SAN PABLO -- Three years after a major landslide, residents in the affected hillside community say they remain in peril because the city has not yet fixed a faulty drainage system that has left the slopes susceptible to slides for decades.
"We just want the problem fixed, but the city refuses to acknowledge that they accepted ownership of that drainage system in 1957," said resident Joe Romey, who lives in one of the affected houses.
A March 2011 landslide amid heavy rains threatened seven homes, triggered lawsuits and set the stage for long-term animus between affected residents and the city, which they say is responsible for a faulty drainage system that caused the problem and remains a danger today.
Four of the affected homes are on Wyman Street; the other three are downslope on Hillcrest Road. Today, three homes sit vacant because of slide danger, and the remaining residents are still on edge.
Last month, Romey located one of the system's lateral pipes, and said it was damaged and not draining properly.
City Manager Matt Rodriguez said in an email that he cannot comment on the "current claims about the subterranean drainage pipe being contributable to the Wyman landslide event ... due to current litigation against the city."
Rodriguez referred inquiries to Walnut Creek law firm Gibbons-Conley, which he said has been hired to represent the city in the matter. Calls to Gibbons-Conley seeking comment were not returned.
Asked Wednesday how much the city has spent on legal fees stemming from the matter, Rodriguez said he needed more time to estimate the costs.
San Pablo proclaimed a local emergency, but hoped-for federal and state emergency relief funds did not materialize.
Some of the owners contend that the drainage system contributed to the slide and that the city is responsible for fixing it. In 2011, Rodriguez said in a news release that geotechnical experts determined no city work or property ownership contributed to the slide.
Another resident, Leon Walker, toured the slide area with reporters in December and said he and his neighbors don't understand why the city won't fix the problem. "The residents here are taxpayers who deserve the city's attention to the problem," Walker said.
Walker's attorney, Angela Morgan, said Walker is one of six residents suing the city and that Walker's suit alleges the city was negligent and is liable for the unsafe conditions. Morgan said she is in settlement talks with several insurance companies.
"It appears the drains do not work properly and cause water to get stuck under the hillside," Morgan said. "The city should rectify this."
The city proposed an "interim fix" of the slide damage only if released from all liability for causing the landslide, but the owners balked, Romey said.
"Sweet deal for the city. Not so much for the victims of the landslide caused by the city," Romey said.
Slides have plagued the area since the drainage system was installed in the 1950s, he said.
Romey, a professional surveyor who is not involved in the lawsuits against the city, said the developer's engineer, who was also the city's engineer in the 1950s, used an open-joint drain system, which he said is the source of the problem.
"The city doesn't want to acknowledge the system is theirs now, and that prevents anything being done to correct it," Romey said.