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Malibu activist retracts claim against Pepperdine over sudsy water

In exchange, the university will drop a libel and invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Cary ONeal. The source of the foamy discharge flowing down a creek and spilling over a beach remains a mystery.

May 04, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Cary ONeal stands by a sign warning about polluted runoff in Malibu.
Cary ONeal stands by a sign warning about polluted runoff in Malibu. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

An environmental crusader known as "Mr. Malibu" has apologized to Pepperdine University and retracted accusations that the school is to blame for effluent flowing down Marie Canyon Creek and into the Pacific Ocean.

In exchange, the university has agreed to drop a lawsuit against activist Cary ONeal that alleged libel and "invasion of privacy by placing person in a false light in public eye."

In two videos he posted online, ONeal claimed that a foamy substance pooling on a Malibu beach was sewage released by Pepperdine. The images of runoff were juxtaposed with views of the tiny Malibu Mesa Water Reclamation Facility a few hundred yards upstream.

"I acknowledge that these statements were inaccurate," ONeal said in a written retraction. "Pepperdine does not operate the Malibu Mesa Water Reclamation Facility."

Los Angeles County operates the sewage treatment plant, which serves the 830-acre university and an adjoining housing tract. The facility was built in the late 1970s by Pepperdine and Alcoa, the developer of the subdivision, and turned over to the county.

ONeal's retraction adds that "I have been advised, and believe, that the county did not discharge sewage or sewage effluent from Malibu Mesa onto a Malibu beach on March 25.... I am grateful that Pepperdine has agreed to dismiss the lawsuit...."

Pepperdine spokesman Jerry Derloshon said the school is also glad to put the matter behind it.

"It was a false statement, and it was made very public," Derloshon said. "We're pleased with the result."

Derloshon said the source of the sudsy water shown in ONeal's videos remains a mystery.

ONeal agreed, noting that he and other environmentalists intend to try to determine the cause of the foamy discharge.

ONeal said he agreed to the retraction and apology after Pepperdine's lawyers proposed the statement's wording.

"It was genuine intimidation, and it worked," he told a reporter on Tuesday. "Obviously I can't fight Pepperdine financially. But people in Malibu are stopping me and thanking me for raising the issue."

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