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Victims Unleash a River of Grief

By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy

Distraught flood victims poured out their fears, grievances, pleas and suggestions last Friday to city officials, who agreed to some immediate requests for debris dumpsters and building fee waivers for repairs.

Charlie and Ann Quilter, who rebuilt an elevated rock redoubt in Laguna Canyon after a 1998 storm took their home and the life of a neighbor seeking refuge, asked for even more.

Though no lives were lost in flooding from the Dec. 22 storm, the downpour caused more than $10 million in damage to at least 30 homes and 59 businesses, many of them in hard-hit Laguna Canyon. “I know it’s hard, but we’re going to have to do it,” said Quilter, who urged local leaders to also take up the broader task of permanently lowering flood risk in Laguna Canyon by building more upstream water-retention basins. “The El Toro water shed is subject to shock flooding because it’s all built out,” Quilter said.

(Such a proposal would require approvals from a host of other authorities as well as extraordinary financing at a time with the city is currently running a budget deficit.)

“Someone needs to do something with the storm drains on Park; I almost died,” said tearful Linda Hess, who was pulled to safety by her grandson from a flooded downstairs Browncroft Way duplex.

Of the more than 100 people at the packed meeting, 40 turned in questionnaires about flood damage and housing needs. Another 10 forms arrived in recent days, flood volunteer coordinator Ann Quilter said this past Wednesday.

As a result of the testimony, City Manager John Pietig pledged to extend free use of ACT V for flood debris through Jan. 10, waived over-the-counter rebuilding fees for flood victims, and promised to evaluate a backed-up storm drain at Park Avenue. “We did have crews clearing drains but we couldn’t keep up with the event,” he said.

For flood victims wrestling with economic uncertainties and rebuilding qualms, Quilter pointed out another looming hazard born of his own experience: city policies that favor remakes using the same design. “In a flood zone, that might not be a good idea,” he said.

Earlier, Dede Westgaard Pike described two rescues of Laguna Canyon neighbors on Sun Valley Drive by her husband and sons at the storm’s peak. She questioned why her repeated calls to 911 went unanswered for five hours. “Why can they get out and the firemen not get in?” she asked, referring to other neighbors, who fled with animals.

Recent East Coast transplant Kirsten Cook described escaping with her two young daughters waist-high water that inundated a Sun Valley rental. “They held on; what if they hadn’t?” she wailed. “I’m here because I have a mission,” she said, disparaging authorities for failing to issue warnings of road closures that preceded the 2 a.m. cloudburst. “This is too lethargic,” she said.

“It’s very alarming these people were not warned,” said Elise Higley, a spokeswoman for Anneliese’s School, which sustained $1 million in damage. “We need to be trained how to deal with this,” she said.

Runoff capacity could also be increased with a new culvert alongside the wilderness park and Laguna Canyon Road, which could serve pedestrians and bicyclists as a boardwalk, suggested John Albritton, president of the Sun Valley Drive homeowners group. He reminded city officials that Caltrans failed to deliver on their promise of such a culvert when making road improvements.

Raising Laguna Canyon Road “helped convey water into our properties,” pointed out Katie Maes, a geologist and canyon resident whose home was destroyed by flooding.

“Caltrans needs to be responsible for water and to control it,” agreed sculptor Louis Longi, whose Laguna Canyon Road home and studio were destroyed by water he says flowed from open space lands.

Albritton also chided city officials for lax code enforcement in Laguna Canyon. Several cars as well as four truck-size storage containers washed into the creek early on Dec. 22, which Sun Valley residents say contributed to flooding in their area. Container owner Jerry Moushey was cited for the illegal containers in October 2009 and sued last July for his failure to correct the complaints, City Attorney Phil Kohn said.

Several people, including Hidden Valley resident Robin Young and Alta Vista resident Laura Parisi, asked why storm drains and water-courses were not inspected and monitored for debris.

A Griffith Way resident urged re-engineering of a Park Avenue drain that filled with debris and contributed to flooding along Browncroft Way and St. Ann’s Drive.

Monika Sorce asked about the city responsibility for what she described as a “glass garden” mudflow, emanating from city-owned open space above Stans Lane. She also questioned the lack of maintenance along the creek bed, which crosses private property.

 

Photo by Ted Reckas

 

1982: Corinne Manetto, community liaison and program developer at Anneliese School’s Willowbrook campus surveys damage as rebuilding gets underway.

 

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Flood-damaged Anneliese School reopened in temporary classrooms on Monday. It was business as usual for kindergarteners in Ginny Laird’s class.

 

 

 

 

 

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