Massive landslide in Santa Cruz Mountains isolates community with years of repairs expected

Lauren Martinez Image
Wednesday, March 27, 2024
How massive landslide in Santa Cruz Mountains has isolated a community
Residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains are learning how to manage life impacted by a landslide that's still moving and could take years to repair.

LOS GATOS, Calif. (KGO) -- A landslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains is still moving and a timeline of repairs is unknown.

Residents have to park their cars and hike through a significant drop off Mountain Charlie Road.

The landslide impacted two roads, a driveway that leads up to five homes and residents say at least 80 homes off Mountain Charlie Road.

Don Ferris and his wife are one of the five residents landlocked.

"Pictures do not capture the devastation of this - it's just incredible," Ferris said.

RELATED: Santa Cruz neighborhood struggling after road access still blocked from major landslide

A Santa Cruz Mountains neighborhood is struggling to deal with the aftereffects of a major landslide that happened two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz Public Works officials held one of several virtual meetings to address funding, a timeline, and next steps.

County Supervisor Bruce McPherson addressed how significant this landslide is.

"This is a difficult and unprecedented situation unlike any I've seen in my 11 years of county supervisor," McPherson said. "But we're trying to make best of a literally moving problem."

Steve Wiesner, Assistant Director of Public Works, talked about how much the land is moving.

Cracks on the road were noted on February 26. Three days later, the county closed the road.

In March, you can see a significant and dramatic shift in the land.

VIDEO: Alameda Co. road near Sunol closed indefinitely after part of highway broke off into creek

Caltrans crews are assessing storm damage after a portion of Niles Canyon Road, which is part of Highway 84, broke off into the Alameda Creek. The road is expected to be closed "for at least the next few days."

"As of last week it was still moving over a foot vertically per week and approximately two feet horizontally," Wiesner said.

Because the land is still moving, county officials say assessment will take time.

"I want folks to understand this is not a fast process, we're certainly engaged, we're monitoring this thing on a daily basis and we're having daily conversations with our partners about this," Wiesner said.

Wiesner said the county is in the process of identifying funding.

"We've been in touch with FEMA to add this scope...I'll be doing some technical studies to try to relate the damage that is occurring today or what we're seeing today as part of the sight that is in the FEMA catalog from storm damage repairs from 2023," Wiesner said.

Matt Machado, the Director of Community Development and Infrastructure, says repair costs from storm damage in 2023 has tapped all their resources.

"So at this point it's difficult to secure additional financing that doesn't mean we won't be able to finance future improvements, it's just in the short term our hands are rather tied," Machado said.

VIDEO: Santa Cruz Mountains home on the 'edge' of creek after storm-induced erosion now red tagged

Following months of storm-induced erosion, a Santa Cruz Mountains couple's house now stands on the edge above a creek.

Los Gatos resident Emily Bieber says the commute to drop her young kids off at preschool and elementary school went from 30 minutes round trip, to an hour and half with no traffic.

"We have to drive through another town through a road that's poorly maintained," Bieber said.

On Tuesday, the county secured $30,000 to start on Geotechnical work.

The hope is that data will lead to a design - cost estimate - and define finance needs.

The county says a timeline of repairs could take one to three years.

"That part is overwhelming and is devastating right now like you know you can handle anything in the short term...We're coming together as a community, we're here for each other but not knowing if or when is absolutely the hardest part," Bieber said. "I think about my kids. I think about not being able to do sports or after school activities, like they have to get up earlier the evening starts later. Like the school bus is down the road, we can't get to the school bus. Just little things but they all together, they're your home, they're your community, how you're connected and that over time is going to be really, really hard."

Residents say this active situation is critical.

"We have some elderly, we have some mobility issue of folks so right now we can't get propane in - we can't get any vehicles in," Ferris said.

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