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Task force to patrol deadly stretch of California highway

Karen Garcia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MALIBU, Calif -- After the horrific Oct. 17 crash on Pacific Coast Highway that killed four Pepperdine students, the Malibu community pleaded with its City Council to do more to stop speeding drivers whose recklessness often ends in injuries and fatalities.

The city's latest effort to improve safety on the scenic but perilous 21-mile stretch of PCH is to add a dedicated task force to patrol the roadway over the next year-and-a-half.

In January, the City Council approved a contract with the California Highway Patrol to establish the three-officer unit to patrol Pacific Coast Highway within city limits. The contract will expire in June 2025.

Deadly crashes have plagued Malibu for decades. A Los Angeles Times analysis after the October crash found there were 170 deaths and serious injuries to drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians between 2011 and 2023.

PCH is a state highway, so it falls under Caltrans jurisdiction, which limits the changes the city can make to the roadway. But in the last three months, Caltrans has begun construction on a new traffic signal synchronization project that allows the agency to remotely control traffic signals on the highway, synchronize their timing and adjust them to lower traffic speeds and reduce congestion.

In November, the Malibu City Council declared a local emergency, which allowed the city manager to quickly approve a short-term contract with the CHP to immediately bolster patrols. Those patrols are ending this month, just as the longer-term task force kicks in.

 

There are still projects in the pipeline. A $4.2-million Caltrans contract approved by the state in December will allow the agency to establish speed feedback signs and speed limit markings on pavement, replace safety corridor signs and enhance striping on curves.

The California Highway Patrol stopped patrolling PCH in Malibu in 1991 when the city incorporated, and Malibu contracted for law enforcement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Now, the additional patrols are welcomed by city officials and law enforcement at a time when many in the community feel at their wits' end.

"We're always happy to have more enforcement, especially when we have people dying on our streets," said Jennifer Seetoo, captain of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Malibu/Lost Hills station.

Seetoo told The Times on Tuesday that she believes the "three E's, and that is enforcement, education and engineering," are needed to make the highway safe.

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