City works together to partially open PCH

About 60 merchants worried about their failing businesses, together with concerned residents, filled every available chair in City Hall’s largest conference room Friday afternoon at a meeting to coordinate efforts to open Pacific Coast Highway. The overflow crowd waited in the hall.

City Manager Harry Peacock took notes on a large whiteboard in an effort to keep the discussion organized, as representatives from Caltrans, Los Angeles County, the Chamber of Commerce and state legislators’ offices stood by to answer questions and listen to concerns.

John Daniels, owner of Hannah’s Cantina, the new restaurant on the former site of Kay & Dave’s, pointed out that a business backed by a large corporation could weather this kind of disaster more easily than the small businesses found throughout Malibu. Daniels urged officials to change the signs that said “Road Closed” at Topanga Canyon Road. “Why can’t you say it’s closed farther up, like at Big Rock?” Daniels said. Jim Lee of Caltrans said he would correct the signs immediately.

Daniels and others also complained that the media had been reporting the road was closed from Topanga to Las Flores and not reporting that local traffic was permitted to travel as far as Big Rock. The business owners asked that press releases be sent out to clarify the facts. They also wanted MTA to know buses coming from Santa Monica could go farther up the road and asked that shuttle service be provided for their employees who live beyond the slide and were dependent on public transportation. “Can we get the buses closer to Las Flores so our employees can get closer to their jobs?” asked Tony Koursaris, owner of Taverna Tony.

The shuttle idea failed to gain momentum. Some said it was not worth the effort since PCH would be open to foot traffic before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m. until Caltrans began its work. After that, the road would be open. “We will definitely open two to three lanes for Fourth of July weekend, barring any new slide,” said Mike Miles of Caltrans. “It seemed that it was going to be open before the MTA could be put on line,” said Mayor Joan House. But it was decided that the buses could be directed to run farther up toward the closure.

The council voted to purchase a $350 sign that would let traffic know that businesses were open as far up as Moonshadows restaurant. “I was very pleased with the cooperation at that meeting.” said House. “I think it was a wonderful example of all agencies sitting down at the table and working together.”

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“This was an extremely productive meeting. Everybody was participatory,” said Mary Lou Blackwood, Chamber of Commerce executive vice president. “The fact is that we were able to get the sign up in less than 24 hours.” With the county’s help, said Blackwood, MTA buses were running all the way up to the barrier by Saturday morning. “The lines of communication are open and it’s much better,” she said. “There’s a tremendous spirit of cooperativeness.”

By Tuesday, geologists for Caltrans and the city had good news for owners of the houses that were red-tagged during the slide. “We agreed that by Thursday morning, they’re going to have enough safety devices in that we’ll be able to pull those red tags off of the houses,” said Building and Safety Official Vic Peterson. Peterson said K-rail barriers, like those that run down the middle of freeways, and Conex boxes, which collect debris, will be put in place to keep rocks and dirt from sliding onto the road. Thursday is also the day city officials hope to reopen two or three lanes on PCH.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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