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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

City Reaches Settlement in NRDC and Baykeeper Lawsuit

BY BILL KOENEKER

After several closed-door sessions, the Malibu City Council unanimously agreed to settlement terms with the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Santa Monica Baykeeper over the two group's clean water lawsuit, according to city officials.
After hours of deliberations, the council agreed to pay the groups’ attorneys’ fees of $750,000, set aside $250,000 toward the city’s ocean health water assessment project and to install improvements worth about $5.6 million to 17 drains citywide.
A NRDC press release states the mandated efforts are “to ensure that stormwater and urban runoff from the city at these locations will not contribute to water quality problems in Santa Monica Bay and Malibu.”
Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin explained the city already has grants amounting to $2,7 million for 11 of the 17 storm drains discussed and will be looking for more grant funding for the rest.
Baykeeper head Liz Crosson, who is the executive director, called the agreement “a significant step towards a cleaner Santa Monica Bay.” and NRDC director of water programs David Beckman said, “We appreciate the city's important commitments to clean water. Clean beach water is not only good for public health, it supports healthy coastal economies that are key to California's tourism industry.”
The settlement resolves litigation in which the two groups’ alleged the city violated the federal Clean Water Act on numerous occasions and should be subject to the fines imposed by the feds for Clean Wter Act violations.
Hogin said the original trial date had been set for Nov. 11, but pulled off the calendar by the court.
“There were 27 pre-trial motions and the parties were getting closer towards the steps of the courthouse,” she said, in offering a explanation of what might have been the trigger for the parties to settle now.
Other key elements of the agreement include: Water quality improvements will be achieved by increased adoption of low impact development techniques such as source control, rainwater harvesting, infiltration and, where necessary stormwater treatment, according to the NRDC.
Also Malibu will undertake additional efforts to improve water quality associated with runoff from Serra Retreat and will fund a water quality assessment of ocean health in the Santa Monica Bay.
The city attorney confirmed that both Councilmembers John Sibert and Jefferson Wagner served on an ad hoc committee that helped negotiate and explore a settlement agreement.
“In fact over the last four years they would come to the meetings and the courthouse. We tried mediation. We tried to work with the federal magistrate,” she said.
Sibert, in a prepared statement, said, “Having science-based solutions for improving water quality is the cornerstone for the city’s clean water programs. This settlement reflects that principle and builds on the city’s innovative clean water program.”
Outgoing Councilmember Wagner said this was the most important thing he had done while on the city council.
“I would not have wanted to leave office without having resolved this case. The litigation was diverting resources that are better used to advance our clean water programs. NRDC and the Baykeeper are important partners to have in that effort,” he said.
The agreement is subject to a 45-day review period with the U.S. Department of Justice and approval by federal District Judge A. Howard Matz, according to the NRDC.
Malibu’s coastline draws about 13 million visitors a year, according to municipal officials.

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