Road Racing Plagues Canyons

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin

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Road Racing Plagues Canyons
Sunset from Topanga Lookout Trailhead
October 13, 2023 I’m writing on behalf of a group of more than 50 Topanga Canyon/Malibu residents concerned about the daily racing, noise and fire danger hazards we’ve been experiencing chronically for the last couple of years in the Saddle Peak area.” —Saddle Peak resident in June, 2023 The news was grim. “Three vehicles were involved in a violent crash where Sheriffs received reports of street racing on Sunday night, July 30, 2023. The incident occurred around 11:15 p.m. in the area of Stunt Road and Saddle Peak Road,” Los Angeles County Fire Department officials confirmed. According to the local news, when firefighters arrived, they found one vehicle fully engulfed in flames. News video showed three damaged vehicles at the scene. One vehicle had fallen nearly 30 feet down an embankment. The road winds through the canyon near the Topanga Outlook. (See map) As a result of the accident, “two people were transported to local hospitals in unknown condition. The Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s station said they received calls of vehicles racing in the area but could not confirm if this crash resulted from racing.
Map showing location of Topanga Lookout
California Highway Patrol officers cited numerous calls concerning illegal car races in that area which have been received recently. Ongoing investigations are determining the exact cause of the collision, and will examine the possibility of a link between the reported street racing and the crash. No one was taken into custody following the crash. The cause remains under investigation.”

Everyone was shocked and saddened by the news of a dangerous crash in the Santa Monica Mountains.

So, why, according to local residents, is there a steady increase of racing on the mountain and canyon roads?

Topanga Outlook
According to a group of Saddle Peak residents, part of the problem may be the number of folks gathering at a popular spot, the Topanga Lookout, near Saddle Peak and Stunt Road.

In spite of CHP and Lost Hills Sheriffs’ numerous deployments to the area and other problem ‘racing’ spots along Mulholland Hwy., the problem seems to be growing, which leads some Canyon residents to cite non-enforcement of the ‘No Parking after 9 p.m.’ signs as a reason.

“I just report what I see from Saddlepeak,” said one concerned resident, who lives across the canyon from the Topanga Outlook. “I’m part of a Saddle Peak area neighborhood group trying to get speeding and noise law enforcement stepped up around the lookout point at Stunt/Scheuren/Saddle Peak — racing and crashes have become a nearly-every-night problem up there.”

He said that the neighborhood group comprised of more than 50 Saddlepeak residents, who over the summer have logged many dozens of cars and people at the Topanga Outlook well past 9 p.m. when parking is prohibited.

He and his neighbors are only asking for more CHP or Sheriffs presence at that location.

“On any given night, we would see more than 10 vehicles racing with modified mufflers,” the resident said. “Every ten minutes they’d go down Saddle Peak, turn around and then go back up. To have all of these cars designed to make lots of noise shattering the peace every evening through midnight, 1 a.m., even 4 a.m. with roaring racers, it’s just a total epidemic.”

In August, with support from his neighbors, the resident pleaded for help in an email to three CHP officers:
“Of course, safety is our neighborhood’s primary concern,” he wrote. “But every time a car with a modified muffler roars up or down these roads, the often-overwhelming noise affects hundreds of residents who moved out here for quiet, and as you can see from the log, the infractions are near constant. A few years ago, when officers would come by to sweep cars out of the posted no-parking-after-9 p.m. areas, and either sit for an hour or return every couple of days, infractions diminished substantially. Our community knows how much you have on your plate, in many areas, so we’re extremely grateful for any time you’re able to spend here.”

CHP Street Racing Enforcement Unit
The CHP Street Racing Enforcement Unit (SREU) is deployed in response to residents’ concerns of street racing. The taskforce focuses on the Santa Monica Mountains and Pacific Coast Highway where officers are instructed to respond to CHP dispatch calls for reckless driving in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“CHP officers conduct aggressive enforcement which targeted individuals and groups conducting and/or participating in activities involved in, and/or related to illegal street racing, sideshows, and roadway takeovers,” wrote Weston Haver, Public Information Officer, CHP West Valley Area. “CHP presence caused many racing groups to lawfully drive out of the area.”

Officer Haver said the enforcement is a joint effort with the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department and the L.A.P.D. “But it is mainly the CHP who use their overtime budget to go out and catch traffic violators,” he emphasized.

Officer Haver reported that in April, May and June of 2023, there were 15 SREU deployments, more than 300 citations issued, eight arrests, multiple pursuits with quite a few patrol vehicles damaged and officers getting moderate injuries occasionally (which hinders future deployments).

“Our deployments have gone down due to officers on summer vacation and other mandatory overtime details that must be filled” Haver wrote. “Such overtime details as security escorts for government officials, court bailiff, freeway construction or homeless encampments. These are usually overtime details which officers have to work on their days off. Officers need to step away and recharge and not get burnt out. I’ve explained some of these topics with the Saddle Peak residents who call in to our office.

CHP and the Sheriff’s Department will continue to do the best with the resources we have. Keep in mind the negativity towards law enforcement in the last few years caused many officers to retire and we’ve yet to fill the positions. This will take multiple years to correct. Elected officials are working towards street racing funding, but I’m more concerned with the numbers of officers available to fill the position.”

Operation Safe Canyons
“We have a program called Operation Safe Canyons,” wrote Sergeant James Arens of the Malibu / Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station — Traffic Office, adding that the Sheriffs overtime budget and deputies are largely concentrated during the summer on County Beaches and PCH when they are full of tourists.

“This operation focuses on racing, speeding and other dangerous driving within the canyon areas of the Lost Hills Station’s jurisdiction,” Arens wrote. “This is overtime money provided to us by the Third District of the County Board of Supervisors. The California Highway Patrol has a street racing task force, and they help us when we are having a street racing problem.”
Annemarie Donkin

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October 13, 2023