Karen Farrer is the current mayor of Malibu.
One year after the Woolsey Fire, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history, which burned nearly 100,000 acres and destroyed 473 homes in Malibu and 1,500 total, residents understandably want to know: Why it is taking so long to rebuild?
One year after the fire, Nov. 12, 2019, 35 building permits to allow for the reconstruction of homes destroyed by the Woolsey Fire have been issued and construction has already commenced on many of these homes. To date, 179 planning approvals have been issued for the reconstruction of destroyed homes. Currently, 93 of the 179 homes that have been approved by the Planning Department are preparing applications to submit to building plan check. To date, 52 applications are undergoing structural review as part of building plan check. Upon completion of building plan check, a building permit will be issued and construction can begin.
As of Nov. 12, 87 project submittals have been turned in to building plan check, or 18 percent of the 473 homes destroyed. A project cannot be processed and a permit to build cannot be given if the project has not yet been submitted.
The city is absolutely committed to doing everything possible to help residents rebuild and recover. We understand that no matter how quickly or easily it could be to rebuild a home destroyed in the Woolsey Fire, nothing can undo the trauma that residents suffered from the danger of the fire, the personal and economic loss of having their homes and personal possessions destroyed, and being displaced for an extended period. We understand. We hear you. We will do everything we can to help you recover and rebuild.
Rebuilding a home in Malibu, an environmentally sensitive coastal and mountain region with very strong local codes, is a complex, time-consuming process with many legally required steps. None of them can be skipped or ignored—they are in place in order to protect public safety, the safety of the residents of the rebuilt home and its neighbors, the environment and the rural coastal village community character of the City of Malibu.
These regulations are imposed by either the state, the county or the city, and in the case of the city, they were enacted by the city council who were elected by the residents of Malibu in order to protect public safety, the environment and the community character.
Each project must be reviewed by several city departments, including building safety, geotechnical, environmental health, public works and planning department, as well as the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
In addition to the project permitting process, there are additional steps mandated by state, county and city law. One major factor in the time it takes to get a permit to start construction was the fire debris removal, which took two to four months. That required environmental inspections and sign off, and work could not start on that immediately, and took longer than it might have due to the unusually heavy rainstorms that started immediately after the fire and lasted for more than two months.
Some projects are delayed because applicants have not submitted their plans or applications at various points in the process as fast as possible (there are many complex and important personal and economic decisions that individuals must make, which takes time).
Some applicants may not be in constant communication with their expediters, contractors, architects and other professionals working on their projects, so they may not know what is causing delays.
What the city has done to speed up the rebuilding process
In order to help residents rebuild their homes as quickly, safely and smoothly as possible, the city council created an expedited permitting process for “like for like,” or homes that are on the same footprint as the home that was burned down, and “like for like plus 10 percent” with fees waived.
The city eased regulations on trailers and temporary dwellings including to make it easier for residents to live on their property while they rebuild.
The city hired additional contract staff to support the planning, public works and building safety departments and move rebuilding projects along as fast as possible.
The city installed a special walk-up fire rebuild help desk at City Hall that is staffed during all open hours to assist applicants with their rebuild projects.
the city hired a rebuild coordinator available every day at City Hall to meet personally with applicants, review their projects, answer questions and make appointments for them to meet one-on-one with city department specialists. For an appointment, residents can check in at the fire rebuild help desk in the lobby of City Hall, or contact Laura Macias at 310.456.2489, ext. 378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city worked with the fire department and the waterworks district to ease the water flow levels requirements for firefighting to enable rebuilding while infrastructure is worked on to increase the fire flow levels.
The city created a new website, MalibuRebuilds.org, dedicated to helping residents navigate the rebuilding process and get information about loans, grants, mental health support, donations, contractors, search for plans and records, apply for permits, and other items.
The city opened a special fire rebuild counter in City Hall open every day to assist residents with rebuilding their homes, cleaning up their property, placing temporary structures, etc.
The city got an LA County Fire Department official stationed at a counter at City Hall once a week to offer specific guidance on rebuilding.
The city got an LA County Public Works staff member stationed at City Hall every day for two months after the fire to help residents with fire debris removal paperwork and ensure they made the deadline.
The city council, during the 2019/20 budget hearings, established the Woolsey Fire recovery as the city’s second highest priority, after protecting public safety.
The city has also held, or hosted and participated in numerous town hall meetings and workshops to guide people through the process, assist them with forms and paperwork with officials from the fire department, county public works, the state insurance commissioner, and others.
The city created a rebuild statistics portal on the website at MalibuCity.org/WoolseyStats that is automatically updated with numbers of permits given to track rebuilding progress.
The city created a dedicated e-notification system that residents can sign up for to receive Woolsey Fire recovery and rebuilding information by text or email.
The city has been conducting ongoing comprehensive outreach to the community about the rebuilding process using meetings, workshops, one-on-one assistance, direct mail, social media, website, e-notifications, Nextdoor, press releases, newspaper ads, radio and video PSAs, videos, and handouts.
I hope this answers some questions about this challenging time that we face as a community. I encourage anyone who needs information or help with any aspect of the rebuilding process to come to City Hall or call us at 310.456.2489 and we will help you.