The last time a brush sweeper made a run through 14 residential streets in the Meadow Grove area of La Canada Flintridge, seven tons of rock and sand were collected and hauled away. That brought the total to more than 100 tons in five months.
The streets in the exclusive neighborhood were repaved in October with a chip seal, a layered mix of emulsified asphalt and coarse rock that tends to leave a residue of loose chips. But the volume of chips collected in Meadow Grove was not expected.
"Even with a good chip-seal project, you're bound to have loose rock," City Manager Don Otterman said, "but not like we've had here."
Threats of Legal Action
The 100 tons of rock may not be the only residue of the project. Calling it a "mess," a "disaster" and a "safety hazard," residents are threatening to file damage claims against the city and the city is threatening to sue the contractor and the Los Angeles County Roads Department, which drew up the job contract.
What was intended to improve 14 worn and cracked streets has instead turned them into a mixture of sticky tar and slippery gravel. There are no sidewalks in the area, so residents find it hard to avoid tracking the goo into their homes.
"Any time the weather heats up, the rock gets loose. It sticks to the carpet and you've got a real mess," said Ardella Horsfall, who lives on Flintridge Oaks Drive, one of the affected streets. "As you walk along the street, the tar is actually wet and you stick to it.
"My wood floors are ruined. I have to have them all resurfaced."
Other residents have cited several instances in which children slipped on the loose gravel and cut their hands and knees. Joggers and bicyclists who used to frequent the area have gone elsewhere, residents say.
At least two damage claims asking the city to pay for auto repairs stemming from accidents allegedly caused by the loose gravel have been rejected by the City Council. In one of those claims, the driver reported that he lost control and "the car just skidded while turning the corner as if it were on ice."
First Chip-Seal Project
The chip-seal job was done by Sully-Miller Inc., a Long Beach company that has handled many street projects in the city. The Meadow Grove project was the first time the city contracted with the company to have streets resurfaced with a chip seal rather than asphalt.
The firm has done quality work in the past, Otterman said, but "sometimes you just get a project that really goes bad, and we got one with this."
Sully-Miller and county officials declined to discuss the matter.
The city claims that when the work was done the weather was too cool for the rock and asphalt emulsion to properly solidify. And the county inspection job was not adequate, Otterman said.
Jim apRoberts, city public works commissioner in charge of street projects, said that normally about 5% of the rock used in a chip seal could be expected to come loose. In the Meadow Grove project, where about 565 tons of rock was used, that would mean there would be no more than 30 tons of chips.
The city has refused to pay $178,000 it owes Sully-Miller and $8,000 owed to the county for its services. The City Council is expected to discuss the matter at its meeting Monday night.
Among the city's options, Otterman said, are to repair the bad spots with another chip seal at a cost of $75,000 to $100,000 or to scrape off the chip seal and resurface the streets with asphalt, which would cost about $185,000.
Otterman said the city will negotiate with Sully-Miller and the county to repair areas the city feels are substandard. Taking the contractor and the county to court is a possibility if the city is not satisfied with the negotiations, Otterman said.
"At least they've agreed to go out and look," Otterman said. "That's all so far."
Withholding payment and periodically sweeping away the rock isn't much consolation to the upset homeowners who, like Horsfall, are angered over the damage done to their homes and the neighborhood, where houses cost $500,000 to $1 million.
Letter to City
"The city has substantially damaged the nature and character of our neighborhood," read a letter written by resident Charles Edward Simpson that was mailed to the city in February. "We consider the present condition of our streets to be an extremely serious matter requiring the utmost attention of the city and the devotion of its resources to an acceptable solution."
A city-ordered report compiled by a private consulting firm cites 161,000 square feet of surface street that needs to be redone, including the repair of potholes and bald spots.
The report, sent to the city in March by Osborne Geotechnical Engineering Inc., lists cool temperatures, poor workmanship and the use of oversized chips and inadequate rollers to push the rock into the asphalt emulsion as reasons for the botched job.
Before any repair work can be done the temperature of the pavement has to be at least 80 degrees and preferably closer to 90, apRoberts said.
Weather Delaying Work
He said he doesn't blame residents for being upset over the delay, but "the problem with a job like this is you can't make the repairs in cold weather. As soon as the weather permits we're going to get this thing corrected."
While the city considers what to do about the goo, hired sweepers will continue to comb the streets periodically, city officials said.
The city had its own work crews spread a layer of sand over the streets a few weeks ago to help soak up the seeping tar, which is expected to get worse as the weather gets warmer.
But the sand, said Horsfall, isn't much help.
"It goes from one thing to another," she said. "Now it's dirty. I'd rather have the old streets back. They weren't that bad."