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Hill's Shift Bumps House Off Its Base


Neighbors in a tony section of Agoura Hills said Monday it looked like a scene out of a well-known horror movie, the one where an unseen force makes its cranky presence known by causing the earth to heave, buckle and crack the sidewalks.

But cinematic comparisons were the last thing on Richard O'Linn's mind. He was too preoccupied by the sight of his three-bedroom traditional with the balcony and pool creeping slowly off its slab foundation, the whole works knocked nine inches off kilter by movement in the water-logged hillside above his side yard.

And so on President's Day, while most were celebrating their luck at not having to work the holiday, O'Linn must have been cursing his. After electric power was lost during the previous night's heavy rains, he spent the day removing valuables from his Via Amistosa house with help from friends to comply with an Agoura Hills city order forcing him to vacate the potentially unsafe structure.

"It's pretty bad," neighbor Bobby Andrade, 17, said. "It looks like 'Poltergeist'--a lot of cracks, and the pool is completely wrecked. Their retaining wall above the house is cracked so bad, it's just gone."

And as in the horror movie, the scene of destruction caused quite a buzz among neighbors and local and county officials, many of whom spent the day on the site.

As O'Linn emptied the house of easily movable valuables under threatening skies, Agoura Hills Mayor Ed Kurtz and a bevy of other city officials peered at the hillside, trying to determine the extent of the damage and to gauge how much worse things were going to get. City geologists and other experts determined that the hillside was apparently undermined by too much rainwater soaking the soil, causing the movement, according to a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman and other authorities at the scene.

Occupants of an adjacent house were ordered to vacate too, although their house appeared to be intact, said Lt. Jim Glazar of the Lost Hills sheriff's station, whose deputies patrol the area.

"There's been so much rain lately that the ground is saturated and has begun to move under the houses," said Glazar.

"This one house has shifted, foundation and all," he said of O'Linn's house. "And the hillside is sliding."

Glazar said several other homeowners in the community just south of the Ventura County border have been warned that their homes could suffer some movement as well. And he said geologists with the city of Agoura Hills planned to stay close to the area to monitor the slippage.

Andrade, the neighbor who lives just 100 feet from O'Linn, said the rest of the homes in the exclusive neighborhood off Agoura Road appeared to be fine. By late Monday, however, the street just above O'Linn's yard, Calle Montecillo, had moved enough so that a 15-foot chunk of sidewalk slid partway down the hill. The house itself appeared to have some structural damage, including cracks in the pool.

Some officials warned that the damage in Agoura Hills could be a precursor of things to come late Tuesday, as Southern California braces for a series of storms that are expected to dump heavy rain on the area for several days.

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