Battered Malibu Pier Reopens

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Last week’s large swells damaged this staircase at the Malibu Pier and tore out approximately 13 pilings. 

Season-high heavy surf from Hurricane Marie last week may have been fun for visiting surfers, but it caused a headache for State Parks officials and local business owners, who are working to recover from damages caused by the 15-foot swells on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The massive waves ripped out an estimated 13 supportive pilings at the Historic Malibu Pier and knocked loose a septic tank, causing a temporary beach closure and leaving the Malibu Farm Cafe without plumbing. The swells also did severe damage to the staircase allowing lifeguard access to boats, leaving only a metal ladder for lifeguards to access the water below. 

The pier reopened Friday after being shut down for several days, but once the storm swells died down, a storm of finger-pointing erupted between stakeholders and officials. Frustration is still brewing as State Parks has been slow to locate lost pier pilings or figure out a game-plan for what to do once they are located, and there were no clear plans about restoring plumbing on the far end of the pier.

“I think we know where three or four of [the pilings] are,” State Parks Superintendent Craig Sap said Tuesday morning. “We have no idea how many are out there on the beach,” Sap added.

That answer was not good enough for Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, one of the pier’s caretakers, who said the 2,000-pound pilings could continue to cause damage as they’re potentially knocked around by waves.

“I see a lack of involvement, lack of responsibility, when it’s so easy,” he said.

“I’m not knocking State Parks, just saying, help us out, get off your bureaucratic bums,” Wagner added.

Wagner took The Malibu Times on a tour of the nearby area Tuesday afternoon where two pilings were seen lodged beneath Nobu Restaurant just east of Malibu Pier. He complained that Sap had not responded to emails he had sent the previous Friday in regards to pilings washing up on beaches beneath businesses and residences nearby.

Sap on Tuesday evening told The Malibu Times that he had gone in search of the pilings over the weekend but was not able to locate any himself, but that he would be out again Wednesday morning.

When asked, Sap said that finding and removing the loose pilings are the responsibility of both State Parks and Malibu Pier Partners, the concessionaire team of Wagner and Alexander Leff. 

“He takes care of things above the deck, State Parks are responsible for under the deck, so pilings are both of our responsibilities to maintain operations on the pier,” said Sap.

Wagner agreed that he was partially responsible.

“I’ve certainly done my part,” Wagner countered.

Despite the pilings missing in action, Sap said the pier was safe after engineers inspected the damage.

“Initially, [structural engineers’] analysis is [the Pier] held up very well,” Sap said Friday.

The pier has been a popular destination for hungry tourists and local fishermen since it opened to the public 80 years ago. 

Farm Cafe forced to use paper plates

The temporary pier closure meant that one-year-old Malibu Farm Restaurant was closed on the busy week leading up to Labor Day weekend. 

“We didn’t have any physical damage to the restaurant itself,” said Helene Henderson, manager of Malibu Farm, “it was only damage to our black water pipes.”

The black water pipes that take wastewater from the Farm, at the end of the pier, to leach fields located under the Malibu Pier parking lot. For the time being, customers are dining with paper plates and plastic utensils.

According to Henderson, the Malibu Pier Restaurant is allowing the Farm to use its kitchen facilities after-hours to wash dishes. In fact, said Henderson, one of the worst parts of the ordeal was that customers were giving bad online reviews of the restaurant based on the temporary measures due to the lack of plumbing.

“Some woman wrote, ‘I’m on Yelp, I’m going to give this restaurant a 2-star review because they have paper plates,’” Henderson said, adding, “file your complaints with Hurricane Marie.”

Although as of Tuesday there are still no bathroom capabilities, a temporary pump has allowed for minimal dishwashing at the restaurant.

“The temporary system on the pier for the Malibu restaurants is open,” said Sap, “so it’s kind of business as usual out there now.”

Sap indicated the concessionaire was responsible for fixing the plumbing.

Cove House destroyed

While the pier survived the storm with overall minimal damage, the State Parks lost another beloved historic structure, the 60-year-old Cove House, on Tuesday night during the heavy surf from Hurricane Marie.

“It’s really devastating to the staff,” said Sap, who mentioned how useful it had been for the aquatic and training programs of the State Parks in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

“The loss of that cuts very deep in terms of office space, which we have very little of on the coast,” Sap said, adding, “right now we’re in a bind in terms of how to find space for the aquatic training programs.”

Sap said that the loss of the Cove House was “unprecedented,” since it had weathered so many storms before.

However, it was not a total loss, as staff were able to remove everything from the house before it fell into the surf below.

As of publication, there is no word as to where the State Parks would locate their now displaced offices since the loss of the Cove House.