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Calabasas septic tank ordinance down the drain

January 19, 2012 01:23PM
Informative article from the Acorn...


Calabasas septic tank ordinance down the drain
2012-01-19 / Front Page

Law had polarized the community

By Sylvie Belmond

Officials will consider doing away with the law completely during their next regular meeting on Jan. 25.

In 2009, the city passed an ordinance requiring property owners who have on-site wastewater treatment systems to obtain operating permits and make sure their septic tanks operate properly.

In response to complaints about the city’s heavy-handed approach toward enforcement, officials opted last year to offer temporary amnesty to residents who refused to comply with the law.

The council also prohibited city staff from participating in septic system inspections and directed them to organize a workshop on a revised ordinance that the city and its residents could agree on.

Pete Peterson of Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership conducted the workshop in October. He presented his findings to the council at a meeting on Jan. 11.

Peterson met with several residents and city employees before the workshop.

He then hosted a three-hour event where participants were invited to make recommendations through confidential polling.

“The goal was to give participants as many opportunities as possible to participate and, at the same time, help residents and city employees to communicate about the subject,” Peterson said.

“There are a lot of broken relationships here, particularly between staff and residents,” he said.

Members of the public felt the city was dictating to them without involving them in decisions about their homes. The city, on the other hand, felt opposed at every turn.

According to Peterson, a majority of the 35 workshop attendees concluded that the septic tank law should be clarified and follow state guidelines more closely. They suggested that the city issue a moratorium on enforcement and allow septic tank owners to use any state-licensed inspector to test their systems.

Peterson said some residents are still confused about what the ordinance requires, and they believe that the city uses inconsistent testing practices.

After the presentation, several residents urged the council to rescind the ordinance.

Old Topanga resident Jody Thomas said she’s thankful the city is responding with an open mind.

“We need to be heard and we need to feel our opinions matter,” Thomas said.

“It’s been a nightmare. This city has used this ordinance as a cash cow,” said Gerald Smith, who contends he spent thousands of dollars to comply with the regulations.

After a short debate, the council decided to suspend the ordinance and schedule a hearing Jan. 25 to rescind it.

“The whole goal here is to bring everything to a close and finish with the entire problem this created and bring the community back together,” Mayor James Bozajian told The Acorn.

And speaking at the Jan. 11 meeting, the mayor said, “The council needs to accept the fact that mistakes were made. There are consequences of taking action and interfering with people’s homesteads. This is something that the council should take to heart.”

Rescinding the septic systems ordinance may not absolve the city’s responsibility to address active cases involving property owners who have a failing septic system, he said.

“There is a duty to not ignore the problem,” Bozajian said.
Subject Author Posted

Calabasas septic tank ordinance down the drain

topangamom January 19, 2012 01:23PM

Re: Calabasas septic tank ordinance down the drain

Julie January 22, 2012 09:38AM

Re: Calabasas septic tank ordinance down the drain

budlit January 24, 2012 07:28AM

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