Showdown on Corral


Several hundred residents of Corral Canyon packed the City Council meeting Monday and won a commitment to place the question of road repairs on the council’s agenda for next month.

Residents were alarmed at a unanimous council vote two weeks ago to build a single lane to replace the winding, two-lane road that collapsed during the El Nino storms of 1998, arguing the city is lawfully obliged to maintain a two-lane road into their community.

The residents protested the council’s failure to give notice of the Sept. 13 vote, but council members stressed that upper reaches of the canyon approaching the entrance to Malibu Creek State Park fall outside the city’s jurisdiction.

Amid repeated council references to property tax dollars going to Los Angeles County, the audience bristled as council members suggested the community should support annexation so that the city would have more funds to deal with such infrastructure problems. Members of the council floated the possibility of a “benefit assessment district,” in which residents would defray the costs of the construction.

The single-lane road with a new alignment off the collapsed slope carries a pricetag of $250,000. A new road off the failed slope would cost $800,000. The cost of replacement of the old road is pegged at $2 million. According to the city, $180,000 has already been spent on blacktop.

Al Whittmore, who described himself as a resident of Corral Canyon since 1987, denounced the Sept. 13 vote and charged that it was taken with no input from the fire department and the sheriff. “At this point, I ask that you take a giant step backward and talk to these people,” he declared.

Bill Brown related to the City Council his experience as one of the few residents who remained in the canyon during a four-day fire in 1996. He said notice of evacuation came only within 20 minutes of the fire’s advance and traffic remained “jammed up” as residents of El Nido sought to navigate their escape to Pacific Coast Highway as fire engines sought to enter the canyon.

Brown lauded heroic efforts on the part of the firefighters — three of whom suffered severe burns. Dubbing Malibu’s single lane a “cheap fix,” he warned the failure to build a two-lane road is a “negligent decision” that will likely provoke a wrongful death suit against the city in the event of another fire.

Beverly Taki, who served as liaison for the newly formed community group, said the downgrading of the road to one-lane violated the city’s own fire code passed in 1991. “We want it on television,” she said. “We want the whole city to know what your position is. We believe that your decision to make Corral Canyon a single-lane road is in violation of existing law.”

In criticizing makeshift repairs, Taki called for consultation with the fire department, the sheriff, the Coastal Commission and the community. “We’d like to be included in the process of decision making,” she said.

Tom Sorce said the road as it currently stands abrogates existing standards. Describing the area as a Zone 4 fire district, he declared, “There will be a killing zone at the proposed realignment.”

Council members asked for an update from Public Works Director Charles Bergson, who said the fire department now calls for a minimum width of 26 feet with no parking on the road. He noted an upcoming meeting on Oct. 5 with the fire marshall of Los Angeles County.

“Your safety is critical to me,” declared Councilwoman Joan House, acknowledging the council “made a mistake” in its Sept. 13 vote. But she added the community should become part of Malibu. “Our budget goes only so far. It’s close to a given we can’t fund the whole road.”

Councilman Tom Hasse also asked the residents to “seriously consider annexation.” He acknowledged the road is treacherous even under the best of circumstances.

Mayor Pro Tem Harry Barovsky compared the situation to a similar incident of road slippage on Rambla Pacifico, within the boundaries of the city. He noted residents have agreed to a “benefit assessment district” to defray the costs.

Mayor Carolyn Van Horn asked the city attorney whether the failure to give notice concerning the prior vote violated proper procedures. With a reply that no notice is mandated for those outside city limits, Van Horn announced road repairs will be on the agenda for Oct. 25. She directed staff to contact the neighborhood leaders.

Councilman Walt Keller cited the advent of the rainy season and suggested some need for speed. He suggested the grading could proceed, while the government bodies decide whether the road will be one lane or two.