Malibu Triathlon organizers will go before the Malibu city council Monday night to try to salvage this year’s race.
That is a turnaround from earlier in the week, when a spokesman said the race was over for this year.
“We are appealing the decision and are confident we will be able to hold the safe, enjoyable and inspiring event we all want,” wrote Allie Bradford, representing the company that owns the event, Super League Triathlon, in an email.
“As we are in a legal process we cannot comment further at this time.”
City spokesman Matt Myerhoff said this week that the Planning Department confirmed an appeal was filed Tuesday morning, by the Malibu Triathlon, to ask the city council to overturn the permit denial.
“Staff verified that the appeal was complete (Tuesday morning) and the applicant paid the appeal fee,” Myerhoff said in his Wednesday email.
The cancellation and appeal are the result of water blocking part of the race course.
The bicycle segment of the run-swim-ride triathlon has used the paved underpass at Zuma Creek to pass under Pacific Coast Highway for decades but that roadway has been covered by water and rocks deposited as the lagoon forms nearby. Zuma Creek typically dries up during the summer, allowing use of the pass for the race, but this year, it continued to flow year round. The pass itself has been closed for about nine months and nearly two feet of water has pooled in the underpass. Federal officials say the lagoon fed by the creek holds tidewater gobies, a threatened species whose habitat cannot be disturbed.
The race course has a complicated overlay of governing agencies including the Department of Beaches & Harbors, Caltrans, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the City of Malibu.
According to the Department of Beaches & Harbors (DBH), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife can issue permits to clear the area, however, they have only given DBH permission to clear sediment and debris on the roadway side of the underpass. While DBH clears their jurisdiction regularly, they have been unable to open the road due to the persistent flooding.
DBH said Caltrans has jurisdiction over the creek streambed and the area has only been cleared once in the past few years. That has allowed sediment to build up and force water downhill into the roadway.
The persistent flow of the creek has also allowed it to remain connected to the ocean which in turn creates the habitat for the endangered fish.
In late August, organizers planned to chop the bike race short and loop it up and down the Zuma Beach parking lot, eliminating the need to cross PCH at the underpass or anywhere else. While two commissioners argued that was not, technically, a new route, two Planning Commissioners said it was enough of a change to require formal notification of residents. That notification has to be a 32-day process. In a deadlocked vote with one commissioner absent, they denied the triathlon a permit last week saying race organizers could not meet the legal requirement for notification.
The 5,000 competitors are scheduled to run, swim and ride Saturday Sept. 30 and Sunday Oct. 1 at Zuma Beach, if the race can get permits.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Malibu issued a statement that its staff “recognizes the benefits of the Malibu Triathlon’s charitable fundraising efforts.
“However,” the Malibu statement said, “the City must adhere to its own codes and policies, which are in place to ensure the safety of the community and the event’s participants and spectators.”
And the latest word from Super League Triathlon was that they “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 by raising vital funds for pediatric cancer research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.”
The Triathlon will be added to the Malibu city council agenda for the 6:30 p.m. Monday meeting. Members of the general public, including non-Malibu residents, may comment during the public comment period, via the Zoom link at the city’s agenda web page: https://malibucity.org/agendacenter.
A version of this story first appeared on KBUU radio.
Hans Laetz, Special to the Daily Press