Watching summer slip away


    If you sit on the back patio of Duke’s Restaurant, you can eat lunch with your bare feet in the sand and watch the bulldozers on top of the hill at Las Flores Mesa slowly carving away the hillside. After a while, it’s hypnotic. I simply couldn’t stop watching. I wasn’t alone. The parking lot was filled with other hill watchers and the usual harbingers of Malibu disasters, the ubiquitous TV trucks waiting for some drama to happen. Occasionally, a large rock would come down and the crowd would “ooh” in appreciation. Mostly people just sat silently and watched.

    People may bitch that the fix is going to take so long — 120 days at the most recent estimate. Once you watch the bulldozer working, however, you get a sense that it doesn’t really matter what Caltrans and the City Council say. In the final analysis, it’s the guy in the bulldozer seat, pushing the earth and the rocks to the edge and down the hill who’ll ultimately decide how long this fix is going to take. It’s slow, precise and dangerous work. Push too far and he’s over the edge, tumbling down the long drop along with the rocks and dirt. Don’t push far enough and the job could take six months instead of 120 days.

    Meanwhile, all that most of us can do is wait and try to make do, which isn’t easy.

    For those of you who haven’t tried it yet, there is a tortuous route into Santa Monica. Take Las Flores Canyon up to Rambla Pacifico, then a right turn onto Schueren Road, which turns into Saddle Peak Road and then Fernwood Pacific Drive, which leads into Topanga Canyon. Altogether it takes about 30 minutes and is a beautifully scenic drive, with Valley vistas, greenery and running streams, but be prepared for dozens of hairpin turns. If you’re prone to seasickness or have fear of heights, I wouldn’t recommend it. I haven’t yet tried it at night, and I suspect it is quite an experience. Your other alternative is to come through one of the canyons via the 101, which I understand has been a mini-disaster since PCH closed. Caltrans said it’s hoping to get at least one lane each way of PCH open within five working days, which puts it into the early part of next week — if we’re lucky.

    This is not an easy town to live in. In the last few years, we’ve had devastating fires, mudslides, flooding, numerous hillside slides, El Nino battering the beaches, retaining walls collapsing, roads sinking and just about everything but locusts and the waters turning into blood. It takes deep personal reserves, deep cash reserves and a nearly irrational sense of optimism to keep your sanity.

    The next four months are going to be especially tough on all of us. Local businesses, for whom the summer is the big season, are going to be hanging by a thread. Some are going to fold. The pressures on our city, its budget, the council and city officials are going to be staggering.

    There are a few things we can do. For one, we can all patronize our local businesses and our local restaurants because without us they’re not going to survive.

    For another, the city needs to organize a quick-response team, with a duty officer for the day, so that when things happen after hours or on weekends there is an emergency number and an individual with authority who can respond.

    We need to work out, ASAP, an arrangement with Caltrans and the sheriff for emergency traffic response, so when a light goes out or blinks red or there is an accident, there is someone there to direct traffic. We also want cones in the roadway at times of bottlenecks. It’s insane to sit there in traffic and have the middle lane empty.

    It’s going to take some doing and some dollars. If we want those things, we have to be prepared to pay for it with extra budget. But Caltrans and the sheriff have to shift their paradigm and give the highest priority to keep the traffic moving.

    Even with all of these things, we’re in for a tough summer. If we are going to survive with a functioning tax base and insanity intact, we’re going to have to cut each other a little slack and definitely find a way to make fewer trips into town.