LOS ANGELES — For decades, thousands of athletes have gathered each fall at Malibu's Zuma Beach to swim, then bike and run along the coast in a race that has raised millions for local charities, including Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
But with less than two weeks to go before this year's Malibu Triathlon, the event is at risk of being canceled due to a flooded underpass on the course that has since become home to an endangered fish known as the tidewater goby and a city law that specifies that nearby residents must be notified of the race route 32 days beforehand.
By the time race organizers could devise an alternative race route that avoided the tidewater goby, the 32-day notification deadline had passed, and city officials denied a permit for the triathlon, scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
On Monday night, Malibu's Planning Commission listened to an appeal from the competition's organizers and heard about a shorter bike route that would avoid the flooded underpass. But the commissioners deadlocked on the appeal, voting 2-2, thereby rejecting it.
"This is an event that brings families and communities together," said Skylar Peak, a planning commissioner who voted in favor of greenlighting the triathlon. "We need to figure out a way to make this happen, not a way to deny this from happening."
"The problem that we have here is that this is not just about bureaucracy," said Kraig Hill, a member of the Planning Commission who voted to deny the permit. "We are being asked to break the law — the noticing requirement is the law," he said of the 32-day notice of an event. "We can't just ignore it because we think it's a good cause."
In a statement to race participants, the company that owns the Malibu Triathlon said, "We are appealing that decision and are confident we will be able to hold the safe, enjoyable, and inspiring event we all want while helping some of the most vulnerable in our society."
A spokesman for the city confirmed that officials expected organizers to submit a follow-up appeal, which would be discussed and voted on at a City Council meeting scheduled for Monday. Members of the public will be able to offer their comments at the meeting.
The uncertainty surrounding this year's event is a result of winter's record rainstorms. For years, the triathlon's bicycling course has run through the Zuma Beach undercrossing at Busch Drive, but the series of storms flooded the underpass. The roadway was not immediately cleared, and in time, the tidewater goby took up residence.
For this year's race, organizers submitted their permit application in January, then filed it in person with the city of Malibu in early March. They included a list of residents within a 500-foot radius of the proposed course — a list that would be used to mail notifications to residents 32 days beforehand.
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