Bob Hahn addressed the Calabasas City Council on January 11, to plead with them to stop its currrent litigation and not to take possesion of his home under the OWTS Ordinance 2010-279 allowing Calabasas city building officials to declare a septic system to be an “immediate” health hazard in spite of the fact that he has a current operating permit issued from a city-approved inspector.
Sparks flew at the Calabasas City Council meeting on January 11 as some outraged residents waved reams of legal documents filed against them, as the citys legal defense team charged five residents with $33,213.60 in legal fees, either paid as one entity or severally among the litigants for $6,642.72 per household.
Mayor James Bozajian called for order and decorum as he sought to repeal or rescind the controversial ordinance, which is likely to happen during the January 25 council meeting.
There are serious consequences for interfering with peoples livelihoods, their homes, their incomes and their families, he told the assembly.
My own personal preference is to be rid of this and take this onerous thing and throw it in the trash where it should have been in the first place," Bozajian said about the city's septic policy.
Based on their statements, the City Council now feels it would be more prudent to wait for the State guidelines regarding onsite wastewater treatment systems in June.
Meanwhile, Toby Keeler, a former member of the Calabasas Planning Commission, maintains that City Manager Tony Coroalles is deliberately misrepresenting the facts.
The city should be there to help, not attack or terrorize its citizens, Keeler said.
An ensuing exchange between Keeler and Coroalles resulted in an uncomfortable confrontation.
This is not a laughing matter, sir, Toby shouted as Coroalles laughed at Keelers outrage over the lawsuits and legal fees the city has brought against its residents.
We will be eager beavers when the State guidelines come out, Coroalles countered.
The only holdouts to rescinding the ordinance in its entirety, it seems, are Coroalles and City Planning Commissioner Maureen Tamuri and Building Official Sparky Cohen, who sat silently as the city council debated the merits of putting an end to an ugly episode in the citys history.
Davenport Institute Report Confusion and Broken Relationships
Pete Peterson, Executive Director of Pepperdine Universitys Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, presented his report from a workshop, held on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, entitled A Community Conversation on Wastewater Treatment, that discussed its onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS)and a plan for revisions to the ordinance.
During his report to the City, Peterson said the top three issues of concern that may be rendered moot on January 25, was to eliminate the controversial flow test and allow residents to hire private, licensed and qualified septic inspectors instead of those contracted by the City.
The report also revealed that concerned citizens voted that any future septic or building code ordinances must be approved and voted on by the City Council, with public review before they can be passed.
Peterson said offering the public only three minutes to speak out during council meetings did not constitute effective or sufficient public input.
At least this city is not as screwed up as Bell, Peterson said, who revealed that the Davenport Institute was also hired to consult on the troubled city.
Most significantly, the final slide in Petersons presentation concluded that the citys attitude has resulted in broken relationships and confusion among the city, staff and its residents.
[In Calabasas] what has been called participation has really been experts called in to implement Plan X, Peterson said. Its hard for people in elected office to listen; the public doesnt feel included and there is a fair amount of confusion and discontent because they dont completely understand the guidelines.
Peterson added that neither the ordinance nor the guidelines have been implemented consistently.
Bob Hahn, 66, said his property was also raided by Sparky Cohen and 17 agents and inspectors working for the City.
In 2009, he was then served with a 300-page notice and given orders to comply with the city ordinances or abandon and vacate his home, a stone structure built in 1928.
Hahn, a contractor who is a fireproofing specialist, estimates the cost of compliance with the Citys demands would cost $150,000 and require that he tear down the majority of his home.
Currently, Hahn faces further litigation in the form of another motion from the citys attorneys alleging the city has power to take possession of his home.
The document that I hold in my hands is approximately 280 pages of highly inaccurate attempts by the citys code enforcement attorneys to improperly seize my home of 33 years, based on a non-existing emergency, Hahn said.
Neither city staff nor the city council could comment on Hahns testimony, due to the fact that it is part of an ongoing code enforcement case.
This document is part and parcel of the urgency ordinance 2010-279 which makes me and essentially every other homeowner in Calabasas a criminal, he said tearfully. What this ordinance means for the average homeowner in Calabasas is that once they are cited for even the smallest violation, they can be forced to retrofit or demolish their home to bring it up to 2010 earthquake code standard. The alternative would be a $1,000 fine and up to six months in prison for every day of noncompliance.
As an alternative, Hahn only half-jokingly asked for one of the community low-income block grants to help him stay in his house as, he said, he was broke after paying his legal bills.
Septics, Sewers and No Trust
Members of the Old Topanga Homeowners, Inc. (OTH), a local group of Calabasas residents directly affected by the septic ordinance, dispute the Citys allegations that they must continue to enforce the last of the charges against 31 residents.
Furthermore, the OTH alleges the City actually maintains a $250,000 fund to pay legal fees while fighting residents who protest the ordinance or local amendments.
Yet, until the ordinance is completely rescinded, many residents in the Old Topanga area of Calabasas still feel that the septic ordinances and councils unilateral power to declare a system as failed may constitute an attempt to force sewers up Old Topanga Road.
Last spring, however, the City halted a $100,000 environmental impact study that was seen as the first step toward installation of sewers in Old Topanga. Nevertheless, in spite of a seeming victory, many residents remain cautious.
We are thrilled beyond words, said Jody Thomas, of the Old Topanga Homeowners, Inc. Hopefully they will abandon the remaining cases; our cause may not have totally been in vain and we now hope the residents will be treated better as a result of our efforts.
Yet, others urge caution.
We need to see what the staff will bring back [on January 25] related to the outstanding cases, said Mike Piszker, a Calabasas resident and geological engineer who has been working with Old Topanga residents and the city to resolve issues regarding the ordinances.