Local businesses suffer losses with recent road closures

Water gushes from a waterfall in Winding Way Canyon Friday. The National Weather Service reports that "this is now the wettest rain season in 115 years at downtown Los Angeles, and the third wettest since records began." Photo by Brendon O'Neal

The closure of Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road, two main arteries into Malibu, have cost local businesses thousands of dollars. Slides continue in the area, closing Encinal Canyon Road Monday.

By Troy Dove/Special to The Malibu Times

As roadways reopen and the debris from numerous landslides throughout Malibu is cleared, local businesses hope to return to “business as usual.”

The 1,200-ton boulder, which began sliding down hill early last week and was responsible for the closure of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, was removed by Caltrans the end of last week. Crews began working around the clock beginning in the evening of Feb. 23 to jackhammer the boulder into smaller pieces for removal. They finished removing the boulder on Friday, and the highway partially reopened in the evening. The rupture of a nearby water main kept all lanes from completely reopening. PCH is down to one lane near the Big Rock area. Also, another mudslide near Coastline Drive slowed traffic Tuesday afternoon.

Malibu Canyon Road was also closed last week due to a rockslide, reopening by Saturday, and traffic on Topanga Canyon Road has been limited to morning and evening hours, one way each time period since early January.

The closure of this highly traveled section of PCH and of Malibu Canyon Road was not only an inconvenience to motorists, but came as a severe financial blow to local businesses.

“There was no business,” said Daniel Forge, owner of Beau Rivage located on PCH. “Parties cancelled right and left. We had everything, the tables set up, the flowers on the table, the cake made for the wedding. And people cancelled.

“The loss is in the thousands,” Forge said.

Many local businesses suffered not only from the lack of customers, but also from lack of help as many employees were unable to make it to work.

“We had to close a couple of days. We couldn’t get the help to come to work,” Forge said. “My employees that live in Santa Monica, had to take the 405 all the way to the 101. The 101 all the way to Kanan, then Kanan back here. For a distance of seven, eight or 10 miles they have to drive 50 miles,” Forge said. “With the traffic it creates, they had to drive three hours before they got here.”

Bruce Hays, a manager at Dukes Malibu restaurant located on PCH near Las Flores Canyon Road, said they also experienced a considerable loss of business due to road closures. “With the road closures we go from 200 dinners to 50,” Hays said. “It was a huge, huge hit.”

The revenue loss has “got to be thousands of dollars,” Hays said. But with the reopening of PCH on Friday, he said it was beginning to get a little better.

Hays and Forge both said neither location experienced any physical damage from the storm, only revenue loss.

Not all local businesses experienced a loss in revenue due to the road closures. In fact, Victoria Vicars, manager of the Malibu Country Inn located on Westward Beach Road near Zuma Beach, said the inn experienced little to no loss of business.

“What we might have lost in people not coming, we made up for in those people that chose to stay in Malibu as opposed to spending three or four hours on the road trying to get home,” Vicars said.

Vicars said while the inn saw little revenue loss, it did experience some physical damage from the storm.

“We had a couple of problems,” she said. “Several of our drains failed and we had water come in between the cinderblock and the drywall.” She explained there was no major damage, but there would be “some considerable cleanup.”

Businesses and homes were not the only things that sustained damage from the falling rocks and landslides. So did some vehicles traveling through the canyons during the storms.

Eleano Canboni, head chef at Guido’s Restaurant on Cross Creek Road in Malibu, said he was driving home from work along Malibu Canyon Road, Feb. 20, during the latest storm when his car was struck by falling boulders.

“It was raining big time,” Canboni said. “I was going between 35-45 mph because of the rain, when all at once I saw this huge shape just crossing the path of my car and then immediately I hear a huge explosion.”

About five seconds later, Canboni said he heard “another big explosion.” When he entered the tunnel on Malibu Canyon Road, he realized all the airbags, except the driver’s side, had deployed due to the impact of the boulders.

“The car was driving on rocks,” Canboni said. “It felt like I was surfing or something like that. I just wanted to get out of there, with or without the car.”

While there are no figures available for the total amount of damage to personal property from the storms, Yugal Lall, Public Works director, said the damage to public property from the first series of storms in late December/early January was “in the vicinity of $800,000” and the damage caused by the other storms “could probably cost another $600,000-$800,000.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already declared the damage from the first storm, which lasted from Dec. 26 until Jan. 11, a federal disaster, Lall said.

“FEMA’s in town right now,” he said. “They’re looking at the project, where we have damages. I think they’re [Malibu city officials] trying to get another federal disaster declared for the second one.”

Lall said repairs and cleanup are underway, but will take some time.

Recent road closures include Encinal Canyon Road at Via Vienta due to a landslide Monday afternoon. Lall said the road will be closed for “a prolonged period of time,” while crews work to remove the debris. Also, as stated on the Malibu city Web site, beginning March 2, Fernhill Road will be closed to through traffic between Boniface and Grayfox. Topanga Canyon Road is open from 6 a.m. -9 a.m. and again 3 p.m.-9 p.m. daily, with restrictions expected until May. Birdview is restricted to one lane and Decker Canyon Road is closed north of PCH with no re-opening time available. Further information about road closures can be obtained on the Malibu city Web site at www.ci.malibu.ca.us or by calling Caltrans at 213.897.3656.