On Tuesday afternoon, the California State Water Board voted unanimously to support the Regional Water Board’s prohibition of on-site wastewater plants in the Malibu Civic Center area. Commercial facilities must be off septics by 2015 and residential sites must be off by 2019.
Opposition to the action was strong with Malibu’s City Attorney threatening litigation if the State Board upheld the prohibition. Malibu City Council members, local residents and the business community all opposed the prohibition citing cost concerns and Malibu’s new found commitment to Clean Water.
In a surreal hearing, I was quoted by the opposition at least a dozen times as a means to strengthen their argument. With all of the quotations attributed to me, I felt like I was watching my own funeral. I’ve never been so cited in my entire life.
On the enviro side, Surfrider Foundation, Santa Monica Baykeeper, Malibu Surfing Association (MSA), and Heal the Bay made the case that 40 years of polluted water at Surfrider Beach has been 40 years too long. All group representatives did a great job with MSA and Surfrider as the aggrieved population, Baykeeper providing legal arguments, and me playing the middle-aged science nerd role (not much of a stretch).
After litigation threats and outbursts from developers, the final vote was anticlimactic. The State Board supported the strong technical work of Regional Board staff to support the civic center septic system prohibition 5-0. All five members agreed that punting back to the Regional Board would have just led to more delays. Malibu had to be held accountable for poor water quality at Surfrider and the Lagoon and the prohibition was the only choice to provide this assurance.
Before the final vote, board member Fran Spivy Weber said: “I’ve been on the Water Board for four years and I’ve never been lobbied so much on an issue.”
Now the real work begins. Will Malibu go the route of years of contentious litigation as threatened or will they begin negotiations in earnest with the state? The stakes were raised when State Board chair Charlie Hoppin made it clear that he would meet with the Regional Board and Malibu (no enviros allowed!) every two weeks through the end of the year.
Charlie is a no nonsense Ag guy that has little patience for wasting time or whining. Maybe he’s just the guy to move Malibu forward to developing AND implementing a clean water solution. The enviros may not be invited to the grown up table to negotiate, but we will be there to make sure that the prohibition interim and final deadlines are met.