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Judge says City not liable for Soledad landslide

October 2, 2009 – Yesterday, a Superior Court judge ruled that several City of San Diego water leaks were not a substantial cause of the Oct. 3, 2007 Mount Soledad landslide, which damaged dozens of homes and destroyed three.

The ruling was good news for the City, but it means the homeowners will not be paid for the damage to their homes or for their diminished property values, nor will they be compensated for when they were displaced.

“I’m just really disappointed,” homeowner Joyce Clark said.

Sam Kazanchi, whose house abuts a ruined house on Soledad Mountain Road, said: “I was hoping that they would compensate some of our distress, the rent we paid, any kind of damage. I cannot imagine the people who lost their homes.”

Even the upbeat reactions of Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith were tempered by the thought of what these homeowners have endured since the La Jolla landslide.

“It’s a good day for the city because we know we’re not going to be paying out what could have been a huge pot of money, but we also feel bad for the homeowners,” Sanders said. “Their lives were changed forever.”

Added Goldsmith: “We do feel for the people who lost their homes, and the city is doing our best to help them out in our role as a city, but we’re not an insurance company.”

Goldsmith said the victory is significant because a verdict against the city could have topped $100 million. He said it also bodes well for a similar but smaller case set for trial involving another landslide on Mount Soledad.

Both cases are being heard by Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn.

Styn ruled yesterday that the homeowners’ attorneys in the first case failed to prove that it was more likely true than not that water pipe leaks led to the October 2007 slide. The city’s outside legal team, led by Doug Butz, blamed the slide on the natural and inevitable creep of earth in an ancient landslide plain.

It was a complex case. Lawyers presented highly technical and often conflicting theories before Styn over five weeks. About a dozen scientific experts testified, and there were more than 900 exhibits.

In the end, the judge’s ruling was fairly straightforward: “The court finds that the plaintiffs have not carried their burden of proof.”

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