There is no doubt the earthquakes that rocked Southern California recently was a serious reminder to be prepared for a disaster.
As the first official fire season fast approaches, and after hard lessons learned during the Woolsey Fire, many Malibuites most certainly have a better understanding of the importance of emergency preparedness.
Unfortunately, City officials haven’t shown residents any evidence of being better prepared for fire season, regardless of the backlash from the community after City officials completely abandoned residents during the Woolsey Fire.
The City’s one attempt to placate citizens was to add a third member to the Public Safety Department. The new Malibu Fire Safety Liasion, Jerry Vandermuelen, was welcomed to the community May 13th. While Vandermuelen has some impressive credentials, 35 years of fire service experience with the Kern County and Ventura County Fire Departments, unfortunately, the wheels of bureaucracy continue to turn. The City of Malibu was embarrassingly unprepared during the disaster, and the community remains skeptical at best – especially since the Public Safety Manager Susan Duenas, and her assisant, Public Safety Specialist Stephanie Berger, were completely M.I.A. during Woolsey. They offered no guidance or information to assist residents during this critical time.
However, the one relationship that has drastically improved is Malibu’s connection with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
With new Sheriff Alex Villanueva in charge, we can have faith that the issues under his pervue will be managed efficientally. Villanueva was aware of the mistakes made by LASD during Woolsey, which at the time, was under the control of former Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
Villanueva was sworn in December 3rd, 2018, after a nail-biter Sheriff’s race during mandatory evacuations. While votes were still being counted in the Sheriff’s election, Villanueva made the trip at 11 p.m. to Malibu from from his home in LaHabra Heights to check on troops stationed at Zuma Beach.
Incidentally, McDonnell did not make the trip out to Malibu during the disaster.
Villanueva’s dedication to our community, and being prepared for the next for the next disaster is unparalled to any other Sheriff before him. On May 22nd, Sheriff Villanueva made his third visit to Malibu (at our publication’s request all three times), for a town hall to address resident concerns and talk about disaster preparedness.
The Sheriff was very clear about the protocol of residents with health conditions, and that those in need of special care, prompting them to follow evacuation orders so they can receive the proper medical services should they need it.
For those of you who are planning to stay being the barricades in the next disaster, the Sheriff delivered cautionary advice we should take very seriously. “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Villanueva warned those in attendance.
Wise words as we enter Malibu’s most dangerous season of the year.
ABOVE: The Malibu Times covered the first Town Hall after the Woolsey Fire, December 7th, hosted by The Local Malibu. However, they not disclosing to their readers the Sheriff’s appearance was NOT at the request of City officials. Incidentally, all three appearances the Sheriff made in Malibu to address community members has been at the request of our publication. The City of Malibu has not scheduled one event since the Woolsey Fire that included Sheriff Villanueva who was sworn in December 3rd, 2018.
Q & A With Sheriff Villanueva and Malibu Public Safety Commissioner Andy Cohen
As a 24 year resident of Malibu, and as a new member of the Malibu Public Safety Commission, I am concerned with many of the safety issues that are now facing Malibu. Previous Sheriffs have never visited Malibu during a disaster, and we are very appreciative of the multiple visits Sheriff Villanueva made during, and after, the Woolsey Fire. Although Malibu only has 13,000 residents, over 15 million people visit Malibu annually to visit our beaches, hike our trails, shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants. Sheriff Villanueva has a hard road ahead in charge of the largest Sheriff’s department in the country, and the cultural changes he is instilling in the department. The deputies that I have spoken to are all on board with the changes Sheriff Villanueva has made. The Lost Hills Acting Captain Beccera, and Malibu Public Safety Liasion, Jennifer Seetoo, have made an amazing difference in just the first few months of the year. Their care and interaction with Malibu residents, an enhanced summer traffic safety program, homeless outreach are just some of the positive effects of their efforts. Recently,I asked Sheriff Villanueva a few additonal questions about other issues concerning Malibu residents.
AC: It seems like recently there has been an upswing in gang activity in Malibu with tagging and two major MS 13 arrests in the area due to the great work of your deputies. In the past years it seems like gang activity in Malibu was kept to a minimum with gang members not even attempting anything in Malibu because they knew there were only a few ways out of Malibu and they did not have a chance to commit a crime and get out. What has changed, and what can we do to improve the situation?
AV: We have seen gang activity rise over the past few years, as prison realignment (AB109) and Prop 47 have been enacted and changed our laws. Certain crimes that were felonies were changed to misdemeanors, and drug laws were weakened. These gangs have become more brazen in their activities and areas where they look for opportunities to commit crime.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will continue to be proactive in our patrolling of the City of Malibu and all the cities we serve. We will also work with our Operation Safe Streets bureau to track gang activity.
AC: We know the homeless problem is a county wide problem. Your task force tells me that 80% of the homeless really wants a shelter over their heads and a job but it seems like with only eight deputies on your team out of 10,000 deputies progress is severely limited. Are there any plans to increase that task force?
AV: We are working to secure more funding from the Board of Supervisors and hope to increase the team in the near future.
AC: In Malibu particularly, the problem has really escalated in the past 12 months with many cars and trucks and motorhomes lining PCH every night, and causing resident to be harassed and inundated with various issues related to this problem. I know that in the past there were signs preventing parking on PCH After midnight and your deputies always kept PCH clear and safe. It seems like if we could get this signs replaced it would solve many problems. Any insight on how to get that done? It seems like a Coastal Commission issue and public access to our beaches, but after midnight it becomes a public safety issue rather than a beach access issue
AV: The City of Malibu would need to create stricter municipal codes for these issues, so the LASD could enforce these codes.
AC: One problem which continues to get the public upset is the issue of how residents were treated by deputies. During the fire, with a complete lockdown situation that prevented residents and food and medical supplies and fuel for their generators, as well as keeping out doctors and nurses and the staff at our Malibu Urgent Care. I understand that people need to be more prepared the next time if they choose to stay and protect their homes. However, the markets were closed, the gas stations were closed, and recognizing that many roads had dangerous situations with power poles and wires along the road, there were also places that were fine and still a total lockdown. It did not seem practical. Can you tell me how, without endangering public safety, we can make the next emergency a little more flexible for residents, CERT team members who were not allowed in, etc.?
We would need to work in partnership with LA County Fire Department and create a model to make this happen. Utilizing what worked and did not work during the Woolsey Fires.