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Long-Awaited Rebuilding Begins in La Conchita

Disaster: Five years after slide buried homes, county is repairing a key roadway and putting up a retaining wall. Some residents say more should be done.


LA CONCHITA — Five years after a landslide wiped out a chunk of this beach-side community, county work crews have begun rebuilding a neighborhood roadway and erecting a retaining wall to alleviate some sliding.

The $400,000 project will restore Vista del Rincon Drive, which connects two parts of the tiny town that was severed in the 1995 mud and rock avalanche that destroyed nine homes and damaged dozens more.

On Tuesday, work crews welded large pieces of metal to steel beams that will eventually be plunged into the ground and used as the main pillars of the 18-foot wall.

Engineers say the steel and wood wall will help keep back much of the sludge that cascades onto the town's streets every winter. But it won't do any good if another giant mudslide occurs, they say.

"The intent is to reopen the road and give access to residents, but if Mother Nature chooses to move the hill, there is nothing we can do about it," said Chris Hooke, principal engineer for the county's transportation department.

The hills above the town are in an area prone to slides. Five years ago, 600,000 tons of mud and rock tumbled down onto the community. No one was injured, but a four-block portion of Vista del Rincon Drive was covered in debris, dividing one of the town's two main thoroughfares.

Most area residents were evacuated, and property values plummeted, rendering many of the homes virtually worthless. Although happy about the improvements, many residents said that the work is long overdue.

"It's about time," said Dean Novy, who lives part time in a trailer at San Fernando Avenue and Vista del Rincon Drive. "It's taken so long to see anything happen."

Novy said it will be nice to clear the debris off his land, so he can rebuild his porch. He said part of his property was showered with dirt and rocks during the slide. His neighbors' homes were buried.

Along with the new construction work, Novy and other residents said the county should ensure that the owner of the avocado ranch above La Conchita does not over-water his orchards.

About 150 La Conchita residents sued the avocado farm in 1998, alleging that excessive irrigation caused the slide. But a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the farm owner's contention that the event was a natural disaster.

Several residents also pointed out that there is no effort underway to remove the demolished houses, some of which sit crooked on the hillside, looking as if a tornado blew through the area.

Residents said the houses will still be visible behind the 280-foot wall. The wall will stand 18 feet at its highest point and will sink 30 feet into the ground, almost to sea level, said Terry Greene, foreman for Summit Contracting.

Steel beams will support a wood fence along a two-block area from near Fillmore Avenue to Zelzah Avenue.

Tony Alvis, a 30-year La Conchita resident who along with his brother had two houses destroyed in the slide, said he would prefer the road and the wall not be built. He bought another house a few feet away from the damaged area, because he said he loves living there.

"When they rebuild the street it will just bring traffic," he said. "I'd rather they didn't bother with it. I like the dirt."

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