RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Concerns about potential city liability and for the fate of people who could lose their homes sparked emotion at a town hall meeting last week at which the city Redevelopment Agency unveiled a $2-million plan to stop the ever-moving Portuguese Bend landslide.
The three-year stabilization effort calls for a system of canyon drains to prevent the seepage of rain water to the slide plane, grading and shifting tons of soil to reduce land movement, and relocating Palos Verdes Drive South.
Good Chance of Success
Officials said that a volunteer panel of geology experts recruited by city geologist Perry Ehlig gave the plan a 100% chance of success for slowing the slide, and 80% for stopping it.
But Andrew Sargent, an attorney and a Portuguese Bend resident, warned that the city may be taking on an "extreme liability" problem if it proceeds with the work.
"We have a natural disaster, and if we start moving dirt, we may have a man-made disaster," he said. "If the slide continues, or if it speeds up, we have a liability."
Agency Chairman Mel Hughes acknowledged a liability risk, but said that there could be an even greater liability if the city did nothing about stopping a landslide that is a known hazard. Agency officials said there is concern about accidents on Palos Verdes Drive South as a result of the road constantly being undermined by the slide despite city maintenance efforts.
Emotions ran high in the audience at the Ladera Linda Community Center when discussion turned to homes that would be lost as a result of the slide stabilization plan. More than 100 people attended the meeting that had been billed as an opportunity for public comment and questions about the plan.
Demolished or Relocated
According to the city, two, and possibly four, homes will have to be demolished or relocated when Palos Verdes Drive South--which has moved southward during the 30-year history of the slide--is returned to its original right of way in mid-1987. The homes have slid into, or near, the right of way.
"The road will go right through my living room," said homeowner Gene Frank. He and some other residents who could be affected by the plan demanded to know what the city planned to do about them. Some also said that they resented the fact that the city did not tell them in advance that they could lose their homes. "We read it in the newspaper," said Patricia Haney.
Frank and others at the meeting questioned the need to move the road.
"The road is hazardous," Hughes responded. "There is a need to move it back to a safe right of way."
Charles Abbott, city public works consultant who is in charge of the landslide project, conceded that the city does not yet have a plan for dealing with homes in the right of way. "We don't know if you will be relocated, if we will buy you out, or if we will find you other residences," he said.
Agency officials said that after property appraisals are completed, the city will negotiate settlements with the residents.
City geologist Ehlig, principal architect of the stabilization plan, told the group that based on readings from all monitoring stations there has been a decrease in slide movement in Portuguese Bend since 1984.
Officials credit a series of wells that have been pumping large quantities of water from the slide area for the slowing. Geologists believe that the continued land movement is caused by water percolating down to the slide plane.
However, resident Robert Smolley questioned that explanation. "Five-hundred million gallons have been pumped out, and it still is not stopped. The slide stops and starts on its own," he said.
"I have grave concerns about this plan."
Some people accused the city of secrecy in its handling of the slide stabilization effort and said they have been unable to get slide data from the city.
"There will be an environmental review process," Hughes countered. "You will have an opportunity to ask questions."
Resident Jean Smolley asked if the geologists who are vouching for the effectiveness of the plan intend to issue a formal report. Abbott responded that the volunteer panel of geologists met with city officials for two days at their own expense, and that a a summary of their remarks had been prepared. But, he added, "the geologists won't do a written report unless we pay them."
The stabilization plan will be reviewed again by the geologists before it is given a go-ahead, and some residents asked if the public would be allowed to observe that meeting. Hughes said that a format might be worked out for some public involvement. Abbott explained that the earlier meetings were held in private so that the "geologists would feel free to give their interpretations."
The redevelopment agency, which is made up of members of the City Council, was specifically formed to deal with the Portuguese Bend landslide stabilization. A state grant, which the city has not yet received, will pay for the work.
Work is tentatively scheduled to begin on Aug. 1 with the shifting of 400,000 cubic yards of soil from the slide mass to an area below in an effort to remove pressure from the slide plane and create a stabilizing force.