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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

La Conchita to Begin Digging Out

Disaster: A road buried by the 1995 landslide will be repaired. Project will join divided town.

October 12, 1999|GARY POLAKOVIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In what would be the most significant cleanup action since the 1995 La Conchita landslide, work crews are expected to soon begin repairing the portion of Vista del Rincon Drive still buried in debris and to install a 16-foot-tall retaining wall above it.

When the slope above La Conchita came tumbling down in a great landslide four years ago, nine homes were destroyed, dozens more were damaged and a key thoroughfare connecting the two halves of the town was severed. And things have remained that way--until now.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors later this month is expected to award a $363,000 contract to Duarte-based Summit Contracting for the cleanup work. It would be a small but significant victory for residents, who have seen their community declared a disaster zone and watched property values plummet.

"Nothing has been touched since the landslide," said Norma Harrel, who has lived in La Conchita for 14 years. "The homes are still buried. The road is still closed. Something needs to be done. It's long past due, but we're glad for anything they can do."

The plan calls for removing 2,150 cubic yards of debris covering a 200-foot portion of Vista del Rincon between Fillmore Street and Zelzah Avenue. Residents have been pushing for that remedy as a way to improve traffic flow and reconnect neighborhoods.

"It's one of those important steps in healing some of the community's wounds over the landslide," said Supervisor Kathy Long, whose district includes La Conchita.

The hillside above the town is in an area long prone to landslides, and it broke loose in 1995 after a month of heavy rains, hurtling 600,000 tons of mud and rock onto the community. Early warnings prevented major injuries or deaths.

About 150 La Conchita residents sued an avocado farm that overlooks the town, alleging that excessive irrigation caused the slide, but a Superior Court judge last year ruled in favor of the farm, which contended that the event was a natural disaster.

The roadwork being planned will not stabilize the slope, which remains vulnerable to future landslides, said Butch Britt, deputy director of public works for the county.

"It's not intended to stabilize the entire slope, it's just intended to clear the street," Britt said. "There's still the potential for more slides, and if the whole mountain decides to move again, that retaining wall is not going to stop it."

Long said several factors prevent officials from stabilizing the slope, including private property interests and the size of the task. The project could cost $50 million, and there are not enough funds available to pay for it, she said.

"[La Conchita] is in limbo," Long said. "It's between a rock and hard place."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would pay $363,000 for the roadwork. If the supervisors approve the contract, work could begin in 30 days, and Vista del Rincon could be reopened within 90 days, perhaps before winter rains arrive, Britt said.

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