Our View | Who Will Help Those Ousted by the Landslide?

By The Signal Editorial Board

At least five homes in the American Beauty and Trestles housing tracts are suffering death by a thousand cuts, as the hillside separating them gradually becomes a muddy slope.

The landslide first became visible a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of an unusually rain-filled rainy season. Several residents in American Beauty on Terri Drive noticed some cracks and slippage in their back yards. And those cracks and slippage got worse, to the point where fences and block walls collapsed, and mud flows began jamming into the Trestles homes below. 

As of this writing, five homes have been yellow tagged by the city, which means voluntary evacuation and/or limited occupancy. Further, the entire neighborhood — as many as 200 homes — will inevitably suffer tremendous losses in property value, not only due to word of mouth about the slide but also due to the potential that it will be a required disclosure whenever a home is sold.

Foundations are cracking, trees have toppled, walls are stressed. With more rain on the way in the coming week, it could get worse — and the consensus is, it will be months or more before the residents’ homes are repaired or maybe even, in some cases, replaced. 

Through all of the trauma, the question on most people’s minds has been, “Whose fault is this?”

Was there an error made in the soils and geology studies, or the grading designs, in either the American Beauty project (approved by the county in the ’80s) or the Trestles development (approved by the city in 2005)? Is it just an unavoidable, unforeseen act of Mother Nature?

Those are good questions and the two homeowners associations have each hired experts to try to get to the bottom of it. They’ve also jointly hired Landscape Development Inc. to step in and provide tarps, sandbags and water pumps in an attempt to mitigate the damage.

So for now, the answer to the question, “Who’s to blame?” will remain unanswered, until more detailed, expert information is available. It may not be possible to draw such a conclusion, or it may be a situation of shared responsibility. 

But there’s another question that bears asking. And that is, “Who’s helping these residents deal with this crisis that is forcing them out of their homes?”

Crickets.

The answer to that, evidently, is no one. Ask the residents what government assistance they’ve received and the answer over the past week has been, consistently, none. 

We’re calling on our various government entities to step up to the plate.

As the landslide has evolved, the upshot has been that the residents are expected to deal with it through their insurance companies. That’s all well and good, and of course they should be doing that. But it also means the response from the government entities that are supposed to serve those residents has been something along the lines of, “You’re on your own. Hope you have good insurance coverage.”

Locally, our own city of Santa Clarita has been curiously inattentive toward the residents’ plight as the slide forces them out of their homes. Yes, the city has dispatched engineers and inspectors to monitor the situation and make sure everyone on the scene is safe. That is of course an important function of the local government and they’re doing it. No gripes there.

But beyond that?  

Emergency housing? Help with moving or storing belongings? Any other forms of assistance? None that we are aware of. This, from a city that generally does a great job of serving its residents, even as it branches out into some non-traditional city functions. 

Remember, it may not be a large-scale disaster — but for those residents directly affected, this IS a disaster.

Further, as far as we can tell, the residents of American Beauty and Trestles haven’t received any assistance from other levels of government, including Los Angeles County and their elected state and federal representatives. What resources could be brought to bear? Has anyone inquired or tried? 

Yes, these residents are relatively small in numbers. And they’re not part of the underprivileged and underserved groups that California government agencies typically fall all over themselves to assist, like illegal immigrants and homeless drug addicts.

They’re just taxpaying, law-abiding homeowners who are left potentially homeless, and scrambling while their life investment is being gradually, tortuously, swallowed up in the mud of a slowly slipping landslide. 

These people deserve some help. Who will provide it?  

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