Southern California Edison (SCE) ruffled feathers when it secured a lease to create a large temporary staging lot for utility vehicles and equipment at the foot of Stuart Ranch Road below Malibu City Hall in the Malibu Civic Center earlier this summer.

According to some residents, the area should have been protected under ESHA, environmentally sensitive habitat area, since it was a wetland. However, city staff said there was no ESHA designation for the lot. Despite that, SCE vowed to remove the gravel lot and seed the property upon completion of emergency power grid work following the devastating Woolsey Fire.

Now, SCE is requesting an extension on its lease through December 2019, and the issue drew discussion at Monday’s Malibu City Council meeting.

“I think that’s a matter of public safety and the largest apparent risk,” Council Member Skylar Peak said in response to concern posed by a member of the public on Monday. He added, “I imagine if they’re following the proper protocol that’s the thing we’ve got to do.”

Council Member Mikke Pierson agreed, saying he was “no fan of big concrete—or gravel lots,” but that the “entire town, rightfully, is screaming for fire protection.”

“I say we go ahead and finish protecting our electric grid as best we can right now,” Pierson said.

Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner argued that, while SCE claimed the lot was necessary for efficient work to harden Malibu’s power grid, a spokesperson for the utility company recently emphasized a cost saving was the No. 1 priority—“that kind of didn’t sit well with me.”

“At what point do you say to yourselves, ‘We’ve accommodated SCE, done the work, now you’re moving into other areas to complete work at a more expedient, timely way of doing it, which costs you less, Mr. SCE,’” Wagner queried. “It needs a definite magnifying glass.”

The future of the gravel lot will come before the Malibu Planning Commission at its next meeting on Monday, Aug. 19, 6:30 p.m. at Malibu City Hall.

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