Rules Officially Relaxed for Water Flow in Malibu

Proposed Civic Center Way improvements include a pedestrian pathway, bike lanes in each direction and improved landscaping.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby came to Malibu on Monday to announce a change in fire department rules meant to help burned-out Malibu homeowners rebuild without jumping through one particularly difficult hoop: meeting strict water-flow regulations.

On Monday, Osby, along with LA County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city, “to ease requirements about water flow levels needed for firefighting that have posed an obstacle to some Malibu residents trying to rebuild homes destroyed in the Woolsey Fire,” according to documents later provided by the city.

The change will result in a decreased minimum for water tanks in Malibu and will go into effect April 1. Current regulations enacted by the county put minimum water needed—so-called “fire flow”—at 1,250 gallons per minute for two hours. The change will make the minimum 1,250 gallons per minute for just one hour.

According to the city, the change will make rebuilds possible for all but 17 homes in Malibu; those 17 are all located on Encinal Canyon, in what’s known as the La Chusa Highlands neighborhood. 

“The only outstanding area as it pertains to Malibu is Encinal Canyon; there’s still some challenges in that area. I’m pretty confident that those will be resolved and allow those homeowners to rebuild,” Osby said Monday.

According to Pestrella, the La Chusa area would be moved back to the top of the county’s priority list.

“The Encinal Canyon water system … is on the phase 1 priority list,” Pestrella said. “So, what I’m saying there is, we’re moving Encinal Canyon up to highest priority.” According to Pestrella, the projects had been numbers 20-22 in priority. 

The project includes pipeline projects for the upper and lower canyons, as well as an Encinal Canyon tank.

According to local architect David von Oeyen, who spoke at the meeting, the move was good news—but Encinal had been considered high priority before, and had been bumped down in favor of other projects.

“We’ve been in an area that’s been neglected for a long time in the water district,” von Oeyen said. “We were No. 1 priority three years ago.”

Fire, floods cost Malibu $9.2 million

The numbers are in, and between the Woolsey Fire and the heavy rain that followed, the City of Malibu racked up a $9.2 million bill. Fortunately for the city, most of that cost will likely be covered by federal and state emergency funds.

The city provided a summary in the staff report for the Monday, March 25, council meeting: “The current estimate for emergency response and repairs to city facilities and infrastructure from the Woolsey Fire is approximately $7.8 million. The estimate for emergency protective measures and debris removal related to the winter storms is approximately $1.4 million. Of the total $9.2 million, the city anticipates reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) in the amount of $8.4 million. The city will be responsible for paying approximately $850,000. This amount will be included in the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget.”

The numbers are still not set in stone.

“We have a much clearer picture,” Assistant City Manager Lisa Soghor explained, “of course, that number is still subject to change, because many of these are construction estimates and when we actually go out to do the work, or go out to bid for what will be a significant repair, those costs will change again.”

Soghor mentioned that its insurance company has been doing a good job covering certain things, such as cleaning facilities but, like many property owners in Malibu, the city has discovered some things they thought were covered by insurance were not. Some of those include infrastructure, such as guardrails along roads. 

Civic Center Way improvement project raises concerns

A project underway to create a path along Civic Center Way has raised safety concerns among some stakeholders.

The project includes improvements such as realignment, “kind of taking away the humps and curves along it on Civic Center Way,” according to Public Works Director Rob DuBoux. Other improvements include a walkway and bike lane improvements—“a bike lane on both sides on the majority of the corridor.” The traffic signal at Winter Canyon Road and Civic Center Way will be improved, stormwater treatment systems will be installed, and landscaping will be freshened up.

Overall, reception to the plan was positive, but there was lingering concern over pedestrian safety.

“I’m a little concerned about where we’re putting the sidewalk on this,” developer consultant Don Schmitz said at the meeting. “Once you get down past Malibu Canyon Village, the sidewalk is all on the south side of Civic Center Way, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

Schmitz suggested either lining both sides of the street with a sidewalk or keeping it on the north side, creating a straight shot from the schools and condominiums around Winter Canyon to the new Santa Monica College satellite campus, or even Serra Retreat. This would eliminate danger of pedestrians crossing the street only to cross back.

Council Member Skylar Peak also expressed concern, recalling a Pepperdine student who was killed on the road in that area around the time he attended.

Construction on that project is anticipated to begin later this summer.