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Survey Results Favor Sewer Settlement : Government: Most property owners who responded want to accept the county's offer to end the wrangle.

April 22, 1993|G. JEANETTE AVENT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Malibu property owners overwhelmingly believe that the city should accept Los Angeles County's settlement offer to wrap up the long wrangle over a county-proposed sewer, according to survey results released by the city manager.

Last month, the city sent out 6,500 surveys asking every property owner whether the city should accept the county's offer or take the matter to court. Almost 15% of those surveyed met the April 2 deadline for returning the questionnaire.

The majority of property owners who answered the city's call for advice came from eastern Malibu, where in 1989 the county set up a special tax district to finance the planned $43-million sewer. Residents have been fighting the county ever since.

County officials contended that leaking septic tanks posed a health and safety hazard and a comprehensive sewer system was needed. Residents said the size of the planned system was unnecessary and would invite too much development. The dispute became a central issue in Malibu's long fight to break away from county control, which was finally won with incorporation in 1991.

Under the proposed settlement presented in January, the county would drop its plans to build a regional sewer and stop all assessments for the project on the 2,200 residential and commercial properties in the sewer district if the city will agree to implement its own waste-water management plan.

The city also must agree to accept liability for future claims against the county that result from the county's inability to install its sewer system. The Malibu Township Council and Malibu Country Estates, two community groups which fought the sewer district with lawsuits before cityhood, must specifically agree to the settlement.

Under the county's terms, the deal must be concluded by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, or the county will continue billing sewer taxes for the 1993-94 tax year.

Since the sewer district was established, property owners have been billed more than $12 million, and the county will have paid nearly $11 million for engineering, legal and other fees by the time the project is shelved, according to county officials.

Last month, Malibu City Manager David Carmany sent out the survey on behalf of the City Council asking property owners whether the city should sue or settle the dispute. To help residents decide how they would answer the survey, a special council meeting was held March 30, featuring lawyers from the city, county and community groups who talked about the proposed settlement and answered questions.

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According to survey results tabulated by Deputy City Clerk Tory Freeman, 712 property owners said the city should accept the offer, 195 opposed the proposal and 38 had no opinion. The survey also asked if city funds should be used to partially compensate those in the assessment district for their costs if the offer is accepted. A majority, 564, said yes, 244 responded no and 138 voiced no opinion. According to those surveyed, 669 said they were property owners in the assessment district and 275 said they did not own property in the district.

Negotiations with the county continued last week, but the main sticking point, according to city officials and others, is the county's insistence that the city accept liability for any future claims against the county that result from the county's inability to install its sewer system.

It is not a matter anymore of the money residents have paid to the county, said Frank Basso, president of the Malibu Township Council, a community group which has fought the sewer plan since before incorporation.

"A lot of people voted to settle. There's got to be a settlement," Basso said. But he added, the settlement has to protect the people of Malibu from liability.

Liability claims "could destroy the city (financially) in time," he said.

Basso said the township council is asking for clarification on the liability issue and hopes to vote on the proposed settlement this month.

Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn, who is expected to take the reins as mayor on April 26, said the results of the survey "pretty well state a strong opinion that there should be a settlement, and the opinion is even stronger among those in the (assessment) district."

But Van Horn added, "We have an obligation as a city to do the best we can in (negotiating) this and doing nothing foolish or haphazard."

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