[fosc] NEWS ARTICLE: Hillside house topples . . . but why? McKillop Landslide's cause remains unknown

Edward Goehring ebgb at sbcglobal.net
Mon Dec 4 14:03:31 PST 2006


NEWS ARTICLE: Hillside house topples . . . but why?    McKillop Landslide's
cause remains unknown

By Momo Chang, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area


Article Last Updated: 12/04/2006 09:39:53 AM PST

OAKLAND — A storybook home on McKillop Road finally toppled over just a day
before Thanksgiving after a seven-month-long landslide, but no one knows yet
what caused the earth's movement in the first place.
The densely populated neighborhood near the Dimond and upper Fruitvale
districts has a history of landslides, a 150 million-gallon reservoir and a
creek nearby, and hundreds of distraught residents in the mix.

"We have to be able to know what the cause of the slide is," said Marty
Perlmutter, whose home was destroyed by the slide.

Colorful bungalow-style family homes with neatly pruned lawns line the
streets in the quiet neighborhood. However, belying the present bucolic
look, at least 15 homes in the neighborhood have been destroyed or moved
since landslides in the 30s and 50s, according to archived articles from the
Tribune.

The City Council declared the McKillop slide area an

ongoing emergency this fall. Last winter's rain storms caused damage
throughout the city, including several landslides in the city's hillside
communities, but here on McKillop, the worst-case scenario happened.

Though no conclusions have been drawn about what caused the slide that began
in May, the city is forging ahead with a long-term plan to save the road:
retaining walls.

Sewer and water lines need to be moved before construction crews install two
underground retaining walls along McKillop Road, with beams 65-75 feet deep,
in order to keep the road from sliding away.

"The wall is designed so that even if the hillside below us completely
failed, the road would remain," said Michael Neary of public works.

It may take several months to complete the project and will cost $2.7
million. The city is anticipating that about 90 percent will be reimbursed
by FEMA, Neary said.

Some residents believe the city's plan to build the walls is short-sighted.

"They're building this wall on inferred evidence," said David Campbell, head
of the Alliance for McKillop Road steering committee, who lives on Sheffield
Avenue.

He questioned how the wall can be built before knowing how deep the slide
is.

"The only way to find out is to do these borings on parts of the active
landslide," he said. "Say they build the wall 70 feet deep, and the slip
plane is at 90. You can see it's not going to be as effective."

But he said a wall, or two, is better than no wall at all.

The city's Neary said they have done about half a dozen deep borings into
the ground where the wall will be in order to find stable soil. The walls'
design is based on borings as well as historical information, he said.

But Campbell and Perlmutter say officials from the city also have verbally
agreed to do borings on the actual landslide to find the cause of the slide.

Erica Harrold, spokesperson for the city attorney's office, confirmed that
the city has commissioned a causation study, though it's unclear when it
will be completed.

The underground walls that the city is building essentially walls off the
slide in order to save the roadway.

Potentially — and inadvertently — the walls also will keep houses on one
side of McKillop Road from sliding.

But three homes and two lots — one a nursery and one Kingdom Hall of
Jehovah's Witness — will be left on the other side of the wall, where the
landslide is.

While neighboring residents fear future catastrophes, several families are
still feeling the immediate effects of the landslide.

"We're pretty scattered," said Konia Johnson, whose mother owns the home
next door to Marty Perlmutter's fallen house. Six members of their family
were displaced after June 1, when their house was deemed uninhabitable by
the city.

Johnson, who is staying with relatives in San Leandro, said his family is
still paying the mortgage on the home on McKillop Road. Their house is still
intact — but they can no longer live there because of the city's orders and
because utilities have been cut off.

"What happens to residents like ourselves who are displaced, but we still
have a house to pay for?" he asked, sounding frustrated. "It's become more
of a financial problem more than anything. It's an ongoing headache."

Like the Johnson and Perlmutter families, most of the residents have
retained lawyers, either as a group or individually. And that is costing
money, too.

Many concerned residents live away from the immediate landslide area but
worry that Central Reservoir, owned by East Bay Municipal Utility District,
may cause a major disaster if it fails.

The giant basin holds up to 150 million gallons. If leaks from the reservoir
caused the slide on McKillop, they want to hold the public water company
accountable, since many live directly below on Sheffield Avenue.

"We need this reservoir to be safe — it's too big an entity and so close to
a densely-populated area," Campbell said. The reservoir is close to the
Hayward fault and Interstate 580. If leaks from the reservoir caused the
slide, it will continue to cause slides, he said.

The reservoir sits on 13 acres and services about 200,000 Oakland residents,
said EBMUD spokesperson Charles Hardy.

"What's at stake is not three houses and two plots of land," Perlmutter
said. "We're dealing with the stability of the entire hillside and the
safety of thousands of people in the neighborhood."

Residents have reason to suspect the Central Reservoir, which has a recorded
history of leaks.

According to reports from divers sent down to inspect the dam, released as
part of a public records request, a July 2006 dive report found three leaks,
including one "aggressive" leak.

A September 2005 dive report stated that 175 leaks marked by a 2003
inspection were left unrepaired.

Hardy said that those were minor cracks. It would have required EBMUD to
take the reservoir out of service to make repairs. He said leaks are not
unusual and are not cause for alarm.

"There is a lot of pressure when you have that much water," he said. "Some
water is going to ooze out. You're talking about a huge, lake-like
reservoir. You're not going to find one in the U.S. that doesn't have
leaks."

The reservoir has a drainage system that captures and controls where the
leaks go, and instruments to monitor the flow of water along the side of the
reservoir, he said.

But residents remain skeptical.

"I just don't really believe that the under-drain system can hold all of the
leakage," Campbell said. "There's so much water that went down the hillside
to create the slide. There's got to be some reason for that. Where did all
that water come from?"

"I'm still waiting on some possible cause," homeowner Johnson said. "We have
no cause, so we have no person for our lawyers to start negotiations with."

The house that he grew up in may no longer be available to either him or his
sister. It's a lifelong achievement for his family to own and maintain the
home, he said.

"It's devastating to watch something like this get stuck in limbo," Johnson
said. "It's not a good feeling."



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