San Pablo considers rescinding emergency declaration

May 17, 2011 12:26:47 AM PDT
Wet weather has returned to the Bay Area, but it is the devastating rains from March that has neighbors in San Pablo worried. Victims of a landslide say the city has considered rescinding an emergency declaration and that would cut off eligibility for state and federal disaster relief.

At first the city had a lot of sympathy for the residents; it even put them up on hotels. But now, the residents are accusing the city of giving up on them and the relationship has soured.

The San Pablo City Council met Monday evening behind closed doors to discuss possible strategies for dealing with homeowners who are very unhappy about landslides on their property. Six homes are threatened by the slide that began six weeks ago. Leon Walker received the worst of it.

"I'm looking at a foundation crack that's actually underneath," said Walker.

Walker said the slide that began six weeks ago is still moving. He and his neighbors have been measuring it and while it's no longer the dramatic shifts of late March and April. Walker said he doesn't understand why the city thinks this is not still an emergency.

"My house is red tagged and I'm unable to live in it, so if they take the emergency off can I now move back into my home? Can my neighbors below move into their homes, since they're yellow tagged?" said Walker.

Walker's questions are rhetorical. In all likelihood his house will have to be torn down, but Assistant City Manager Kelsey Worthy said the emergency is over.

"We're no longer in emergency statutes because the rains, until this weekend, had stopped. The situation has remained relatively stable," said Worthy.

"It's actually slipped about five feet and it's continuing to move," said Walker.

And Walker adds it's continuing to rain.

"It's going to rain today and it'll probably rain tomorrow and it rained last night so it's not good," said Walker.

And it's going to get worse if the city pulls the emergency declaration because then the city will no longer be eligible for emergency funds from the state or federal government.

"We've got indications from the state and federal government that this is a private property situation and that funds will probably not be coming to fix the situation for the homeowners," said Worthy.

The Worthy said the state never had money available and while Rep. George Miller's, D-Martinez, office was sympathetic, the feds too have indicated money won't be coming.

"And so it's harder for us from a legal standpoint to say that this is an emergency situation when the situation is relatively stable at this point," said Worthy.

Walker feels the city is closing the door on federal aid prematurely.

"I talked to George Miller's aide and she said they're still investigating it, so until they're finished, this emergency should still be in effect," said Walker.

"The state has denied it because they don't have any funds and it's at the federal level and they have three or four emergencies on their hands right now," said San Pablo Mayor Paul Morris.

On Monday night, the council delayed its decision until this week's storm passes. Further damage could convince them to push on.

Meanwhile, the city is pulling its offer to do $150,000 worth of repairs to the privately owned hillside because the residents are refusing to release the city from liability.

"Every lawyer that we had look at that agreement, had two things to say to the people in the group: first, don't sign it, second, get a lawyer who specializes in landslide issues," said San Pablo resident Joe Romey.

Of course those words have the city circling its legal wagons. Especially now that residents say they were never told they were in a slide zone when they bought their homes. The issue will be back on the agenda at the June 6 meeting.


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