Preliminary damage estimates for Mount Soledad landslide given, city hosts Oct. 6 public forum on disaster relief

City officials gave a preliminary estimate of $48 million in damages - $22 million to private property, $26 million to public works including utilities and “severed” Mount Soledad Road - at a public meeting Saturday, Oct. 6, called to address the emergency needs of Mount Soledad residents still reeling from the effects of a catastrophic landslide which destroyed at least seven homes, damaged several others and caused 111 residences to be immediately evacuated.

The landslide in La Jolla occurred just before 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3. As of Oct. 6, 7 seven homes remained red-tagged - people can’t live in them anymore - and nine were still designated as yellow-tagged: They’ve got utilities issues, broken gas or sewer lines and/or no electricity, and are uninhabitable until those problems are fixed.

“I called this community forum because I wanted to give neighbors the opportunity to talk directly with city officials and get the most up-to-date information,” said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, whose Second District includes portions of Mount Soledad and Bird Rock in La Jolla, to about 100 people in attendance Saturday morning at Pacific Beach Middle School. “It’s been heartwarming watching neighbors helping neighbors. It was just an incredible outpouring. Our hearts are with you. Our thoughts are with you. We want to get you the information that you need.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders said steps are being taken to declare Mount Soledad a disaster area, which will allow homeowners, as well as the city of San Diego, to apply for relief assistance.

“I would like to express my sympathies and apologies that families have been dislocated and can’t get back into their homes,” said Sanders. “We will continue to work with you, either to get you back into your homes, or to get you into your homes to get your belongings.”

Asked whether the city was considering demolishing homes that were red-tagged, Sanders said, “There will be nothing bulldozed. Nothing will be done with your property until you are fully informed.”

San Diego Police Capt. Boyd Long said there will continue to be a 24-hour police presence on Mount Soledad to safeguard people’s homes, protect against looting and keep anyone other than residents out of the disaster area.

“We’ve established a walk-up, check-in location there on the 5600 block of Mount Soledad Road so we can get you back to your houses or mitigate problems,” Long said. “All we need is some formal identification so we know it’s your house. We’ll make every attempt to get you into that house so you can get needed items out of there.”

Long said Mt. Soledad residents can call (619) 531-2000 to get the latest information about the landslide and about accessing their damaged homes. He added Mount Soledad Road will remain closed, in both directions, for an extended period. “Our mission is to protect and serve,” Long said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Several residents complained to Long of uwanted “lookey loos” in the area trespassing on private property. They also said there continued to be a problem with vehicles other than those owned by residents accessing the disaster area.

Residents were told by officials that the city is transitioning from an emergency response to a recovery mode on Mount Soledad. That means the emphasis is now on processing those victimized by the landslide and getting them the disaster relief that will likely become available as soon as possible.

Mayor Sanders said the first step in having Mount Soledad declared a full-fledged disaster area was taken last week when the City Council made such a declaration at a special meeting. That declaration was forwarded to the County of San Diego which has in turn sent it to the state. Sanders said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to decide on Tuesday, Oct. 9, whether Mount Soledad can be declared a disaster area.

“There’s a federal emergency pot of money that can be accessed to fix that roadway,” said Sanders. “There are four criteria. We’ll be working with Caltrans to see how we fit that criteria. We think we fit the criteria. The (state) Secretary of Transportation feels we fit the criteria.”

If Mount Soledad is declared a disaster area by the state, Sanders said the city would be eligible to apply for 100 percent of repairs within the first 180 days. It would be an 80 percent match after 180 days. “We obviously would have to pay for that our of our general fund,” said Sanders, “and then be reimubursed at a future time.”

Once a disaster is declared, added Sanders, homeowners who’ve suffered property damage could then apply for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

Asked by the audience whether a building moratorium would be considered on Mount Soledad in La Jolla in the future, city officials were unable to give a response.

Councilman Faulconer’s office was asking disaster victims to contact their office and give them their cell phone numbers and other pertinent information so they could be fully informed of breaking developments with the landslide. His office can be contacted at (619) 236-6622.