Back on Sept. 20, the Planning Commission approved, 3-2, a coastal development permit for road widening, additional parking and other safety improvements on the two-lane Westward Beach Road in the vicinity of The Sunset Restaurant. The area currently has no sidewalks or bike lanes and is frequently jam-packed in the summer with vehicles cruising endlessly up and down, waiting for one of the free parking spaces to open up.
The approved multimillion-dollar project had been in the planning stages since 2017 and includes widening the existing public right-of-way and installing a 12-foot-wide, 1,200-foot-long sidewalk/bicycle path with decorative concrete sand barrier (similar to the one along Zuma Beach), a bicycle connection from PCH to Westward Beach, a new lifeguard access driveway, a bicycle rack and diagonal parking for a distance of approximately 1,500 linear feet along Westward Beach Road between Zuma Beach Access Road and Birdview Avenue.
Nearly a month after the planning approval, longtime local resident Andrew Ferguson started taking a closer look at the project and the engineering drawings and grew alarmed at what he saw: a major project that included some numerical inconsistencies. Now, Ferguson is working with the city to find a way to complete the project without paving over an already dwindling area of sandy beach.
“These improvements are expected to … promote a safer environment for beachgoers and nearby residents, as well as increase accessibility by providing more parking spaces,” the city staff report for the Sept. 20 meeting stated.
The additional space for parking is mostly within the city’s public right-of-way, but also partly on land owned by the LA County Department of Beaches & Harbors. The existing parallel parking on the land side of Westward Beach Road will remain. The project would result in a total of 129 parking spaces, including 17 handicapped spaces. The planning department was unable to say exactly how many additional parking spaces would be created, because the sandy area is currently unmarked. But unofficial estimates count a net gain of 20 to 30 spaces.
The anticipated construction time is October 2021 until June 2022, with no construction allowed during summer months.
The 2021–22 city budget allocates $3,845,000 for “Westward Beach Road Improvements.” More than 90 percent of the project will be funded by LA County Measure M, with the balance coming out of the general fund. The project is part of the public works department’s five-year capital improvement plan for 2019-24.
The bike path and bicycle connection to PCH qualify as “transportation improvements” necessary for Measure M funding of the project.
The Westward Beach project had been quietly but publicly proceeding through approval processes for the past four-and-a-half years with no objections from the public. On Nov. 25, 2019, city council amended its land use plan to limit the construction of new facilities on sandy public beaches to those that would “enhance public recreation activities.” On March 13, 2020, the amendment was certified by the California Coastal Commission.
Although part of Westward Beach Road just beyond Sunset Restaurant collapsed on Aug. 20, 2021, the city stated that the project would not be affected by the road repair.
“The LA County Department of Beaches & Harbors is working on finding a long-term solution to protect the road from future storm surges,” the city wrote.
When this project was initially reviewed by the planning commission in September 2020, former head of the planning department Bonnie Blue said it would encroach on the sand about 10 feet—but Ferguson realized that number was an error. He was right: it turns out Blue got the number wrong, but a lot of commissioners went by what she said.
Ferguson posted diagrams and photos online, raising the alarm that the project was actually much more extensive than originally stated, encroaching on the sand anywhere from 32 to 36 feet.
“I thought everyone should be aware that the … Westward Beach Parking Project will pave over 24,000 square feet of sandy beach along Westward Beach Road,” Ferguson posted on social media. “The project will be 1,500 feet long and will extend 32 to 36 feet toward the ocean. There will be a wall that will run most of the length of the project.”
At last month’s meeting, Planning Commissioners Kraig Hill and John Mazza asked why the project didn’t take sea level rise into account or conduct a “wave uprush study.” Malibu Director of Public Works Rob DuBoux as well as the planning department explained that neither of these was required for a project that didn’t include any inhabitable structures.
In addition, DuBoux said the project couldn’t be undermined by “wave uprush” like the part of the road that collapsed, because it’s not on a raised bed and doesn’t have the same geology.
Hill and Mazza made up the two dissenting votes on Sept. 20; planning commissioners Jeff Jennings, David Weil and Dennis Smith voted in favor.
Last Thursday, Ferguson met on the beach with DuBoux and Public Works Commissioners Brian Merrick and Scott Dittrich to measure the beach and take a closer look.
The group confirmed that Ferguson’s latest diagram was correct, and that the city’s current design had the eastern end almost touching the high tide line. They decided to remove the protruding section across from The Sunset Restaurant and reduce the sidewalk/bike path width from 12 to 8 feet.
“A wall, a sidewalk and 29 additional parking spaces don’t provide enough public benefit to outweigh the losses of paving over an enormous area of an already dwindling sandy beach,” Ferguson wrote.
In a phone interview, he said he was also concerned about the new county-installed 660-foot-long emergency rock revetment on the collapsed portion of Westward, which he says will precipitate additional sand loss in an area that has already experienced recent significant sand loss.