Malibu's Morbid Debate: Death or Parking Spaces on PCH

Malibu Parking Wars - Photographed by Austin Hargrave -H 2017
Photographed By Austin Hargrave

Hollywood's summer getaway of lavish oceanfront rentals attracts 15 million annual visitors, but its main highway's "Blood Alley" is notorious for vehicular tragedy.

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, Malibu's high season has arrived, a scene defined by lavish oceanfront rentals and cutthroat reservation scenes at Taverna Tony and Nobu. A hot topic at those tables is likely to be a report, heading to Malibu's City Council on June 12, about parking along Pacific Coast Highway, referred to by many locals as "Blood Alley" for its long history of vehicular tragedy.

Two government agencies have taken exception to a draft version of the report that has circulated for months: The California Coastal Commission and the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority are decrying the potential loss of 675 parking spaces along the corridor that stretches 21 miles westward from Topanga Canyon. In separate letters sent to the Malibu planning department in March and provided to THR, the agencies criticize the study, funded by the city of Malibu and Caltrans, which they believe serves the interests of the area's 13,000 affluent residents rather than its 15 million annual visitors.

Among the issues for the MRCA and CCC are unpermitted no-parking signage, the absence of a plan to replace lost spaces with a beach shuttle system and what they see as a questionable curtailment of parking spots immediately next to some of the priciest seaside mansions — including properties along Carbon Beach belonging to CBS head Leslie Moonves and, until recently, David Geffen (the billionaire, who clashed more than a decade ago with the CCC over public beach access and lost, sold his house there in April for $85 million) as well as those farther west at Escondido Beach, where Apple Music head Jimmy Iovine and former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley live.

While there's a history of fake parking signs posted by Malibu residents to deny visitors public spots, Caltrans says it is in the midst of replacing nearly 400 legitimate ones that motorists have knocked down or stolen. "If law enforcement doesn't see it, they can't ticket it, so [the driver will] throw [a sign] in the bushes," says supervising transportation engineer Abdi Saghafi, who explains that the problem especially is pervasive near El Matador.

In his letter, MRCA's Paul Edelman expressed concern about how some areas have been marked off-limits to parking because homeowners have allowed dense foliage, fences and other physical barriers to extend into the PCH right-of-way, creating a too-narrow shoulder. (One specified trouble spot was outside industry magnet Geoffrey's.) He requested a study of these encroachments. "Without a survey, the City is not playing with a full deck," he wrote.

City officials insist that concerns about public safety propel their efforts. "Parking on the shoulder has always been an accepted practice, but now social media drives crowds like we've never seen to what used to be isolated parts of Malibu — cool little hidden spots that you had to be on the inside to know," says planning commissioner Mikke Pierson, referring to destinations like La Piedra and El Matador, a formerly low-profile state beach that Instagram has turned into a star. According to the L.A. County Fire Department, Malibu's beaches saw an increase in annual use from 1.4 million visitors in 2006 to 3.5 million in 2015. "It fries the brain how many people are showing up at these locations, and it's scary how they're doing it," says Pierson. "You have them walking with coolers and their 3-year-olds along these very tight shoulders."

Fifteen percent of the more than 400 accidents each year on PCH are parking-related, and the shoulders on both sides of the highway are perpetually lethal. Rapper MC Supreme, aka Dewayne Coleman, was killed when a pickup truck slammed into his car when it was pulled over at Corral Canyon Road in June 2015. (Rob Lowe tweeted in response that PCH is "a death trap.") Producer Michel Shane (Catch Me If You Can; I, Robot) lost his 13-year-old daughter, Emily, after she was fatally struck in 2010 while walking along the road by Point Dume (the motorist who killed her was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life). "It's just a matter of when the next accident's going to happen," says Shane, "not if."

Malibu councilwoman Laura Rosenthal, who is leading the city's efforts to look into shuttles and parking garages, articulates the split between locals and the state agencies. "Where we rub with them is we're living this day-to-day," she says. "PCH is a state highway, but it's also our Main Street. Malibu's the only place where you teach your kids to drive on the left-hand side — the faster lane — instead of the right because it's safer there."

This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.