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Malibu lies at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains along the southern edge of California's Transverse Ranges Geomorphic Province. Although much less imposing than mountains in the northern part of the province, notably the San Bernardinos and the San Gabriels, the Santa Monicas nevertheless have great local significance for Malibu. A combination of geographic iso-lation, acceptable topography, and coastal proximity, all within reasonable distances of metro-politan centers, gives Malibu its especially desirable character. Nevertheless, this comes with disadvantages beyond those of traffic congestion and high real estate values.

In terms of physical risk, south-facing mountain slopes open to high-intensity rain storms are therefore locally prone to landsliding. Furthermore, along the base of the mountains lies the potentially active Malibu Coast fault that defines the northern edge of a fault zone extending several thousand feet or more offshore. This presents a certain risk of structural damage from earthquakes and, although perhaps of somewhat less concern, tsunami inundation. Nevertheless, it was the decline of the Rindge interests, doomed almost from the beginning by county- and state-wide economic concerns, that has given rise to Malibu's dominant residential character as well as certain environmental problems peculiar to such development. It is to this, especially with regard to the California's environmental legislation, that the geology of Malibu currently is most relevant.