Unable to rehabilitate its tottering pier, the city of Malibu voted this week to return the structure to state custody weeks before predicted El Nino storms. It remained unclear Tuesday whether the state will act to reinforce the shaky pier.
The most likely result: a "derelict" pier, shut since 1980, will be left to take its chances amid potentially heavy storms, Malibu officials said. Worse, they say, at least three dozen rotted pilings could tear loose from the pier and slam into oceanfront homes.
The City Council's Monday night vote was intended to shift financial responsibility for pier-related damages back to the state, Malibu Mayor Jeff Jennings said.
However, attorney Robert Allan, whose house is immediately north of the pier, warned: "If the pier falls, the state's going to say it's partly the city's fault"--especially because Malibu had managed the pier during the crucial summer months.
A spokesman for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which leased the pier to the city in July, said his department is "studying options" but had "no plans" yet to reinforce the pier.
"Everything depends on the nature of the storm," said Dan Preece, the state agency's district superintendent. The pier "was well-built and is in a good location. But we can't predict what storms will be like this year."
The problem started when the city leased the landmark pier from the state parks agency, essentially rent-free, while planning to rehabilitate it with a $2.9-million county grant funded by a 1992 bond measure, Proposition A.
But that hoped-for funding fell apart in recent weeks when the city and county could not agree on terms of the grant. The county asked the city to pay it $125,000 a year for beach maintenance, mostly from pier concessionaire fees, said Joel Bellman, spokesman for county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Malibu. City officials felt that the terms were excessive.
As a result, the City Council voted Monday night to cancel its lease with the state.
Jennings acknowledged that "by taking the step we took [Monday night], we brought the process of coming up with a solution to a halt. We basically said we're not going to [rehabilitate the pier], and there's nothing else on the table. Any further initiatives are going to have to come from another entity."
John Clement, Malibu's director of public works, said any actions to reinforce or tear down the pier would take at least two months to complete.
Meanwhile, residents and business owners are worried.
"We're concerned that pier debris can damage our restaurant," said Sean O'Connor, manager of Pier View Cafe just south of the structure.
Judy Landon, owner of the adjacent Windsail restaurant, said the failure to strengthen the pier "gives no assurances to people in Malibu. It leaves us in a more vulnerable position" when the storms come. "Sure, the city may be financially covered. But if that thing falls apart, things will get very precarious for residents and business owners. Where do we go? What do we do?"
Property owner Allan said he has moved his legal files out of his Malibu home-office.
"I've left because I'm afraid of what's going to happen," he said. "I can't afford to have all my files destroyed, and I don't want to take a risk with my clients' property."