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Hilltop house in Encino may slide into neighboring structures

City says groundwater saturation could have caused slope to slip.

February 12, 2008|Andrew Blankstein and Victoria Kim | Times Staff Writers

A hilltop Encino home on a street of million-dollar residences with panoramic views split in two Sunday night and threatened to slide into neighboring houses Monday, authorities said.

The foundation of the house, which was unoccupied and undergoing renovation, apparently cracked after flooding erupted in the 15000 block of Skytop Road. The flooding may have been caused by groundwater saturation, city officials said.

Four homes below the damaged property were in danger, fire officials said, and two had been red-tagged, meaning no one was allowed inside.

Geologists, seismologists and engineers spent much of Monday examining the home and surrounding hillside in an attempt to determine the rate of slippage. They also sought to determine if they could reduce the weight of the house.

"Any additional weight could cause that thing to slide or fall," Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman d'Lisa Davies said.

At one of the red-tagged homes, Hugo De Castro was surveying damage to his yard. A fountain lay toppled on its side, and the ground was pushed up about 6 feet from pressure from the sliding home above. The carport was raised 3 feet off the ground.

De Castro, a retired UCLA law professor, said he arrived home about 10 p.m. Sunday to a "horrible hissing noise" that turned out to be a gas leak.

"I walked around and saw strange things like trees leaning," he said.

De Castro, a 40-year resident of the neighborhood, said he was concerned that mud or debris from the home above would knock his house off its foundation.

Monte and Marlene Polson, residents of another home on the hillside, said they had a similar problem about a year ago when water gushed from the same house and sent dirt and mud into their backyard.

Fire Department officials discovered the damage to the structure after getting a report about 10 p.m. Sunday of flooding on the street. Authorities initially reported the source of the flooding as a possible water main break but said Monday they had found no evidence of that at the scene.

"Because of the instability of the water source and the weight of the home, the whole hillside is unstable right now," Davies said.

Department of Water and Power officials said Monday morning that the flooding may have been caused by rising groundwater from recent rain.

"There was no water coming out of any of our structures" Sunday night, department spokesman Joe Ramallo said.

By Monday morning, officials had marked the home with yellow, orange and green paint and placed sticks at various spots to try to determine how fast the structure was sliding.

Sunday night, fire officials arrived shortly after 10 p.m. to find the single-story home with cracks down the center of the roof, Davies said.

Monday morning, a hole in the foundation was visible under what appeared to be the dining room, where a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. A red sign on a tree outside read, "Unsafe to occupy due to slope failure."

The fissure under the home appeared to run 20 feet into the hillside, officials said.

Earlier Monday morning, loud cracking could be heard as part of the house shifted several feet. Most of the sliding occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight Sunday, said Fire Department Capt. Armando Hogan.

The street was closed to traffic in an attempt to limit vibration that could further destabilize the hill, Hogan said.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

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