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Hillside Drive tarps going away

It’s been four years now that La Jolla Colony Hills residents have been trying - unsuccessfully - to get plastic tarps they claim are a visual blight and an environmental hazard removed from beneath a water-damaged home on Mount Soledad’s Hillside Drive.

Thanks to a recently settled private lawsuit against the city, their wait may be drawing to a close.

“All we’re asking is that the plastic be removed from the canyon wall,” said Colony Hills spokesman Chuck Castle, who added there’s another erosion problem further up the canyon: a leaky underground drainage pipe on a partially developed lot. “After the last rain, there’s a trail of dead vegetation where the water ran down the hillside.”

He and neighbor Richard Brehm recently showed a reporter the plunging canyon separating Castle’s home at 7475 Caminito Rialto from the now-vacant 7595 Hillside Drive home. The view is of a black-and-white, tarp-draped canyon side.

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“The house had subsidence due to rainstorms four years ago,” Brehm said. “So they put up plastic. Then about three years ago a water main broke on Hillside Drive and flooded the house, causing erosion.”

“We’ve had to live with this awful mess,” Castle said. “The canyon is supposed to be protected and taken care of.”

An entrance sign on the currently unoccupied, but still furnished, residence at 7595 Hillside Drive reads: An emergency inspection of this building revealed hazards … off limits to unauthorized personnel by order of the city … report any unsafe conditions to Development Services.

Both Castle and Brehm approached the city and then-councilman Scott Peters office to get the tarps removed, saying they feared its plastic is weathering and leaching into the canyon.

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But they were told after repeated attempts that nothing could be done immediately about the tarps because the property was tied up in a lawsuit with the city.

That legal issue has since been resolved.

“It was a lawsuit that never made it to court,” said City Attorney spokeswoman Gina Coburn. “It was a claim that was settled.”

On Nov. 18, 2008, the City Council, in closed session, voted 8-0 to authorize full and final payment of $835,000 from the city Water Department fund to John Trunkey and Greg Bishop for property damage and related expenses which occurred Dec. 17, 2006, to their property.

The claim was settled in two separate amounts, $550,000 in fiscal year 2009 and $285,000 in fiscal year 2010 by Aug. 31, 2009.

La Jolla attorney Bryan M. Garrie, representing Trunkey and Bishop, said his clients fully intend to comply with neighbors’ desire to see the canyon repaired and the tarp removed. They just need more time because they just got the city’s first settlement installment late on March 10, he said.

“My clients are going to start putting together a team (of professionals) for the remediation,” he said, adding the tarps need to stay up in the meantime because, “they’re protecting the slopes and we have to keep water off until that slope is fixed.”

Castle’s reaction to news that the process may begin to have the Hillside Drive tarps removed was tinged with frustration.

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“For four years this plastic was allowed to deteriorate and become ugly and cause canyon problems,” he said. “It could have been resolved with an hour’s labor.”

Garrie added the December 2006 water main break on Hillside Drive that caused placement of the plastic tarps was no small matter.

“One million gallons of water went into their house, that’s confirmed,” he said. “Water ran all night. They couldn’t find the valve to turn the water off for the block and when they did: It broke off. Water was going through and under the house and down the embankment until morning.”

Garrie said his clients didn’t have the financing in place to hire a professional team to do canyon remediation, including tarp removal, before now.