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La Conchita 10 Years Later Community lives in shadow of tragic mudslide
BY PeTer Dugré There’s a quaint street stretching three blocks away from the Pacific Ocean and Highway 101 toward the mountains; boats and cars line it, garage doors are open and life goes on. Then the street ends abruptly before the cliff rises up behind La Conchita. A fence and “Road Closed” sign cordon off a heap of rubble, earth deposited from the stripped hillside and underneath it a destroyed home. The disaster zone, which abuts functioning homes, has rested untouched for a decade since 200,000 cubic meters of hillside slid into 15 homes and killed 10 people at 1:20 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2005. Mike Bell, chairman of the La Conchita Community Organization, said to recognize the solemn memory of a decade ago, he will sound a bell 10 times on Saturday, Jan. 10, at 1:20 p.m. Those killed were John Morgan, 56; Tony Alvis, 53; Charles Womak, 51; Patrick Rodreick, 47; Christina Kennedy, 45; and Vanessa Bryson, 28; and three children, Hannah, 10, Raven, 6, and Paloma, 2, were killed along with their mother, Michelle Wallet, 37. Although rubble from the slide is a grim reminder of the tragedy, according to Bell, the community has been rejuvenated. When the slide happened only a handful of children called La Conchita home; that number has grown to over 20. Families are deciding to start lives in the seaside village that recently had its beach access improved by a freeway underpass. An improvement that hasn’t seen action is grading or terracing of the hillside that still threatens homes and lives. The State of California, under the direction of then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, commissioned a geological study of the hillside beginning in 2005, and the study’s conclusions were disconcerting. The report concluded that the 600-foot-tall cliff standing precariously behind 161 La Conchita homes is “an area of very young geology” where “everything is not stable,” and that it’s likely to slide again within 50 years and wreak $190 million in damages from loss of property and life upon La Conchita. The report identified fixes to the hillside that could reduce risk, but those
A fence, “road Closed” sign and tributes to victims are all that separate the functioning residential neighborhood of La Conchita from the ruins of the mudslide of 10 years ago. came with a price tag ranging from $50 to $200 million, an amount that Bell considers inconceivable. Currently, the community organization is seeking an engineer that could design a hillside fix more in the ballpark of $17 million. That would include some grading of the hill and fencing to redirect runoff as opposed to a $200 million project that calls for trucking off 5 million tons of earth. Bell said that once an engineer can write a manageable figure on a piece of paper, then he and other community members will have a target and can begin looking for funding sources. He identifies the Bill and Melinda Gates
LA CONCHITA continued on page 3
On Jan. 10, 2005, 150 rescue personnel dug through debris seeking those who were buried when 200,000 cubic meters of hillside pulverized 15 homes.