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Owners Win Big on Landslide Damage

A jury orders Yorba Linda to pay about $900,000 for each of two property disasters from 1998.

August 21, 2003|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

Two Yorba Linda couples who said the city's faulty maintenance of a storm drain caused a landslide on their properties were each awarded about $900,000 by a jury Wednesday.

Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Sundvold had ruled in June that an August 1998 landslide ripped through a home and a neighboring backyard because the city improperly maintained a nearby storm drain. He also ruled that a contributing factor was the houses' proximity to an earthquake fault, which trapped water leaking from the drain.

On Wednesday the jury put a dollar figure on those damages, said William Bollard, an attorney for the couples. "The jury awarded the entire value of the properties -- both were a total loss."

Ron and Dawn Muranaka long contended that the city had ignored findings that the Bryant Ranch development was built on an active fault, violating the state's Alquist-Priolo Act. In 1980, about one-fourth of the 3,330-acre development was declared an active quake zone under the act, which prohibits building homes within 50 feet of fault branches. The Muranakas' suit, filed with Jack and Martha Raichart, focused on the city's landslide liability.

Bollard said the Muranakas were considering further litigation because construction was allowed near a fault. "I think the city needs to be held accountable for what they did," Dawn Muranaka said Wednesday night. "This whole area is a disaster, and they damn well know it."

The suit will now move into a third phase, in which the judge will award lawyers' and experts' fees. Bollard said those could top an additional $1 million.

Robert Owen, who represented the city, said no decision has been made on an appeal. He said Bryant Ranch was a developers' mess that had sullied Yorba Linda.

"The city was left holding the bag," he said, noting that several of the firms involved are no longer in business.

The neighborhood's saga spans several years and lawsuits, including a $6-million settlement developers and subcontractors made with 80 residents in 2002. The builders had said factors such as poor landscaping and heavy rains were to blame.

Residents said their homes were knowingly built on the Whittier fault line, with the city looking the other way when geologists warned of the dangers. The jury finding did not address those allegations.

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