As a high schooler in the late ‘70s, I was lucky enough to live in Point Dume , spending time at local beaches like Zuma, Westward, Big and Little Dume and Paradise Cove. The area from Big Dume to Paradise Cove has always been my favorite stretch of beach along the Bay because of its sandstone cliffs, great tidepools, kelp beds and great waves. The beach includes a small fishing pier, the Paradise Cove Café, and a view of some of the most spectacular and expensive homes in Malibu. The resident celeb contingent is well known, with surf icon Laird Hamilton and actor Matthew McConaughey often seen in the water.
Unfortunately, Paradise Cove has become Paradise Lost because of ongoing fecal bacteria problems at the beach. For years, the beach has routinely received a failing grade on the Heal the Bay Beach Report Card (see Historical Data). Families pay at least 20 bucks for parking to frolic in the calm surf at the Cove, little knowing that they may be coming home with great memories and a bad case of gastroenteritis.
Immediately upstream of the beach are two major potential sources of pollution with a history of violations of water quality laws. The Kissel Co. owns both of the sources: The Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park and the Café. Both the mobile home park and the popular beachside restaurant are on septic systems. The Regional Water Board has initiated significant enforcement actions on both of these sources, but it has yet to follow through on these actions with fines.
Among the violations alleged by the state at the restaurant: groundwater pathogen limits, failure to complete on-site wastewater system plant repairs, too much sewage flow, and too much ammonia. The restaurant still hasn’t put in a sewage disinfection system that can do the job at a big restaurant that is heavily frequented. As bad as the restaurant has been, the mobile home park has been one of the most egregious violators along all of Santa Monica Bay. Major violations have been occurring at the park since 1995 and these include an estimated 200 sewage spills, most of which occurred in the late 1990s; failure to meet deadlines to build and operate a new, on-site wastewater treatment facility with a new leachfield, sewers, and disinfection system; removal of old septic systems that are still currently in operation; and numerous violations of water quality limits (fecal bacteria, ammonia, etc.) in its discharge permit.
We are coming up on the second anniversary of violations of the Time Schedule Order enforcement action, a compliance schedule that specified penalties of $3K a day per violation. Although the Regional Water Board handed out Time Schedule Order extensions like Halloween candy to Kissel over the years, the latest TSO has not been extended. Even if the Regional Water Board doesn’t use the $3K a day as mandatory penalties for each violation (best estimate of potential fines of well over $4 million at this point), the fine to the Kissel Co. should be somewhere in the seven-figure range. At this point, I’m not even sure if the threat of a million dollar fine will lead to the wastewater treatment facilities getting completed any time soon.
Although the water quality at Paradise Cove continues to be awful, there is help on the horizon. The city of Malibu, the Santa Monica Baykeeper and the Kissel Co. received a million dollar grant from the State Water Board’s Clean Beach Initiative to build a low-flow runoff treatment facility at the terminus of Ramirez Creek. The new facility should be constructed and operational by next summer. Until this spring, a similar facility was operating there at sole cost to the Kissel Co., but it was severely undersized for many of the flows in the creek. This was clearly demonstrated during our record wet year of 2005. Inexplicably, the facility was removed before this summer, even though flows were small in Ramirez Creek due to continued drought conditions. If the facility was operated and maintained this summer, the chances are that Paradise Cove may have received an A or B on the End of Summer Report Card rather than yet another F.
Until the Regional Water Board follows through on the threat of enforcement to ensure that the sewage facilities are completed and comply with water quality regulations, I have an urgent request for local residents at the mobile home park and patrons at the restaurant. Please refrain from using the facilities except in case of emergency. The wastewater treatment systems must be finished to move Parasite Cove to Paradise Found.