Judge rules city pipes not a factor in La Jolla landslide
Leaking San Diego water pipes were not a major factor in a landside that damaged dozens of homes in La Jolla two years ago, a judge ruled Thursday.
The ruling was a setback for 65 homeowners in Mount Soledad, who are suing the city for up to $100 million in damages, claiming three water leaks contributed to the massive landslide on Oct. 3, 2007. Three houses had to be demolished, and Mount Soledad Road was closed for a year after the slide.
But Judge Ronald Styn ruled the homeowners failed to show that leaks from city water pipes were a substantial contributing factor to the landslide.
“Plaintiffs have not carried their burden of proof to show that it is more likely true that the leaks from the city’s water pipes were a substantial contributing cause of the landslide,” Styn wrote in his six-page ruling after a month-long bench trial at the downtown San Diego Hall of Justice.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the case was important to the city of San Diego.
“The significance of this to our city, given the fiscal situation, we have avoided what could have been a more than $100 million claim,’' he said.
“Perhaps even more important is the future liability of the city for further slides in the future. That is a known ancient landslide area.’'
Goldsmith emphasized that the city was sympathetic to the affected homeowners.
“People lost their homes, or were damaged,’' he said. “We feel for them ... but the city of San Diego is not an insurance company.’'
The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Craig McClellan, told the judge that the water content in the soil was high.
The attorney said the house of one affected homeowner was flooded when the landslide came crashing down toward his residence.
McClellan declined to comment today after Styn’s decision was handed down.
Attorney Douglas M. Butz, representing the city, said the slide was dry and there was no evidence of water seepage while the event was taking place.
The leaks in question were repaired quickly in the summer of 2007, Butz told the judge.
Butz said the slide was a result of long-term “creeping” of the land and the softening of a rupture/slide that was repaired in 1967.
Following Styn’s ruling, Mayor Jerry Sanders issued a statement, saying, the city was “gratififed. … The evidence clearly shows that this tragic event was caused by natural forces beyond anybody’s control. Our sympathies, as always, go out to the people who lost their homes.”