Major Rain Storms Test Malibu Resilience

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Water from Malibu Creek pours into the Rindge Dam.

The month of January has brought torrents of rain to the parched State of California — and not a moment too soon — but rain brings its own problems, as Malibu residents know all too well.

On Wednesday of last week, Jan. 18, the National Weather Service announced a Beach Hazard Statement, with rain predicted to fall off-and-on throughout the weekend and into Monday. The predictions proved accurate: According to KBU 97.5, 2.52 inches of rain fell on Malibu Canyon from noon on Thursday to noon on Friday. KBU estimates also say a total of 2.91 inches of rain fell on Topanga Canyon between 8:35 a.m. Saturday and 8:35 a.m. Monday, with 2.59 inches at Big Rock and 2.49 inches at Trancas Canyon in the same period.

Rain also brought with it rockslides, mudslides, power outages, signal outages, traffic accidents, downed power lines, fallen trees… you name it. Lanes of Kanan Dume Road were closed off and on throughout Friday and into the weekend, and various issues had PCH blocked here and there, notably near Moonshadows throughout Friday afternoon and at Sunset Boulevard due to downed lines.

Power went out to Pepperdine’s Campus Friday and to areas of the Civic Center. 

By 11 a.m. Friday, the NWS put the Malibu area under a flood advisory — advisories and flash flood watches continued on and off through Monday.

Although sustained rain tends to cause rockslides around Malibu — such as the months-long closure of Pacific Coast Highway between Las Posas Road and Deer Creek Road in Ventura County two years ago — Monday morning’s dual closure of Malibu Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard was an especially daunting feat for commuters. Malibu Canyon Road closed Friday and remained closed through Monday afternoon.

By the time The Malibu Times went to print Tuesday night, Topanga Canyon Boulevard was still closed for about 3.5 miles, between Grand View Drive and PCH, due to a mudslide. There was no confirmed timeline for the major traffic artery to reopen.

The reopening of Malibu Canyon Road took place Monday after work by LA County Public Works and the LA County Fire Department to loosen rocks and gravel thought to present a future hazard to the road, explained Steve Frasher of Public Works.

“Public Works geologists went out and took a look at the face where rockslides naturally happen and determined there were rocks that were too precarious to keep in place — and when they didn’t naturally fall as a result of the weekend storm, LA County Fire came out with their high intensity hoses,” Frasher described. “They were able to knock those rocks down and our crews were able to clear them away yesterday.”

When asked if such rockslides were preventable, Frasher said the only surefire way to do away with them would be to smooth the slope, destroying the natural form of Malibu Canyon. 

“That goes with the topography of all kinds of places in LA County, and Malibu is certainly one of them,” Frasher said. “The alternative is to shave the natural hillside down to a slope that doesn’t pose a threat, but then you’ve lost the natural character of the area.”

Frasher said road maintenance crews routinely patrol rockslide areas to watch for issues forming, but Public Works depends on residents and commuters to call in issues when they see them.

The silver lining of the rain came in the form of increased snowpack across California — an average of 197 percent of what’s normal for this week as of Jan. 24. However, Governor Jerry Brown did not address the drought lessening in Tuesday’s State of the State address and, here in Malibu, District 29 engineers hesitate to say the drought is over.

Public Works asks that any rocks on the road or impending danger to roadways be reported to 800.675.HELP (4357).