't easily swayed by the opinions of others.

In 1983, as a county geologist assigned to Malibu, he was abruptly transferred to the Antelope Valley. It was widely reported at the time that Supervisor Deane Dana ordered the transfer because Kowalewsky had been too tough on an influential Malibu developer and campaign contributor. Even so, Kowalewsky continued to live in Malibu.

He quit working for the county in 1987 to devote more attention to the private consulting business he had established in Malibu in 1980, the same year he went to work for the county.

In applying for the city geologist job last year, Kowalewsky touted himself as being the "foremost geologist in the area," saying that he had frequently been consulted by real estate brokers, council members and various homeowner groups.

The vote by the City Council to appoint him was 4 to 1, with Councilman Walt Keller dissenting, citing possible conflicts of interest.

As city geologist, Kowalewsky is paid a retainer of $3,000 a month for certain specified duties, and he bills the city for additional services he provides. In his first four months on the job, records show Kowalewsky billed the city more than $28,500.

Kowalewsky has depicted his role in the state's investigation as no more significant than that of other Malibu geologists, adding that Treiman consulted with as many as two dozen geologists in the area.

Treiman also says that the finding was strictly his own.

"Neither he (Kowalewsky) nor anyone else has tried to influence me one way or the other," Treiman said.

However, Treiman's account of the investigation does little to dispel questions about the role others may have played.

When first asked about the matter, Treiman said the investigation began last May and ended in October. Later, he acknowledged having attended a Nov. 9 gathering in Malibu, hosted by Kowalewsky, at which area geologists were invited to make suggestions about how the fault should be zoned. Treiman said he submitted his finding about a week after the meeting.

Billing records submitted to the city by Kowalewsky show that he and Treiman also met for two hours on Nov. 15 to discuss the mapping.

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