Paradise, some livelihoods lost

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The sign at Moonshadows last week said it all — “This Sucks.” The fiasco at Las Flores has frayed nerves and ruined lives. Every business, worker and resident seems to have a horror story to tell. Even walking past the slide has been impossible. Locals and employees have been sent back or forced onto the beach where they brave high tides, rip rap and jagged sea walls.

“I saw this little, old lady with a cane climbing over the rocks,” said Christine Horvath at Duke’s. “It’s ridiculous.” Her co-workers tell of losing watches or wallets, ruining clothes and suffering cuts and bruises in an effort to get to their jobs.

Many say they normally enjoy a good relationship with law enforcement during times of trouble — but not now. “They’ve been so rude,” snapped Celone Fontaine. “They’re killing our business, messing with our livelihoods, and they’re giving us a hard time on top of it.”

On the other hand, one guard reportedly relented and permitted a judge to drive past the slide zone — a rock crashed into the side of the judge’s car.

Malibu florist Sara Fay not only lost business, but was given a trespassing ticket. “Every time I go on the beach, they give me a $50 citation,” she huffed. It can get worse than that. On Sunday, one man who defied authorities and walked past the slide was taken away in handcuffs.

The on-going aggravation and loss of income has sent even disaster veterans like Joie Cosentino over the edge. “I’m on the verge of tears all day long,” she said with watery eyes. “My employees have to eat, they have to pay their rent. What am I supposed to do — tell them to find other jobs?” For this longtime Malibu business owner, feelings of pride and joy have been replaced by anger, sadness and disgust. “I’m so sick,” she said. “If I had an offer on this place, I’d take it and get out of here.”

Cosentino isn’t the only one who’s seen her business go to pot. “I can show you my books,” said Eva of Malibu Classics. “I have nothing but zeros.” After a winter of road closures, local shops and eateries were looking forward to a busy summer to help recover at least part of their losses, but the slope failure at Las Flores could bury them.

Moonshadows, which just invested in a colorful, new paint job and brought in live music, has lost $60,000 and may be driven out of business altogether, owners said Saturday. Even though the slide was at Las Flores, motorists had been routinely turned away at Topanga and that was the standard operating procedure all year. The policy was changed over the weekend, after lobbying by city and Chamber of Commerce officials, and by Sunday, Moonshadows’ parking lot was filled with cars.

Financial woes stretch all the way to the county line. Restaurants from Cross Creek to Zuma say business has been down anywhere from 50 to 90 percent.

Sheriff’s deputies have also had a tough and frustrating time, pitted against angry residents who want entry and uncompromising Caltrans officials who fear falling rocks will lead to injuries and lawsuits. On Monday, arguments ensued when Caltrans refused to let mail trucks and other official vehicles through the slide zone — an area which amounts to the length of about eight beach cottages.

A few residents are considering a class action lawsuit against Caltrans, but wonder about their chances. “They say you can’t fight city hall,” says Jerry Green. “This is the government and the government can basically do whatever they want.”

In the meantime, the bulldozers, front-end loaders and excavators rumble and roar for a handful of diners at Duke’s. “I can’t get out,” someone shouted over his cell phone. “It’s gnarly.” A German tourist turned her back to the beach and watched the boulders come down like bowling balls. “Das ist schlimm — zehr schlimm.” (Translation: this is bad — really bad.) For visitors staying in Malibu, the slide doesn’t seem to matter. The surf is up, the sun is shining and the Corona is cool. But for residents, workers and business owners, it’s a different story — the road to paradise has become the highway to hell.

Moonshadows reopened for lunch and dinner as of Sunday, with live music scheduled from 2-6 p.m. weekends. Hours, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.