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Rancho Palos Verdes declares emergency after landslides

The city of Rancho Palos Verdes has declared a local emergency in response to landslides that have damaged several buildings and the threat of an unusually wet winter that may trigger more damage in the upscale community on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The Oct. 3 declaration by the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council comes after twelve townhomes in nearby Rolling Hills Estates were red-tagged in July and evacuated after landslides made them unsafe. Weeks later, two more homes were red-tagged in Rancho Palos Verdes’ Seaview neighborhood because of cracks and structural damage.

“This action strengthens the City’s access to resources to manage the land movement, especially in light of the El Niño weather pattern forecasted for this winter, and our ability to obtain possible mutual aid from county, state and federal partners,” Rancho Palos Verdes City Manager Ara Mihranian said in a statement.

The recent wet winter is blamed for the severity of the movement, with “heavy winter rainfall resulting in surface water percolating into the ground and lubricating the bentonite soil,” according to the statement by the city.

Downtown Los Angeles recorded more than 27 inches of rain last winter, surpassing famously wet cities such as Portland and Seattle.

Tropical Storm Hilary brought even more rain, with Long Beach Airport reporting 2.62 inches on Aug. 20, dwarfing the historical record for that day.

Significantly more landslide movement has been reported since the start of this summer in Portuguese Bend, Abalone Cove and Klondike Canyon. There have been no reported injuries from the slides.

Aerial view of homes

Significantly more landslide movement has been reported since the start of this summer in Portuguese Bend, shown here, along with Abalone Cove and Klondike Canyon.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The declaration will also allow the city to have “the authority to expedite contracts for repair work and issue orders to help minimize additional land movement,” the statement said.

Steps that have been suggested to residents as voluntary actions to slow down the slides, such as ceasing outdoor irrigation or draining leaky swimming pools, could now be required by the city.

The declaration enacts a “moratorium on new construction that may contribute to movement” in southern Rancho Palos Verdes, according to the statement, pending approval by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

No additional homes were red-tagged in conjunction with the City Council’s Oct. 3 vote, but with the arrival of El Niño possibly signaling another wet winter, more destabilization is possible.

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