State Senate Transportation Committee advances two PCH safety bills

(From left): Film producer Michel Shane, City of Malibu Deputy City Manager Alexis Brown, State Sen. Ben Allen, Mayor Pro Tem Doug Stewart, State Sen. Henry Stern, Barry Stewart and City Manager Steve McClary attended the state legislative session April 9 to lobby for two new laws that would affect Pacific Coast Highway. Photo courtesy City of Malibu

Grieving fathers help convince lawmakers to advance measures for PCH cameras and Negligent Operator Treatment

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

There are times when extreme tragedy can serve as a catalyst for positive change. 

California legislators who are privileged enough to serve on the transportation committee of the California State Senate bore witness to that on April 9 when two grieving fathers, Michel Shane and Barry Stewart, testified about how the unforgivably negligent acts of irresponsible individuals who were senselessly, excessively speeding on Malibu’s main street — the Pacific Coast Highway — mercilessly claimed the lives of their precious daughters, leaving their families, friends in devastating despair and the entire Malibu community exasperated and demanding that authorities address the perils of PCH and nearby mountain roads.

Shane shared the heart-wrenching story of his daughter Emily, who was killed by a speeding motorist 14 years ago near the intersection of Heathercliff and PCH. Stewart recounted the devastating loss of his daughter Peyton and three of her Pepperdine University classmates, who were killed on Oct. 17, 2023, in eastern Malibu in a collision involving a speeding driver traveling at 104 mph.

The fathers were accompanied by representatives from the City of Malibu, including Mayor Pro Tem Doug Stewart, City Manager Steve McClary, and Deputy City Manager Alexis Brown. Doug Stewart and McClary testified before the committee and emphasized the unwavering commitment of Malibu’s leadership to prioritize PCH’s safety. He stated that the two bills were desperately needed to further efforts to ensure the well-being of Malibu’s residents and visitors.

Senators debating the two bills noted that Malibu’s traffic environment is uniquely hazardous, with few sidewalks or separated bike lanes, limited parking, regionally popular beaches, too much parking along both sides of PCH, and commercial establishments adjacent to the major highway with few safe ways to cross. Those conditions are all worsened by significant speeding, leading to an inordinately high incident of collisions and fatalities in Malibu, according to those who testified.

SB 1297, authored by Senator Ben Allen, who represents Malibu, proposes a pilot program employing speed cameras on the PCH in Malibu. Before the committee hearing, many advocates of that bill strongly feared that lawmakers would reject the proposal outright, Doug Stewart told The Malibu Times. However, he noted that when committee members heard the two fathers’ heart-wrenching testimony, they became more receptive to the proposal. If the legislation passes and becomes law, the speed cameras will be placed along Malibu’s 21-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway and the systems will be coordinated with radar feedback signs to effectively deter speeding and reckless driving and promote safer road behaviors.

“As a father, I am heartbroken every time I see yet another news report of a fatal car crash on PCH,” Allen said, noting that he and his family are expecting a baby soon and the dangers of such a perilous thoroughfare are too overwhelming and call for legislative action. 

“The Malibu community is devastated by far too many serious injuries and deaths each year,” Allen continued. “Today’s passage of SB 1297 out of committee is the first step to providing the City with the necessary tools to crack down on reckless speeding and save lives.”

Citing astoundingly concerning statistics, Allen noted that over the past five years, Malibu has had the highest number of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from vehicle crashes among similarly sized cities. Simply stated, there is an epidemic of fatalities and severe injuries in Malibu caused by PCH accidents.

Malibu is number one for injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicycles, Allen recounted, noting that since 2010, the year that Emily Shane was killed, 60 people have been killed in traffic accidents along PCH in Malibu. In 2023, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department issued a staggering 7,580 violations for speeding. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the City of Malibu contracted with the California Highway Patrol to address this issue. Since their officers’ deployment in January, CHP has issued 846 moving violations, with a notable 727 of those citations being for speeding.

“Thanks to Senator Allen and his staff and with the support of the City of Malibu, we got a very warm reception by the transportation committee concerning the speed camera pilot proposal,” Doug Stewart said. “We could see the attitudes change as the fathers testified — those on the committee began to realize that they could also be in those fathers’ shoes.” 

Stewart noted that the bill currently only calls for five cameras throughout the 21-mile stretch of Malibu and the city and the bill’s proponents are hopeful that they can get that modified to allow up to nine cameras given that Malibu’s segment of the PCH is 21 miles long and that all areas of Malibu experience extreme accidents too often. The decision regarding the specific placement of the cameras will be determined if and when the bill becomes law.

Malibu native Sen. Henry Stern proposes another bill seeking to deter speeders

Another legislative bill addressing the perils of excessive speeding in Malibu and statewide that the Senate Transportation Committee considered is Senate Bill 1509, authored by Malibu native Sen. Henry Stern. The Negligent Operator Treatment bill aims to address negligent driving behaviors on California roadways and proposes amendments to existing law to deter reckless driving behaviors and to promote responsible habits behind the wheel. A key provision of the bill would amend current statutes to classify convictions for driving more than 26 mph over the speed limit on roads that are not freeways as a two-point violation against an individual’s driver’s license.

That proposed law also received strong support from the delegation of Malibu City officials who attended the committee hearing. Notably, the Malibu City Council previously voted to endorse SB 1509 on March 11, recognizing the importance of proactive measures to enhance road safety and prevent future tragedies within the community.

Unlike the warm reception that the pilot program using cameras in Malibu received, that bill received some opposition, most notably from the Teamsters, who expressed concerns that those with commercial driving licenses could literally lose their livelihood if they were found guilty of exceeding posted speed limits, whether they were driving a vehicle professionally or their individual vehicles.  

The question of whether imposing points on a license would significantly deter speeding was also discussed exhaustively. Ultimately, the senators voted to pass the bill out of committee with the understanding that Stern and his staff would coordinate with those opposing the bill to make some modifications that made sense to both sides. Clearly, there is more to follow before that bill becomes law and The Malibu Times will keep readers informed in that regard.

“Speeding remains the primary factor in collisions and fatalities on PCH in Malibu,” stated Malibu Mayor Steve Uhring. “SB 1509 represents a crucial step toward addressing this issue by holding negligent drivers accountable for their actions. We commend Senator Stern for his leadership on this issue and urge continued support for this important legislation.”

Following the hearing, Stern conveyed his personal connection to Malibu and commitment to moving SB 1509 forward. 

“SB 1509 isn’t just a bill; it’s my pledge to my childhood home, Malibu,” he said. “With each step as this bill moves forward in the legislative process, we’re honoring the lives lost on our roads, transforming tragedy into action. I know the legacy of people like Emily Shane, who was killed on PCH, will no longer be a story of loss and inaction, but will now be a story of hope and change.”