MALIBU : Judge Says City Can Begin Clearing Debris in Canyon

A judge has ruled that Malibu has the right to do storm cleanup and flood-control work on six privately owned parcels in lower Las Flores Canyon, agreeing with the city that such work is critical to the safety of residents and businesses nearby.

Attorney Edward Burg, who represents the six property owners, won a temporary restraining order on Feb. 10 that prevented the city from conducting storm preparation and other work on his clients' land.

But Superior Court Judge David M. Rothman on Tuesday denied the landholders' request for a permanent restraining order, arguing that the landholders could not prove that the city work was destroying their property. He also said the situation is critical enough in the canyon to warrant the work.

"The situation in Las Flores Canyon impacts the entire community and poses potential danger to people and property along Pacific Coast Highway and the people who depend upon that highway as a lifeline," the judge said in his ruling.

City officials welcomed the decision and immediately dispatched work crews to clean debris from the canyon's creek bed.

"This is really an emergency situation because we didn't get to do the work we needed to do on the weekend (of Feb. 12)," said Malibu City Atty. Christi Hogin. "When the rain came over the last week, the creek filled up with sediment. We are poised for a disaster."

City workers left the Las Flores land on Feb. 1 after being ordered off by Burg, who claimed they were destroying his clients' property.

In addition, landholder Jack Tuefal objected that the city had drilled a hole in his back yard as part of a landslide survey and had removed portions of a retaining wall. City officials admitted that they erred in failing to get Tuefal's permission to do the survey work, but they argued that they had an immediate need to remove portions of the wall because it directs rainwater toward eroding creek walls, raising the risk of landslides.

In addition to seeking a restraining order, the property owners also filed a second lawsuit in connection with the city storm and survey work, charging the city with trespassing, causing a nuisance, inverse condemnation of his clients' properties and violation of their civil rights.

The sparring comes a year after the six landholders sued Malibu and Los Angeles County, claiming that a landslide that has blocked Rambla Pacifico road for years kept firefighters from saving their houses in the November, 1993, wildfire. Tuefal is the only one of the six landholders whose house did not burn to the ground in the fire. A Superior Court judge ruled in July that the city was not responsible for the slide because it is outside the city limits.

The landholders are appealing the case.

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