San Clemente is taking steps to install a new drainage system under Via Ballena, even as residents plan to add fraud claims to their lawsuit against the city.
"Too bad they didn't do that two years ago," said plaintiffs' attorney Serge Tomassian. "It would have saved a lot of heartache for these people."
The 12 homeowners who are suing -- including four whose houses remain red-tagged as they teeter on the cliff overlooking Shorecliffs Golf Course -- allege the city ignored a clogged drainage pipe and buried drainage channels, which allowed water from the heavy rains of 2011 to seep into the slope's soil and destabilize it, leading to the massive slide.
Adding to the problem, Tomassian said, the city's Via Socorro Pressure Regulating Station dumped thousands of gallons of water into the street because it was overworked during the rains, which flowed into the clogged drain pipe and ditch and further undermined the slope.
Tomassian said city staffers in depositions said cameras inserted in the pipe revealed clogs, but the city did nothing. Tomassian is adding a claim of fraud as an amendment to the civil complaint because, he asserts, the city hid the fact of the clog from residents.
The mudslide soil has since created an earthen dam in the canyon behind Via Ballena, forming stagnant ponds that loom over the Shorecliffs Golf Course.
The golf course was named as a co-defendant in the Ballena suit because it allowed the drainage pipe outlet on its property to become buried under 6 feet of earth. In turn, the golf course is also suing the city, saying drainage water is trapped on course property because the city hasn't removed the mudslide soil, Tomassian said.
Water now flows through a pipe that was inserted at Via Ballena as an emergency repair last year.
The Via Ballena suit is set to begin April 22. The San Clemente City Council Tuesday unianimously approved a plan to start on the environmental documents necessary for the project to begin. There are not firm dates set for construction.