Commissioner says public left in dark on road project

The city attorney says the commissioner does not have the ability to kill the Zumirez Drive realignment project if that were his plan.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

Public Safety Commissioner Ryan Embree has accused city and state officials of leaving the public in the dark while making additions to the Zumirez Drive realignment project.

Embree late last month appealed the Planning Commission’s coastal development permit approval for the project because he said a proper hearing was not conducted to determine whether a traffic signal was needed at the intersection. Meanwhile, Public Safety Commissioner Marlene Matlow said she is concerned Embree’s appeal could threaten the project’s completion, because, according to a lawsuit settlement, it must be finished by May 21.

The realignment project calls for the shifting of the south end of the Point Dume road 100 feet to the east so that it is aligned with the north end, located on the opposite side of Pacific Coast Highway. The Public Safety and the Public Works commissions (Embree included) voted in favor of the project during a joint session on Sept. 30. During that meeting, city staff did not tell the commissions that the California Department of Transportation wanted a traffic signal at the intersection. When the project came before the Planning Commission for a coastal permit on Dec. 6, the Caltrans demand was made public. However, no documentation was presented at that Planning Commission meeting showing studies on the need of a traffic signal or an official notice from Caltrans. Embree said documentation should have been presented at that meeting.

Deputy City Engineer Claudio Sanchez said at the Planning Commission meeting that Caltrans did not make the demand until after the Sept. 30 meeting. Embree said a separate hearing should have been conducted on the traffic signal.

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“So far, it appears that governmental workers have conspired behind an iron curtain through which the public cannot see to change the roadwork project after its public hearing closed,” Embree wrote in an e-mail to The Malibu Times.

Caltrans was able to have a say on the project because it involves Pacific Coast Highway, which is controlled by the state. The realignment is being funded through a Metropolitan Transportation Authority grant and state funds. The project must be completed by May 21 because a portion of the realigned road will cut through a person’s property, and a lawsuit settlement with the property owner sets that deadline. Public Safety Commissioner Matlow said Embree’s appeal, and possible further appeal to the California Coastal Commission, could jeopardize the project.

“I think it’s ridiculous to put safety in harm’s away,” Matlow said. “Basically putting us into this kind of a situation where we have to wait and see what happens with the appeal could end with us is the opposite of what we’re after, which is public safety.”

City Attorney Christi Hogin said the language of the settlement allows for the deadline to be extended if a third party were to interfere.

“It is not in Ryan Embree’s hands to kill this project, and it would be very frustrating if that were what he were trying to do,” Hogin said.

Matlow, a 30-year Point Dume resident, said she couldn’t understand why Embree is appealing the project. She said a traffic signal is a good idea because for many the intersection is the entrance to Point Dume and a traffic signal, in her opinion, would make the intersection safer. She noted that a signal was proposed for the intersection in the 1990s, but rejected because of the difficulty to install one on an unaligned road. With the alignment issue taken care of, she said a signal is now appropriate.

“I don’t understand where he’s [Embree] going with it [the appeal] or if there is anything valid about his feelings,” Matlow said. “If he has a genuine concern that covers genuine reasoning, then I have yet to find out what that is.”

Matlow said she tried to contact Embree, but he did not return her phone calls. Embree said he did not call her because it could be a violation of state open meeting laws. Two commissioners are allowed to discuss an item outside of a scheduled meeting, but no more than that amount can do so.

Embree said he supports the realignment project, but he was forced to appeal the project because the proper public process was not done with regards to the traffic signal. Embree said the Planning Commission should have split the realignment project and the traffic signal as two separate voting items. Then, he said, he would have only appealed the traffic signal. However, Caltrans would not have allowed the city to go through with the realignment project without the installation of the traffic signal.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to hear the appeal on Jan. 24. If it rejects the appeal, Embree can bring the issue before the Coastal Commission.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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