Malibu fares comparatively well through Hilary 

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Malibu resident Felicia Daffara stands on the beach under a home five doors down from hers after Tropical Storm Hilary swept through Malibu on Sunday night. Photo by Ann Doneen.

City officials, residents, and businesses come together to prepare and recover from unprecedented tropical storm

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

Forewarned is forearmed, as the old saw instructs. 

As city and county officials and Malibuites braced for the tropical storm created by Hurricane Hilary, which slammed into Baja California on Friday and Saturday, The Malibu Times caught up with Malibu City Manager Steve McClary and other public officials, as well as locals, to understand the storm’s impact on the town. 

“We’re closely monitoring the storm and we have public works staff on the job throughout the weather event,” McClary said at 2:10 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20. “We performed a number of preparations prior to the storm’s onset.” 

Locals, who are all too familiar with wildfires and mudslides, used their usual disaster preparation skills to prepare for Mother Nature’s newest weather complication, purchasing groceries and necessities and sandbagging low-lying areas. 

“We had numerous people come and get sandbags on the days before the storm and even on the day it hit,” Captain Mike Rivera of Fire Station 71 said. “We also had dry sand available.”

Various locals reacted in different ways, but all seemed a bit perplexed that they were preparing for — a tropical storm, in Southern California? Huh? 

“Approximately 90 percent of the Malibu Country Mart didn’t open on Sunday, Aug. 20,” said Krista Weissmuller, general manager of the John Varvartos men’s clothing store. “The power was out from approximately 9 to 10:30 a.m., and when it came back on, I assessed the store to determine whether to open. Almost all the stores were closed, as were all the restaurants, except John’s Garden, so I decided to close at 1 p.m.” 

On Sunday morning, residents were in wait-and-wonder mode, looking out their windows. Soon, it grew cloudy and humid and dark skies portended the oncoming rain.

“We haven’t seen the worst of the storm yet,” resident Scott Goldman said at 3 p.m. on Sunday, after he returned home from venturing out for a quick customer service call. “It’s radical out there — the ocean is angry, everything’s angry. It’s unusual.” 

Then, it rained and rained … and rained, and the wind blew for several hours. 

After the Storm

On Monday morning, The Malibu Times touched base with officials again.

“At 5:30 a.m., all city streets and all canyon roads were open, despite flooding and rock slides,” McClary said. “Crews continue to monitor roadways and storm drain systems and they are removing any debris. There are a few downed signs to reinstall as well.” 

Continuing his update, McClary said, “As of 5 a.m., there were flashing red lights at Pacific Coast Highway at Mountain View and Corral Canyon, and the city notified CalTrans of those outages a little before midnight. We survived Hilary pretty well, and we’re quite fortunate.” 

With the exception of the city closing Trancas and Charmlee Parks, where fields are saturated with mud and debris, as well as closing Las Flores Creek restrooms, other public facilities are open for business, McClary stated. 

Overall, Malibu fortuitously emerged from the tropical storm relatively unscathed, compared with desert cities which bore the brunt of the weather event. 

“It was really a lot quieter than we anticipated,” said Watch Sergeant James Callahan of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. “We coordinated with California Highway Patrol and Public Works on Kanan and Las Virgenes Roads to remove rocks in roadways and to deal with traffic collisions attributable to the hard rains.” 

Callahan, paused, reflected and said, “That’s it! We thought we would be dealing with a lot more issues — we did pretty well for how much rain we sustained.” 

Across town, officials measured rainfall in slightly varying amounts, with Monte Nido reporting 4.65 inches and Leo Carillo 4.39 inches. 

“My personal weather station reports 4.71 inches from this storm in Decker Canyon,” resident Bruce Shultz said.

“The creek was flowing nicely behind our Malibu West house,” Weissmuller said. “I measured 3.5 inches of rain there.”

On Monday morning, driving from east to west in town, The Malibu Times noticed a lot of debris on the roads from Las Flores and Dukes to Leo Carillo, with intersections using only flashing lights at Carbon Beach, Corral Canyon, and Mountain View.  

“The lagoon is pretty destroyed,” said a State Park official who preferred to speak off the record. “However, the Adamson House weathered the storm quite well.”

A drive through Serra Retreat revealed an army of lawn workers clearing debris from homes and roads. However, there were no downed trees or serious damage. The engorged Cross Creek flowed efficiently to the ocean. 

Over at Corral Canyon, workers also were cleaning up debris.

“There’s just some branches down.” A maintenance worker said. “But overall, it’s in quite good shape, especially when you consider it’s not every day we have a tropical storm come through.” 

Solstice Canyon also was flowing efficiently, so efficiently that a group of school children gathered with teachers at the Solstice Canyon Education Center to take a trail hike. 

Down at Paradise Cove, customers were parking, eager to eat and take in the view.

“The storm wasn’t too bad, although it rained very hard from 3 p.m. yesterday into early this morning,” said Emmett Collins, the assistant parking manager, early on Monday afternoon. “No trees are down, no power went out and no residents complained.” 

Ditto for Little Dume, which, according to residents, did not sustain any appreciable damage. 

Although there were some small areas of puddling water, Broad Beach also displayed no serious concerns. 

Other than the fact that late on Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles County Department of Health issued a warning that beach-goers should stay out of the ocean until at least Thursday morning due to Hilary’s dumping all that rain on Malibuites, the town emerged safe and sound from the first landfallen tropical storm in Southern California since Sept. 25, 1939.