You are here

Michele Willer-Allred, Freelance Reporter
10:11 am PST February 5, 2019

Malibu City officials are warning property owners who lost their homes in the Woolsey Fire that it can be a “risky proposition” to opt out of the state-sponsored debris removal program.

During a Monday, Feb. 4 Malibu Planning Commission meeting, officials discussed whether opting in or out of the California Office of Emergency Services’ debris removal program would impact whether homeowners can rebuild their properties.

Property owners in the Woolsey Fire area with destroyed property must submit their choice of fire debris removal by the new Feb. 15 filing deadline.Owners may opt in, with no direct costs if they are eligible, or opt out and independently complete debris removal that meets the state and county’s requirements.

Those who don’t make a choice by Feb. 15 may be subject to hefty fines.

Craig George, the city’s environmental sustainability director, told commissioners that he believes the primary reason people are opting out of the Cal OES program is that they want to see if they can reuse their foundation to lessen rebuilding costs.

With the opt-in program, George explained, the foundation is automatically removed, the lot scraped and several inches of soil taken. 

George emphasized that people who want to reuse their foundation have to really understand what that means and the effects of fire on a foundation. He said a lot of structural or design engineers that City officials have been talking to don’t understand the test methodology that has to be done to actually ascertain whether a home’s foundation is still viable. If the foundation passes the test, it can be reused, but that can be a “risky proposition” to take if they already opted out of the debris removal program.

“If they decided to opt out and later do the testing and find out their foundation is not viable and had to be removed anyways, now that cost is going to be incurred by them,” George said.

He stressed that residents can opt in and change their mind after a home’s foundation is tested, saying “you can literally stand in front of your property waving your arms the day they show up” to stop any work.

At least 670 structures inside Malibu’s city limits were destroyed by the fire, including more than 400 single-family homes.

Homeowners who opt out have until March 15 to complete debris removal.

“It’s important that folks comply with those deadlines because it will not be as simple as just leaving your debris there and planning on cleaning it up at a later date,” warned Senior Planner Richard Mollica, adding that an abatement process is still going through the City Council.

Mollica said air and groundwater quality monitoring also need to take place on all sites during the clearing process.

Commissioners asked if there is anything else that can be done to notify remaining homeowners, but George said, in his view, the City has done “everything humanly possible to try to contact these people.”

“If [homeowners] do nothing, we’ve got ourselves a bigger problem,” Planning Commission Chairman Steve Uhring said.  

During commissioner comments, Uhring warned residents to keep an eye on the “mansionization” issue. 

At its Jan. 22 meeting, the majority of the Planning Commission recommended denial of plans for a new residence on Busch Drive, basing its decision partly on mansionization issues.  Uhring said a larger home went in front of the City Council on Jan. 28 and received approval.

Uhring said he took that as a message from the council for the Planning Commission to “stay in our lane” and that at least in the short term, that’s the direction the council is taking on the mansionization issue.

Uhring urged residents who don’t want overly large homes in their neighborhood to contact councilmembers before the council takes up the issue again at its meeting on Feb. 25.

“Let [the council] know what you think because this is going to be an issue that impacts all of us,” Uhring said.