TORRANCE — The city has assumed liability for the destruction of a former mayor's home by a series of landslides this month in the Riviera section, but officials are waiting for the completion of geological tests before accepting liability for damage to another home.
City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer said it is clear that the city is liable for damages to former Mayor Albert Isen's house, but a "wait-and-see" attitude is being taken on the home owned by Frank and Ruth Smith.
The Smith home is just above a city-owned parcel that slid onto Isen's home. Isen's home was destroyed, and the foundation of the Smith home was exposed when the earth gave way beneath it. Engineers are now conducting tests throughout the slide area, which is about 350 wide feet by 100 feet high.
"We have to look at all the factors and the circumstances," Remelmeyer said. "It could be that the damage to the (Smith) home was in part caused by a lack of maintenance or a faulty upkeep of the land (by the Smiths). Right now we just don't know. Right now we're not interested in liability. We want to make sure life and property are protected and then we will worry about who's responsible."
The Smiths could not be reached for comment.
The city considers itself clearly responsible for Isen's home because the state requires property owners, which would include the city, to provide "lateral support" to keep land from sliding. City workers are busy completing work on a 20-foot retaining wall to prevent further sliding in the area, which is between Via Corona and Vista Largo. The wall is expected to be completed by next week.
The initial slide on April 10 affected only Isen's garage, but he and his wife, Sara, moved out anyway. Subsequent settlement of earth in the next two days so severely damaged the home that the city and the former mayor agreed to demolish--for safety reasons--what remained of the house.
City Manager LeRoy Jackson said that if Isen's house had not been torn down, it would have eventually collapsed by itself.
Remelmeyer said an appraiser looked at the house before its demolition. After a determination of the home's approximate market value, city officials will meet with Isen to discuss a settlement. Isen said the house was worth more than $500,000, but it was not insured against landslides.
"Our plans are completely unsettled," he said. "We haven't even been able to see what belongings we're missing." The city is paying the costs of temporary quarters for both couples.
2 Firms Hired
The city has hired two civil engineering firms to study the section of the hillside to determine the cause of the landslides. A preliminary report should be completed in about a month, said Ralph Grippo, director of the city Building and Safety Department.
Grippo said that although wet soil most often causes landslides, compacted, differing types of soil in the hillside or even a small earthquake could have triggered the slides. The hillside property was donated to the city in the 1970s to be maintained as open space. The most recent previous landslide in the area was in 1978, but it caused no damage to homes or property. Drains were then installed to prevent buildup of rain near the hillside.