Public Safety Commission addresses speeding, fatalities on roads

The intersection at Cross Creek Road and Pacific Coast Highway. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

With summer approaching, city officials continue to raise their concerns on the speeding and fatalities on the highways and canyons. During the Public Safety Commission meeting on March 2, they also provided an update on traffic safety and the temporary day-use yard location for the summer. 

Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas gave an update on the 2022 Homeless Count and said the official numbers will come in the summer. 

“They used a new phone application to do that count, so it could take a little longer as they work through the new process of using a digital product to do the count, but from what we can tell, our numbers do appear to be down,” she said. “All the efforts that have been taking place between the host team, the Sheriff’s Department, Luis and our outreach team, are working very diligently on those issues.”

Commissioner Doug Stewart attended the Homeless Count and said it was an eye-opening experience riding along and learning about the process of the count and he encouraged others to volunteer.

“I appreciate the insight that you get driving the streets and talking about the situations and having a better feel for what’s taking place in our city when you actually do the homeless count,” Stewart said. “I encourage the next time you do it, more people attend.”

Fire Safety Liaison Gabe Etcheverry provided an update on the Beacon Boxes the city implemented to support out-of-area firefighters’ response to fires in Malibu neighborhoods. 

“We did take delivery of our first 10 Beacon Boxes; we have purchased 30 so we’re looking for homes for them,” Etcheverry said. “We got our first one up on Big Rock the other day, (but) we’re running into some problems — not everyone wants them. They’re worried about vandalism and theft, but it does provide a lot of good.”

Stewart attended the first Beacon Box installation and said it’s an essential item for the fire season.

“There are things in there that when you realize what’s on the inside of that box for the firefighters that don’t know our community, this is an essential item,” Stewart said. “The more we can get up for a fire season the better off we are.”

On the subject of speeding in the canyons and on the highways, Commissioner Josh Spiegel said he would like to see more police and California Highway Patrol presence on the highways. He also made reference to a very recent deadly crash.

“I know we don’t get a lot of calls, but (with) those street racers down there, it’s really a free-for-all,” Spiegel said. “We had that fatal in Malibu Canyon and it was really sad to hear that. Someone drove very recklessly and ended up killing someone, so I’m very sensitive to that and I just hope we can get a little more enforcement.”

Commissioner Daphne Anneet expressed her concern for the safety of her daughter, who has friends on those roads.  

“I think every resident in Malibu just lives with this daily uncertainty and discomfort with the level of danger on those canyon roads,” Anneet said. “There’s been a lot of comments from our community expressing concerns about it and it just seems like it keeps getting worse and as summer approaches, it’s just going to get magnified.”

Stewart said the accident levels are a real issue in the city, and acknowledged the sheriff’s lieutenants from the Malibu/Lost Hills station who were in attendance.

“I’m glad the lieutenants are here. I’ll echo about Las Flores and so many streets,” Stewart said. “(There’s) More car than skill for a lot of these people and as dangerous as it can be when they’re at full force.”

Commissioner Chris Frost echoed the speeding concerns and said he hopes to receive more support from the sheriff’s department or find more resources to fix the issue.

“This all started in the pandemic, although we had racing before, it really came full scale,” Frost said. “During the pandemic, it became a sport and now it’s become a culture and what happened in the canyon on Saturday night was egregious to deputies. A 21-year-old driver caused that accident … but bottom line, what happened in there was the worst of the worst.”

Commissioner Keegan Gibbs was on the same highway that the fatality occurred on Saturday night and motioned to create a topic for a future meeting.

“I don’t know what, but this one hit really hard, with the fatality, seeing the racing right after and seeing it right in front of me,” Gibbs said. “I have a few different ideas about how we could potentially move forward with creating actual items that we can act on.”

Gibbs also asked if there was a digital map of all the fatal accidents that have occurred on the canyons and on Pacific Coast Highway.

Sheriff’s Lt. Joseph Fender said they have data and would be able to provide further information on the statistics.

Dueñas then provided an update on the temporary day-use yard in the city and suggested Heathercliff to be a potential site to use during the summer and other peak visitor times.

“For those of you who aren’t familiar, the issue is the tow companies that the sheriff’s (department) contracts with are located in Thousand Oaks, and so when they tow a vehicle it takes them out of the city for quite some time, which really limits the number of vehicles that can be towed,” Dueñas said. “So by having a local site, it reduces that time then they’re able to tow more vehicles who are trying to get better parking to visit our public spaces but they frequently will park illegally in illegal tow-away zones.”

Sheriff’s Lt. Chad Watters said vehicles parked on sidewalks, on the street and in front of fire hydrants create a public safety hazard. 

“These vehicles that we’re towing aren’t to make money for the tow companies, it isn’t going to make money for the city, it’s to make room for emergency vehicles, pedestrians, or vehicles on the roadway,” Watters said. “Having the ability to tow vehicles and move them somewhere else or a little closer for both tow companies will help their response time greatly.”

Stewart said the city was able to tow 12 to 15 cars a weekend last year, but couldn’t get the company to tow vehicles fast enough.

“I just can’t imagine what we can do for our residents better than trying to keep their driveway clear and traffic clear,” Stewart said. “We need to get this done and get it done now for the summer.”

Commissioners motioned to approve Heathercliff as a temporary location but urged the commission to form an ad hoc committee to explore a solution of a permanent location.

Dueñas said the item will go to the Planning Commission to request for an amendment to receive a Temporary Use Permit ordinance before going to council.

After two hours, Lt. Fender was able to introduce himself and said he’s looking forward to working with the city and community on ongoing issues.

“One of the things I like so much about working for the cities of Malibu/Lost Hills and specifically Malibu, is how passionate people are and the things that go on in those communities,” Fender said. “The people in Malibu are very, very involved in what goes on in the day-to-day activities of the city. It’s very refreshing.”

Fender also commented on the speeding and said he pledged to make an impact on the speeding, racing and the vehicle burglaries that occur on the coastline. 

“When I was here as a lieutenant overseeing the traffic, that was a pet peeve of mine. I identified some discretionary funding that I can use to beef up the presence in the canyons,” Fender said. “It’s not just Malibu, but Malibu does have a significant footprint in that because of the clientele that it attracts.”

Lt. Watters briefly added that the Sheriff’s Department has been looking into grants and other stations such as Palmdale and Lancaster and hopes to mimic their task force with racing. 

“When it comes to the canyons, it’s hard for us to police it with that being CHP’s area,” Watters said. “But, we are doing operations out there, we are aware of it, we are trying to target this, and we are trying to make an impact there.”

Watters said the total citations written for the month of January was 223 hazard citations, 2 DUI arrests, 1,433 citations, mostly parking violations, and 15 collisions and one fatal. Watters said in the last two weeks they have towed seven motorhomes and one trailer. 

Planning commissioner Scott Dittrich commented in the meeting and said they need to address the elephant in the room, which is the lack of CHP on the PCH.

“There’s so many cars, there’s no way. You could have 50 deputies in Malibu and not cover it all,” Dittrich said. “We’ve got to get the CHP back to serve the 15 million visitors who come here.”