Las Flores Canyon Landslide Area : $11-Million Malibu Road Project Urged

Times Staff Writer

Consultants for Los Angeles County are recommending an $11-million project to repair road damage caused by landslides in the Las Flores Canyon area of Malibu.

The proposal is designed to reopen one main road, Rambla Pacifico, closed since 1984, and to protect another, Las Flores Canyon Road, from destruction.

The owners of about 400 affected homes would be expected to bear much of the cost.

"There is no way the county of Los Angeles could fund this alone," said Roslyn Robson, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works.

The Las Flores Canyon area is just west of Big Rock Mesa, where a massive landslide has spawned more than 300 lawsuits against the county and the state.

Like Big Rock, the three major Las Flores movements at Rambla Pacifico, Las Flores Mesa and Calle del Barco are ancient slides reactivated during the heavy rain years of 1978, 1980 and 1983.

Residents say stabilization efforts are welcome and necessary. They have worn out brakes and worried about emergencies during their three years of travel on narrow, curving back roads to get in and out of their community.

But they express concerns about how much they will have to contribute to the project.

"People up here are scared," said Madelyn Glickfeld, a Las Flores resident and Malibu activist. "People here know we could become landlocked if something isn't done. The question is what. It's really creating a serious financial burden for a part of Malibu that isn't all that wealthy. A lot of people here have been here for a long, long time."

Some worry that the bills for the slide will arrive over the same period as assessments for a proposed county regional sewer system.

And along upper Las Flores Mesa, about 20 homeowners who would be included in the $11-million project because they will benefit from improved access are also going to be paying about $4 million to halt another landslide threatening their houses.

On Calle del Barco, about 50 property owners have already paid assessments for previous work that failed to stop earth movement.

In 1979, a $600,000 system of steel pins was sunk through the moving soil of Calle del Barco into the bedrock below.

"I paid $20,000 (in assessments) for my house and $20,000 for a lot I have there," said Posey Carpentier, a Malibu real estate broker. "There is still slight movement. It's almost imperceptible. But you patch cracks and they open up again."

In the other two Las Flores slide areas, no work has been done to stop earth movement. "So far, it's just been a lot of measuring and monitoring," Robson said.

Within two months, the Department of Public Works is expected to make decisions about how best to save the roads and how to finance the solution, Robson said. Projects bearing price tags from $2.5 million to $20 million are under consideration.

Four Options

Dames & Moore, the county's consultants, considered four options and chose the $11-million project.

The least expensive option would reduce the threat of damage to Las Flores Canyon Road without reopening Rambla Pacifico, a wider, less steep street. The most expensive would make both roads safe and create up to 18 lots where new building would be safe.

The final decision will be made by the County Board of Supervisors. The supervisors have authority to create an assessment district or a toll road district to pay for the work, according to a report by Dames & Moore, an environmental engineering firm.

Assessments are likely and would be higher for those along Rambla Pacifico and lowest for the Las Flores Mesa residents, Robson said. The payments are based on the amount of benefit resulting from the project, she said.

Some residents favor a toll road in addition to or instead of the assessments. "That way, the people who use it pay for it," Carpentier said.

Wider Implications

She and others noted that Rambla Pacifico's reopening would serve more than just the immediate neighborhood.

When the street was usable, it linked Pacific Coast Highway with mountain roads leading to parks and the San Fernando Valley. Rambla Pacifico was often used by sightseers and commuters seeking a detour from Malibu Canyon or Topanga Canyon roads.

The $11-million option favored by the consultants would involve the removal of a house at the top of the Rambla Pacifico slide. The course of Las Flores Creek would be changed. Extensive grading would be required: 500,000 cubic yards would be cut from the top of the slide and about 400,000 cubic yards would be added to the bottom.

"I have concerns about a project that's going to dramatically change the look of the canyon. We have mature sycamores here," Glickfeld said. "I have concerns about a plan that takes other people's homes."

But resident Sally Fletcher, who has been lobbying for county action, said, "It looks like the way the slide's going, some houses would go anyway. This way, they are compensated and can go somewhere else."

Worn-Out Brakes

Fletcher said she has worn out two sets of brakes traveling steep mountain roads since Rambla Pacifico started crumbling.

"And I've been worried the whole time," she said. "There used to be times when all other roads in the area were closed, including Pacific Coast Highway, and Rambla Pacifico was the only one open. Until the slide, it was the best road around here."

She said she believes the county has proceeded slowly because of concern about litigation. In fact, she said, some residents whose homes were damaged in the canyon slides have sued the county.

But others have rejected that course.

"We've had some discussion about it," said Tim Corliss, president of the Las Flores Mesa Property Owners Assn. "But the county has been working with us in a favorable way to solve the problems."

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