Evacuation Danger: Some Palisades Streets Don’t

Fiske Street is narrow and when cars are parked on either side of the street, a firetruck has trouble getting through. In this case, the pickup finally backed up and went on Albright, so another car traveling north could get through.

Have Room for a Fire Truck Because of Parking

If cars are parked on both sides of a street that is so narrow it doesn’t allow a fire truck to have access to your home, would you consider it dangerous? Would you demand the City do something about it?

Station 69 firefighters compiled a list of 73 streets in Pacific Palisades that are too narrow to allow the 10’ wide firetruck to go down the street – if cars are parked on both sides of the street.

The existing City regulation states: no parking on a street if it is less than 18 feet wide. Parking is allowed on one side of a street if the street is between 18 and 25 feet wide. If a street is wider than 25 feet, parking is allowed on both sides.

Pacific Palisades firefighters are concerned. A Station 69 fire captain said last week, “Ask yourself: What’s more important, a parking space – or your house – or your life?”

In a 2014 letter sent to the Commander, Emergency Service Bureau, from Fire Station 69, A, B, and C Platoon, with the subject: NARROW STREETS – “NO PARKING” SIGNS NEEDED, it was noted: “This is the third letter submitted from Fire Station 69 relating to narrow streets within Pacific Palisades.

“The first letter was due to a citizen complaint and only addressed one street, while the second letter included several streets that contributed to a delayed emergency response.

“This letter is submitted at the request of John Gregory, the Legislative Director for Councilman Mike Bonin, representing the Eleventh District.”

Gregory had asked Station 69 firefighters (headquartered at Sunset and Carey) to measure the streets and submit an inclusive list, which they did. “We have found 74 streets in violation of the Fire Code,” the letter stated. (Bowdoin between Haverford and Radcliffe now only allows parking on one side.)

Firefighters explained in the letter that “The smaller homes are rapidly being replaced with much larger homes, often three times their original size, converting every allowable square foot of property to livable space. Cars today are bigger, and there are multiple vehicles per residence. Our emergency vehicles are much larger as well. What has not changed are the street widths. . .We often encounter very tight streets where our apparatus is either unable to pass through, or we must slow down to a crawl, as we inch our way forward with spotters on both sides to prevent hitting a parked car. It has reached the point where public safety has become compromised and we need to take action.”

The firefighters described how a severed gas line at a construction site, which was only six blocks from the station, took 20 minutes to reach, after the firetruck had to be rerouted several times.

A carbon detector alert at a home in the Alphabet Streets brought a fast response from firefighters, but they couldn’t reach the home by truck and had to walk to the site. “But a structure fire would have required our apparatus to arrive at the address, not to park a block away,” the letter stated.

Also: “A night call for someone reported unconscious on a 24-foot wide street with parking on both sides, meant a rear fender was scraped against a parked car, resulting in damage to both vehicles.”

It’s 2019, and Station 69 firefighters are still trying to get the City to follow the rules regarding parking. They have asked the L.A. Department of Transportation to post “No Parking” signs.

Circling the News asked LADOT why these signs had not been posted. An anonymous official in the Communications Office wrote in a May 22 email: “The best contacts for this follow-up will be your city council representative and/or LAFD.”

LAFD wants to be able to access streets and wants the signs.

Councilman Mike Bonin

I emailed Councilman Mike Bonin’s spokesperson David Graham-Caso on May 22 and asked him why the signs had not gone up, since it was a public safety issue.

Graham-Caso responded in a May 29 email, “Improving emergency response times and supporting first responders has been a priority for Councilmember Bonin, as you have covered in the past when Engine 69 was restored.

“The width of streets in high fire zones and evacuation areas is an issue the Councilmember has been working closely with LAFD on, and just last month, the City Council unanimously approved legislation the Councilmember wrote to call for the formation of a multi-agency working group led by the LAFD to address the unique challenges of places where homes and businesses are located next to canyons and open spaces areas that are increasingly susceptible to brushfires as the changing climate makes wildfires more frequent and intense.

“The Councilmember’s legislation calls for experts to look at things like street width requirements, as well as ‘red flag’ parking restrictions, the effectiveness of emergency alert systems and evacuation plans, shelter-in-place procedures, the suitability/survivability of designated evacuation sites, safe refuge and evacuation locations for animals (including horses), current building codes and standards, and the need for stricter enforcement of construction activities on narrow roads,” Graham-Caso wrote.
“Now that the council has approved the Councilmember’s legislation, the Fire Department will convene the working group and begin the important work of updating how we prepare to keep people and property safe from fire,” Graham-Caso said. “As mentioned previously, this work will include an assessment of street widths to ensure access for emergency responders.”

In a return email, CTN congratulated the Councilman on the formation of the committee and reminded him that firefighter routine access to homes is a Pacific Palisades issue.

Now access becomes even more urgent. An April 2019 article from USA Today Network and the Associated Press (“Danger from California Wildfires Pushes Newsrooms to Unite”) noted that California lacks statewide standards for evacuation planning, “and most of the high-risk communities we surveyed had either no plan of their own or had one that was minimal or secret.”

The report found that surprisingly, California does not require communities to plan for wildfire evacuations.

Armando Hogan, deputy chief and commander of the LAFD West Bureau, was asked about evacuation plans at the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association annual meeting on May 14. He said they existed but did not share them.

Tom Cova is a University of Utah geography professor who has done extensive research on environmental hazards. He said, “To me, it says, one, communities are complacent or ignorant of the risks, and two, it’s a failure on the part of local and state governments to not require them (certainly for the highest hazard communities).” (“California Towns at Risk from Fires Often Have Few Ways Out,” April 25, AP News.)

The April 15, 2019, AP story “How We Evaluated California’s Wildfire Evacuation Routes” identified Pacific Palisades as a high population-to-evacuation-route ratio, one of only a few areas listed in Southern California.  (Visit: https://www.660citynews.com/2019/04/25/how-we-evaluated-californias-wildfire-evacuation-routes/)

The burned-out cars from the Paradise fire and the 85 people who died are a grim reminder about living next to the wildlife interface, a wind-blown fire and “nowhere to go.” Eight of the dead were found in their vehicles, with two others near their vehicles.

Evacuation is key in wildfires.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

Many Pacific Palisades residents feel quite smug that it could never happen here. After all, if there were a fire, resources would instantly be dumped on this affluent community and people could evacuate on Sunset Boulevard.

Maybe not.

If there were other fires raging, resources might not be available. And even if resources were in the community, firetrucks would not be able to go north of Sunset in the Alphabet Streets or in certain portions of Rustic Canyon, Marquez Knolls or the Via Bluffs. Why? These vehicles already can’t access or easily access those streets to fight a routine fire.

Residents, answer the captain’s question, “What’s more important to you? Parking, your home or your life?”

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1 Response to Evacuation Danger: Some Palisades Streets Don’t

  1. Patrice Dobrowitsky says:

    I have spoken to Bonin’s office for years about this., they have refused to help us get parking on one side of the street only, for our street which is only 24 feet wide, it is a different excuse every time, they also claim they never got the letters from the LAFD Station 69, calling our streets dangerous. I wish everyone in the neighborhood would get involved in this, by contacting Bonin, by requiring that remodels have sufficient parking, like new construction, they don’t, and the easiest of all, get your cars and SUV’s off the street, put them on the driveway, clean out the garage and put them away. There are at least 25 kids on my street, they play ball, ride skate boards, they can’t be seen around all the cars and SUV’s in the street, IT IS DANGEROUS. The fire trucks cannot get through. And now with Carusoville, there are more cars and trucks on the street.

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