"We don't have car dealerships, we don't have big stores," said Malibu Mayor Andy Stern. "We rely on sales tax and we just don't have great sums of money."
The Regional Water Control Board blames Malibu's leaky septic tanks for polluting local streams in Santa Monica Bay. So it's proposing a moratorium on new septic systems and a complete ban in five years. The Board wants Malibu to construct a sewer treatment plan. To pay for it, assessments would be tacked onto utility bills, hundreds a month houses, thousands for businesses.
"It's the wrong thing at the wrong time," said Malibu resident Erik Hengstron. "I mean, even in a good economy, this would be pricey."
City officials say it's moving forward on clean water, pointing to Legacy Park, now under construction next to Pacific Coast Highway.
Legacy Park will include a wastewater treatment plan that when completed will help clean the water coming down Malibu Creek. City officials say that shows their commitment to clean water in that area but critics say it does nothing to solve the septic tank problem.
"Way behind the times, and not to mention you've got this beautiful pristine area and you dine out or you shop out and you have to smell septic. You know?" said Sherry Anselmo, a former Malibu resident. "The two just don't go together."
To answer critics, Malibu officials have come up with alternatives to the septic tank ban. In two phases, they propose building a sewage treatment plant for its commercial district by 2015 and then connect it to residential Serra Retreat by 2018.
Beachfront houses would keep their septic tanks but have to install disinfectant equipment.
The Regional Water Control board takes up the issue in a hearing on Thursday and Malibu hopes its citizens show up in force.
"We're making enormous progress and anyone looking at the objective criteria can't deny that," said Mayor Stern.