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The aftermath of a landslide: Mount Soledad declared a disaster area, residents in a state of shock

A week after a massive landslide ripped through their once-tranquil neighborhood, slicing through Soledad Mountain Road, damaging homes and causing the emergency evacuation of 111 residences, Mount Soledad residents remained in a state of shock and bewilderment.

“I think everyone has this feeling that La Jollans are uber-wealthy and something like this doesn’t affect them,” said Jennifer Spengler, a landslide victim interviewed two days after the tragedy while trying to retrieve valuables from her damaged home. “We own a small business here in La Jolla. La Jolla’s our home. This is our community, and it’s greatly affecting us. We’re not able to work. We’re trying to deal with this. We’re trying to get our clothes out. Our girls are trying to go to school and still do soccer, and it’s really affecting our life and our livelihood and we don’t know when that’s going to change.”

The landslide on Mt. Soledad in La Jolla occurred at 8:57 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3. As of Monday, Oct. 7 at 4:15 p.m., six homes remained red-tagged, expected to remain unsafe for occupancy for at least several weeks. Seven homes that had been given yellow-tag status following the landslide were cleared for reoccupancy.

On Saturday morning, Oct. 6, at a special meeting, city officials said preliminary damage estimates for the catastrophe were $48 million - $22 million to private property, $26 million to public works including utilities and road repairs.

“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 the disaster area. “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.”

“I would like to express my sympathies and apologies that families have been dislocated and can’t get back into their homes,” said Mayor Jerry 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.”

Also at the Oct. 6 public meeting, 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 re-main closed, in both directions, for an extended period.

Several residents complained to Long of unwanted “lookey loos” in the area trespassing on private property. They also said there continued to be a problem with non-resident vehicles 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 disaster relief.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared Mount Soledad a disaster area Tuesday, Oct. 9. That designation will allow homeowners, as well as the city of San Diego, to apply for relief assistance.

Sanders said the city would be eligible to apply for 100 percent of repairs within the first 180 days, an 80 percent match after that. “We obviously would have to pay for that out of our general fund,” said Sanders, “and then be reimbursed at a future time.”