Malibu’s canyon roads causing concern among residents

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A vigil was placed where Luis Fernando Escobar Gonzalez, 25, passed away on Oct. 9, 2023. Gonzalez hit a telephone pole and was killed in a one-vehicle collision on Malibu Canyon returning from work late in the evening. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

LA County has jurisdiction over most roads beyond city limits except Decker Canyon, a state highway

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

With the recent focus on Pacific Coast Highway’s horrifically dangerous perils, some citizens remain highly concerned about the safety of canyon roads around Malibu. 

Speeders throughout area canyons have caused many fatalities and injuries, leading neighborhood organizations such as the Monte Nido Valley Community Association to place signs directing people to report reckless drivers and providing a direct line to the California Highway Patrol. 

The association is part of Operation Safe Canyons, a committee coordinated by the County Supervisor’s Office, CHP, the Sheriff’s Traffic Division and the Department of Public Works. As The Malibu Times reported on April 2, 2022, Corral Canyon, Stunt Road, Topanga, Tuna Canyon, and other neighborhoods are involved in OSC, as are bicycle enthusiasts. The group focuses on unincorporated LA County canyons that since the pandemic have experienced an increase in speeding and accidents. 

After four Pepperdine students tragically died in an accident on Pacific Coast Highway on Oct. 17, upset and outraged residents attended the next Malibu City Council meeting on Oct. 23. 

There, Karen Russell, whose son, Conner Michael Budge, was killed on Sept. 24, 2022, when his car went over the side of Mulholland Highway near Las Virgenes Road, lamented that an officer had told her that her son would not have died if there had been a railing where he lost control of his car. 

“How much could a railing have cost?” Russell asked rhetorically, with the angst-filled look of a grieving parent. 

Luis Fernando Escobar Gonzalez, 25, was another victim of a fatal accident on Oct. 9, 2023. Gonzalez hit a telephone pole and was killed in a one-vehicle collision on Malibu Canyon returning from work late in the evening. 

The Malibu Times delved into details concerning what governmental entities have jurisdiction over canyon roads and what recent efforts have been made to address dangerous, curvy canyon roads.  

“The city boundary on Malibu Canyon Road is near HRL [Hughes Research Laboratories],” Matt Meyerhoff, The City of Malibu’s public information officer stated. “Beyond that is all under LA County Public Works’ jurisdiction. As to the other canyons within the city, the city has already installed metal beam guardrails.”

Readers can use the city’s GIS to see the city’s boundaries, https://malibucity.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=bfe7fbdec2034f8fafc0b99627156b4e, which shows where the city’s responsibilities are located. 

Outside of the city’s boundaries, responsibility for Canyon Roads belongs to the county, except that with regard to Decker Canyon Road, formerly known as State Highway 23, the state has jurisdiction.

Meyerhoff elaborated, informing that the city just replaced all the damaged metal beam guardrails that were damaged in the 2018 Woolsey Fire. That process reviewed all the canyon roads in the city and the need to replace and or install metal beam guardrails. 

The California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CA MUTCD) has specific requirements on when a metal beam guardrail is required. The city and LA County Public Works partnered on repairing all of the guardrails in Latigo Canyon, Corral Canyon, Encinal Canyon, and Kanan Dume Road that were damaged in the 2018 Woolsey Fire. That project was completed in late 2021. The total cost was approximately $2.8 million, according to Meyerhoff, who added that  the cost was covered in part by a FEMA reimbursement, which has not been paid out yet, and in part by the city’s insurer, Joint Powers Insurance Authority.

With regard to other canyon roads near Malibu, one wonders why railings are not installed along dangerous curves. For instance, Decker Road is not for the faint of heart and parts of Piuma Road are windy and steep. Those fall within the jurisdiction of LA County. 

“To be honest, I don’t think railings would do much good on Decker,” said Bruce Schultz, a resident who lives along that road. “If drivers want to adjust their radios and check email while navigating canyon curves, they are likely going over the canyon regardless.”

Schultz added, “Patrolling the canyons for Red Bull-fueled ‘Fast and Furious’ speed demons would be far more effective at curbing accidents.”

The Malibu Times will keep readers informed about developments concerning how the county is addressing the dangerous conditions on canyon roads outside of the City of Malibu and how the state is addressing any issues on Decker Road.