If a picture is worth a thousand words, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley was fortunate to have photographs to get her point across to fellow legislators.
The Agoura Hills Democrat was getting one puzzled look after another last year when she sought votes for a routine bill to allow eight miles of roadway in her district to be designated as a scenic highway.
"They thought everything around Los Angeles has been paved over and there's nothing left to save," she recalled. "Then we showed them photos and they said, 'Ohhh, that's near L.A.?' " She got the votes.
Thursday, Pavley and other officials dedicated eight miles of Las Virgenes and Malibu Canyon roads, spanning the Santa Monica Mountains from Calabasas to the ocean, as a state-protected scenic highway.
The new label for the Malibu Canyon roadway pleased Robin Gensley Mitchell, whose family has owned land nearby for 60 years.
"This was once a Chumash metropolitan area, and the De Anza expedition of Spanish colonists came through here," said Mitchell, a docent for adjacent Malibu Creek State Park. "This is a beautiful area, but there's also a lot of history to it, and it needs to be preserved."
Today, more than 5 million people travel the route every year, officials said.
The Malibu Canyon roadway is now a "county scenic highway," one of five such roads in California and the only one in Southern California. Caltrans hasn't granted the designation anywhere in the state since 1981, when it installed the scenic highway "poppy signs" on Lake Boulevard in Shasta County.
Under a program begun in 1963, the agency dedicated 1,264 miles of state scenic highways and about 50 miles of county scenic highways. Both categories are protected from billboards, excessive grading of nearby property and high-density development.
Caltrans officials said a designation is granted only when local officials pass laws or resolutions to preserve a scenic corridor. The requirements and review process are so stringent that few counties apply for the designation, said Doug Failing, Caltrans district director for Los Angeles County.
Pavley and others said efforts to get scenic status for Malibu Canyon began in 1975.
Against a backdrop of rugged mountains and oak-speckled grasslands, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said: "We want to preserve what we have for future generations."
Calabasas attorney Daniel Bergman, who attended the dedication, said he remembers being driven through the canyon to the Cottontail Ranch summer camp in 1958 at the age of 6. Certain features, such as unusual rock formations, stuck in his mind.
"Today I still see those same landmarks," he said. "They haven't changed a bit."