RWQCB Staff Says Polluted Waters Prod Septic Prohibition
• City Indicates It Is Going to Try to Put Brakes on Any Effort to Prohibit On-Site Septics
BY BILL KOENEKER
BY BILL KOENEKER
Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board staff and members of the Malibu community met this week at Pepperdine University to talk for the first time about the proposed septic prohibition for the Civic Center commercial area and surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Another community workshop is tentatively planned for Oct. 1, a month before the public hearing before the board that is scheduled for Nov. 5.
At first, the RWQCB chief of the groundwater and landfill section, Wendy Phillips, who along with other staff members had given a presentation outlining the reasons for the prohibition and possible alternatives, deferred stating what might be the consequences, if the prohibition is ignored or a potential five-year timetable is not met.
When Phillips was asked the question again, she indicated that the board has the ability to impose fines of $10,000 per day (the print edition article erroneously stated a higher amount).
But she then said, “I don’t think [that] in five years, we will start penalties.”
Phillips also noted that the water board does not have the authority to impose a solution on any other agency or entity. It can only impose the prohibition.
Boundary maps show the prohibition area includes not only the Civic Center area, but also residential areas, including Malibu Colony, Malibu Road, Sweetwater Mesa, Serra Retreat area and Winter Canyon.
The ban would apply immediately to all new development and, in five years, to all existing commercial, residential and public properties.
The rationale for the septic ban is the widespread nature of the pollution that requires a comprehensive approach. The ban would include all septic systems, even advanced alternative wastewater discharge systems. The only exemption is a zero discharge system.
The reasons discussed include a polluted lagoon; polluted beaches; polluted groundwater; noncompliance by dischargers, meaning homeowners; and property owners in the Civic Center, and continued reliance on the hauling away of raw sewage.
When Malibu municipal officials were given an opportunity to speak, City Manager Jim Thorsen talked about the city’s scientific basis for pursuing stormwater treatment facilities and then moving on to build a Civic Center wastewater treatment plant. He said the city is committed to clean water and is prepared to spend $50 million.
“There is emerging data that cleaning up stormwater should be first. There are significant findings to ensure our action will improve and clean the water for human health,” he said.
Thorsen also discussed why the city believes the prohibition is premature and urged the board to reconsider the ban.
“We believe the proposed prohibition should be placed on hold until all the [pending] studies are done,” added the city manager, who had previously cited several studies that counter some of the data of the RWQCB staff.
During public comment, planning commissioner and former councilmember Jeff Jennings said he was disappointed the city staff and the RWQCB staff are not meeting on a regular basis as they had in the past.
“You are not aware of what the city is doing, and the city is not aware of many of the things the RWQCB is doing,” he said.
Jennings took the RWQCB staff to task for any rationale that Civic Center groundwater could be a potential source of drinking water. He said, “Some of the evidence is lawyer-driven, such as providing a source of drinking water. There is seawater intrusion. That is not scientific data.”
Malibu resident Paul Shoop said that ultimately a sewer hook-up could improve the value of his home and vacant property he owns in the Civic Center, but called the prohibition and five-year timeline “draconian.” He wanted to know how he could then use his property
Shoop said he did not think all of the information was in about how water at the lagoon and beach are polluted and wondered if the state agency had looked at the big picture. “Let’s figure out what we know,” he said.
He stated he thought the reason the lagoon was so polluted was because of its expansion and how much more water sits in the lagoon.
Shoop said he does not believe there has been any analysis of the expansion of the lagoon and its impact on pollution levels.
He also questioned why the boundary line did not include the commercial strip along Pacific Coast Highway east of the Malibu Pier.
Phillips said it was up to the community and the public to tell the board if five years is too short a time. She said the agency is not interested in red-tagging properties, if the prohibition ends without implementation of an alterative means of waste disposal.
The head of the Santa Monica Baykeeper, Tom Ford, said there are a lot of people who support the prohibition and that he found the evidence “totally compelling.” Ford said the five-year time limit is enough time.
Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, said the time for studies is over. “Is Surfrider safe for swimming? No. Nobody here thinks so. Human pathogens have been found in the lagoon. Everybody knows it is a problem. The conditions are unacceptable for humans and resources,” he said.
Gold stressed that Malibu and inland cities have had years to comply. “But now we are saying it is time to comply,” he said.
Gold advised the board staff to make a better case why so many residential properties are included in the prohibition boundary and suggested the commercial strip on PCH east of the pier should be included.
“We support [a goal of] 2014. We know 2012 is not going to happen,” added Gold, who said the Civic Center plant should be a water recycling facility.
Serra Retreat resident Holly Cumberland provided another picture for the board staff. “Everybody has septic systems. They did exactly what they were told to do. Are any of you in the same financial situation?” she asked.
Phillips said the agency has been able to facilitate funding and financing and did so for another prohibition area in Oxnard.
Another comment was received from Randal Horton, who is a spokesperson for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which operates the Tapia sewage treatment plant located just upstream in Malibu Canyon.
“I thought we did not have a dog in this fight. No one called us about Tapia as potential solution. I’m not here to address this. There are lots of issues, and I have to agree with the city manager, you have a lot more studies coming. It might be worth it to visit those studies,” he said.
Orton was responding to Phillips’ discussion about the alternatives to solving the prohibition, such as a sewer line to Los Angeles, or a sewer line to Tapia, as an alternative to Malibu’s own plant.
Some of the harshest criticism came from former shopping center owner Steve Soboroff.
Soboroff said the board staff is “way out of line,” and making the process impossible. He said positive reinforcement and constant communication are required. He also took issue with what he said was a comment that stated categorically that onsite systems don’t work. Soboroff added he thought it would not be good for the process to say, “We have to penalize you and call you bad boys.”
“The way to do this is communication. We all want the same thing,” he said.
Another resident, Rick Margolis, said he wants to know why no distinction is made between a 60-year-old septic system and a new $150,000 on-site wastewater treatment facility that has just been built. “Everybody is lumped together,” he said.