Residents of La Conchita have filed more than 125 claims totaling at least $5 million against Ventura County, contending that public officials failed to shore up a dangerous hillside and take other precautions to prevent a landslide that killed 10 people and ravaged the seaside village earlier this year.
More than two dozens homes were damaged or destroyed in the Jan. 10 slide, the second to hit the coastal Ventura County town in a decade.
An attorney for the county counsel's office said Wednesday that he had received 127 landslide-related claims and expected that number to rise to at least 150.
Included were 14 wrongful death claims, filed by relatives of residents who died in the slide, and 19 personal injury claims.
Most of the claims, which can be precursors to lawsuits, came in recent weeks before a six-month deadline for pursuing legal action expired Sunday.
Mike Bell, spokesman for the La Conchita Community Organization and a longtime resident, said he and others have grown increasingly frustrated by the county's reluctance to take action to bolster the hillside. He said he hopes the claims prompt the county to fix the hill.
"The community at large wants the hillside stabilized," said Bell, who filed a claim seeking unspecified damages for loss of property value and mental distress. "And the people who lost family members want justice."
The cost to settle the claims could exceed $5 million; some don't quantify monetary damages, said Al Boada, an attorney with the county counsel's office.
The county, which has 45 days to respond to the filings, will assert that state law makes public entities immune from liability in such cases, Boada said.
"In effect, they are reserving their right to sue," Boada said. "We would hope it doesn't come to that."
Many of the claims focus on the county's construction, after a 1995 slide, of an 18-foot-high wall at the base of the hill between the slide zone and the residential area.
The wall was obliterated in January's slide. But county officials have maintained that the wall was meant only to stop debris, not another landslide.
Still, residents zeroed in on the wall in their complaints, calling it "defective and insufficient." Many of the complaints contend the county should have done more to remove old landslides that have covered the area since the early 1900s.
Others argued that the county did not adequately warn residents about potential dangers of living in the seaside community, wedged between a 500-foot bluff and U.S. 101 not far from the Santa Barbara County line.
"The dangerous conditions and the actions, failures and omissions by Ventura County created a reasonably foreseeable risk of loss of life, personal injury and property damage ," one complaint reads. "Ventura County continues to endanger and to fail to protect lives and property in La Conchita."