Malibu Hopes Naval Visit Won’t Sail By

USS Lake Champlain (CG 57)

Those hoping Malibu will play host to its own version of “On the Town” this fall aren’t quite ready to give up on that dream, despite predictions from State Parks that a port visit by sailors from the U.S. Navy will be impossible, due to continuing need for repairs of the historic Malibu Pier.

Preparations for a possible goodwill port visit by the USS Lake Champlain, a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, have hit a snag — State Parks predicts contractors will not be done fixing the lift at the end of the pier in time for a naval visit. 

The lift, also called a gangway, has been out of commission since a 2014 storm damaged it and knocked loose several pilings from the pier. The first phase of repairs to the pier following that storm began in January 2016 and ended in May. The second phase of repairs is set to begin again after Labor Day.

“The gangway is not functional,” State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap said in a Tuesday morning interview with The Malibu Times. “I don’t know, at this point, whether there is any temporary fix that can be done to it. Insurance-wise, liability-wise, I don’t know who would be responsible if [visitors] were hurt.”

Sap described that the schedule of shoring-up the pier, which has already had over 30 new pilings added to it since repairs began earlier this year, would not allow for the lift to be mended in time for the prospective naval visit at the end of September.

“Here’s the thing: To say ‘OK, I think we can do it,’ and then at the end, get closer to the visit and say, ‘Oh, I don’t think it’s going to happen’ — that’s very disruptive to the event. At this point, I’m 99 percent sure it’s not going to happen, given the circumstance,” Sap said.

But Sap’s dire prediction hasn’t made the Malibu Navy League throw in the towel just yet.

“We’re working on it,” Malibu City Council Member and Navy League member John Sibert said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it. I hope so. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Sibert said that, along with uncertainty from State Parks about the condition of the Malibu Pier, it is also not certain whether the Navy will be able to fit the port visit into the Lake Champlain’s schedule.

“We do have to get something scheduled [by the end of] June, because the Navy does have to schedule these things,” Sibert said. “This is a major ship with a lot of people on board.”

The USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) is 567 feet long and is home to about 400 officers and enlisted sailors. It is substantially larger than the USS John Paul Jones, the missile destroyer that visited Malibu in 2011. The John Paul Jones is 505 feet long and houses about 280 personnel.

Navy League President John Payne said that a visit of this size would be great for Malibu.

“It would be good for the community. It would be good for the Navy. It would be good for the sailors,” Payne said, later adding, “I think that, economically, it would be good for the city.

“There’s a lot of people that are interested in it, and I think that we would like to do it if we can make it possible. The Malibu Navy League would like to do it, the City of Malibu would like to do it, the Chamber of Commerce is interested in it and so is Pepperdine University,” Payne said.

Sibert and Payne also stressed the importance of the lift as a crucial safety feature of the pier, with or without a Navy visit.

“One of the problems with the issue of the gangway out there is that Coast Guard and lifeguards can’t use it either, and it’s just wrong to leave it this long without being able to access it,” Sibert said, “so I’m cautiously optimistic.”

“So when there’s something that should have been fixed, probably a long time ago, maybe it’s possible that the sequence of things might have been that they fix the ladder on the pier first and then do the pilings second,” Payne said. “The pier is a public parks pier; it’s for everybody to use, and I think that it’s got something wrong with it that needs to be fixed.”

Payne was also optimistic that a resolution may be found to allow a port visit in September.

“We hope that Craig Sap will eventually do whatever he can to make the visit possible,” Payne said.