This week we will pass the Six Monthaversary of the Woolsey Fire.
The Fire and the immediate response to it was a chaotic disaster made worse by bureaucratic bungling on a monumental scale. Everything that could go wrong to make it worse happened.
The earlier Paradise and Hill fires sucked up resources to an unprecedented degree leaving very few engine companies and no aerial response for the initial phases of the Fire. A C5 cargo plane loaded with water and Phoscheck was left on the runway all day long manned by a National Guard crew who could not get authorization from Sacramento to get into the fight. At the end of the day they were authorized to launch just to empty their tanks to prevent corrosion. That was the only C5 mission flown during the fire. The C5 holds the equivalent about 15 Superscooper drops. Calfire deliberately locked out private firefighters retained by insurance companies to protect Malibu Homeowners. Firefighters who came to Malibu under the Mutual Aid System pact arrived but refused to work or assist homeowners trying to save their homes. Someone in the Sheriffs command structure decided that the best way to deal with homeowners who had stayed with their homes was to try to stop the arrival of supplies and starve them out of their homes.
Your anger and frustration with the damage and the disregard for our community was heard loud and clear, first by our City Council and City Manager Reva Feldman, and soon after by County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
Supervisor Kuehl deserves our thanks for her incredible focus on Winning the Recovery. She has held numerous meeting where the presence of all Department Heads who had anything to do with Woolsey or the Recovery from Woolsey were required to attend. They received unfiltered feedback from the Community about what went wrong and how they could do better next time.
When it became apparent that the LACo Fire Department Fire Flow standards would prevent rebuilding most of the 460+ homes lost within the City Limits, a series of weekly meetings between Waterworks District 29’s Mark Pestrella and LACo Fire’s Chief Daryl Osby resulted last April in a new standard being adopted. The new Fireflow standard allows all homes to be rebuilt except the 17 in lower Encinal. I’m hearing that a solution for those 17 should be signed off on by the end of this week. Other plans are progressing to replace undersized waterlines in the Fire Zone and other areas of Malibu. Supervisor Kuehl’s office is also working to assist those having difficulty permitting their home rebuilds in the unincorporated areas of Malibu.
The Council and City Manager have exhibited a similar focus on getting people back into their homes as quickly as possible. While waiting for the Calfire Debris removal teams to complete their work, the Council authorized the hiring of 3 more planning staff and changed rules to prioritize the processing and approval of Temporary Housing permits, Temporary Power permits, and all the frustrating details associated with building a home.
The minimum time required to get a permit to build a house before Woolsey was about 18 months if you could avoid a trip to the Planning Commission. If you are building no more than what you had prefire plus 10%, you can currently get a permit in less than 6 months. Driving down Dume Drive today, I was ecstatic to see a home being framed that had burned. Everyone in the government understands that this is not “Business as usual”. Employees are being recognized at every meeting of the Council and Planning Commission for helping you through the permitting process. At the City Budget meeting two weeks ago, the Council advocated some painful cuts to budgeted projects to free money up to reduce the fees paid for rebuild permits. We are waiting for the final resolution.
We should also recognize the Public Works Department, which worked round the clock during the fires and in each of the following storms to keep the flood basins clear and haul away mud and rockslides that clogged the debris basins and our roads. In the 6 months since the Fire we are substantially more than $6,000,000 over budget. We hope that most of this spending will be reimbursed by FEMA, but in past emergencies it has taken more than 2 years to balance the books. As a City, we are very fortunate to have faced Woolsey with a robust reserve bank account.
Our business community has been devastated, first by the mandatory 21-day PCH closure and then by the exodus of more than 10 % of our year round residents. Many property owners with second homes here have just stayed away waiting for things to return to normal. Please dine and shop locally to help our business community survive.
Arson Watch, CERT, and neighborhood fire brigades are all welcoming new recruits as residents fulfill their vows to be part of the solution.
Malibu is getting better. Keep striving!