Back on Nov. 9, the raging fires and mandatory evacuation from Malibu and nearby communities left 200,000 residents of northern Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties scrambling and competing to find suitable accommodations outside of the burn areas. Once evacuees completed their five- to six-hour exodus in bumper-to-bumper traffic, frequently ending up somewhere in Santa Monica or West LA, the next question was, “Now what?” “How long are these evacuations going to last?” “Where are we supposed to stay?” Most of Malibu was off-limits to residents for at least a couple weeks until downed trees and power lines were cleared, power and water was restored, burning embers were extinguished and air quality improved. Long stretches of the Ventura (101) Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway were closed.
Many evacuees weren’t sure how much money they would be able to spend—if any—on hotels; many didn’t know yet what their insurance would cover. There were reports of price gouging, with some hotels asking $800/night. Some residents went as far as Santa Barbara and Buellton to find pet-friendly hotels with available rooms.
Scott Tallal, the Malibu Film Society’s (MFS) executive director, one of the exiles, happened to call his friend Scott Hillman, MFS president, and ask if he happened to know of anyone who had a place available for the short term.
“I called a couple of people and didn’t get anywhere,” Hillman said in a phone interview. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be people out there with extra rooms who wouldn’t mind helping out fire victims.’”
He posted queries on his West LA Nextdoor site, Santa Monica Nextdoor and Craigslist, as well as the 1,800 people on the MFS email list.
“Surprisingly enough, I got a lot of responses from my posts from people offering accommodations,” Hillman said. “And my friends told their friends. It was encouraging and heartwarming. It’s great to see people in the community want to help other people.”
“When I got the first few offers of places to stay, I sent the information to a few people I knew that had lost their homes in the fires,” he said. “I finally created an Excel spreadsheet with contact information, offers, numbers and descriptions of the accommodations. We got everything from a single room, to a guesthouse in Brentwood, to apartments that were currently empty and landlords were willing to let people use them for a short time. We also got offers to rent apartments for a nominal fee.”
“We placed an announcement on the MFS website to let people know that if they needed help with temporary accommodations, I would send them a copy of the list we had compiled,” Hillman explained. “The intent was not to limit this help to MFS members; and my understanding is that the list was passed on to many others in need of a place to stay. In other words, there was a secondary distribution channel, and that was nice.”
“I sent out at least a dozen copies of the list, and secondarily, there were many more copies as the list got passed around,” he said. “The latest version had 28 listings of places to stay, mostly on the Westside—West LA, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Marina del Rey.”
Although there was no feedback mechanism built in—people finding accommodations had no obligation to get back to MFS and let them know—Hillman said he received two emails from people thanking him for finding them a place to stay. The actual number was probably much higher.