Dispute over Gorge Road comes to a head

A traffic collision highlights an ongoing battle over use of the road.

By Erica Andrews / Special to The Malibu Times

A collision between two trucks on Las Flores Canyon Road near Gorge Road several weeks ago highlighted an ongoing private versus public road battle between area residents. After the collision, CHP officers directed traffic on a detour from Piuma Road to Las Virgenes Road, instead of letting motorists take the quicker route of Gorge Road. They told the motorists that Gorge Road is considered a private road. However, research through county records and state legislation revealed that Gorge Road is a public thoroughfare.

According to multiple accounts given by Malibu residents, dating back as far as 2005 in The Malibu Times archives, Gorge Road homeowners have used intimidation and private signs they put up to deter people from using the road.

Elizabeth Rafeedie, a 10-year Malibu resident, described a situation she experienced while trying to drive through Gorge Road with her children.

“I specifically had an encounter with one of the female residents who literally drove her vehicle down in front of me and cut me off,” she said. “I told her she needed to move out of the way and she then pretended that she was stuck. She tried to inch her way little by little until she finally moved up, so I just stepped on the gas and got out of there since my kids were getting scared and because she had a big dog in her car that was barking at us through an open window.”

CHP Public Information Officer Leland Tang, when he heard about Rafeedie’s account, said, “You cannot block any type of road with an outlet, whether it’s public or private, period,” he said. “The Highway Patrol will go in there under the authority of the State Fire Marshall and the Los Angeles County Fire Chief and tow that car.”

The confusion about the status of the road is partly because Gorge Road was never officially accepted into the county highway system, according to Los Angeles County Department Public Works documentation. In 1955, the state Legislature amended the California Streets and Highways Code to require that a county must formally accept a road into the county’s systems of highways in order for it to be maintained by that county.

However, prior to 1955, the appellate courts held that a road could become a county highway without formal acceptance if certain conditions were met, such as public use of the road and county maintenance.

Gorge Road was built under Los Angeles county direction before 1955, and the public has continued to use the road and the county has continued to maintain it since then. In fact, the county Public Works Department replaced a bridge on Gorge Road when it was damaged in the 1993 fires. John Kelly, assistant director of Public Works, said this preservation of the road by the county makes it a public accessible road.

“Under today’s laws it wouldn’t be considered a public road, but going back to the old laws when we maintained it, it’s kind of grandfathered in,” he said.

Kelly warned, however, that the road is not practical to use as an alternate route when an accident occurs because it is narrow and a one-way street. He said he believes it is only appropriate if one has business to be there or if an ambulance or fire truck needs to use it in cases of emergency.

Whether Gorge Road is used as an alternate route when an accident occurs, Rafeedie said she would just like to be able to drive the road in peace. She said she feels that local officials have not done a sufficient job in enforcing her and other residents’ right to do so.

“If you’re going to permit them to own the road exclusively, then don’t spend our public money to repair it,” she said. “Right now they have a public road that nobody uses that essentially operates like a private road, which I’m not opposed to. But don’t block it off for us to use.”

Regarding the signs indicating that Gorge Road is a private road, Kelly said if residents have them posted on their private property and not on any part of the public road or property, then not much can be done about them. Enforcement of illegally place signs is difficult as well, Kelly said, as the residents just put them back up after they’ve been taken down.

Public Works is currently working with the county and talking with the county supervisor’s office in order to figure out what the best solution is for the future of Gorge Road.

Anyone with concerns or questions about this issue can e-mail officer Tang at ltang@chp.ca.gov

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

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