NEWS UPDATE—Civic Center Way reopened

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After public outcry and traffic snarls, the City Council votes in a special meeting to cut short an experiment that blocked thru traffic on Civic Center Way to Malibu Canyon Road.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to the Malibu Times

To the applause of the large crowd in attendance, the City Council voted Wednesday to reopen Civic Center Way, bringing an end to what was supposed to be a six-month test project after just four weeks. But the councilmembers stressed that something still needs to be done about the perceived problem of Civic Center Way being forced to handle too much traffic, with much of it being speeding cars going to and from Malibu Canyon Road. The council proposed the creation of a committee to study the situation and look for answers.

“This may not be the solution (closing Civic Center Way) … but we’ve got to solve the problem,” Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky said. “Somebody is going to get killed up there. And then how are you going to feel.”

Barricades were placed on Aug. 7 to block through traffic on Civic Center Way. Since then, the city has been bombarded with e-mail and telephone complaints that shutting down access on Civic Center Way has caused delays on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Malibu Canyon Road.

Barovsky said she was entirely to blame for the project. She said she thought of the idea after one day trying to exit the condo complex on Civic Center Way.

“It took me 12 minutes to pull out onto Civic Center Way, and it scared me to death,” she said, adding that trying to drive out of Malibu Knolls was “breathtakingly dangerous.”

Although the meeting ended with cheers, it began with tension and anger. When Acting City Engineer Claudio Sanchez said the city staff has been monitoring the traffic and had not seen any significant impacts except for those associated with traffic signals and other reasons, the crowd booed. In response, Mayor Ken Kearsley slammed his gavel on the table, and Barovsky said that people were being rude to a staff that works hard.

“Yeah right,” one woman yelled in response.

People also interrupted City Maintenance Manager Richard Calvin with laughter when he said the Fire Department would be provided with a key to unlock the gated access road next to the barricades, causing Councilmember Joan House to come to his defense.

Representatives from the fire and sheriff’s departments spoke to the council. They both expressed concern about how the closure lengthens response time in the area. Also, several residents spoke during public comment, most of them favoring the road being reopened.

“You removed a perfectly good road,” said Chris Frost, who had led a citizen’s campaign to end the closure. “It’s a main artery into our business district. Residents as well as people who work in the Civic Center are affected by this closure. It’s made a lot us spend more time in traffic than we have had to before.”

With the first day of school occurring on the same day as the meeting, city staff spoke about how the two schools located in the area were affected. City Manager Katie Lichtig said traffic was gridlocked in the morning, blaming much of it on parents bringing their children to school, who parked in different places around the barricades. She said the havoc might have been only due to the fact that it was the first day.

“This morning it was a mess,” said Calvin, although he said the situation was fine in the afternoon. “There was no other word to put it. People were parking in places they ought not to park. They weren’t using good common sense.”

City staff and some of the councilmembers said it was unfair to blame the traffic crisis on the road closure alone. Lichtig said there were three major mechanical problems following the insertion of new computer chips into a variety of signals along PCH, and there were major traffic accidents in the area. Councilmember Jeff Jennings added that the closure still would have caused delays, but added that the incidents didn’t help.

The councilmembers said they hoped everybody who complained about the closure would volunteer to be on the newly created committee. Frost shouted from the audience that he would. During the course of the meeting several people offered possible solutions including prohibiting traffic only during school drop-off and pick-up hours, and the installation of a traffic light at Civic Center Way and Malibu Canyon Road.

Calvin said Civic Center Way must be restriped and then the barricades can be removed. He said that would be done by Fri, Sept. 12, at the latest.