uFixIt: Battling a big state agency

February 24, 2012 7:46:38 PM PST
When the highway in front of their house started to slide, a Sebastapol couple called Caltrans. But they soon found out they were on their own. After getting the runaround and dealing with plenty of other hardships, they turned to the ABC7 News I-Team.

Even though Mike Zissimatos has faced his share of adversity, he doesn't ask for special treatment, and he's never turned his back on a fight. But now he's doing battle with mega-agency Caltrans.

The problem is a collapsing drainage ditch in front of his house. A chunk of Highway 116 is threatening to slide into it, and the worry is that his driveway is about to sink into the whole mess.

Zissimatos and his fiancee, Jaime Rasp, expected Caltrans to step up and fix the problem since they built and maintain the ditch. But the couple says that from the beginning, the agency has given them the brush off.

"They just really don't care," Zissimatos said. "They don't care if anybody gets hurt, they don't care if a car falls in there, they don't care if a bicycle falls in."

The agency shoveled out the ditch somewhat, but Rasp said it "felt like they were just scooting us to the side."

Workers left a dirt pile and one caution sign. Zissimatos says he added two more himself, and that's how the situation was left for over a year.

"So they left this big giant mess, this huge crevice that's now even more of a hazard," Rasp said.

The couple ran out of options when their insurance company denied a claim for groundwater runoff, saying no policy covers this problem. We spoke to the insurance company. They're also pointing a finger at Caltrans.

Caltrans says these situations are rare but their rules are clear. The land belongs to the state but homeowners have permission to build a driveway over it, and a private driveway is not a public hazard.

Bob Haus from Caltrans said: "Now when his culvert failed, that's a part of his responsibility to the best we know, because that's not something that the public uses so it isn't something that is up to us to maintain."

Zissimatos and Rasp are both on disability so finding money to fight a legal battle, or the $3,000 they'd need to stabilize the ditch, isn't an option.

But things are looking up. Caltrans told us they'll revisit the issue with Zissimatos and his insurance company.

"They can talk to us and we can talk to them and see if some kind of understanding might not be able to be reached," said Haus.

That's finally some good news for the couple.

"There's nothing else we can do except get someone out here to take care of it or somebody one of these days is going to get hurt," Zissimatos said.

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