Erosion seen on Pacific Coast Highway embankment

Contributed photo.

A 30-year Malibu resident is alerting Caltrans and county officials about beach erosion that could eventually undermine part of Pacific Coast Highway. 

Dr. Bryan Ney frequently walks to the beach just west of Coastline Drive. A few years back, he noticed erosion just below the road’s shoulder where it meets the shore. At one time, he even noticed yellow tape at the edge of PCH near an embankment that he could only imagine came from an official agency, aware of the problem and addressing it. “If somebody stands on it (the embankment) and it happens to fall, they’re going to tumble down about eight feet.” Ney worries someone could get injured. But Ney says, “The bigger issue, and eventually, it could be this year, is it could wash out the shoulder and fall on the beach.” Ney says he often sees ten-foot waves crashing in the area and speculates the wave action is contributing to the deteriorating condition of the embankment.

A concerned Ney reached out to at least four government agencies, including Caltrans, that emailed in 2021 that the agency was “diligently working with other impacted agencies and is aware of the situation.” A separate Caltrans email stated they would forward his concerns to a geologist. In August 2022, he received an email from the agency saying his ticket had been closed. But, Ney, who frequents the area near his Sunset Mesa neighborhood, says he witnesses the imminent danger worsening. “I know the area between the McClure Tunnel and Point Mugu fairly well, and I know no place else where wave action comes within three feet of PCH without a revetment. Here there’s nothing. There’s just soil that’s being eroded. And the oceans continue to rise with climate change.”  

“Everybody who lives in Malibu has to pass this area, so if it gets eroded, and they have to repair it and block a lane, that will be very disruptive to traffic and be way more expensive than doing something preventive,” Ney worried.

The Malibu Times contacted Caltrans and received a response from Public Information Officer Marc Bischoff, who wrote: “The only area that currently has damage is on the portion of shoreline that is under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Department and of Beaches and Harbors. They have been notified. Since no current repairs are required on Caltrans’ right of way, the Maintenance ticket was closed. However, our Maintenance Division continues to consistently monitor the shoulder of State Route 1 (PCH) along that stretch of roadway.” Bischoff also wrote that Caltrans did not put up yellow warning tape on the shoulder to keep people away.

Nicole Mooradian is the public information officer of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, who told The Malibu Times by phone, “It appears that this is the same as the south Topanga erosion or very, very close. The area, from what we can tell, appears to be within Caltrans’ right of way. It’s our understanding that Caltrans actually built the existing rock revetment immediately to the west of it. That revetment protects PCH. Otherwise, it’s not our area. We did remove some restrooms last year since it was eroding, and we didn’t want portable toilets to fall into the ocean. We don’t have any public access facilities or amenities in the area. There’s one lifeguard tower perched on a deck, so any repair or mitigation would be Caltrans’ responsibility.”

The area in question is technically unincorporated Malibu, but Ney contacted Malibu Councilmember Mikke Pierson, who helped guide his efforts to get the attention of other agencies. Ney says the County supervisor’s office was sympathetic but, in the end, not helpful in finding a solution to shore up the erosion as he’s seen done on other area beaches. It’s been a frustrating effort all around, so Dr. Ney concluded by recounting the adage coined by Benjamin Franklin back in 1736 “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”