The State Department of Transportation has decided to discontinue its 24-hour watch of a 200-foot bluff at Malibu's Big Rock Mesa that some geologists said could collapse at any moment.
Caltrans set up the Pacific Coast Highway command post after a slide on February 17 left 500 cubic yards of rock on the highway, closing it for 12 hours.
Geologists examined the bluff the next day and found that a system of cracks along its length had widened dramatically. They warned county and state officials that the whole bluff could collapse, sending as much as 60,000 cubic yards of rock onto the highway and threatening 16 town houses on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway.
Caltrans spokeswoman Margie Tiritilli said the agency decided to discontinue the watch because there "really hasn't been any activity to warrant a 24-hour watch."
"There have been some pebbles since (the February slide), but nothing that we felt posed a danger to motorists on the highway."
Tiritilli said Caltrans will continue monitoring the bluff on a daily basis and will start the 24-hour watch again if there is any movement.
Malibu geologist Eugene Don Michael said the risk of a catastrophic bluff failure is the "same as it ever was."
He said a major rainfall would increase the risk, but otherwise, "chances are we'll continue to get piecemeal failures."
As a result of the slide, the County of Los Angeles ordered the residents in the 16 town houses to evacuate on February 20. Most of the residents decided to stay in their homes and appealed the order.
Last Tuesday the Building Appeals Board of the county Public Works Department overruled the evacuation order.
Carrie Calderone, a resident of one of the town houses, said she was pleased with the decision.
"We were going to stay anyway whether they told us to leave or whether we won the appeal," she said. "It's nice knowing you have a home, even if you don't know it's going to be here a minute from now or a month from now."
But Deputy County Counsel John Krattli said the county still believes the town houses are unsafe. "The county's position is that those properties were unsafe, they are unsafe and they remain unsafe," he said. "These people are taking on this risk themselves. Frankly, I think they are fully aware of the risks."