Netanyahu Closures Infuriate Malibu Residents, Officials

While Hollywood royalty rubbed elbows with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Malibu’s “Billionaire’s Beach” last Wednesday night, traffic outside of the beachfront home along Pacific Coast Highway was an unforeseen fiasco. 

The highway mess left city officials and residents outraged at federal authorities for blocking eastbound two lanes of PCH more than nine hours. All cars headed eastbound in the 22400 block of PCH on Carbon Beach were diverted to a single median lane. 

“This was just unconscionable that this kind of thing was done at rush hour on PCH and shutting down two lanes,” Councilman John Sibert said Monday. He and several other council members said they received numerous phone calls and emails complaining about the lack of public awareness. 

Netanyahu was in Malibu to attend a private party at the home of accomplished film producer Arnon Milchan. Photos posted on Netanyahu’s Facebook page show the leader and his wife Sara socializing with Barbra Streisand, Keanu Reeves, James Caan, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Hudson at the event. Milchan, a former Israeli spy in the 1980s, has produced successful films like “Fight Club,” “Pretty Woman” and “LA Confidential.” 

The only public notice issued before Netanyahu paid a visit to Malibu came in the 48 hours leading up to his motorcade when the Secret Service said to expect “rolling closures” along Pacific Coast Highway from the 10 freeway to Malibu Canyon Road between 6:30 and 11 p.m. on Wednesday. 

City Manager Jim Thorsen said he worked closely with the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff ’s Department on an initial traffic plan laid out by the Secret Service and California Highway Patrol and that the lane blockages were not originally on the agenda. Netanyahu arrived in Malibu much earlier than originally planned and lane blockages began as early as 2 p.m. It was Thorsen’s understanding that Netanyahu’s motorcade would make a U-turn in front of the Carbon Beach home and temporarily block PCH, but nothing more. 

“Somewhere along [on Wednesday]…somebody made a decision, whether that was the Secret Service or Israelis or whoever, decided they needed to block two lanes of traffic,” Thorsen told The Malibu Times. “They went to a new plan which we weren’t aware of, local sheriffs wasn’t aware of.” 

Federal authorities set up a post with bomb-sniffing dogs to inspect large vans and trucks, and event tents were seen being set up on PCH in front of Milchan’s residence. Secret Service Special Agent Joe Beaty, who works in the Los Angeles field office, said the lane blockages were planned beforehand. 

“I’m not going to give you a time frame but it wasn’t planned at the last minute,” Beaty told The Malibu Times

California Highway Patrol spokesperson Leland Tang said four of his officers assisted at the Carbon Canyon closures but the CHP was not the decision-maker. 

“It was all Secret Service,” Tang said. 

According to Beaty, federal authorities try to interfere as little as possible with everyday flow, but when figures like Netanyahu are in town, safety is of highest priority. 

“We try to make as little a footprint on a community as possible,” Beaty said. “…Unfortunately, you’re talking about the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s probably not the most ideal place, but we have to work with what we have.” 

The Secret Service is required to protect all heads of state visiting the U.S., he added. 

Still, some questioned why the government went to such lengths to escort Netanyahu to a private, high-profile event. 

“I don’t know of a bigger person in this world who has a bigger bull’s-eye than [Netanyahu] does,” Mayor Joan House said Monday. “But, to me, I looked at it like a vanity party. This party could have been held in a community that had more than one major road.” 

Big Rock resident Jo Drummond was among those who sat in the gridlock. It took her nearly 90 minutes to drive from Westward Beach to Big Rock on a detour route that led her up through Pepperdine and back down through Piuma Road. She said some of her friends spent two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

“Really? Delay all the commuters, parents, shoppers, tourists, students and kids participating in sports and activities…for a special guest at a party?” Drummond wrote to The Malibu Times. “It would have been extremely helpful if there was a message board on the PCH indicating that there would be delays prior to the event so we could all plan accordingly.” 

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

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