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As rain saturates landslide areas on Palos Verdes Peninsula, locals weather storm

The Palos Verdes Peninsula — built on the largest moving landslide area in North America — weathered the first day of another storm on Monday, Feb. 19, expected to unleash three days of rain and another wave of anxiety.



Persistent showers fell short of the record-shattering rainfall that pounded the area earlier this month, but further saturated already-soaked soil on Monday, Feb. 19, and the threat of continued land movement was top of mind for people here, especially in the landslide areas.

With beloved landmark Wayfarers Chapel already closed indefinitely, officials shut down an array of popular hiking trails on Monday for at least a couple of days.

Rancho Palos Verdes — the Peninsula’s largest city and host to landslide complexes that cover 670 acres — is preparing on Tuesday, Feb. 20, to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to “suspend or waive” some state requirements that could help expediate the environmental review process on its Portuguese Bend Landslide Remediation Project. Council will also request President Joe Biden declare a federal disaster, which could lead to federal funding, according to a Feb. 19 RPV Landslide Update email.

But county Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose Fourth District includes the peninsula communities, didn’t wait until Tuesday to urge the governor to take action.

“I think if the governor came here and saw the buckling streets, the homes sinking and cracking apart, and the historic Wayfarers Chapel on the verge of collapsing, he would understand the urgency of this request,” said Hahn. This is a crisis that is getting worse by the day, and I urge Gov. Newsom to visit us and see it with his own eyes.”

Brian Ferguson, state spokesperson, said Newsom, on Feb. 4, has already declared a state of emergency for eight counties amid recent storms, including L.A. County.

“Our office will continue to work with L.A. County and with L.A. County’s office of emergency management to determine what state aid could be available to assist those in the impacted region,” Ferguson said.

The state emergency team, said Ferguson, has already been on the ground in the area for several weeks. And the state will work with locals as more specific aid is needed, he added.

On Monday, the President’s Day holiday and corresponding school holidays meant less traffic than usual on the Peninsula.

But a few people were still out grocery shopping or enjoying a damp seaside lunch as they navigated slick roadways and dense fog that blanketed the western-most tip of the peninsula.

Officials announced that the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, along with the Abalone Cove Park and Reserve, will be closed to the public for 48 hours or longer amid the storm. According to city officials, the popular trails are now fraught with sink holes, unstable trails and surfaces, erosion, steep cliffs and falling rocks.

“It (Palos Verdes Nature Preserve) may remain closed for up to 48 hours or more for public safety and to prevent further trail erosion,” according to a Instagram post from the city Monday morning.

Trails have also been closed in the Filiorum Reserve, Forrestal Reserve, Ocean Trails Reserve and the Portuguese Bend Reserve, in the past.

On Feb. 15, Wayfarers Chapel and city officials announced that the historic venue will be closed indefinitely as cracks in the church floors and panes of glass have increased substantially in recent months.

Wayfarer’s, according to Rancho Palos Verdes geologist Mike Phipps, is particularly vulnerable as it borders the intersection of two landslide areas: The ancient Portguese Bend Landslide complex, which has been reactivated and the more recently identified Abalone Cove Landslide area.

Phipps said, during a Feb. 16 interview, he’ll be making a stop to check on Wayfarer’s stability later this week.

Wayfarer’s closure triggered impacts on other areas of the peninsula. North of the chapel, Savanna Chung and a team of coordinators were busy answering the La Venta Inn phones on Monday afternoon.

La Venta Inn, a century-old Spanish set of buildings perched high on a Palos Verdes Esates hill, is another popular venue for weddings. Chung said she’s been fielding more than 40 calls a day from people trying to rebook ceremonies after the Wayfarer news.

They are more than happy to accommodate such requests, said Chung, adding that La Venta Inn has fared quite well in the recent rains. They’re at the top of a stable hill, she said with soil suitable for soaking up water, not the clay substructure known in the landslide areas.

The grassy knoll at La Venta Inn, weather permitting, will welcome a Wayfarer-canceled ceremony next week, she said.

“I know it’s not Wayfarer’s,” said Chung, looking out over a misty, but expansive view of the Pacific, “but it’s still beautiful.”

But land movement has had a secondary impact on La Venta Inn. Chung said two employees, who live deeper into the Peninsula near Palos Verdes Drive South, no longer want to take that road in to work each day.

Over the last several weeks, nearly a mile of Palos Verdes Drive South has buckled and pitched due to land movement. Her team members, said Chung, now travel more inland routes to get to work at La Venta, avoiding the undulating, treacherous roadway.

Further inland, in the Rolling Hills Estates area near the Peninsula Center Shopping Center, a row of retailers sits directly in front of a massive black tarp-covered slope. Sand bags, for now, do a decent job of diverting the runoff from the hill into Deep Valley Drive.

In the bottom tier of retailers, amid the nail salons and tailoring shops, there’s a steady stream of people walking their dogs and dropping off pups at the curb. That’s because Brickwalk is the site of Integrative Pet Wellness Center, which, during the coronavirus pandemic, took over multiple offices on Deep Valley Drive.

Integrative’s Dianne Shigenaka paused to take note of the mud trickling down from the tarped hillside behind the businesses. She says workers arrive daily to work to secure the hillside.

Shigenaka lives nearby. She’s about a five-minute drive away, near Peartree Lane, the site of the devastating land movement event where nearly a dozen homes slid into the canyon.

Her townhome sits right on the canyon, directly opposite from Peartree Lane. But, she said, she’s not concerned.

“Everything there is fine,” said Shigenaka, about her home. “We’re fine.”

But for Peartree homeowner April Zee, whose home is one of the 12-red-tagged structures still standing after the Rolling Hills Estates disaster, the storm triggered another round of angst.

Her daily drive by Peartree Lane on Monday did nothing to soothe her nerves. It was too foggy to see the hillside, so she was unsure of the status of the homes in the area.

“I feel for all the other homeowners in RPV,” she said via text, “going through what we are going through.”

Staff writer Michael Hixon contributed to this report.

Source: Orange County Register

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