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Residents in Calabasas Slide Area Seek Answers

Government: Two homes in gated community have been damaged, but city and county officials are offering no easy solutions to accountability concerns.

May 09, 1998|SYLVIA OLIANDE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CALABASAS — Residents in Mountain Park Estates are searching for answers and accountability for a landslide that has damaged two luxury homes in the gated neighborhood, but city and county officials say there are no easy solutions.

One of the homes at the end of the Linden Terrace cul-de-sac, owned by former Dodger third-baseman Hubie Brooks, is only slightly affected and still livable, but the other, owned by Zareh and Rahel Vartivarian, was red-tagged because of extensive landslide damage, forcing the family to move out.

While none of the geologists studying the problem has determined the cause of the movement, members of the Mountain Park Homeowners Assn. cite several possible factors, including a broken storm drain, broken water pipe and suspected movement of adjacent county parkland.

Representatives of Los Angeles County, city of Calabasas and the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District met this week with the association at Calabasas City Hall to discuss the homeowners' concerns.

Assn. President Ed Simmons said each agency agreed to formally answer their concerns by Wednesday, but said homeowners were disheartened by the officials' denial of accountability.

One of the main concerns is the storm drain that runs along Linden Terrace between the two homes. A crew, sent by the city of Calabasas, studied the drain in early April by sending a camera through the line. The video showed the pipe had come apart at several points, leaking water into the soil.

City engineer Robert Newman said the city repaired the breaks three times, but that as the ground continued to move, the drain pipe continued to split apart.

On April 20, the city installed a pump to drain water from the soil.

Residents and city and county officials disagree over who is responsible for maintaining the storm drain.

Residents say they have been paying a flood control assessment through their property tax bills for the city or county to maintain the drain.

"When you buy property, the layman assumes that the flood control system is there to take away the water," Simmons said. "If I'm paying for someone else's [drain] down the street, it should be taking care of ours as well."

He said the residents should have been told the drain was not being maintained by a government agency.

John Kelly, superintendent of building for the county, said the tax assessment, a standard fee paid by all Los Angeles County residents, is used to maintain the county's entire flood-control system, including dams and local storm drains.

Government officials also said the drain in question was never signed over to them by the Mountain Park Estates developer, and that its maintenance is still the responsibility of individual homeowners.

Newman said the city does not solicit developers to relinquish private storm drains because many choose to keep them private. He said city officials have no way of notifying all residents who may be responsible for certain infrastructure maintenance.

"In an ideal world it may be nice to be able to do that, but how would I?" he asked. "We don't have the resources to do that kind of thing."

The residents question how the city and county's building permit and inspection process might have allowed the developer to build a faulty storm drain.

Another source of concern to residents is a broken water pipe owned by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. The broken pipe, residents say, may have saturated the soil and caused the landslide.

Water district officials said the pipe, which broke in the Northridge earthquake, was repaired immediately, but broke again in February 1995, when the district shut it down permanently.

David Lippman, senior engineer for the water district, said the pipe has been dry for more than three years.

Possible movement of county parkland, adjacent to the Mountain Park Estates development, also concerns the homeowners.

County officials said they conducted a visual inspection of the property and have not seen evidence of a landslide, but that they plan to send a geotechnical crew to study the area.

Otherwise, they said, they will help homeowners with permits if work crews need access to the parkland to repair the slope above.

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