Waterworks’ Master Plan: Improvements or More Development?

Map of proposed waterline improvements for Marquette and Skyline Drive area shows proximity to vacant lots. Map courtesy of L.A. County Waterworks District

Environmental watchdogs are questioning whether the Capital Improvement Program proposed by L.A. County Waterworks District 29 isn’t simply an invitation to developers to build out the last vacant land in  Malibu and Topanga.

Last September, when Roger Pugliese of Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC) and Kim Lamorie of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation (LVHF) saw the L.A. County Waterworks District 29 (WWD29) master plan, it looked to them–​and many others–more like a developer’s dream at taxpayer expense.

The master plan was ​supposed to prioritize replacing and repairing antiquated infrastructure for existing communities and increase water storage at some of the 50 tanks throughout the area​. However, the initial $363 million dollar, five-phase Capital Improvement Program (CIP) ​Master Plan ​ended up being much more than that. It became a plan to install much larger pipes in neighborhoods adjacent to vacant parcels that could be developed, and in undeveloped remote areas with most of the cost burden to be placed eventually on ratepayers in Topanga and Malibu.

​ What has alarmed Lamorie and Pugliese, as well as many other activists throughout the Santa Monica Mountains and coastal areas, is the proximity of these “improvements” to growth-inducing vacant land parcels, leading them to suspect that this is preparation for future development in designated areas of “severe fire danger” and “significant ecological importance.”

When it was brought to their attention that there had been no public outreach for this new plan, DPW called two public meetings in Malibu and one in Topanga last fall. At the September 14, 2016 meeting in Malibu, Mark Pestrella, recently sworn in as the new Director of L.A. County Department of Public Works (DPW), ordered the county to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.

Putting coastal Malibu aside, Phase 1 maps show three areas in Topanga that would be
targeted for improvement: Skyline and Marquette Drives (off Old Canyon Road); Entrada, specifically Waveview and Colina Drives for waterline improvements; and the Fernwood/Tuna Canyon area that also includes two tanks.

A draft Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) is due in April at which time, DPW will call for public comment in scoping meetings.


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at editor@messengermountainnews.com

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