By Eric Heinz
For more than six years, residents on or near Via Ballena have waited for restoration to take place on a bluff that collapsed right underneath the last slivers of home foundations.
About 13 homes were affected in the landslide and four had to be red-tagged as unsafe for living.
Now, construction has begun to push soil into the side of the bluff and compact it to restore its strength. For months, trucks and other vehicles have been prepping the slope for work, and within the next year the project should be completed.
But it’s a contentious issue, as residents voiced their frustrations and concerns at a public meeting on Nov. 13 at the San Clemente Community Center.
If everything goes according to plan, the residents affected by the landslide will be able to repair their homes through money allocated to them through a settlement agreement that took place after lawsuits from the area’s homeowners were filed against the golf course and the city.
An interesting development through the settlement process is that OC-Rehab LLC, a company mentioned in the settlement, was said at the Nov. 13 meeting to take clear title of the land owned by the golf course—only where the landslide took place—in order to keep the course safe from further liability. Residents were concerned that the company would try to repurpose that land, but officials at the meeting said any development on the land would have to go through City Council.
Also, because the golf course holes are designated open space, any development of more than one acre would have to go to a city vote, per Measure V, which was passed more than 10 years ago and requires a majority ruling on development in such areas.
Bill Baker, the attorney for the golf course, said insurance policies on homes may not have covered the landslide damages.
The plan is to restore a drainage pipe that ran under the bluff and down toward an outlet west of the course. The landslide had completely taken out the drainage, and officials said water had backed up prior to the slide. A retaining pool currently collects water flowing from the area, but that will be removed once.
Some people asked about whether holes 5 and 6 on Shorecliffs Golf Club, which is right next to where the landslide took place, would be replaced. According to the settlement agreement between the city, the golf course and 23 homeowners in the area, the holes are to be restored, but there’s also the issue of mitigation credits required by the California Coastal Commission, and the wetland areas that ran along the two golf course holes will need to be restored or other mitigation efforts will be required.
George Zeber, the president of Western Pacific Construction Services who is contracted to design and construct the bluff repairs, said he hopes the slope will be repaired by March and the riparian mitigation to be completed sometime in the summer, but those timeframes will depend on whether the Coastal Commission approves permitting for the mitigation.
Editor’s note: The San Clemente Times will continue to follow this story. Stay tuned for more information about the bluff restoration project as it becomes available.