It’s been four months since the Woolsey Fire, but for many of the burntout victims no doubt it seems like four or more years, as they grapple with whether to give it all up to the devil and move elsewhere, or rebuild with the intention of selling, or eventually moving back.
As I write in thelocalmalibu.com, these are hard choices for persons who profess their love of Malibu as a seaside rural village with a distinct sense of place and community, for when ultimately deciding what to do they also must consider their age, finances and fleeting feelings of an evolving city.
It should be noted that almost all encountered were long term residents of western Malibu and Point Dume, and the streets there of more modest homes of mostly nuclear families; that is when compared to the up scale beach streets with a more transient and less neighborly population. Those garage fronts and gates are uninviting,.
It was the relatively more modest streets and canyons that were hit hardest by the fire, and that has raised concerns that if many of its residents don’t return, how Malibu will change over the coming years after the rebuild?
The question I proposed was, will there be a hollowing out of Malibu, from a community of more congenial households with a local history to a more anonymous tourist town and trophy luxury houses for the off-putting, wary one percenters, people who can afford the costlier rebuilds.
Those informally questioned were frankly hesitant to reveal their plans, because they truly hadn’t decided yet, or had nagging concerns about insurance, the Rebuild process, escalating construction costs and the time all would take. Seniors were most concerned.
There was nothing particularly revealing in the city’s update of the fire damage, which reported the residential structures destroyed totaled 488. There also were 100 residential structures damaged, and 222 “other” structures destroyed or damaged, including mobile or motor homes.
This brought a estimate of “residences” affected by the fire to about 600, out of the city’s 5,500 households, according to City Hall. Realtors and others have further estimated that about a quarter of the total households are mostly second homes and a lesser number of short term rentals.
If as assumed by the census there are 2.32 persons per household, putting his the total directly affected by the fire at a roughly 2,000 persons, a substantial quarter of Malibu’s permanent population, estimated at 8,000 of the posted population of 13,000.
As for the arbitrary few burntout victims cornered, almost all, without prompting, expressed palpable anger how the city and first responders had failed them, and how this has exacerbated concerns over the future of the city.
They noted with varying emphasis and anguished adverbs the pathetic preparations, the woeful frustrating mandatory evacuation, and, most of all, the apparent botched deployment of fire fighters and equipment. If they blamed anyone, it was City Manager Reva Feldman, further reviled for being self-aggrandizing.
Yes, this was a repeat of what was voiced at the several forums in the wake of the fire, but for victims and others who witnessed and felt the heat of the catastrophe, it is something that will probably haunt them for a long time.
It certainly haunts me, and I am obliged to repeat it, less we forget who failed us, and who might fail us again in the future fires, sure to come, to a changed Malibu, sure to be.