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Caltrans Settles Slide Lawsuit

September 08, 2006|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

Caltrans has agreed to settle a lawsuit and buy five Anaheim Hills houses damaged in a March 2005 landslide that the agency acknowledges it caused, a lawyer for the homeowners said Thursday.

Neither side would say how much the state is paying for the homes.

The California Department of Transportation plans to raze the houses on East Circle Haven Road and Maple Tree Drive in order to stabilize the hill. Caltrans will also demolish two other homes on the ridge that it bought after a 1998 landslide in the same area.

The five families forced to evacuate during last year's slide sued Anaheim and Caltrans in May 2005, alleging that poorly maintained storm drains and sewers led to leaks and slippage of the Caltrans-owned slope below the homes.

The slide occurred after unusually heavy winter rains.

The day of the slide, steep backyards collapsed into two houses below and made three more atop the ridge unlivable. Afterward, Caltrans drilled holes and inserted pipes into the rain-saturated hillside to drain the water.

The homes, near the intersection of the Costa Mesa and Riverside freeways, are within a quarter-mile of a Caltrans-owned slope that slid in 1998 while the agency was stabilizing a hillside. The agency bought three properties damaged in that slide, demolishing one house and leaving two others vacant.

Since last year's slide, two of the displaced families have bought new homes; the others are renting. Their lawyer, Michael H. Leifer, said the main terms of the settlement were reached after a weeklong mediation last month. Anaheim was dropped from the suit once Caltrans accepted full liability for the slide.

The homeowners, he said, "are definitely relieved that it looks like it's coming to an end," Leifer said. "It was a huge upheaval in all of their lives. They lost their houses, but they still had mortgages, bills to pay."

Leifer expects the settlement's final details to be completed by the end of the year.

Once Caltrans acquires the homes, agency officials said, the agency will stabilize the hill once and for all. Plans call for two retaining walls to be sunk 60 feet into the hillside. Construction, which is set to begin early next year, should take about 18 months, said Caltrans spokeswoman Pam Gorniak. She said the agency did not know how much it would cost.

Leifer said he was also representing five other families in the neighborhood that have sued Caltrans, alleging lost land value. Most houses in the neighborhood are about 2,600 square feet and have four and five bedrooms. Their cases have not yet been resolved.

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sara.lin@latimes.com

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