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Residents along Scenic Drive in La Honda are still waiting to resolve responsibility for a landslide that made their homes unlivable. Kyle Ludowitz/Review

Nearly two years after a landslide ripped through a section of Scenic Drive in La Honda and destroyed at least three homes, affected residents are waiting on compensation for the damage. 

Whether that compensation comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or through a pending lawsuit the neighbors filed against their local municipal water company remains to be seen. The neighbors — nine listed plaintiffs — are alleging that Cuesta La Honda Guild failed to address water leaks that may have contributed to the landslide and are asking the water company for payment to cover the costs of damage. That damage is estimated at around $2 million for each of six homes. 

Tucked within the coastal hillside that sits roughly half an hour’s drive south of Half Moon Bay, the rural town has known landslides before. In 1998, El Niño storms were responsible for taking out a row of homes located above Scenic Drive. In 2005, additional movement affected more homes in the area. 

The most recent landslide struck in January 2017. It initially damage the home of Paula and Derek Krogh, at 345 Scenic Drive,  to the point where it was red tagged — deemed unsafe to use. 

As the slow-moving landslide progressed over the course of several days, a total of three homes were rendered entirely unlivable and marked with a red tag. 

“The landslide has basically turned into a chasm that crosses three properties with cliffs eight feet tall,” Paula Krogh told the Review at the time. “Somebody called it a mini Grand Canyon.”

Citing the pending lawsuit, Krogh declined to provide an update on the situation, but told the Review in January 2017 that her first hint of an issue came with the doubling of an existing one-inch crack in her garage. A short time later, a roughly five-inch crack erupted in the street and a water main broke. 

Responders from a variety of agencies, including Cuesta La Honda Guild, were on the scene to mitigate slide-related hazards and provide support. The La Honda Fire Brigade was another regular on the scene during the time.  

Today, La Honda Fire Brigade Chief Ari Delay says that aside from the directly affected homeowners, the biggest hassle related to the slide is the blocked thoroughfare. 

“Scenic Drive is basically the central artery going into Cuesta La Honda,” said Delay, who has lived in La Honda his entire life. It’s an annoyance for the residents who have to rely on alternate routes to get around, says Delay, and affects emergency response time in the area as well. 

The lawsuits were filed at different times with different law firms from July 2017 to January 2018, before they were later consolidated. 

They state that in November 2014, Cuesta La Honda Guild had either caused or discovered a water leak while attempting to replace a water meter and allegedly allowed the water to leak continuously below and above ground until August 2016 when the leak was repaired.

“The water that leaked was a substantial cause of a landslide which occurred on or about March 2016, and which significantly expanded on or about January 10, 2017,” the suits read. 

Through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, FEMA has conditionally agreed to pay a percentage of the appraised value of the homes before the landslide, according to FEMA spokeswoman Brandi Richard. 

San Mateo County officials say that the agency has agreed to pay 75 percent. However, the payment is conditional considering the pending lawsuit and the agency has placed a Jan. 31 deadline on the homeowners to determine whether they want to continue to pursue the litigation. FEMA has said it will not offer payment if the homeowners will be compensated through the lawsuit.  

“You can’t duplicate the benefits,” said Richard. 

Repairs to the roadway itself have been held up by the lawsuit as well, said Jim Porter, San Mateo County Director of Public Works. 

Porter said he couldn’t say whether the county would lose out on funding for the road repair if the homeowners ultimately decided to go through with the litigation but said work had been put on hold for now.

“We’re really not sure how that’s going,” he said. “But until the issue with the lawsuit is resolved we’re in a holding pattern.” 

In the meantime, some worry upcoming winter storms could exacerbate the problem. Emergency officials said the area appeared to be holding steady for now. Brian Molver, Coastside coordinator for the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services, says area residents are in tune with the changes that could lead to further disaster. 

“I think the community knows really well to keep an eye on the slope and report any instability,” Molver said.

(1) comment

interestedcitizen

It's very odd that this article doesn't mention the intense rainfall of that season as a causal agent in this disaster. Although many readers will remember this, and it is implied by the involvement of FEMA, the omission makes the article seem like PR on behalf of the plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit. In fact, I suspect this is exactly the case. This is not great journalism.

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