Records Continue to Reveal Complex History of Persistant PCH Problems
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The City of Malibu has completed the first period of input for a $300,000 study of traffic and safety on Pacific Coast Highway funded in part by Caltrans and co-sponsored by SCAG-the Southern California Association of Governments.
"The study will conclude with recommendations for prioritized improvements," a City of Malibu press release on the project stated.
In the second of to articles on the history of PCH, the Malibu Surfside News will take a closer look at the western portion of the coastal route, from the Civic Center to the Ventura County Line.
The death of cyclist Marisela Echeverria, a 36-year-old Cypress Park residenton Oct. 13 shocked the Malibu community.
"It was a very, very sad and tragic loss of what seemingly was a wonderful young woman, Malibu City Councilmember Laura Rosenthal said at this week's council meeting.
The meeting was adjourned in memory of the triathlete, who was thrown from her bike and struck an MTA bus near Puerco Canyon. The accident occurred on the same stretch of PCH where cyclists Stanislav Ionov, 46, and Scott Bleifer, 41, were struck and killed by a catering truck in September of 2005. In 1992, actor Ben Vareen was struck by a truck while walking along the same section of PCH and nearly killed.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department traffic data verifies that while the western portion of PCH in Malibu is wider and less congested than it is east of the Civic Center, it also has more high speed traffic and has been the area with the highest number of fatality accidents in recent years, including the 2010 deaths of pedestrians Emily Shane, the 13-year-old Malibu resident who was killed by a reckless driver near Heathercliff Road, and incident that initiated a new push for PCH safety; and 74-year-old Filipina caregiver Amelia Ordona, who was killed while crossing PCH near Winding Way.
The same year, two members of the U.S. Military on their way back to Naval Base Ventura County were struck by a wrong-way driver on PCH near Zumirez Drive. One man was killed, the other critically injured. The wrong-way driver was also killed in the incident.
Although it may not seem that way to residents who dread the sound of sirens in the night, LASD data indicates that PCH actually has a relatively low fatality rate in Malibu.
On June 26, 1929, motorists lined up at Sycamore Cove at the western edge of the Topanga Malibu Sequit Rancho for the grand opening of Roosevelt Highway—the first public route through Malibu.
Malibu instantly became a destination for sightseers and beachgoers, but for homesteaders who lived in the portion of the Santa Monica Mountains not owned by the Rindges, the new road provided a lifeline. Prior to the construction of the coastal route, they were dependent on traveling below the high tide line along the beach. A trip to Santa Monica could take two days and require the traveler to camp out on the beach and wait for the tide.
According to "The Big Ranch Fight," an article written by Jo Hindman that was published in 1955 and republished early this year in the Journal of Ventura County History, by 1917, the Rindge family had acquired the entire coast route all the way to Little Sycamore Canyon and closed it to all travelers, eliminating the safest and quickest access route for area residents, who no longer had access to the coast.
However, traffic patterns in western Malibu didn't change dramatically until the building boom that followed WW II.
In December of 1940 the Malibu Rancho was split into parcels and listed for sale. May Rindge, who spent the family fortune fighting the county, died two months later, in February 1941. Within six months, most of the land had been sold. However, WW II slowed plans for massive development. Instead of the hotels and luxury homes—one plan that never materialized for Point Dume included a massive hotel, complete with polo courts and a faux lighthouse, in keeping with former Rancho owner Frederick Hastings Rindge's vision of the Point as an "American Riviera." The military built a base on Point Dume and the only through traffic was long convoys of military vehicles traveling to Naval Base of Ventura County. Beach patrols continued until 1945.
The Marblehead Land Company, created by the Rindges to divide the land into parcels and to sell or lease it, defaulted on taxes and Los Angeles County foreclosed on the portion of property that is now Zuma Beach in the early 1940s and opened it to the public.
During the 1960s, the beach at Zuma remained an unaltered expanse of dunes.
The county demolished the handful of remaining beach homes, used to provide housing for lifeguard personnel, and built the parking lot in the early 1960s. Houses located on Westward Beach were condemned and the area was opened to the public.
The complicated intersection that provides access to Westward Beach and the main Zuma lot has also created an endless and ongoing series of traffic problems, according to residents. The area was a top priority for residents attending the recent public input portion of the ongoing traffic plan.
In addition to floods of beachgoers, PCH has also had its share of naturally occurring floods. Many, like the 1979 rockslides at Latigo Canyon, followed major wildfire events. Others occurred during "100-year" storm events."
On March 4, 1938, "Sections of Roosevelt Highway, main coastal highway, were shifted to the sea like chips," the Prescott Evening Courier reported. "Other sections were covered with landslides 15-16 feet deep...the swanky seashore movie colony, was as isolated as Robinson Crusoe's Island," the report states. The flooding was due to a five-day rainstorm that deluged Southern California with 11 inches of rain from Ventura to San Juan Capistrano, causing catastrophic damage.
High tides and an epic swell that produced waves of up to 33 feet swamped portions of PCH throughout Malibu on Sept. 6, 1934, flooding many Malibu Colony homes and swamping the coast route along Corral Beach and at County Line.
In January of 1983, high surf and a series of powerful storms swamped a ten-mile stretch of PCH from Malibu Canyon to Trancas Canyon in mud and damaged more than 100 homes.
Western Malibu is also subject to rockslides. On Dec 20, 2010, a 10-mile section of Pacific Coast Highway, was closed to through traffic while Caltrans engineers and geologists worked to stabilize large sections of coastal bluff that was sliding due to heavy rains.
An effort in the late 1970s in the same vicinity involved helicopters positioning metal nets on the cliffs in an effort to mitigate rockslide activity.
Part of the landslide problem was created during the construction of PCH according to Caltrans documents. Coastal terraces and rock formations were dynamited and bulldozed to make room for the road. The debris was used to fill in creeks and wetland areas, including portions of the Malibu, Zuma and Trancas lagoons.
The new highway also came at a high cost for Malibu's cultural heritage. A large number of significant Chumash sites were leveled or buried to make way for the coastal route.
Archeologist E.K. Burnett, in a monograph published in 1944, describes numerous finds hastily excavated by teams attempting to survey and catalog sites before road crews bulldozed them.
Many artifacts, including human remains, and entire villages and ceremonial sites were destroyed. Major archeological sites now buried under the roadway include extensive portions of the Leo Carrillo and Nicholas Canyon area, and a large Chumash cemetery near Malibu Creek.
Observers say that any answers designed to address the ongoing problems on PCH need to address issues that in many cases are as old as the road itself.