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Cracks Found in Homes Above Subway Tunneling

Transit: Three property owners say walls, ceilings and floors have suffered damage that agency officials say existed before work began in Hollywood Hills.


LOS ANGELES — In a scene reminiscent of previous problems along Lankershim and Hollywood boulevards, three Cahuenga Pass property owners are reporting cracks in the floors, walls and ceilings of homes directly above the route of Metro Rail subway tunneling in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The homes, on the south side of the 3900 block of Kentucky Drive, are 100 to 120 feet above the spot where a giant tunnel digging machine became trapped in a tricky stretch of soft shale over the Fourth of July holiday, and remained immobilized for six weeks.

The homeowners said the cracks began to appear in the last month and have widened in recent days.

"I'm noticing new ones every day," said Marian V. Betts, a 50-year resident of the hillside neighborhood. "I'm glad my husband isn't still alive because he'd have a fit."

Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Rae James said none of the Kentucky Drive homeowners had filed claims with the agency. She said MTA construction executives and engineers who examined the outside of homes from the street Friday believe the visible cracks were preexisting conditions.

She added, however, that "there should be no doubt that if we are the cause of any damage, we will fix it."

In Betts' home, quarter-inch-wide cracks that appear fresh crisscross the ceiling of a recently painted back bedroom, as well as the walls of her own bedroom, her patio and the tiled floor of a bathroom.

Two closet doors have jammed in recent weeks, she said.

MTA spokesman Jim Smart said Betts turned down an agency offer to put her up at a local hotel while tunneling progressed under her home 10 days ago. "It is not right to characterize us as indifferent or uncaring," he said.

Similar cracks and tilted walls and floors appeared in buildings along Hollywood Boulevard in 1994, and on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood earlier this year. It was determined the damage was caused by ground subsidence in the wake of subway tunneling.

Gaps left in tunnel walls by digging machines and not completely sealed by miners are eventually filled by dirt falling from above, excavation experts say.

MTA officials have long asserted, however, that they expected no such problems in the Santa Monica Mountains, where the agency is digging twin tunnels, 100 to 900 feet beneath the surface, that will one day ferry Red Line subway passengers between Studio City and Hollywood.

But the Kentucky Drive homeowners are convinced that subterranean problems are causing the ground around their houses to sag.

"When we expressed concerns at community meetings that our homes might be in jeopardy from tunneling, the MTA told us there was no way," said Barnett Williams, who lives next door to Betts and also says there have been fresh cracks in his home. "But now we know that was a lie."

A third Kentucky Drive resident, Pete Arata, said vibrations from tunneling also disturb him and his 75-year-old grandmother. Fresh-looking cracks are evident in their walls and driveway.

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