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Malibu’s new emergency evacuation plan has been adopted by a panel of public safety officials, after hearing one city public safety commissioner say it will never work.

The Malibu Disaster Council OK’d the plan last Thursday and sent it on to appear at a future city council meeting. 

The plan was drawn up after the Woolsey Fire caused daylong stalled traffic on Pacific Coast Highway in 2018, leaving thousands of Malibu residents at a dead stop within just a few miles of a fearful firestorm. At the time, there was no formal evacuation plan and nearly all traffic was directed eastbound toward Santa Monica, causing an unprecedented traffic jam.

The new plan calls for city workers to drop off small gas generators at traffic signals, to be connected by Caltrans electricians, as public safety power shutoffs are announced by Southern California Edison. 

Should an evacuation toward Santa Monica be ordered, sheriff’s deputies would be sent into traffic lanes to keep two PCH lanes flowing eastbound, while directing traffic from canyon roads to merge into the flow using the center left-turn lane. 

Malibu Public Safety Commissioner Doug Stewart said the plan has a single point of failure: blacked-out traffic signals. 

“You can have the best plans, but the single point of failure stops it from being executed, and that’s what we have here,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the plan to put deputies onto PCH is not realistic. 

“They depend upon the sheriff’s department having a number—a huge number—of deputies in place and well trained to execute those plans,” he told the emergency planners, “and that’s not going to be possible in a short-term evacuation notice.”

County sheriff’s officials said they would be improvising in any emergency, given that each emergency presents unique circumstances.

The evacuation plan now goes to city council. 

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