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Valley Perspective

City Paid Deadly Price for Delay

November 10, 1996

Although too late for Rafeek Teraberanyans, the Los Angeles City Council last week agreed to spend $130,000 to improve drains along a deadly stretch of La Tuna Canyon Road east of Sun Valley. Storm drain projects rarely merit mention, but the city's delay in fixing recognized problems along the winding road has cost at least five drivers their lives over the past two decades. Poor drainage allows runoff water to cross the road and makes some curves too slippery to negotiate even at posted speed limits.

Teraberanyans was the last to die. The 34-year-old mechanic died in his wife's arm after a trash truck smashed into him on a rain-slick curve near Elben Avenue in 1994. Earlier this year, the city paid Teraberanyans' family $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit. Overall, the city has paid $1.6 million to settle wrongful-death suits stemming from accidents on the road. A report by the city attorney's office indicated that city officials had known about problems with the road since at least 1970. In fact, the road does not meet even its 1957 design standards. All along, though, the simple repairs to make the road safer went undone. Settlement checks got cut. People kept dying.

When La Tuna Canyon Road was finally studied this year, engineers proposed relatively simple fixes to capture runoff and keep it off the road. Work could begin within a few months. In addition to immediate repairs near the curve where Teraberanyans and the others died, city engineers plan to study improvements all along La Tuna Canyon to make it safer. Among the easiest: Lower the speed limit to reflect hazardous conditions.

Although last week's action is encouraging, it doesn't go far enough. Repairs were made only after City Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents the area, ordered the Department of Public Works to get to work. City rules require the city attorney's office to file with all settlement proposals a report that details conditions that prompted the claim. But all too often those reports go unread by the responsible department heads and even by the City Council itself. If the council is serious about saving money and saving lives, it should require as a matter of course that all legal settlements involving deaths or serious injuries be investigated, and corrections made as quickly as possible.

To make sure the work gets done, the City Council should impose deadlines on department heads and punish those who don't meet them. As the La Tuna Canyon road fiasco illustrates so well, inaction can have far more costly and tragic consequences than the relatively minor inconvenience of following through. Had the city done the right thing when it had the chance, Teraberanyans might still be alive today.

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