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City Moves to Prevent Flooding in Canyon : Environment: Malibu weighs options, including possible sale of 28 private lots to federal government for conversion to parkland. Residents are irate.

January 06, 1994|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAS FLORES CANYON — The fires of November were simply the latest natural disaster to befall Las Flores Canyon. Every time it rains heavily, there's flooding. The area is also landslide-prone, and the Malibu earthquake fault is close by. And so it has occurred to some Malibu city officials that maybe, just maybe, people should not be living there.

The city, therefore, has begun to quietly explore a number of options, the most radical of which calls for federal acquisition of 28 lots in the canyon, at an average cost of about $500,000, and conversion of them into national parkland. The lots, of varying sizes, include remote hillsides, tracts with intact buildings, and remnants of the 10 homes and businesses destroyed in the fire.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, council members are expected to authorize a study of the area and potential hazard abatement strategies, City Manager David Carmany said. Residents of the area were notified last week at a meeting.

About 82% of the estimated $100,000 cost of the study will be borne by the state Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city will cover the balance of about $18,000, said Carmany.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 9, 1994 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 3 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Las Flores Canyon--A story on Thursday concerning plans for a study of remedies to natural hazards in Las Flores Canyon incorrectly stated the proposed study would be on Malibu City Council's agenda Tuesday. It will be discussed at the council's regular Monday meeting.

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According to city documents, the land acquisition is among several possible strategies for dealing with the canyon's hazards. Others include raising Las Flores Road, constructing a concrete channel for Las Flores Creek through the canyon, and reconfiguring the Pacific Coast Highway bridge over the creek at the foot of the canyon. Implementing all the measures would cost about $21 million.

The November fires destroyed 10 homes and businesses in the canyon, and many experts say the bare hillsides left behind are a sign of another disaster waiting to happen. A heavy rain this winter would bring down tons of mud into the canyon.

Carmany pointed to the Dec. 21 storm that brought a quarter of an inch of rain. "And there was hundreds of tons of debris (in Las Flores Canyon) that came down," he said. Perhaps, he added, there may be options other than federal acquisition of lots.

But because the canyon appears to be a serious flood-hazard zone, Carmany said, it may be impossible for the city to issue permits allowing reconstruction of buildings destroyed in the fire. "It would be irresponsible," he said.

Predictably, residents of Las Flores Canyon, who met with city officials last week, are aghast.

It's a wonderful canyon full of wonderful people," said Susan Shaw, past president of Las Flores Canyon Residents Assn., whose apartment burned down in the Nov. 2 fire. "It's like the Topanga Canyon of Malibu. All this is speculation. . . . It depends on the rain we get.

"We all have river boots," Shaw added. If the canyon floods again this winter, "it wouldn't be the first time."

Based on information from a 1985 set of Federal Emergency Management Agency flood insurance maps, the city contends that the 10 properties in the lower portion of Las Flores Canyon that were burned in the fire lie within an area likely to be severely flooded by a "100-year" storm. Additional hazards exist because the canyon lies at the foot of the Rambla Pacifico landslide area, where major slides occurred in 1978, 1980 and 1983. Furthermore, about 50 homes on nearby Las Flores Mesa are in danger of isolation if Las Flores Canyon floods.

Carmany said it is a good time to address these problems because Malibu, as a result of the fire, has been declared a federal disaster area. The city and its residents are eligible for various forms of federal financial assistance during a period in which there is an imminent hazard of flooding--defined as the duration of the rainy season.

Soil Conservation Service scientists have predicted that Las Flores Canyon and other burned areas will face the threat of mudslides, landslides and debris flows for four years or longer before enough vegetation has grown to restabilize the hillsides.

Maibu City Councilman Jeff Kramer said the proposed study would provide a preliminary look at some old problems that may have a number of solutions.

"I know this is an emotional, complex issue for the residents who love that creek area," Kramer said. "To the extent that there is an opportunity for a federal acquisition of the Las Flores Creek area, I think we are obligated to follow up on it."

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