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The county's post-fire debris removal process is slated to begin Jan. 28 and continue through mid-April. 22nd Century Media File Photo
Lauren Coughlin, Editor
6:19 pm PST January 14, 2019

It has been two months since the Woolsey Fire struck Malibu, and the impact is still visible on hundreds of properties, as Los Angeles County works toward getting contractors on-site to remove debris.

Phase I of the debris removal process is nearing its conclusion; 1,038 damaged or destroyed properties in the city of Malibu had been assessed by officials from the Los Angeles County Fire Hazardous Materials Control Program, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control as of Monday, Jan. 14, according to a list from the LA County Fire Department. Just nine city properties remained on the county’s list, and assessments of those outliers were anticipated to occur by Friday, Jan. 18, according to Craig George, environmental sustainability director for the City of Malibu.

In unincorporated Malibu, where Malibu Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner resides, there also is some Phase I work to be done. Wagner said his home, which was destroyed in the blaze, had not yet been assessed as of Thursday, Jan. 10, but crews were expected to complete inspections in the near future. 

The latest data indicates that 1,306 of 1,405 Los Angeles County properties — including unincorporated and incorporated properties — impacted by the fire had been assessed as of Monday, Jan. 14. For the latest data, visit www.malibucity.org/Debris.

The next step

After assessments are complete, eligible property owners are presented with a decision: whether to opt in or opt out of the California Office of Emergency Services debris removal program. Applications for those who opt in must be received by Jan. 28, and clean-up is expected to begin that same day, George said, and continue through mid-April.

George said the City will be meeting with CalRecycle representatives before Jan. 28 to determine priority areas. He identified properties near Malibu High School and Point Dume Elementary as “two critical areas” for cleanup.

As of Jan. 10, George said roughly 90 percent of impacted Malibu residents had opted in for the debris removal program. 

Forms — available on the main page of lacounty.gov/LACountyRecovers — can be submitted via email to woolseyfire@dpw.lacounty.gov, or in person at Malibu City Hall (23825 Stuart Ranch Road), Malibu’s Disaster Recovery Center (23525 W. Civic Center Way) or the Agoura Hills DRC (30440 Agoura Road). Malibu’s DRC is set to close on Friday, Jan. 18.

For more information on the county’s debris removal program, call (626) 979-5370 or visit www.lacounty.gov/LACountyRecovers.

“We just think [the opt-in program] has some benefits to people that don’t understand all the requirements,” George explained, noting that CalRecycle’s debris removal process includes asbestos testing and other elements.

CalRecycle’s program also comes free of charge, whether or not the property owner’s insurance covers debris removal, whereas those who opt out must hire a state-certified contractor or manage the debris-removal project themselves at their own expense.

Still, George says, he recognizes that “some people just don’t want governmental agencies on their property to clear it.” Those who opt out must file a work plan by Jan. 30, and cleanup must be completed by March 15. 

George reminded residents to be smart in how they go about removing debris, which can contain toxic materials, and urged residents to ensure that their contractor knows what they are doing. While the City does not offer recommendations for contractors, George suggested visiting www.cslb.ca.gov to ensure the individuals are in good standing and have the proper certifications.

Moving forward

“As far as debris removal, patience is the key word, unfortunately, but I think the folks can focus on getting their construction plans developed and submitted to the City,” George said. “They can still proceed with that.”

Wagner concurred, saying he has told residents to take it one step at a time — something he said he’s striving to do as he personally navigates the recovery process.

“That way you get success as you move along,” Wagner said. “... A lot of people just want it to happen now. Many folks just feel that [they can] touch the screen and things are going to happen; this is not that process. This is the process of going step by step.”

At the Malibu Planning Commission’s Thursday, Jan. 10 meeting, Chairman Steve Uhring discussed the frustrations residents have expressed about a lack of rebuilding action, with the holdup seemingly being caused by the debris removal process. He added that the process was “a little bit outside of [the City’s] control.” 

Planning Director Bonnie Blue sympathized with those frustrations but urged residents to focus on the reconstruction processes that can occur while waiting for debris removal, including research of a property’s public records, planning verification and getting contractors in place to design the property. 

Wagner said he anticipates that most residents will face a two-year process for rebuilding their homes.

“Don’t think your house is going to be here in a year — it’s not going to happen,” Wagner said.

Wagner himself is anticipating a five-year process for rebuilding his home, despite his plans to rebuild in the same footprint, which affords the property owner a Coastal Development Permit exemption because of the natural disaster. For the remaining two years of his term, Wagner said he plans to focus on his work for the City and on serving fire victims.

“You feel like hugging [fellow fire victims] and high-fiving them, and you share the misery and you share the glory,” Wagner said. “And the glory is ‘Hey, something’s done — my sewer is OK; my house is ready for cleanup.’”

As of Jan. 10, George said the planning department had submitted “roughly a dozen” plans to rebuild in-kind structures. Residents navigating the process still need to obtain approval from the Planning Department as well as permits from the Building Safety Division. The City’s Planning and Building Safety Public Counter at City Hall is open from 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Various resources, including a list of post-fire rebuilding and construction professionals, are available at www.malibucity.org/rebuild.

Those in unincorporated LA County are encouraged to visit the LA County Department of Regional Planning website at www.lacounty.gov/lacountyrecovers.

Editor’s Note: As the Surfside News continues to report on the Woolsey Fire, residents impacted by the tragedy are encouraged to reach out to Editor Lauren Coughlin at lauren@malibusurfsidenews.com or (310) 457-2112, ext. 1. We’d like to hear about your experiences with the debris removal process, rebuilding process and anything else you would like to share.