City officials on Tuesday evening, June 6, acknowledged the need for permanent repairs to stabilize the hillside below the Casa Romantica Cultural Center & Gardens, which experienced a landslide on Monday, June 5—the second in recent weeks.
“We don’t have any plans for any immediate work right now,” Kiel Koger, city engineer and director of public works, told councilmembers during a briefing on Monday morning’s landslide. “We think more permanent repairs need to happen to secure the building site at this point.”
City contractors, tasked with addressing the continued movement of the slope since May 12, were able to drill into the landslide area on Tuesday morning to start the process of determining the depth of the rupture surface, or the area underground where movement occurred.
Koger, while addressing the council and answering questions, said the latest work will help the city design a permanent solution. He added that it would take two to three weeks to finish the design once the city has all the information it needs.
There has been movement near the Reef Gate residential complex that neighbors Casa Romantica to the north, but city officials said the complex doesn’t need to be red-tagged at the moment.
Reporting from the city’s conversations with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and Metrolink, Koger said the agencies are again considering constructing a retaining wall for debris at the base of the hill.
“When we first had the slide on April 27, they were looking at putting some kind of retaining wall at the bottom of the slope,” he said. “After they saw the work that we were doing, both of us felt like that would be a nice temporary fix. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.”
During the first landslide in late April, Casa Romantica’s backyard terrace and landscaping fell roughly 25 feet down the hillside, resulting in debris settling on the train tracks just north of the San Clemente Pier station.
Metrolink’s and Amtrak’s passenger rail services through San Clemente were suspended for a few weeks, with trains going as far south as the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station on weekdays and the Downtown San Juan Capistrano station on weekends.
Those services had resumed over Memorial Day weekend, starting on May 27, but have been halted again following Monday morning’s landslide at the local landmark.
When Councilmember Victor Cabral asked Koger what the city’s expectation was for the work they did, Koger said they had hoped to lighten the load on the hillside while keeping enough soil against Casa Romantica to ensure the building wouldn’t fall.
“I’ve been an engineer for over 30 years,” said Koger. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve worked in some areas that have unique soil conditions.”
Regarding a potential solution, Koger said the city could install a 40-foot soil nail wall at the slope under Casa Romantica, which would allow for stabilization and the removal of a significant amount of beach sand in the hillside.
Koger further explained that a 30- to 40-foot layer of beach sand sits on top of a layer of clay in the slope, and that water has soaked into the earth because of the abnormally rainy winter and spring months.
“It’s like placing an ice cube on the hood of your car in the summer and trying to have it stop (melting),” said Koger. “You can’t do it, and it’s amazing to me how we keep reshaping the slope and trying to move dirt around, to evenly distribute it, and still, it’s sliding.”
Councilmember Mark Enmeier asked about the safety of the Casa Romantica buildings, to which Koger said he was concerned by the vertical slope face that exists under the property, where part of the back patio was lost.
The rest of the buildings appear to be stable for now, but Koger expressed a desire to find a solution sooner rather than later.
Train services between Oceanside and the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station remain suspended until further notice.