MALIBU — Santa Monica Baykeeper is suing the city of Malibu over a planned park that would double as a stormwater treatment facility, claiming City Hall removed a key component of the project without allowing the public to comment.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, said the Legacy Park Project does not address one of Malibu’s most serious water quality issues — disposal and treatment of sewage generated in the Civic Center area — and therefore fails to meet state water quality standards.
Malibu does not have a proper sewer system, instead relying on septic tanks, some of which are leaking, and storm drainage pipes.
The park project previously included a wastewater treatment system, but it was removed by the Malibu Planning Commission almost six months after the public comment period for the environmental impact report (EIR) ended, said Tatiana Gaur, Baykeeper’s staff attorney.
As a result, the project’s EIR, which was certified by the city of Malibu, fails to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the lawsuit.
City Hall erred in certifying the EIR because the project had been fundamentally altered from the original proposal and city officials did not allow the public adequate opportunity to comment on the changes, Gaur said.
During the 2008 summer dry weather season, Surfrider Beach, one of the receiving waters of septic pollution from the Civic Center, exceeded water quality standards 74 times, according to the suit. As approved, the Legacy Park Project will not fix one of these water quality violations — violations that occur when the beach is most heavily used, said Tom Ford, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper.
“By removing the wastewater treatment element from the project description and allowing septic effluent discharge from the Malibu Lumber Yard development at the Legacy Park site, the city not only fails to solve existing water quality problems, but it actually makes them worse,” Ford said. “But the city denied our appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the project and left us no choice but to file another lawsuit.
“It’s unbelievable that we have to do this again — doesn’t the Malibu City Council care about the health of its residents and its beaches and rivers at all?”
The lawsuit is the third filed by Santa Monica Baykeeper against the city of Malibu over water quality standards.
Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen said the environmental watchdog is actually hindering the city’s efforts to address poor water quality at local beaches. A lawsuit challenging the La Paz commercial development in the Civic Center threatens a deal in which City Hall would receive land from the developer to build a wastewater treatment facility, Thorsen said. The deal still needs to be approved by the California Coastal Commission.
“If we don’t have the land to build the site, that will hinder our ability to complete the program,” Thorsen said.
Originally their was a proposal to build the wastewater treatment facility at Legacy Park, however, there was opposition from some residents, leading city officials to look elsewhere in the Civic Center, Thorsen said. City Hall plans to build the wastewater facility as part of a more than $50 million commitment to clean water. City Hall completed a stormwater facility in 2007 in the Civic Center, which can process up to 1,400 gallons of stormwater per minute.
Legacy Park would enhance the city’s ability to treat stormwater tenfold, city officials said, ensuring that Malibu is in compliance with the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s bacteria regulations. The park has been designed to accept up to 2.6 million gallons of stormwater and urban runoff.
The stormwater will be cleaned and disinfected. During heavy rain events, the clean stormwater will be discharged into Malibu Creek. During smaller rain events, the water will be stored, then treated, and re-used for park irrigation.
“The two separate projects are not dependent on each other,” Thorsen said. “The city and our constituents are committed to complete both projects. We are only slowed down by the time and money that we must devote to these lawsuits that Baykeeper keeps filing.”
Despite what city officials have said, Malibu cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting water quality, Gaur said. There are no guarantees that if La Paz is approved by the Coastal Commission City Hall will use the land for a wastewater treatment facility.
“They do too little too late and promise, promise, promise,” Gaur said.
Malibu plans to deliver, if Baykeeper would just let city officials do their jobs, Thorsen said.
Baykeeper hopes Malibu will work with the group and set aside the current EIR for Legacy Park and City Hall’s findings and approvals. Baykeeper will drop the suit if these conditions are met. The group is also seeking payment of attorneys fees and court costs.
City Hall intends to defend the lawsuit.