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MORE ON THE SAN PABLO SLIDE

Posted by xaviervir on June 28, 2011

FROM TODAY’S WEST COUNTY TIMES:

City responsible for March landslide damage, San Pablo homeowners say

Posted: 06/28/2011 11:33:14 AM PDT
Updated: 06/28/2011 11:57:52 AM PDT

A group of San Pablo homeowners wants the city to accept responsibility for a landslide that damaged their homes in March, noting a history of landslides in the area and that the city once condemned at least two nearby lots after finding them vulnerable to slides.

The latest landslide occurred March 24 after a series of heavy rainstorms that damaged seven homes, four on the 5900 block of Wyman Street and three downslope on the 5900 block of Hillcrest Road, in a subdivision developed in the late 1950s named Marina View.

The homeowners say the city should fix the slide and that it has ample money to fund permanent repairs in an emergency reserve that contained at least $9 million as of earlier this year. But the city takes the position that it is not responsible for damage to private property that it had no role in. And last week, City Manager Matt Rodriguez said both state law and case law give the city immunity in situations such as the present one, without elaborating.

In an April 27 news release, Rodriguez said that “geotechnical experts stated that it does not appear that any prior city work or property ownership contributed in any way to this most recent slide,” but the homeowners dispute that any geotechnical expert ever said such a thing.

The homeowners have turned up historical records documenting at least three earlier slides in the immediate area: a pre-1955 event, known as the “Old Slide,” upslope across Wyman Street and a few feet east


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of the seven homes damaged in the March event; a 1958 slide that affected one of the properties damaged in the latest slide and three others immediately east and north; and an early 1980s slide that forced a major rebuilding of Hillcrest Road.In November 1958, the City Council declared two lots on the 5900 block of Hillcrest “unstable, in a slide condition and unfit for building purposes” as part of resolutions to acquire the lots by condemnation for $1 apiece. In January 1959, the council condemned a property on Wyman immediately east of one damaged three months ago.

In late 1958, the council awarded a bid for the “correction and alleviation” of a slide between Hillcrest and Wyman. In early 1959, the council approved a notice of completion for the correction of what since had been dubbed the Marina View Slide.

In 1980, the city sold the previously condemned Wyman Street lot and an adjacent one to a private individual who put houses on both parcels. One of the properties was damaged in the March slide. It is adjacent to the house of the Walker family, who were routed by the recent slide when their backyard collapsed and undermined the foundation of the house. The Walkers spent about a month in a nearby hotel at city expense before moving in with friends.

On April 17, the city proposed to pay for an “interim fix” of the slide, expected to cost between $100,000 and $150,000. The city described the payment as a humanitarian offer it had no legal obligation to make because it did not cause the landslide. A permanent fix would come at a future date, officials said, holding out the prospect of state or federal help. But last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected California’s request for aid to 19 counties, including Contra Costa, that suffered damage from the March storms.

In order to proceed with the interim fix, the city required homeowners to release the city from liability for any damage caused by the interim fix work and to take on liability for any legal action from third parties. But most of the homeowners balked, and submitted a modified agreement that would not indemnify the city for third party litigation. The city rejected the modified agreement, saying it was litigious and put the city at risk.

On June 9, in an e-mail to Bay Area News Group, Rodriguez elaborated on his April 27 news release and his statement that geotechnical experts had said it did not appear that any prior city work or property ownership contributed in any way to the most recent slide. He said the city’s geotechnical expert, Alan Kropp of Berkeley-based Alan Kropp & Associates, made statements to that effect at a March 30 meeting with homeowners, “and possibly at other City Council meetings at which the matter was discussed.”

One of the homeowners affected by the slide, Joe Romey, has challenged the city to produce proof that any experts — the news release speaks of them in the plural — made statements to that effect.

“I don’t believe it,” Romey said. “Prove it.”

Kropp, in a June 18 e-mail, said he was traveling abroad and would look into the issue when he returns this week.

The homeowners want the city to hire Kropp or another geological expert to perform tests. Rodriguez said last week that the city cannot proceed as long as the homeowners do not sign the release.

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