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Owner Says House Is Awash in Problems Since Water Main Break

Mar Vista resident says DWP has failed to fix damage caused by a broken pipe two years ago. Los Angeles is disputing the claims.

November 12, 2002|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The flood waters receded 23 months ago. Anger is what is brimming over at Penny Amic's house these days.

The Mar Vista resident said Los Angeles utility officials have abandoned her after a water main in front of her house burst and inundated her property with thousands of gallons of water.

The gusher flooded her backyard and the crawl space beneath her home, then trapped water burst through a concrete-block retaining wall and cascaded down a hill behind her house, carrying the wall, 20-year-old trees, landscaping and part of the yard with it.

We're sorry; we'll take care of it, Amic said Department of Water and Power leaders promised her after city crews repaired the broken pipe beneath Biona Drive on Dec. 12, 2000.

But as a third winter rainy season arrives, Amic complains that the city has failed to repair her house or restore the yard that all but washed away. A series of bad El Nino storms could polish her off, she contends.

Besides washing away a chunk of her backyard, the flood weakened her three-bedroom home's foundation, meaning her house could be in jeopardy of sliding down the hill if there are unusually heavy storms, Amic said.

"The Department of Water and Power took my $650,000 house and destroyed it," said the former preschool teacher. "The owner down below me has come up and pounded on my door and said I've got to fix the damage before more of my property falls on his place."

Amic's claim is one of several stemming from the water main rupture. Her next-door neighbors have complained that their home has developed mold because of the flood. They've moved out.

City lawyers deny that they are stalling on paying for repairs. In fact, "the claims are on what's called the fast track," said Eskel H. Solomon, a deputy city attorney who works with the DWP.

"We believe Ms. Amic is asking too much for the damage we caused. I'm not going to make a gift of public funds; it ain't going to happen," he said. "There are no $650,000 homes in her neighborhood. Her house isn't $650,000."

Though house sale prices for Amic's neighborhood are not available, the median selling price for her ZIP Code in September was $435,000, according to the California Assn. of Realtors.

Solomon said the city disputes that Amic's house suffered structural damage from the flood. And the neighbors' mold complaint may be all wet too, he said.

"There's an indication of previous mold. Only in the last six to nine months I'm seeing mold allegations. I don't know if it's the cause celebre of the year or something."

As for Amic's partly eroded backyard, she'd better get busy repairing it herself if she is worried that it will collapse in a rainstorm, Solomon said.

"If she is concerned about damages, she should take steps to mitigate against further damage," he said. Pending the outcome of this claim, "she's got a duty to mitigate against further problems."

Amic said she can't afford to hire geologists to restore the backyard slope because she is a single, stay-at-home mother to two sons, ages 11 and 19.

Amic said the city's slow response in paying for the neighborhood damage is especially irksome in light of officials' response after the flood. According to Amic, a city lawyer who inspected the damage commented: "Good God! We destroyed her house!"

The city attorney's office denies that. "I spoke to the attorney involved. That is a total misstatement," Solomon said.

Amic said that several hours before the water main rupture, the Fire Department had been called to investigate a water leak in the street.

"They reported it to the DWP and were told, 'We have only a skeleton crew, and we're not coming out to fix it tonight,' " she said.

The city's lawyers said they are irritated at Amic for writing letters about the situation to Gov. Gray Davis, Mayor James K. Hahn, DWP General Manager David Wiggs, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, and members of the City Council and county Board of Supervisors.

It's a breach of protocol to try to get politicians involved before all administrative remedies are exhausted, they said.

But don't plan on a quick settlement, the officials suggested. A mediation session on claims by Biona Drive residents, which had been planned for Wednesday, has been postponed until Dec. 9.

And, looking ahead, the city has penciled in a March 18 Superior Court trial date.

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