City engineer: too early to diagnose cause

SAN CLEMENTE (CBS) — An attorney representing homeowners whose properties on Via Ballena are threatened with a hillside collapse said Monday that city officials are to blame for the mudslide.

KNX 1070’s Jon Baird Reports

Attorney Serge Tomassian is representing several homeowners on Via Ballena who sued in Orange County Superior Court in 2008, blaming the city for a faulty water management system that the residents say damaged their homes.

The suit will go to trial in late spring or early summer, Tomassian said.

The six homeowners affected by last week’s hillside collapse have also hired Tomassian to pursue claims against the city.

“They were dumping the water from a regulator onto the street — there was so much water dumped it went into the storm drains, which were overwhelmed and couldn’t take all the water,” attorney Serge Tomassian said. “The slopes were already weakened by the rain and already prone to land movement…The city should know better.”

Tomassian said he doesn’t know why city officials were dumping the water on the street after the rains, but he pointed to a nearby, underground water vault that had to be drained.

City engineer Bill Cameron acknowledged that some groundwater had to be siphoned out of an underground water vault near the fallen hillside, but he said it was a small amount of water and it was diverted to a storm drain that empties into a canyon.

A creek below the collapsed hillside has turned into a river and is now a lake following the most recent rains and dumping of water, Tomassian said.

“The city has to make a decision,” Tomassian said. “Do they write off Via Ballena? Or does the city step in with a comprehensive plan to save that street? I just can’t imagine the city not wanting to protect its own reputation and its own citizens.”

It’s too soon to diagnose what led to the hillside collapse, Cameron said. Geo-technical experts would have to drill holes and do tests, but city officials have not decided whether to proceed, Cameron said.

“Right now we’re more concerned with the safety and welfare of the residents,” he said.

Four of six homes near 247 Via Ballena have been red-tagged by city officials, meaning the properties are deemed uninhabitable. City officials continue to monitor the other two homes, but the residents are still allowed access, Cameron said.

Because the homes and the landslide are on private property, residents will have to show city officials that the dwellings are safe before they can return, he said.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

Comments (4)
  1. vito says:

    That”s it. Blame the city. You homeowners were stupid enough to live on a bluff and now you got burned. Get out your checkbooks. A retaining wall will be only $1M. Get a HELOC at BofA.

  2. tgfov says:

    Question: If water was running down the street and going into the storm drain unless it overflowed how did it effect the stability of the soil? As for the utility vault they are not normally large, it was probably being drained of rain water to inspect facilities inside to prevent damage to them that is a normal inspection procedure. I would lean more to the massive rainfall that we had in So. California the ground got over saturated and started to moved. I wish them all well in there dilemma however it appears they have to prove negligence in the City’s part and I don’t see it.

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