Malibu Rebuilding

“Where there once were trees, only ashes remain.” This aerial photo was taken during a helicopter tour of the burn area just days after the Woolsey fire was knocked down. Photo by Urs Baur

Malibu was especially hard hit by the Woolsey Fire. As the one-year anniversary approaches the community is still struggling to process the damage. 

At least 670 structures were reported destroyed inside Malibu city limits, 400 of those were primary residences. The city has approved 164 rebuild projects, but only 30 permits have been issued so far, with 10 more under review.

Residents of unincorporated Los Angeles County are also facing an uphill climb. No official numbers are available from LA County, but the process there is also reported to be slow. The county initially estimated an 18-24 month rebuild timeline. For most residents seeking to rebuild, that now seems unreasonably optimistic. 

Rebuilds face multiple criteria from a variety of agencies that include the planning department, the fire department, and the Coastal Commission. 

The city of Malibu recently hired a special consultant to serve as a rebuild coordinator in an effort to expedite what has been described as an agonizingly slow and labyrinthine fire-rebuild process. The goal is to assist property owners during the process of securing city approvals but also to help facilitate the approval process required by outside agencies.

Some property owners are now back on their property in trailers or modular structures. Others have walked away from the disaster, selling their former homes for the price of the land and moving on. 

The aftermath of the fire continues to impact local businesses, schools, youth athletics, city programs, religious congregations, property values, and many other elements of daily life. For residents of the half of the Santa Monica Mountains that didn’t burn, it’s a reminder not only to prepare for fire, but that once a fire has occurred the disaster isn’t over—the impacts can last for years.

The City of Malibu is planning a beachside community commemoration event to mark the one year anniversary of the Woolsey Fire on Saturday, November 9, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Zuma Beach, parking lot 8. The event will feature a poetry reading by Malibu Poet Laureate Ellen Reich, musical performances by local musicians and the Malibu High School student choir, personal testimonials from community members, special giveaways for Malibu residents, and refreshments provided by Bob Morris’s Paradise Cove Beach Café.

All are welcome to attend, no RSVP necessary.

Suzanne Guldimann


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Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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