[FRIDAY, Nov. 16]—Editor's note: This story has been edited with up-to-date information.
Malibu residents gathered for the city's evacuee meeting at Santa Monica High School on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Officials from local and state departments spoke, and later answered questions.
In this story:
- Malibu repopulation efforts
- City utilities
- SMMUSD Malibu schools
- Future of the city
- What you can do
Malibu repopulation efforts
Five days after the mandatory evacuations were called for the entire City of Malibu, parts of the city have been deemed safe.
Residents of those areas are coming back to a "soft closure," which means some form of identification such as a driver's license will be required for re-entry.
LA County Department of Public Health Area Health Officer Dr. Jan King advised those returning to take precautions such as wearing long garments, masks and gloves; discarding perishable foods; and generally "be proactive to prevent any exposure."
In the meantime, the sheriff's department recognizes supplies are brought in through not-so-official channels. (Boats from Marina del Rey have been sailing into Paradise Cove, where people on paddle boards and surfboards receive them.)
LA County Sheriff's Department Chief John Benedict said, "You can’t live off potato chips forever. We’ve got to get stuff to them as fast as we can. There’s a plan for that now."
The plan involves bringing staples such as food, water and "whatever else might be needed" to western Malibu.
He also confirmed there were no reports of looting in Malibu; some residents in the audience, based on their objections, thought otherwise.
According to City Manager Reva Feldman, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has assured the City of Malibu he is "sending an army of sheriff's deputies" to protect neighborhoods from potential looters.
The city did confirm building officials would go property to property in order to assess what has been damaged. In the meantime, residents can head to bit.ly/2K22Pgv to see whether their property was damaged or destroyed on a map created by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Management. (Note: The map is not complete and is continually being updated.)
T-Mobile was giving out free LG smartphones with 30-day free calling/texting/data as well as chargers to residents at three locations in the city earlier this week. AT&T confirmed it would be waiving fees for unlimited talk, text and data in the burn area through Nov. 13. Verizon ended its free unlimited service on Thursday, Nov. 15.
Utilities companies said they have been hard at work restoring power, water, internet and cell phone service to neighborhoods throughout Malibu.
Southern California Edison reported 9,879 customers in Malibu remained without power as of Tuesday night, due to downed lines and burned power poles in the western portion of the city. Representatives from the utility company said SCE has sent out 40 four-person crews to replace 100 power poles.
“It is going to be days before we get through all of this, but it’s going to be in big chunks,” the SCE representative said, describing whole circuits being re-powered together.
With the firefighting efforts on Friday, many Malibu residents reported they simply ran out of water—an outage West Basin and Water District 29 have been working to restore.
On Tuesday, Dave Rydman of LA County Waterworks District 29 evoked one of the few instances of applause from the audience when he announced the majority of customers in Malibu had their water restored.
“The water to all areas, except those areas in the boil water advisory, has been restored,” Rydman said.
According to an alert from the City of Malibu, the boil water advisory remained in effect for “the communities of Point Dume and Encinal Canyon by Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 29 and to the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District’s service area south of Westlake Village, east of the Ventura County line, north of the City of Malibu and west of Corral Canyon.”
Rydman said that advisory would be lifted soon.
“Water is in tanks,” he said. “We are confident water will be restored in days.”
Jeff Reev, director of the LA County Office of Emergency Management, said the department would be looking into debris removal beginning Wednesday.
“Some of the debris that’s on your properties is toxic and has to be removed by some strict guidelines,” Reev explained. Reev said the office would help residents acquire permits to begin the work quickly.
”Both AT&T and Verizon are in the process of installing temporary cell towers,” City Manager Reva Feldman said in response to a question about restoration of cellular data. Feldman said as of Tuesday there were temporary cell towers operating on trucks in “strategic” areas throughout the city, but work was being done to restore the utility permanently.
“They are putting [signals] out, especially on the west end,” Feldman said. “Service seems to be pretty good on the east end; when you get to the west end service seems to be nonexistent.”
SMMUSD Malibu schools
Students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will not be back at school until after Nov. 26, at the earliest, per Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati.
District personnel as of Tuesday had not yet been able to inspect the schools, due to the mandatory evacuation order still in place for City of Malibu.
The district is working to figure out its next steps, starting with surveys to assess the status of its families and staff members.
The Woolsey Fire comes at a critical time for Malibu High School seniors, who are applying to college. Drati said he was in contact with University of California and California State University systems as well as private colleges to possibly extend the application deadline. (The UC system has granted the extension.)
He is also taking advice from schools up in Santa Barbara, which dealt with the aftermath of the Thomas Fire.
"Remember, in the Santa Barbara schools were out of school for almost two months, 2-3 months. So they got through it and they have a lot of guidance to give us," he said.
If western Malibu does not open in the future--where schools like Malibu High School, Juan Cabrillo Elementary School and Point Dume Marine Science School are located)--the district will consider an alternate course of action including having classes at a sister school (such as Samohi or Olympic HS) or conducting them online.
In answering a question from an audience member, the superintendent recognized that some families would not be moving back to Malibu if their home burned down. In these situations, the district will work with the individuals to support their transition into a new school district.
In the meantime, MHS college counselor Linh Nguyen will be available at Olympic High School for the next two weeks to guide students in their college application process.
Future of the city
As evacuations slowly begin lifting, the city looks to the immediate future—rebuilding Malibu.
City Manager Reva Feldman confirmed a local emergency operations center was in the works. It would be stationed in Malibu, serving as a place to get “all the help you need,” including anything from help in securing FEMA assistance to dealing with a lost driver’s license.
Residents voiced concerns about building permits. With Malibu’s stringent guidelines, notoriously slow permitting process and the California Coastal Commission’s reputation for discouraging residential development in the coastal zone, they worried about the long wait before homes could be rebuilt—if permits could even be secured at all.
California Assemblymember (and former coastal commissioner) Richard Bloom said, “I can tell you that practice over the years, when there has been emergencies, has been for the coastal commission to relax its rules ... so that the rebuild process can happen quickly.”
The city is looking to rent office space and bring in consultants to help streamline the permit situation.
Next steps also include re-establishing services like trash pick-up and and mail delivery. In a community meeting on Nov. 11, California Senator Henry Stern said the U.S. Postal Office would hold people’s mail during mandatory evacuation. On Thursday, county officials announced Malibu residents could pick up their mail at Los Angeles Main Post Office, 7101 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90001. Topanga residents could pick up their mail at the Pacific Palisades Post Office, 15243 La Cruz Drive, Pacific Palisades.
Reev said LA’s office of community services would also be gathering resources for residents to complete “all the little things you need to do so you can get back into your home.”
What you can do
City officials urged residents to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as soon as possible by calling 1.800.621.FEMA (3362) or visiting disasterassistance.gov.
"Get in the system early," California Office of Emergency Services Southern Region Administrator Jeff Toney suggested.
Those who did not suffer home loss or major damage are encouraged to apply.
Renters and homeowners may qualify for assistance not covered by insurance companies, according to the FEMA website. Only primary residences qualify.
Additionally, small businesses may be able to apply for low interest loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, visit sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.
When you return to your property, if it is damaged or destroyed, file an evacuation damage claim with 211.
“We’re going to build that database, and we use that database to evaluate [the needs of the community],” Reev said.
To contact the city with further questions, all emails--including those of the city manager, city council members and staff—are listed on its website (malibucity.org/133/Contact).
Officials are now concerned about possible rainfall toward the end of next week.
At an press conference prior to the Malibu evacuee meeting, LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said that while the rain may help bring the fire down, it may also cause possible mudslides and further damage similar to what happened during the Thomas Fire.
Feldman said the ban on plastic sandbags has been put on hold—the fire department will have sandbags at fire stations for residents.