Rebuild Process Ramps Up

City of Malibu Environmental Sustainability Manager Andrew Sheldon (left) and Planning Director Bonnie Blue

The Malibu Planning Department is emphasizing the streamlined approval process now in place for fire rebuilds. 

Currently, most temporary housing permits and administrative planning verifications (for rebuilding an in-kind house or 10 percent larger in terms of square feet than the one that burned down) are being approved the same day they are requested. Accessory structures destroyed by fire can also be expanded by 10 percent each.

Reminders of other streamlined rules are: Up to two temporary housing structures with a combined maximum of 1,200 square feet can be approved; the removal of damaged, protected native trees can take place without violating the city tree ordinance (part of the LCP); and the process to replace a septic system or access road will not require a coastal development permit—if not in an environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA) or appeal zone.

The fastest city approval is for replacing houses and landscaping the same size and location as before the fire, or up to 10 percent larger. A proposed house that’s more than 10 percent larger requires additional time and approvals, as does a roof height above 18 feet or reduced setbacks.

Last week, the City of Malibu held two workshops to review the process for rebuilding after the Woolsey Fire—one for contractors and one for property owners. 

The property owners’ event was well-attended, covered rebuilding a house as well as how to get permits for temporary housing and accessory dwelling units, audience Q&A and public counter hours.

The expert panel included representatives of city planning, environmental sustainability, biology, geology, public works (for drainage issues), building safety, environmental health (for septic systems) and county fire; all of them have a say in the approval process of whether a home gets built in Malibu. In addition, LA County Water District 29 and Southern California Edison were present.

As most property owners already know after the fire, complete debris clearance is required, along with soil testing and erosion control, before any building permits can be issued. Debris clearance services are still available from the county or privately.

When it comes to restoring power, the city said it will usually allow it before the house is rebuilt, but they will ask why it would be needed. Power restoration involves putting in a new meter and getting a building safety permit, and Southern California Edison needs to approve where the service panel is located for the property. For safety reasons, the city is not allowing temporary power poles.

Temporary housing requires a building safety permit, which requires a site plan showing where the housing will be in relation to the septic system, a plan for utility hook-ups and an inspection.

Various requirements need to be met as the building process begins:

-A building plan check is required for rebuilding the main house, which involves a building safety review of foundation reuse feasibility, architecture, structural integrity, grading and drainage. 

-The environmental health department looks at the septic system capacity and condition in relation to the floor plan and number of plumbing fixtures proposed for the house. 

-Geology is responsible for reviewing the reuse and/or repair of an existing foundation. New foundations require a geotechnical report. Building plans are also reviewed by planning, biology and public works.

-The fire department reminded people that a house over 3,600 square feet has higher water flow requirements.

The environmental sustainability department encouraged property owners to attend an upcoming series of three Rebuilding Resilience Workshops being sponsored by the city to learn about fireproof building materials, green architecture and engineering, and building a home to withstand earthquakes and climate change. For more info and to RSVP, visit 

Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner’s closing remarks were, “It was wonderful to see a full house. I learned some things for my own rebuild, and I found it very valuable to come and attend this.”

Any fire rebuild property owner’s first stop at city hall should be to the fire rebuild desk, open Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They can answer questions about what to do and where to go. Usually, the first step is to find out how many square feet can be rebuilt, based on city and county records; the city makes public records requests for residents.

Other recommended first actions include getting a septic system inspection by one of the city’s approved inspectors to see whether a new or repaired septic system is needed. Another important stop is the county fire department desk to talk about water flow requirements and driveway width.

The city’s Malibu Rebuilds website is an information resource; the video of this workshop is at: