Caltrans clears out, beats own deadline

After five months of dirt and drama, the iron curtain is coming down. On Monday, three days ahead of its projected deadline, Caltrans plans to reopen Pacific Coast Highway to four lanes and get Malibu moving again.

Cleaning up a massive landslide at Las Flores Canyon has been an on-going nightmare for residents, businesses, construction crews and law enforcement officials alike. Two homes were demolished, 300,000 cubic yards of dirt were hauled away and the entire hillside was reshaped.

Commuters sat through daily traffic jams that often stretched for miles. The situation proved especially frustrating for business owners. Between summer slides, construction work and the aftermath of El Nino, restaurants and retail stores saw their sales drop. Now, many of them are banding together with the Chamber of Commerce to send a different message — Malibu is back.

They plan to mark the occasion with fun, fanfare and appearances on the evening news. Everyone from celebrities to family pets have been invited to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony, set for 9 a.m. in the parking lot at Duke’s.

Malibu businesses have paid for balloons and streamers, coffee and croissants, as well as hundreds of T-shirts that read, “Welcome to Malibu — the coast is clear.”

The group, which calls itself Destination Malibu, consists of BeauRivage, Casa Malibu, Duke’s Malibu, Fins, Geoffrey’s, The Godmother, Granita, Image Maker Publishing, La Salsa, Malibu Bay Co., Malibu Beach Inn, Malibu Country Inn, The Malibu Times, Marmalade, Moonshadows, Reel Inn and Taverna Tony.

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Despite initial concerns that rain and construction problems could drag the $20-million project into the new year, the work is actually wrapping up two days ahead of schedule. Many locals are expected to turn up for the event, including Wolfgang Puck, David Foster and Kenny G.

According to Granita’s Jannis Swerman, this show of civic pride will demonstrate the need to keep our highways “safe, clear and operable for residents, children and businesses,” and to change Malibu’s disaster prone image into one of “a strong, small-town community working together.”

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