For the nine years she has lived in leafy, gate-guarded Lakeside Village, a 500-unit condominium complex in Culver City, Michele Malkin has taken her hot showers for granted.
But that was not the case on Saturday, when the hot water began running again for the first time since natural-gas lines at the complex failed nearly two weeks ago. She said her shower was the big event of the evening.
"It was wonderful . . . it was so exciting," she said, laughing. "I came home and just took a shower. I think a lot of people did that--they turned on the water and were so ecstatic to take a hot shower."
More than 1,000 residents of the 12-acre luxury complex did likewise this week despite a blown-out network of private gas lines that is expected to cost condominium owners $75,000 to repair, property manager Nick Todaro said.
Under pressure from Los Angeles County health officials, operators of the complex were to complete work late Wednesday on a patchwork system of temporary gas lines and tanks to restore hot water while larger repairs are made. More than half a mile of underground line is to be replaced at the site by Oct. 22, Todaro said.
Wallace Shishido, chief sanitarian for the county's western district, said he ordered the interim measures last week after hearing residents' complaints about the complex, at Jefferson Boulevard and Overland Avenue. He said the county is prepared to take legal action against the association by the end of the week if hot water to all 500 units does not go on--and stay on--as ordered.
"We've completed . . . our report," Shishido said. "We can start the wheels rolling as far as court proceedings. (But) we may drop everything as long as the hot water is provided."
By early Wednesday, 9 of the complex's 14 buildings were receiving hot water by means of nine 500-gallon propane-fueled heating tanks installed by emergency work crews, Todaro said. Three other buildings were hooked to temporary natural-gas lines, and the final two structures were to receive similar connections by the end of the day.
"We're pretty well back to normal, considering we still have a lot of trenches . . . around the property," he said.
Residents described it as the apparent end of a long, sometimes exasperating saga.
Lynn Forman, 32, a marketing consultant for the recording industry, said she had joined a health club soon after gas service was halted just to get a hot shower. With the hot water now running again at her unit, she plans to use the health club for exercise, she said.
"I'm really happy," she said Tuesday, a day after service was restored in her building. "To be in my own bathroom was really nice. I took a long, hot bubble bath."
Todaro said members of the Lakeside Village Homeowners Assn. thought they had successfully repaired leaking gas lines just a week after natural-gas odors were noticed at the complex late last month. The odors prompted Southern California Gas Co. officials to close the main valve to the village on Sept. 22, after which the owners association hired maintenance crews to repair at least two separate sections of the pipe, Todaro said.
During city inspections of the work, however, other portions of the line gave way. Todaro charged that a 60-pound pressure test demanded by a Culver City inspector was too much for the 15-year-old lines.
"It should have been a 45-pound test," he said. "We never have more than seven or eight pounds of pressure in those lines. . . .
"As it is . . . we're stuck with a total repair. We're totally abandoning the pipeline."
Richard Miyahira, a building official who oversees inspections for Culver City, disputed Todaro's assertion, saying the line was given a 35- to 40-pound test. He said the test was appropriate for the size and composition of the pipe.
"It failed at that pressure," Miyahira said.
Residents, who had been told hot water would be running by the end of September, reacted angrily to the unexpected repair problems. Some threatened to file lawsuits or to withhold their maintenance fees--$179 a month, plus a mandatory $5 charge for a satellite dish television receiver.
After meeting with a health inspector last Wednesday, Todaro said hot water would return in 24 hours. In an interview Monday, he said it would be on by nightfall.
"Today was our deadline," he said at the time.
Meanwhile, residents were forced to adapt. Many lined up for showers in the recreation room, where two pairs of electrically heated showers were in unprecedented demand. When those ran cold, some took advantage of hot showers at the nearby Culver City Municipal Plunge, opened during morning hours by special decree of the City Council.
At a homeowners meeting Tuesday night, one resident got into a shouting match with a board member, according to registered nurse Judi Kessler, another tenant who witnessed the outburst.
"She was screaming and yelling and cursing," Kessler said. "I think she was pretty stressed out."