Yesss! The Coast is Clear

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With fanfare worthy of the Fourth of July and media attention usually reserved for the likes of Monica Lewinsky, Pacific Coast Highway officially reopened to four lanes of traffic Monday. Caltrans officials were congratulated for completing their $20 million slope repair project not only on time but early. For Malibu, it was reason to celebrate. Family pets, toddlers and politicans packed the pavement at Duke’s Malibu for a homespun ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Malibu High School Jazz Band played “Pick Up the Pieces,” and bouncy cheerleaders showed off their best Laker Girl moves. “The road is jamming, the band’s kicking. This is great,” said Duke’s bartender Chris Burton. “Everyone wanted to get this road open. It’s better than a Christmas present.”

Duke’s General Manager Paul Spooner went around shaking hands and slapping backs like a proud pappa. For the first time in five months, he was making the evening news because his parking was full instead of empty. “They plugged us, like, five times on KTLA and so did Mark and Brian,” said Assistant Manager Amanda Rose. “They said, ‘Go down to Duke’s.'”

Almost every business in Malibu was affected by the slide. Some barely managed to stay open, others closed their doors. Granita owner Barbara Lazaroff described the loss as devastating. “It was like having open heart surgery,” she sighed. “Now it’s over. We can take a deep breath and heal.”

Lazaroff, wife and business partner of famed restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, who donates food, time and money for a host of local events and fund-raisers, stressed the need for understanding and cooperation. “The people who have businesses here support the tax base. They support the schools,” she said. The famed restaurateur urged the local community to make visitors feel welcome instead of discouraged. “The people who come here from Beverly Hills or the Valley or the Palisades are not tourists — they are our neighbors,” she said. “This exclusive attitude doesn’t benefit anyone.”

Granita was one of a handful of local businesses that pitched in to pay for the event. Calling itself Destination Malibu, the group gave away coffee, croissants, bagels and cream cheese, and helped pay for 500 T-shirts bearing the words, “Welcome to Malibu — The Coast is Clear.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, Assembly Speaker ProTem Sheila Kuehl and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who received a flood of complaints during the road closure, helped fast-track the project. They all thanked Caltrans for a job well done and businesses for their patience. “There’s nothing we can do to make up for the loss,” Yaroslavsky told the gathering, “but we do have a safer stretch of road.” When entering his first term, Yaroslavsky was told that Malibu represents about 1 percent of his district and would take up 40 percent of his time. “Actually,” he conceded, “it’s been more like 60 percent.”

With the road open, he’ll have one less thing to worry about. Caltrans has yet to build a retaining wall at the bottom of the slope and complete road repair up above. The hillside is still subject to some erosion, but Chief Deputy Robert Sassaman said there are no major concerns. “By the time the heavy rains come, we’ll have it seeded,” he said.

After a brief ceremony, Mayor Joan House took out her golden scissors and snipped away. The news crews broke down their gear and business people broke out in high-fives. Another disaster had been overcome. The show of community spirit and civic pride was a success even if some people were unable to attend. “My friend couldn’t make it,” wisecracked former City Councilman John Harlow. “I said, ‘Don’t worry — there’ll be another one.'”