THE PUERCO CANYON TINDERBOX

For all that I have observed, and loved, about my Malibu– the unique seacoast setting, the expansive views of the ocean and mountains, the soothing weather, and the flourishing flora and fauna, — there is always the fear of fire.

That is especially a reality during the hot and dry seasons that now seem year round, prompting my sense of smell to become acutely alert to whiffs of smoke, and my vision to scan the distant horizons for a glimpse of flames.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, my first view of Malibu some 40 years ago was the Agoura-Malibu firestorm, jumping over the PCH at Trancas Canyon and scorching Broad Beach. That fire raged for days, and in total destroyed 200 plus homes and burned 25, 000 acres. (It apparently had been the work of a 15 year old arsonist.)

Then in 1993 there was the Old Topanga fire, roaring into Malibu from the east, down Carbon and Las Flores canyons, and several others, destroying 268 homes and hovering over Malibu for several scary days. (That incidentally depressed real estate in the city, as fires do, opening a window for us to buy on Pt. Dume.)

The next major fire was the Corral, which burned nearly  5,000 acres, reportedly set by teenagers partying up the canyon. The flames were racing toward Paradise Cove and the Point, before the winds miraculously died down.

And still fresh in memory is the Thomas fire in nearby Ventura, which a year ago consumed 300,000 acres and destroyed 1,000 plus structures. It was California’s worst ever, until I fear the next one.

Fires are frightening, as I have witnessed from our terrace and as a television reporter, live on the front lines of several major Southland conflagrations. The overtime was great, but the experience at times was harrowing.

What brings this to mind is the camp and trailhead project being pushed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority up in Puerco Canyon: An overnight, cook out conceit with a $4 million price tag on a nearly inaccessible tinderbox site, at the end of a twisting switch back dirt road, certainly not for fire trucks or buses filled with kids.

What could anybody connected to the project be thinking? And that includes Malibu’s acquiescing representative on the Authority, Patt Healy, and a gaggle of local bobble headed politicians. I wonder if they have ever walked up Puerco to the proposed site?

And why does it seem our rightly concerned city council, headed no less by a fire chief and a city manager who once was an MRCA bean counter, always seem to be the last to know that Malibu is being once again compromised?

The MRCA’s autocrat Joe Edmiston, who obviously has stayed at the authority’s trough a little too long to become a bureaucratic fat cat, appears to have it in for Malibu. Do we threaten his family business? Whatever, he’s no conservationist, but a public serpent wavering between megalomania and paranoia. Sad.

From my perspective of an experienced land use planner and an advocate for more parks offering wilderness experiences for everyone, especially less privileged kids, the Puerco site abuses every land use criterion and a host of fire safety concerns, and is beyond the pale.

There is much the city and others concerned can do to block the ill conceived project, if they have the gumption or live in a fire danger zone. And that now happens to be all of Malibu. Stay tuned.

 

 

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hallkaplan

Parallel careers as an urban planner and a journalist, principally at present airing commentaries on pubic radio 99.1 KBU.FM The many arrows in my quiver have included Emmy award winning reporter/ producer for local Fox Television News, design critic for the Los Angeles Times, urban affairs reporter for The New York Times, an editor of The New York Post, contributor to various popular and professional publications, news services and broadcast outlets, including Reuters, NET, NBC, CBS, NPR and the BBC. Founding editor of the East Harlem (NY) Independent. A diversity of professional positions and consultancies in the private and public sectors, (Metro, Disney Imagineering, Howard Hughes, M. Milken, NYC Educational Construction Fund, US Comptroller of the Currency etc,) assorted academic appointments (UCLA, USC, CCNY, Art Center etc.), and always open to new challenge. And let us not forget fashioning sand castles and acting on 90210, crafting TV docs, design reviews, master plans. Books: "The Dream Deferred: People, Politics and Planning in Suburbia," "L.A. Lost and Found," an architectural history of Los Angeles, "L.A. Follies," a collection of essays, and co-author of "The New York City Handbook." Writings have appeared in academic texts, commentaries on the web, scripts for TV, and wherever, latest the Architects Newspaper, The Planning Report and Planetizen.

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