No communication was made to Malibu city officials from Caltrans or any other official agency about the malfunctioning traffic signal that left Malibu residents fuming in cars, waiting more than an hour to just reach Pacific Palisades.
By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor
The malfunctioning of a traffic signal Monday on Pacific Coast Highway at its intersection with the entrance of the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades caused an eastbound backup of cars on the highway stretching as far back as the Malibu Pier. There were reports of people taking more than an hour to reach Pacific Palisades from portions of Malibu.
Dave White, spokesperson for the California Department of Transportation, said a work crew contracted by the Bel-Air Bay Club was realigning the intersection of the highway with the club’s driveway, a Caltrans-permitted project, when at about 7 a.m., rain caused a short-out of the traffic signal’s power. The emergency backup power for the signal took over and the light went to a blinking red.
White said a Caltrans official, who was unaware that the project had been contracted to a private company, turned the light off to allow traffic to go straight on Pacific Coast Highway. He then turned the light back on to blinking red to allow others to make left-hand turns. But, White said, once it was discovered the project had been contracted, Caltrans could no longer deal with the problem.
“For liability reasons we cannot do that,” White said. “When an area is contracted, in essence it is turned over to the .”
A call was made to the Bel-Air Bay Club on Monday. The person who answered the phone said the club had nothing to do with the traffic backup, and said Caltrans should be contacted about the matter.
White said an official, from what organization he was not sure, arrived at about 10:40 a.m. to direct traffic at the intersection, and at the same time the contractor arrived to fix the signal. Normal operation was restored between 1:15 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Capt. Tom Martin said the station received some calls in the morning about the backup. He said the station contacted the Los Angeles Police Department about the matter, but officials there said everything was clear. It was later learned the LAPD was not doing anything to remedy the situation.
“We did lodge our concerns with them about that,” Martin said. “They didn’t see it [the complaint] until after 10 a.m.”
A call was made by The Malibu Times to the LAPD media information line on Tuesday. The official there said she had no report of Monday’s traffic signal incident.
Councilmember Andy Stern was traveling down the highway Monday morning with his wife, who recently had heart surgery, to take her to a routine doctor’s appointment. Stern said it took him one hour to get from Broad Beach to the Bel-Air Bay Club intersection, passing it at 11:45 a.m. Stern said an official was directing the traffic.
“Once there was somebody there, there was no problem at that intersection,” Stern said. “The problem was coordinating the situation so traffic could have been cleared up in Malibu.”
Martin said if it were determined that there were something the Sheriff’s station could do within its jurisdiction to fix the problem, it would be done. But, he said, other than making sure the Los Angeles city officials do something to expedite the traffic, there was not much the Sheriff’s station could do.
“It’s an inconvenience having something occur in Pacific Palisades and having traffic backed up into Malibu,” Martin said. “That is unfortunately the nature of having a small highway like that.”
There was also a perceived lack of communication about the problem. Attorney Barry Glaser, who lives on Pacific Coast Highway near Las Flores Canyon Road, was caught in the traffic jam from 8:35 a.m. until about 10 a.m. He said he flipped through the AM radio stations and heard nothing about why the backup existed.
“I assumed it must have been a serious accident,” Glaser said. “I was listening, I heard nothing.”
Malibu Public Works Director Granville “Bow” Bowman said the city received several calls about the situation, but received no information from Caltrans about it. He said Monday that he was sending an e-mail to Caltrans officials about creating a better line of communication when incidents like the one on Monday occur.
“I couldn’t get ahold of these contractors to find out what they were doing,” Bowman said. “And I couldn’t go down there [to see what was going on]. There’s no way you can get there from here. I would have needed a helicopter to get there.”
When asked about why Caltrans did not inform the city of Malibu about the situation, White said he was unaware of any procedure the state agency has to contact the city in a scenario like the one on Monday.