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Mt. Soledad homeowners facing lengthy displacement

It’s been almost six months since life for residents on Soledad Mountain Road and Desert View Drive on Mount Soledad was disrupted by a landslide. City officials are predicting it will be several more months before full access is restored.

Julie Tyor, who has lived on Desert View Drive for 31 years, left her home on the day of the slide with nothing but the clothes on her back. Her home has been red-tagged and secured with a padlocked chain fence.

On occasion, Tyor’s daughter is able to enter the structure to pick up items such as clothing, medication or notices from the city. They’ve not been able to remove any large items, including Tyor’s car that still sits in the garage.

“We can’t get anything big out,” Tyor said.

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Tyor had a staircase built in October in order to get in and out of her neighborhood, an entrance many of the other residents still use. Ill and elderly, Tyor eventually moved into a rental unit.

For those residents remaining on Mount Soledad, daily errands such as retrieving mail and bringing home groceries are now a matter of inconvenience. Earlier this month, in an effort to help residents in the Desert View cul de sac, the alley was opened from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

“I wish people would realize how terrible it is,” Tyor said.

To date, 58 lawsuits have been filed against the city of San Diego.

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“We anticipate that will go up to 65 or 70, based on contact from attorneys,” said Bill Harris, deputy press secretary for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Construction on the landslide has been slow, in part because of rain delays, unstable site conditions and a Jan. 17 ingrading failure (mini-landslide within the landslide), an occurrence not uncommon in landslide areas, said geologists.

“On March 3, we began still another phase of construction,” said Carol Drummond, senior public information officer for the city of San Diego Engineering Department. “This phase of constructions included the installation of 40 additional shear pins on the east side of Soledad Mountain Road.”

A total of 37 shear pins, a mechanism used to prevent further soil movement in slide areas, were installed on the west side of the road in November and December of 2007.

Recovery efforts are still focusing on stabilization, Drummond said.

“Only when we do stabilize this area can we move forward to restore the road so that people who live there and travel there can use the road and do so safely,” she added. “Our work there has been very distracting. It’s been very disruptive. But we need to do what we’re doing correctly. While it might not be swiftly, it’s being done correctly.”

City engineers and geotechnical consultants are working on plans for the next phase of recovery.

So far the city has spent almost $5 million on repairs; the total cost is estimated to be close to $20 million.

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“At one time we had hoped we could reopen Soledad Mountain Road in August,” Drummond said, but officials anticipate it will take longer – for the safety of everyone concerned.

The last estimate Tyor had from city officials for a completion date was “Labor Day, maybe.”

In December, three of the red-tagged homes were razed. Three other similarly tagged homes, two on Soledad Mountain and one on Desert View, remain standing. Seven other homes are yellow-tagged.

City building inspectors designate the status of homes: Red tags signify a home unsafe to be in, while yellow tags indicate one or more missing utilities.

Crews are working Monday through Friday and some Saturdays, Drummond said. Multiple inclinometers (instruments that measure movement) and piezometers (instruments that measure ground water) that were installed early in the recovery process are monitored on a daily basis by city officials and geotechnical professionals.

“We’re keeping a very close eye on this area, which is in an ancient landslide area,” Drummond said. “It continues to be an emergency operation.”