SACRAMENTO — A bill to provide a $2-million loan for geological work to stabilize the Portuguese Bend slide area in Rancho Palos Verdes has won unanimous approval from the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
The committee on Tuesday approved the measure by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro) by an 8-0 vote and sent it to the Ways and Means Committee.
City officials told the committee they have turned to the state for help because stopping the slide, nearly three decades old, "is a massive effort beyond the capacity of a city the size of Rancho Palos Verdes."
Felando, whose district covers the Palos Verdes Peninsula, had proposed giving the city $6 million--though the estimated cost of halting beach erosion below the slide area could reach $20 million.
But William H. Ivers, director of the state Department of Boating and Waterways, told the committee he had reservations about the proposal.
Ivers, whose department would channel the funds to the city, said he was concerned that only a portion of the project, particularly along the shoreline, would benefit the public.
Moreover, he said, "We can't improve the beach erosion until the land movement is corrected."
Committee Chairman Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) went on to say he wanted to control the landslides before committing state funds to the more costly task of ending beach erosion, which would require constructing a seawall at Abalone Cove.
The committee settled on giving the city a $2-million, no-interest loan, rather than an outright grant as Felando requested.
Rancho Palos Verdes city officials who appealed to the committee for the money said the $2-million loan would be a first step toward easing the slides, which began in 1956 and have destroyed 128 homes on nearly 300 acres of coast land.
"We've got a slice of the loaf," Councilman Mel Hughes said after the hearing. "We can certainly use the $2 million because we don't have the funds to proceed."
Hughes added that even if the measure is passed by the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian, it could encounter further roadblocks.
For one thing, Hughes conceded that he was uncertain how the city would pay back the state.
Hughes said the committee may have added to the city's problems by asking that the loan be repaid through a benefit assessment district made up of property owners who would tax themselves to fund the stabilizing efforts.
The councilman said that ownership of the land is knotted in legal disputes, and it is unclear which landowners would make up the assessment district in the landslide area along Palos Verdes Drive South.
Two assessment districts have been formed to respond to other landslides at nearby Klondike Canyon and Abalone Cove, but landowners at Portuguese Bend have not formed a district.
The $2 million would be used to pump out water that has seeped into the geological formations, triggering the land movement. In addition to the so-called dewatering wells, the money would be spent on other drainage facilities and grading.
Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor John McTaggart argued that the state would benefit from the geologic work because the city would be pioneering techniques that could be used to halt other landslides along the coastline.
Felando said that he could face an uphill fight for the loan in the Ways and Means Committee, where lawmakers carefully scrutinize appropriations.
But Felando said he was hopeful that if the initial $2-million loan is approved, the city will be able to show the state it can control the slide and then persuade the boating department to help build the seawall.