Caltrans presenters pictured, from left: Abdi Saghafi, chief traffic operations District 7; Nick Pisano, environmental planner District 7; Oswald Elizondo, senior transportation electrical engineer

A proposed pedestrian crosswalk near Malibu Seafood restaurant got so much blowback from local residents at a presentation last week, Caltrans was forced into an 11th-hour promise to look into alternatives. 

No one denies it is a dangerous situation on Pacific Coast Highway near the Sara Wan Trailhead where hundreds of visitors illegally cross the highway going to and from the restaurant and the beach. The need for a pedestrian crossing was identified in a 2015 PCH safety corridor study the same year Caitlyn Jenner was involved in a fatal crash in the vicinity. Since 2004, there have been 32 accidents reported at the site across from Corral Canyon Beach. Two involved pedestrians. 

On Wednesday night, Oct. 30, at City Hall, Caltrans representatives told a small, but very vocal crowd they had five options: not build anything or install a pedestrian traffic signal, a pedestrian overcrossing, an undercrossing or what the agency chose—a “pedestrian hybrid beacon.” A PHB, according to Caltrans, is designed to provide superior awareness and enhanced safety when pedestrians use the crosswalk. It remains dark until it is activated, then displays a flashing yellow warning light followed by solid yellow, then a solid red, then finally a flashing red light. One was installed last month on PCH at La Costa. The proposed PHB would be located 18 feet north of Malibu Seafood’s driveway. Advanced warning beacons would be installed 816 feet to the east and 924 feet to the west to give drivers a heads up that people will be crossing the highway.

In September, the Malibu Public Safety Commission voted unanimously to oppose a crosswalk at the location and to support the building of an undercrossing at an existing drainage culvert instead, but Caltrans presented a host of reasons they could not build an undercrossing. Representatives from the state agency claimed the bridge, built in 1927, was designed for flood control and not pedestrian use. They cited Corral Canyon Creek hydrology, saying the bottom of the bridge deck is 17 feet and that what’s called a “50-year storm” could bring a flood level of 14.5 feet, and 15 feet in a “100-year storm”—too dangerous for access. Caltrans also claimed it was concerned with homeless encampment removals, storm sediment removal, high tides, a high water table, graffiti removal, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility and utility relocation. The agency went on to state concerns over securing permits from multiple agencies to construct the under PCH passageway and cited the Coastal Act Inconsistency for Undercrossing, which states environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHAs) shall be protected and that “new development shall minimize risks to life and property in areas of geologic, flood and fire hazard.”

The residents and elected officials in attendance refuted each argument Caltrans offered, going as far as suggesting a volunteer “shovel brigade” of local residents to clear out debris currently clogging the existing culvert.

City Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner said in his 67 years in Malibu he’s never seen the bridge flood. Others said their decades of experience driving that stretch of PCH has them concerned that speeders won’t slow down and that a crossing would cause traffic backups that would only increase the chance of accidents. Public Works Commissioner Scott Dittrich told Caltrans, “You’re not listening to the community who knows this best. This is not a good alternative.” 

Lance Simmens, also a Public Works commissioner, said, “I’m not convinced you’re treating an undercrossing as a viable alternative. Just because it’s complicated that’s not good enough. What we’re talking about here is saving lives.”

Only one person at the meeting favored the PHB crosswalk—a representative from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, often at odds with Malibu over accessibility and camping. The MRCA representative said his agency favors “the soonest solution that can be implemented.”

Caltrans said the PHB solution is the most feasible, can safely get pedestrians across and is already funded. 

Malibu Mayor Karen Farrer questioned, “Is it more important to do something quickly than to do it right?”

After pressure from residents who stated they are so passionate about getting a safe undercrossing that they gave up watching game seven of the World Series to attend the meeting, Caltrans said it will look into digging out the culvert, but made no promise to do so. Officials said it could take two weeks to get an answer from its contractor about removing existing debris under the bridge.

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