ROLLING HILLS — Thirty-six households in the Flying Triangle landslide area may have to start maintaining the constantly moving roads in their neighborhood if a judge absolves the Rolling Hills Community Assn. of the responsibility.
The association, which is made up of all property owners in the gated city of 2,300, has been responsible for road maintenance for 46 years. Roads lie on easements that were granted to the association by property owners when the 2.5-square-mile community was developed in the late 1930s.
In a lawsuit filed against the homeowners in Torrance Superior Court, the association contends that road maintenance in the hilly slide area is too costly and does not benefit the rest of the city because none of the streets is a through road. The suit asks the court to define the extent of the association's obligations for road maintenance. According to the suit, the association has spent $258,533 since 1980 to maintain Portuguese Bend Road, the principal street in the Flying Triangle area.
Citing opinions of unnamed geologists, the suit contends that the roads deteriorate as fast as they are repaired because of land movement, and says the association does not have the money needed to stabilize the slide.
Can't Afford Costs
If the association succeeds in ending its obligation, Flying Triangle residents will have to bear the cost. They say they can't afford it.
"I think a lot of people down there are hurting for a number of reasons," said Herb Agid, a defendant in the suit. He said some of his neighbors have spent thousands of dollars to lift their homes onto steel beams so they will move with the slide. "Some of the people are retired. They can't afford it."
Other Flying Triangle residents who were notified of the suit during the past two weeks expressed outrage.
"Most of us have lived here for a long time and the general feeling is, what have we done to cause them to sue us?" said Mirian Hartwig, a resident of Rolling Hills for 21 years. "We're angry. It's almost like they're taking advantage of our hardship. Why can't we help each other, for heaven's sake?"
'Totally Out of Order'
Catherine Partridge, who has lived in Rolling Hills for 35 years, called the suit "totally out of order."
"We feel it's a terrible thing that they're doing," she sad. "We consider it totally unfair."
"This is not a spite suit," said Nicholas Hornberger, association vice president. "The situation is that we're spending an inordinate amount of money in keeping the roadways up." He said the association has been getting complaints from other residents questioning the amount of money being spent in the Flying Triangle in comparison to expenditures in other areas.
Calling the situation "tragic," Hornberger said the roads in the slide area will be maintained as long as possible. By going to court, he said, the association's board is "just trying to get a fix on our obligation, if it comes to a point where we can't do it. We're not leaving them, and we will continue spending money on this."
Los Angeles County geologists say the ancient slide was reactivated by heavy rainfall in 1978, 1979 and 1980. Some Flying Triangle residents believe the slide was aggravated by rainwater runoff into Klondike Canyon from Crest Road, above the area, and say the association and city are responsible for the drainage.
The maintenance controversy points out the unusual nature of Rolling Hills, where public functions are divided between the community association and an elected City Council.
The association, which operates with an annual budget of about $700,000, takes care of "maintenance of roads and streets, bridle trails, riding rings, equipment for equestrian events, tennis courts . . . (and) construction and maintenance of gates and gate houses," according to the suit.
In addition, the association regulates architecture to preserve the rural atmosphere of the city.
City Provides Services
The city puts stripes and signs on the roads, regulates land use and zoning and provides such services as police and fire protection through contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's and Fire departments.
Mayor Tom Heinsheimer stressed that the City Council is not a party to the lawsuit, which he said he was unaware of when asked about it last week. He said he is concerned that the roads remain accessible to emergency vehicles.
"The council is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all the residents of the city, including those in the affected area, and obviously the very least of that is to insure access," he said.
Average annual road maintenance cost in the Flying Triangle slide area was $1,436 per lot during the last five years, according to the suit. The average yearly cost for roads in the rest of the city during the same period was $85 per lot.
Despite the higher costs, the suit states, some Flying Triangle residents pay less in annual association assessments than other Rolling Hills residents. Annual dues range from $600 to $6,000 and are based on county property tax assessments. The lower rate for the Flying Triangle residents results in part from the decreased valuation of their property because of the slide.
If the association is relieved of maintenance obligations, it would stop collecting road-repair assessments from the affected property owners, according to the suit.
No court date has been set for the suit, but Hornberger said such actions generally move swiftly through the court system.
Residents named in the suit are unsure of their next move, but some indicated a willingness to band together and fight the suit. "We're in this together . . . and so I think this may be the next step--to try and get everyone together," Hartwig said. "The city would love to have us go away, but we're not going to do it."