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School Razing Too Noisy for Neighbors

Fountain Valley homeowners sue city, developers over what they call 'earthquake-like' shaking. They allege demolition project caused structural damage.

August 22, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

When the bulldozers showed up to clear away a Fountain Valley elementary school to make way for a senior citizens housing complex, vibrations from the work cracked slabs and split walls in a nearby tract, homeowners contend in a lawsuit against developers and the city.

The lawsuit alleges that "earthquake-like" shaking during demolition from November 2002 through January caused cracking of sidewalks, driveways, swimming pools and chimneys and other damage to homes surrounding the 13-acre project at Bushard Street and Talbert Avenue. The suit also complains about dust, fumes and noise from the construction project.

More than two dozen homeowners filed the action Aug. 15 in Orange County Superior Court seeking general and punitive damages. They allege decreases in home values and say they have been inconvenienced by the project and have suffered discomfort, emotional and physical distress.

Defendants include the city of Fountain Valley, Fountain Valley Development Co. LLC, Grey- stone Homes Inc., Meta Housing Advisors Inc. and Cobalt Construction Co.

According to the city's attorney, the various companies had agreed before construction began to protect Fountain Valley from any litigation resulting from the project.

"They agreed to hold us harmless," said Alan R. Burns, an attorney hired by the city. None of the companies returned phone calls seeking comment.

City officials are concerned about the residents' complaints and hope the matter will soon be resolved, Burns said.

Several homeowners declined to discuss the case. Their attorney, Anthony F. Witteman, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The project began last fall with the demolition of the former Fountain Valley elementary school, which was built in the 1960s. Construction has since begun to replace it with a 17,800-square-foot seniors center, 156 apartments and 54 condominiums for senior citizens, according to the lawsuit.

Residents have long complained to the city about the noise and damage. But, the lawsuit alleges, nothing has been done.

The city approved the project after a lengthy hearing process that included an environmental impact report, Councilman John Collins said.

"We did have an EIR," he said, "but that unfortunately didn't predict that by building on that ground, that citizens' homes in that area could be damaged."

After homeowners complained to City Hall, the city hired a construction consultant to investigate the complaints and, if necessary, help mediate specific claims, Collins said.

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