Guest Column: Deconstructing the Construction

Letter to the Editor

I’ve received a number of calls complaining about the traffic impacts from the construction projects on PCH, so I thought I would take a closer look.

The crosswalk being put in east of the pier and the new Cross Creek and Webb Way construction projects are designed and paid for by commercial property owners. These commercial property owners, on their own, went to Caltrans to obtain a construction permit. What was the city’s role in this process?

The safety of Malibu residents should be job No. 1, so I asked to see the written review Malibu city staff prepared for each of these PCH construction projects. I was looking for suggestions of mitigation measures that reduced construction impacts and  ensured that there were no safety concerns. After some back and forth, I was shocked to discover that there was absolutely no written evidence that the city had completed any review. 

I pushed further and was even more surprised to have our city manager tell me that city staff did not review these project plans because the city’s policy is to not review PCH construction projects controlled by developers. Let me repeat that.

The PCH construction projects you’re sitting in every day were not reviewed by our Public Safety Commission, our Public Works Commission, our Public Works Department, by the Planning Commission or the City Council. Nobody looked, because Malibu’s policy is … not to look.

If the city staff had done a final review, would it have made a difference? Possibly. 

Let’s start with the crosswalk. For a crosswalk to be approved by Caltrans, the applicant needs to provide evidence that there are at least 20 people per hour jaywalking within 300 feet of the proposed crosswalk location. The PCH crosswalk study submitted to Caltrans identified only nine jaywalkers per hour. Despite failing to meet the 20 jaywalkers-per-hour threshold, and absent city comments, Caltrans erroneously approved the crosswalk. 

Malibu’s PCH Safety Study concluded that crosswalks can serve to make PCH safer, protecting pedestrians. But nowhere in the PCH Safety Study and nowhere in city files does it suggest that a crosswalk at this location is a meaningful solution to improving PCH safety. A review by city staff may have positioned the crosswalk in a location that provided the greatest safety benefits.

A review of Cross Creek and Webb Way might have resulted in a requirement for on-site traffic managers to deal with traffic tie-ups at intersections and more scheduling of work at night. City staff might have recommended better timing of the temporary stoplights or limiting construction on PCH to three projects instead of five. A review could have insured that all of these items were in place before we began construction, significantly reducing the traffic jams, missed meetings and construction fatigue we are all feeling.

Now, to be fair to the city management, they explained how difficult it is to get this job done. These were not city projects, outside agencies may not listen to us and there are a lot of other things going on in the city. I was touched by this argument until I realized that the public works director and his assistant are making over $400,000 per year and our city manager and her assistant are paid over $500,000 per year. That is close to a million dollars in salary and benefits. For that kind of money, I believe we deserve a better answer than, “we cannot get the job done.”

So, if you are happy spending every day sitting in traffic, singing along to the songs on your car’s radio, you should ignore everything I just said.

If, like me, you think you deserve better, I suggest you call, email or visit your city representatives. Tell them that you want them to review and comment on all PCH projects that impact Malibu residents. In short, tell them to do their jobs. 

Steve Uhring