(January 2010 WSB reader photo)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
After two slides in less than a year – most recently, last month – with a road surface crumbling, a fire hydrant buried, and nearby residents afraid for their safety, why isn’t the Beach Drive SW (map) slide situation resolved yet?
That’s the question the City Council Transportation Committee put this morning to the directors of the two city agencies that are involved – the Department of Transportation and the Department of Planning and Development. Its chair Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who lives in the Beach Drive/Alki area, expressed frustration, as did a slide-neighboring (across Beach Drive) resident, Mike Winter, speaking in the public-comment time period before the meeting:
He noted that two upslope homes have been recently “yellow-tagged,” which DPD director Diane Sugimura later explained means flagged for safety concerns – in this case, residents were warned not to use their decks, because the footings aren’t stable. Winter also told the committee about the mud-swamped fire hydrant, which SDOT director Peter Hahn said that Seattle Public Utilities is “taking care of.”
Winter also recounted the problems caused when the persistent slope runoff froze recently (January 2nd WSB photo above). He implored city leaders to “stop the blame game” and just “fix .. the hillside. … We need to fix it now before the entire hillside comes down.”
However, the “blame game” to some degree resurfaced shortly thereafter when DPD’s Sugimura and a rep from the City Attorney’s Office discussed a lawsuit that has been in progress for almost two years and does not appear to be likely to get resolved any time soon.
They said the city filed a lawsuit in April 2009 – we are trying to track down a copy of that lawsuit – and it was scheduled for a hearing in fall 2010. The City Attorney’s Office had been trying to reach a settlement but says “last week, the defendant pulled out” and the case is now set for trial this spring – though, it was noted that the city believes the defendant is seeking new representation “who might try to move it to Superior Court, and that could add more delay. … It’s a frustrating process for us, having the negotiations fall apart under us.”
The “defendant” was never identified by name or address in the hearing; later, it was acknowledged that the councilmembers had too many specific questions to ask in an open hearing, so they will schedule this issue for an “executive session” closed hearing at some point in the future.
What preceded the lawsuit was described by Sugimura as “a violation” issued in 2008, involving “fill that wasn’t approved” in the Environmentally Critical Area of the slope – the “landslide-prone area (was) disturbed … by doing that”; she said they sought to “require stabilization and a permit for the unpermitted retaining wall built on the south end of the property … also (there was) a code issue, that work was done not ‘per plan’ in terms of working in the disturbance area that as identified.”
She said the city had a “potential landslide area covenant” on file, signed by the owner, identifying the “potential disturbance area,” which she said is routine for such areas and puts the property owner on the record of being aware of the risks. (Before the specifics of this situation were discussed, the city reps and councilmembers discussed the process of granting building permits for this kind of area. Councilmember Nick Licata wondered if such permits should be granted at all.)
Whatever is or isn’t going on in court, Councilmember Rasmussen said, what is being done or can be done to “keep the hillside from sliding”? Told “it’s private property,” the councilmember retorted, “But it’s damaging city property.”
Councilmember Sally Clark asked if it was considered an imminent threat, and if action could be taken based on that; Sugimura elaborated on the “yellow-tagging” of two homes on the slope, mentioning the perceived deck-use hazard but saying it didn’t mean the residents “can’t be in the house.” She and SDOT’s Hahn both reiterated that “geotechs” (geotechnical engineers) are continuing to watch the situation.
(WSB photo, taken today)
Hahn talked about the “ecology blocks” that form a retaining wall along the east side of Beach Drive in the slide zone and said they seem to be working so far. But, he acknowledged, “The road condition has deteriorated – it’s not a great road. There are a number of measures we need to be taking to steer some of the water away from creating some of the conditions mentioned by Mr. Winter. … We’re going to continually monitor the performance of the ‘ecology blocks’ to make sure the material (sliding down behind it) doesn’t over-top it. And there are some worsened potholes that could use some attention.”
Despite all that, Hahn said the “road bed” does not appear to be in danger of failing.
From there, the aforementioned future “executive session” was decided on, but Councilmember Rasmussen said he would commit to neighbors to “do all we can to protect you” as well as city property and public safety. He also suggested that DPD and SDOT be more aggressive in letting neighbors know what is being done – even if there is not much major action to report, keeping them informed that the situation has not fallen off the radar.