Workshop Phase of PCH Study Ends but Online Survey Remains Open for Input
• Survey Is Latest Effort in Long History of Highway Issues
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The City of Malibu is currently soliciting public comment and participation through an interactive web survey available online at www.malibu.metroquest. com through Nov. 12, as part of a $300,000 study of traffic and safety on Pacific Coast Highway funded in part by Caltrans and co-sponsored by the Southern California Association of Governments.
"The study includes a comprehensive examination of the entire PCH corridor in the City of Malibu including road conditions, accident patterns, adjacent land-uses and/or other factors that may be unique to Malibu. The study will conclude with recommendations for prioritized improvements," a City of Malibu press release stated.
A series of four public workshops concluded last week. The first three focused on different portions of PCH, the fourth provided an overview of the entire 21-mile stretch of Highway 1 that lies within the City of Malibu. Members of the public had an opportunity to raise concerns at the meetings that included speed, shoulder parking, beach traffic, Z-traffic, ingress and egress issues, and visibility. Additional public meetings will be scheduled as the study progresses.
"The city has finite resources. [This study will help to determine] how we get the most bang for our buck," Tony Petros, a consultant with LSA Associates, Inc., the firm conducting the research for the study, told The Malibu Surfside News.
Many longtime residents, including members of the City of Malibu's Public Safety Commission who were present at every workshop session, indicated feelings of deja vu.
Safety Commissioner Carol Randall pointed out during one session that the disaster-prone stretch of highway that is Malibu's main artery has been the subject of numerous reviews at all levels of government during the past 83 years. However, the reviews, surveys and studies appear to have made less of a splash than headlines like "Huge Landslide Hits Pacific Coast Highway," and "Thousands Flee Homes as Fire Closes Coast Route."
The ongoing study has divided PCH into three sections based on geography. The News will be taking a look at the history of those three sections, beginning with the stretch of PCH from Topanga Canyon to the Civic Center.
The narrowness of the highway in eastern Malibu, the density of beachside residences and the challenges of beach traffic and parking, driveway egress and excessive speed have been controversial issues for decades.
As early as 1915, Malibu's beaches were a draw for motorists. It was an all-day adventure to motor along the dirt track that predated PCH to the Los Flores Canyon Roadhouse, located where Duke's Restaurant is today.
A gate house and vigilant range riders kept visitors out of the fabled Rindge Ranch, but Rhoda May Rindge, owner of the entire Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, could not prevent day trippers and travelers from accessing the beach below the mean high tide line. Early travelers seeking to get from Ventura County to Los Angeles along the coast were at the mercy of the tides for safe passage and often had to camp on the beach and wait for the tide to turn.
Newspaper reports indicate that summer traffic congestion on PCH has been an issue since Rhoda Rindge lost her fight to keep the highway out and Roosevelt Highway first opened in the 1930s.
A 1974 review concluded that "The recent traffic congestion on Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu cannot be blamed on the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission, contrary to statements by a Caltrans spokesman," according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
While a letter to the editor dated May 1, 1971, from Malibu resident Hal Ross states "One of the greatest driving fears I know of, both as a visitor and a resident of the beach, has been the hazardous traffic conditions on Pacific Coast Highway, due to the dreadful curves and excessive speed limits."
In addition to summer traffic and speed concerns, the eastern portion of PCH has a history of extensive earth movement.
A 1958 study of landslide problems along PCH made by the Federal government appears to have been inconclusive.
The Oxnard Press-Courier on Feb 11, 1956, reported that "[PCH] was reopened to all lanes of traffic Friday six days after it was blocked by a landslide [near] Pacific Palisades … Crews remained on the job around the clock since the landslide tumbled tons of dirt from the 275-foot bluff onto a 600-foot section of the highway."
The popular story that a quartet of elderly bridge players arrived mostly unhurt at the bottom of the slide when the deck they were seated on separated from its house and slid down the cliff appears to have been apocryphal.
A rock slide on April 1979 closed PCH at aptly named Big Rock for more than a month. Two days after the road officially reopened on May 7, a new slide closed the road again.
"'The rocks are falling in a steady stream,"' state Department of Transportation spokesperson Milt Stark told the media.
The road remained closed for months. A water taxi ferried commuters and visitors from the Malibu Pier to the Santa Monica Pier for the duration. Commuters who had access to more than one car left one vehicle on each side of the slide. Others took bicycles with them on the ferry. At least one enterprising resident kayaked past the slide to his parked car each day.
In 1980, 300 businesses in Malibu and along PCH sued the state for millions of dollars in loses, alleging that efforts to stabilize the cliff created the more serious problem.
Landslide remediation measures have ranged from dynamite to complex barriers of steel and concrete.
In 1995, severe winter storms again closed portions of PCH in Malibu. The Malibu Creek Bridge was damaged during a major storm on Jan. 10 of that year. State transportation officials asked drivers to "avoid [PCH] for several months," while the bridge was repaired and the landslides stabilized. Residents would be escorted by sheriff's department squad cars through a single muddy lane on PCH while crews worked 24 hours a day to clear the road.
In June of 1998, a section of PCH between Las Flores Canyon and Topanga Canyon roads was closed due to a major rock slide. In February of 2005 the Big Rock slide again closed PCH in both directions. Geologists say that more landslide-related closures can be anticipated in east Malibu during future El Niño years, despite remediation efforts.
Many of the worst mud slide episodes have followed Malibu-area fires, another major cause of PCH closures and damage.
Accidents have also been a major issue in eastern Malibu for decades. One of the earliest Malibu PCH fatalities to make headlines occurred in 1945.
"Miss Hattie Head, 30, Miss Katherine Alspach and film actor John O'Malley" died on Feb. 28 1945 after their "expensive coupe hurtled over the dangerous 50-foot cliff" called "Dead Man's Curve," according to news accounts.
The bodies of O'Malley and Alspach were retrieved from the "icy surf." The third victim's remains were retrieved several days later.
The trio were on their way home from a "supper party" in the Malibu Colony.
Numerous deaths, including a number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities have occurred in recent years, records indicate that the majority have overwhelmingly been related to speed and/or DUI. However, not all Malibu residents have found PCH a problem.
Author and UCLA librarian Lawrence Clark Powell, who moved to the Broad Beach area in 1955, described his 60-mile commute as "Not bad. The fast highway is a safe road if one keeps his eyes on it more than the scenery."