Coastal Erosion Wipes Out Westward Beach Access Road

The access road leading to the Westward Beach parking lot on the westerly side of Point Dume is no more. 

“I don’t want to use the word ‘obliterate,’ but the road is gone,” LA County Department of Beaches and Harbors spokesperson Nicole Mooradian said Tuesday.

By Friday, Aug. 20, intense wave action from high tides and a heavy swell had undermined and removed part of the pavement on stretches of the road that begins where Westward Beach Road meets Birdview Avenue, just past Sunset Restaurant. At the time, county crews were rushing to lay down boulders, hoping to shore up what was left of the crumbling pavement. But it was too late. By Saturday evening, stretches of the road were virtually completely gone—impassible by vehicle or on foot.

The problem was first predicted earlier this summer, but according to Mooradian, it accelerated at a rate far ahead of what county experts anticipated.

“Before the erosion hit as hard as it did, we already consulted with a coastal engineer for a plan to protect the road and, down the line, come up with something more permanent,” Mooradian described. “The temporary plan did not work. We weren’t able to get nearly the number of boulders we needed in time. At this time, I believe we’ve laid down 42 truckloads and we need a lot more.” According to Mooradian’s notes, the county expected to need 147 more truckloads of boulders to complete the emergency work, followed by what she described as an “aggregate base” road—a hard-packed gravel road for lifeguard and other official use, but unfit for visitors. The total bill for the work was estimated at $1.2 million, coming out of an LA County Extraordinary Maintenance Fund—essentially an emergency fund. Work orders were already rapidly being approved.

There was no timeline, not even a ballpark, for when the road may reopen to the public. As Mooradian explained, even if the aggregate base road is constructed, it was unlikely to be considered safe for visitor access. Any longer-term solution would almost certainly have to go through the California Coastal Commission’s lengthy permitting process.

“We’re going to be working on this plan with the coastal commission, City of Malibu, as well as our on-call coastal engineering consultants. We’ll come up with a plan—I’m not sure what it will be,” Mooradian said. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county was still waiting for water to recede to begin analyzing the situation at the beach.

“The tides are starting to trend lower now. So, we may be able to get out and get a very good look at it, but otherwise, we can’t really get an estimate until we can accurately check all of the damage,” the spokesperson described.

In the meantime, the City of Malibu, LA County Sheriff’s Department and LA County Department of Beaches and Harbors were emphatically cautioning residents and visitors to avoid the area and not attempt to pass through the road closure to access Point Dume from the west. In addition to the roadway’s demise, power is out to county properties in the area including two restrooms and a lifeguard building. Swimming in the area is also dangerous, with lifeguards unable to access vehicles and additional support in the area.

At the Monday, Aug. 23, Malibu City Council meeting, LASD Lt. Jim Braden reported the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station had personnel on site keeping curious visitors from the dangerous eroded area, telling council, “We’ve been working with beaches and harbors trying to keep people out of that area so they can work efficiently.” 

When asked about the cause of the rapid erosion, Mooradian said it was unusual to see such intense erosion in the summer months, which are generally known for sand accumulation: “Mother Nature just ran its course.”

Malibu City Council Members described the situation as a harbinger of the harmful effects of sea level rise anticipated in Malibu’s future.

“I think what happened to Westward Beach Road we can look at as a real outlook of what sea level rise is going to be like,” Council Member Mikke Pierson said during the Monday meeting.

“Climate change in our own backyard,” Council Member Karen Farrer agreed.

Topanga portable toilets removed due to ‘unsafe conditions’

On the same weekend the Westward Beach access road was wiped out, LA County also removed two chemical toilets from the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway east of Topanga Beach due to dangerous erosion near the edge of the highway.

The toilets were removed from the beach on Monday “due to unsafe conditions,” Mooradian reported. Images show the blue plastic toilet stalls strapped to a truck on the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway, to be carted away under the shadow of the Getty Villa.

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