Rolling Hills Estates declares state of emergency amid investigation into landslide's cause

Leanne Suter Image
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Rolling Hills Estates declares state of emergency over landslide
Rolling Hills Estates officials declared a state of emergency as an investigation continues into the cause of a slow-moving landslide that has destroyed 12 homes.

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES, Calif. (KABC) -- Rolling Hills Estates officials declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as the investigation continues into the cause of a slow-moving landslide that has resulted in a dozen homes being deemed uninhabitable.

Ten of those red-tagged houses on Peartee Lane were actively moving, gradually collapsing into the canyon below, officials said. The land began noticeably shifting on Saturday, resulting in the urgent evacuation of residents. No injuries were reported.

City officials said as of Tuesday afternoon, "movement had slowed." However, due to a break in a sewer main, five additional housing units have been ordered to evacuate, bringing the total to 17 units.

"This sewer line break is due to land movement, but not the movement of the newly evacuated housing units," read a statement issued by officials.

"It's terrifying because we know people who lived in those homes and it's sad to see where others live that are in danger now of having them go down the hill," said Lina Grasinger, a previous resident of the community. "Hopefully, you know, they're safe and were able to take some valuables out of the home and save some things that are meaningful to them."

Following a precautionary shutdown of service in the neighborhood, SoCalGas crews were working to restore service to homes that have not been red-tagged.

An estimate of the cost of the catastrophic damage was still being calculated.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes the scene of the landslide, said the region's wet winter may be to blame. Hahn also said that the local homeowners association can bring in a geologist to assess the situation after the movement of the houses stops.

City and County officials -- including the L.A. County assessor and mayor of Rolling Hills Estates -- did a walk-through around the area Monday afternoon.

"We think after it's all settled, a good geologist and soil expert maybe will give us a clue about how this happened and if there's any way of preventing it from happening on some other hillside,'' she said.

Hahn said nothing can be done for the homes that continue to collapse. The owners of the red-tagged homes will either have their property taxes reduced or eliminated.

Some neighbors have speculated that the landslide was possibly due to a significant water leak, noting that one resident had recently received a water bill of about $1,000.

Homeowners who have lost their homes to the disaster are concerned about whether insurance will cover the losses.

"We are in a pretty affluent area," said Weber Yen, whose house was destroyed. "Most of us are either Asians or old people, so we don't raise voices. I wish these authorities -- county officials and state authorities -- would know that, look, this is a drastic loss."

At a news conference on Monday, County Assessor Jeff Prang pointed to the home behind him and said it had been deemed a total loss.

"The land that was beneath them is now going to be a hillside," Prang said. "So when we're done valuing this property, they will have nominal value. And as a result, the property owners are entitled to property tax relief."

City News Service contributed to this report.