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With state approval, city in California to fast-track landslide mitigation

Grace Toohey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

With continued winter rains accelerating land movement in Rancho Palos Verdes, the city appealed to the governor for help. Officials wanted to expedite fixes aimed at stabilizing sliding land that has threatened crucial infrastructure and hundreds of homes.

But they already have the necessary green light, state officials said Monday. Some emergency mitigation efforts could now begin within a few weeks.

Under a state of emergency issued this month when a deadly storm battered the region, state and county officials determined that Rancho Palos Verdes would not need a separate proclamation to fast-track its landslide mitigation work.

The governor declared the emergency Feb. 4 for eight Southern California counties, including Los Angeles, as the storm brought widespread damage from mudslides, flooding, land movement and debris flows — making it applicable to the situation in Rancho Palos Verdes' Portuguese Bend ancient landslide complex.

"It's a different door that we had to open, and it's been opened," said Ara Mihranian, the city manager for Rancho Palos Verdes. "I appreciate all the agencies' serious consideration of what we're going through."

He called it a positive step forward. Once the city receives written confirmation from the Governor's Office of Emergency Services — which Mihranian said he expected this week — he said the city would be able to implement immediate emergency measures to help mitigate the ongoing land movement and streamline longer-term plans.

"If we receive confirmation that the state requirements are waived, the next step is to finalize our project so that we can get a shovel in the next few weeks," Mihranian said late Monday.

The city's most urgent plans include installing two additional dewatering wells, which extract groundwater to stop it from infiltrating the layers of clay, and improving drainage systems to keep water from entering the ground in the first place.


The determination will also enable the city to jump-start its $33-million landslide remediation project, which has been in development since 2016 but remained months away from clearing final environmental reviews. Mihranian said streamlining that process could allow officials to finalize the plans in the next few months, instead of sometime in 2025.

"I appreciate the state for providing the clarity the City of Rancho Palos Verdes needed," L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. "The County will continue to provide our support and assistance to the city as they address the very serious land movement crisis."

Rancho Palos Verdes' City Council already had declared a local emergency for the landslide, but the situation has continued to deteriorate after recent rainfall, and could worsen with more precipitation in the forecast. In recent months, two homes have been red-tagged, multiple roads have been closed or required significant repairs, and dozens of residents have reported new damage on their properties. Wayfarers Chapel, the famed "glass church," closed its doors this month because of the increasing land movement.

The emergency declaration does not include specific funds for the emergency landslide mitigation work, but Mihranian said city leaders still hope to see a federal disaster declaration, which could free up additional FEMA funds. Mihranian said the governor had not yet requested such a proclamation from President Joe Biden.


(Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.)

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