County Mulls Relaxing Strict Rebuild Regulation

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Los Angeles Waterworks

Within days of the Woolsey Fire’s devastating sweep across Malibu last November, developers raised concerns over whether fire department rules could prohibit rebuilds in certain Malibu neighborhoods. One key issue was water availability—maintaining adequate flow rates to homes from tanks located nearby. Because many neighborhoods in Malibu relied on tanks that provided less than the new LA County minimum water flow (1,250 gallons per minute for two hours), many property owners were struggling to figure out how, if at all, they could rebuild.

The scuttlebutt among Malibu’s “burn-outs” has been good news this week: County officials reportedly had agreed to relax strict regulations over water flow minimums at Malibu’s burned-out properties. If this were so, it would mean some dozens (or more) property owners would have a significantly simpler time rebuilding similar homes to the ones they lost in the November Woolsey Fire. 

But county and local officials said they are still negotiating exactly how such regulations may be lessened.

“Our office is working with Waterworks 29 and the county fire department to determine what the water flow requirements should be. We are confident that the standard we agree on will allow rebuilding. And our intention is to make like-for-like rebuilding possible,” LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement provided by her office Tuesday.

Put another way: “There’s a lot of things being discussed but nothing’s been determined yet,” City of Malibu Environmental Sustainability Director Craig George said when reached on the phone Tuesday. George said the city had been working with county departments to come up with a solution. “We’re hopeful, but there’s nothing definitive yet.”

According to local Realtor Paul Grisanti, the change would affect burned properties on Point Dume, Kanan, Cavalleri and in large parts of Malibu Park.

“The revision that’s being discussed now is a result of efforts from Sheila Kuehl’s office to meet with District 29 and meet with the fire department and try to figure out a way to allow people to rebuild their homes, while they are scrambling to upgrade the water system,” Grisanti said. “The solution they have arrived at is to allow people to rebuild by using the statewide fireflow standard, which is still in effect statewide, of 500 gallons a minute for one hour. If you multiply that out, that only requires a 30,000 gallon tank to deliver that.”

Because water tanks are built of concrete or welded steel, they did not burn in the fire, and are able to be used once again—but most of them fit standards that became outdated with the new fireflow standards adopted nearly a decade ago. 

Unfortunately, according to Grisanti, residents in the La Chusa Highlands area would not benefit from any changes, because the current system in that neighborhood would not support even the statewide fireflow minimums.

“The Encinal people—the people on La Chusa Highlands—are unfortunately only served by a four-inch water main, and some of them as small as three inch,” Grisanti explained. “There’s simply no way to flow anywhere near that [rate] through those pipes.”

For those residents, the entire water main will have to be replaced in order for rebuilds to begin, Grisanti said.