Lawyers, residents want area marked for ‘emergency’ so reconstruction can begin
By Eric Heinz
The continuous crack through 88-year-old Frances Bier’s home, extending through another 11 homes on the 200 block of Via Ballena, has her concerned.
She said she doesn’t want to move and neither do her neighbors. The neighborhood fears, though, if something isn’t done soon to repair the damages from a 2011 landslide (which left homes significantly damaged or red-tagged), it could make the situation worse than it already is.
Last week, the homeowners affected by the landslide settled out of court with the city of San Clemente and Shorecliffs Golf Club.
Shorecliffs Golf Club and the city agreed to pay $10.8 million for the repairs, which would include restoring portions of the bluffs and creating a drainage pipe that doesn’t run under the homes. Currently water is flowing just past the bluff in a pipe next to the golf course. There currently is no timeline as to when construction can begin.
The city and the golf course were sued because they maintain the infrastructure, but because of the settlement no one is assuming liability.
The landslide, attorney Serge Tomassian said, was the result of a drainage pipe that built up pressure and ruptured, causing the hillside on which the homes sit to collapse.
Most of the money from the lawsuit is paid through insurance funds, according to Tomassian.
While the city and the homeowners have settled, City Engineer Bill Cameron said no work can begin until mitigation requirements—such as obtaining permitting from entities such as the California Coastal Commission and other entities—are met.
“Permits need to be obtained before construction starts,” Cameron said. “That was signed by all (involved). The city is in favor of an expedited process.”
Cameron said even if the city designated it as an emergency site, it wouldn’t remove the requirements necessary to start the project.
“(The homeowners) are working on the plans right now and trying to get the permits in place to get the project started, and hopefully when all the costs are determined they’ll be less than the settlement agreement,” Cameron said. “You still have all these other steps for the rest of the settlement agreement. Basically it comes down to that. But the city is in favor of getting the repair done as quickly as possible.”
Engineers hired by Tomassian’s law firm stated in letters from January that the site should be designated as an emergency situation due to the condition of the hillside and the possibility that heavy rains could make the situation even worse.
“The undersigned and American Geotechnical recommend that you do whatever you can to light a fire under whomever needs to have that fire lit under them to get this project underway,” a letter dated Jan. 15 from American Geotechnical’s Gregory Axten to Tomassian read. “The tragedy has been substantial to the homeowners over the last few years but will be regrettable and disproportionately worse if another episode of landslide occurs. Such an event is very possible and even likely in response to the upcoming rains.”
Ralph Jeffery, president of Pacific Coast Land Consulting, also hired by Tomassian’s firm, echoed Axten’s sentiments in another letter.
One home that was red-tagged belongs to 93-year-old Ann Cole, who moved into the home when former President Richard Nixon was in office. She said she wants to return to her home if possible.
“I really would love to get back into it, lord willing, if they get it fixed fast enough,” Cole said.