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Street's Residents Say Hill of Dirt Is Heap of Trouble

November 01, 1995|JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — Clare Resnick doesn't let her little girl play out back anymore.

The constant drumming of earthmovers and oversized tractors kicks up too much dirt, and the mouse infestation keeps getting worse.

"Those huge tractors drive within five feet of my back fence," the Blackwood Street resident said Tuesday. "It's filthy."

Resnick is among a dozen or more residents fed up with the 10-hour-a-day construction work going on behind their back fences, the latest venture in the 2,350-home Dos Vientos subdivision.

Nestled in the folds of the Santa Monica Mountains, Blackwood Street abuts Dos Vientos, a huge residential project being developed by the Operating Engineers Pension Trust and Courtly Homes.

In recent weeks, work crews have pushed tons of dirt into a looming pile of earth and rocks, building a huge wall of compacted soil that butts up against the back yards of the Newbury Park homeowners.

"No one wants that in back of their house," said Michelle Koetke, who lives just around the corner from Resnick. "We want it to go away."

The stockpile of earth was scooped up to make room for a detention pond that will serve hundreds of new homes along Lynn Road.

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Fearful that the 25-foot-tall mound will never get moved, residents have begun to mobilize, bombarding local and federal officials with complaints and demanding to know why the pile was ever allowed.

"There's nothing more permanent than temporary solutions," said Frederic Doucedame, a contractor who lives along Blackwood Street. "I'm kind of concerned that the stockpile will stay there forever."

The homeowners also have distributed scores of flyers urging neighbors to get involved. Early Tuesday, at the close of a Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Linda Parks directed city crews to investigate the complaints.

Rats, snakes and mice rummage through the earthen piles, much more so than before the stockpile was pushed together, residents complain.

"My grandson found a snake back there two days ago," homeowner Pat Sherlorke said.

They also worry that a good, stiff rain could send tons of mud into their back yards. Sherlorke said she plans to spend $2,000 or more to build a brick retaining wall around her property.

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"When we get the rains we've had before . . . I don't need to be an engineer to know that that dirt is coming down," she said.

Project manager Richard Hostin said the stockpile will probably remain through the winter. He said it was placed near the Blackwood Street homes in accordance with specifications of the grading permit issued by the city.

"We're building it according to that permit," Hostin said. "But it should start getting smaller when they start grading across the street."

City Engineer Gil Pableo, who has fielded numerous calls from miffed Blackwood Street homeowners, said the city Planning Commission in 1989 approved the detention pond and stockpile when it allowed the new homes.

"It was allowed then, and we're bound under the ordinances," he said. "It's not a decision made by staff."

Nonetheless, Pableo said he is confident that the interim wall of dirt poses no threat to the health and safety of nearby residents. Erosion-control measures must be put in place this week under terms of the permit, he said.

But Cassandra Auerbach, the legal chairwoman of the Conejo Valley chapter of the Sierra Club, said contractors already have violated terms of their permit.

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"They're not covering the dirt out there and that's required," said Auerbach, who said state regulations call for stockpiles to be left uncovered no longer than two days at a time after Oct. 1. "It's a clear violation of their permit."

Hostin said his crews would begin covering the dirt by today. Plastic tarps secured with sandbags and stakes will prevent any mud from gushing into the back yards, he said.

"The contractor is aware of it and is in the process of implementing it," Hostin said of the tarps.

In the meantime, 20-month-old Kendall Resnick stays indoors.

"Otherwise she comes back pretty filthy," said her mother. "She likes to play with water in the back yard, and of course, water and dirt make mud."

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