Sheriff promises better access and substation reopening

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From left: Candace Bowen, president of Women in Film, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Malibu Times publisher Arnold G. York and Malibu Chamber CEO Tina Lyn Firestone. Photo by Hans Laetz

The recent closures of main arteries into Malibu prompted a discussion of ID cards, which would allow access during emergencies.

By Hans Laetz / Special to The Malibu Times

Special Malibu ID cards may soon be issued to medical workers, teachers and other public employees needing access into Malibu during emergency road closures. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he would advocate the special IDs after hearing from Malibu leaders at a special “power breakfast” organized for Malibu’s civic organizations and sponsored by the Malibu Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking before a capacity crowd of more than 100 people Friday, the meeting was punctuated by announcements regarding conditions on both Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road. The sheriff noted those developments, but pledged to work with Malibu’s business community to ensure that key employees would be able to gain access into Malibu if road conditions allowed it. Both the highway and canyon road reopened Saturday.

The sheriff also used the meeting to announce a new initiative to reopen the mothballed sheriff’s substation at Civic Center Way, which was closed more than five years ago for budgetary reasons.

After hearing from a local doctor who worried that his clinic might not open because its employees were unable to negotiate through roadblocks, the sheriff said Lost Hills Capt. Tom Martin would meet with business and government leaders to come up with some sort of pass for critical private and public sector employees. City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich asked that teachers be added to this list, given that Malibu children and parents count on the schools being open when planning storm contingencies.

“We need to have a little sit-down, a little powwow to figure out a way to allow critical resources to get into the community during emergencies,” Baca said. “I’m not averse to having an ID that would provide you with access to get to your business.”

The sheriff noted his long-standing policy has been to give patrol deputies in radio cars enough decision-making power to make their own judgments on whom to let pass at a road closure. “I need to give my deputies the authority to let a few doctors to slip by, based on common sense.”

The issuance of such passes would likely not have helped employees last week, as deteriorated safety conditions on both closed roads precluded any traffic at all on the roadways.

As for reopening the substation, the sheriff said he would begin talks with the city council and manager to find the funding. The sheriff provides police services under a contract with the city, and it might cost additional money in order to extend that contract to include reopening the substation. Since the office was closed, Malibu has been patrolled by deputies working out of the Lost Hills Station in Agoura Hills, 10 miles away via Malibu Canyon Road.

That distance was nearly 30 miles with the road closures. “You deserve better,” said the sheriff.

The sheriff estimated that two-thirds of the houses in Malibu were now occupied year-round, a much higher percentage than he estimated a decade ago. “That does present traffic-related issues that we are still struggling with,” Baca said. “You are isolated up here. I don’t doubt that the crime level will remain low in Malibu, heck, you have no crime, but I think the idea of always going across the mountains from Lost Hills is a waste of time.”

(Despite Baca’s comment that Malibu has no crime, recently, a Malibu resident was robbed at gunpoint in front of her home, and The Los Angeles Times in a Dec. 28, 2004 story, reported that Malibu had 50 violent crimes or offenses take place in 2004 as compared to Palos Verdes Estates, which had only one act of serious violence for the entire year. In addition, there are weekly reports of car break-ins, with a rash of 41 taking place the beginning of 2004. Recent burglaries and attempted burglaries have taken place at local businesses as well.)

Baca pledged to work with the Chamber of Commerce and City Council “because I respect the local control you have on this. But it is appropriate for us to start the planning process for that eventual reopening.

“You deserve this,” he said to a loud round of applause from the civic leaders in attendance at the Friday morning power breakfast. Organized by the Chamber of Commerce, the event was attended by members of longstanding service groups as the Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary and Optimist clubs, and the Trancas Riders and Ropers.