By Mary O’KEEFE
On Wednesday afternoon several residents from Starfall Drive joined community officials to discuss their concerns over the falling rock and potential flooding due to the burned hills behind their homes.
Although most of the homes that butt up against the mountains will face potential flooding and mudslides this winter, three homes in particular that sit at the end of the cul-de-sac are in an especially precarious position.
“About five minutes after the fire [died down], the hill started coming down,” said Starfall resident Larry Ailes
The hills are still blackened from the back fire that was set in the area to battle the Station Fire. Residents on Starfall barely had time to feel the relief of their homes being spared by fire when the thought of rock and mud slides filled their thoughts.
“The firefighters were still here when we noticed the hill,” Ailes said.
Residents Drew and Canise Arrendondo said they had been visited by representatives from Los Angeles County Public Works but didn’t feel they received any clear direction as to what to do.
“We don’t own this land,” Canise said as she pointed behind her home.
She added that a public works representative told her and her neighbors that it was undeveloped land in a natural state and the county’s liability was limited.
“They told me that they could give us sandbags and to keep a bag packed to leave in case of flooding,” she said.
During Wednesday’s walk through, geological engineer Baylor Gibson told the residents what the expected danger was of falling rock and outlined the path a flood or mudslide would possibly take. He pointed to a cliff area and said the face of it could easily fall off, rolling toward the home.
“You will probably see boulders as large as a soccer ball,” Gibson said.
Over at Alice Khatchooi and Craig Valentine’s home the concern was more flood than falling rock.
“You see, we have a completely different problem here. Our concerns are when it rains,” Valentine said.
The path of the flood and rain would most likely drive down the side and back of their home, while at Ailes’ residence it would be a clear path to his front door and garage.
He and his wife, Deanna, had already looked at possible solutions for flood control but echoed neighbors’ call for more guidance from public works.
“We just want help. We don’t know what the best solution is and can we create a long term solution?” Drew wondered.
Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office, said the supervisor’s office has been very diligent in making certain public works officials reached out to the residents and help them with any and all information they require for their safety.
“The Station Fire is still ongoing but we [immediately] initiated a very aggressive effort from our Department of Public Works to [reach out] to the community affected by the fire,” Bell said.
Deputy Director from L.A. County Public Works Mark Pestrella said he had just learned of the residents’ concerns on Wednesday and was making immediate plans to contact them.
Pestrella said among the structures the L.A. County Flood Control operates are 158 debris basins below the San Gabriel Mountains which employees continually clean in an effort to control flooding.
The Station Fire consumed over 160,000 acres, leaving many residents in or near public works land in jeopardy of flooding.
“As the fire was receding we were assessing and making management plans to work throughout the system,” Pestrella said.
He added the department offers free engineering advice for forest and burned areas.
“We have 50 specialized engineers that come out and assess hillside homes for not only property protection but life protection,” he said.
The unusual position the Starfall residents find themselves in is that the land behind their homes is owned by public works.
When told that the residents were willing to do whatever it took to make their homes secure but were concerned about liability because they did not own the land, Pestrella said they were right to take that into consideration.
“It is an unusual situation,” he said.
A public works manager would be contacting the residents, he said, adding they would analyze what needed to be done from the public works position to help the residents.
“We will look at what can be done without creating any false expectations,” he said.
Although the process of evaluating the aftermath of the fire is ongoing, public works and Supervisor Anotonovich are in the process of setting up community meetings to discuss the issues concerning residents and answer any questions.
“We have prioritized the La Crescenta community,” he added.
Public Works has set up a hotline for residents at (800) 214-4020. Information can also be found at their website at www.ladpw.org.
“We are very concerned about the situation,” Pestrella said.