Debris Removal Program Is Tough Call for Some Fire Victims

This chart provided by the City of Malibu describes the number of homes damaged or destroyed by the Woolsey Fire, as of Monday, Feb. 11.

Anyone who may still be considering working around the Consolidated Debris Removal Program from CalRecycle—by calling for work to be halted before foundations are razed—is being cautioned that asking for debris removal to stop prior to the completion of clearance will come at a hefty price.

“If property owners stop crews prior to completion of debris removal, they will be responsible for all costs incurred up to that point,” according to Lance Klug, a spokesperson for the program.

Fire victims have two choices: opt in to the CalRecycle Consolidated Debris Removal Program and have foundations removed, or opt out and hire a private contractor.


With just days to go before the deadline to opt in or out of the Woolsey Fire debris removal program, burned-out homeowners must decide whether to go through the state- and county-sponsored Fire Debris Removal Program, pay for it privately or face penalties. Feb. 15 is the deadline. Of the 700 or so burned-out properties in Malibu, roughly 80 households had still not filed paperwork stating how their destroyed properties will be cleared of waste, as of Monday, Feb. 11.

“We’re trying hard to reach out to make folks aware that there’s a limited time to do this,” City of Malibu Environmental Sustainability Director Craig George said. “If a property fails after March 15 to remove the debris legally, then they would be subject to summary abatement, which means that either the county or the city would come in and clear the debris and that cost would be transferred on to the property owner through a lien on the property.”

George also touched on the reasons property owners should consider the government program—called CalRecycle.

“I think the state option is a really good program,” the director said. “This is, unfortunately, the 21st fire that CalRecycle has responded to, so they’ve got it down pretty good on how to do this. They do the asbestos abatement, removal and certification. They do the soil testing. They remove everything.

“The only down side to this is they also remove the foundation,” George pointed out. “For people who want to try and keep their foundations, then that’s not the program to use, but it is a difficult proposition. Most structure fires do significant damage to foundations. They’d have to do a testing program to verify that the foundation could be kept. It’s really a decision with the structural engineer, the architect and the homeowner that needs to be made as to the viability and can that foundation meet current code if they elect to try and keep it.”

Assistant Deputy Director of Los Angeles County Public Works Coby Skye made it clear that foundation removal was a non-negotiable aspect of the CalRecycle program. 

“For folks opting in, generally speaking, their foundations will be removed. Slabs and footings are removed for two very important reasons. One is when a fire hits 800-1,000 degrees, the composition of the concrete changes in a way that removes its structural rigidity.  It also affects rebar and the metal components reinforcing that concrete. The foundation of your home is too important to take chances that it won’t hold up in an earthquake or other incident. The other reason is that when a structure is damaged, an ash is created that could have heavy metals or hazardous materials in it and accumulate around the foundation. We allow property owners to be at the site, but they must be outside of an exclusion zone for safety.”

Homeowners who want to try to save their foundations often opt for the private route, although that can be costly, with quotes ranging up to six figures.

As of Thursday, Feb. 7, Malibu Mayor and fire victim Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner said he was opting in, though his plan for foundation inspection was not one encouraged by county officials.

Wagner said he chose to opt in “because I knew it would be completed to county and state requirements and with the understanding I could be there with the debris removal team on the day, to remind them not to damage my grade beams and caissons. Then, I could have an evaluation done. You will have a certification it was done correctly by qualified resources if you opt in.” Wagner said he was going to try and save his foundation by staying on site. 

“Many of us hillside hillbilly Malibuites will opt in and then at the last second, when it comes to the foundation, leave it alone,” Wagner said. “Have paperwork saying I wish my foundation and caissons to remain for further analysis. It may cost you out of pocket. Just stand there and say you’re done. That’s it. Then you have to get that tested to see if your concrete still has value, as far as earthquake rigidity and future weight loading rigidity.”

During the Monday, Feb. 11, Malibu City Council meeting, Council Member Rick Mullen asked for clarity on the foundation removal policy.

“That’s the one opportunity to save their foundation, if it’s saveable, is the opt out program,” George clarified.

“So, if you opt in, foundation goes?” Mullen asked.

George indicated that was correct.

To opt in to the government-sponsored program, a Right of Entry form must be completed. The form can be accessed in the following ways: Online at; by phone at 626.979.5370; in person at Malibu City Hall or the Debris Removal Operation Center (DROC) located at 26610 Agoura Road in Calabasas between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Saturday. Property owners opting out of the no-cost government-sponsored Fire Debris Removal Program must fill out the opt-out forms. Residents who select this option can visit the Recover and Rebuild One-Stop Center, Monday through Thursday, between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at 26600 Agoura Road in Calabasas.