Storm barriers must remain in hillside neighborhoods

'We're not quite there yet,' state engineer says of hillside renewal in wake of Station fire.

May 16, 2012|By Joe Piasecki,
  • Local resident Gilbert Jacobi, who is happy to have the K-rails in front of his home on the 5400 block of La Forest Drive in La Canada Flintridge, shows photos of his cars that were covered by mudflows during the 2010 storms.
Local resident Gilbert Jacobi, who is happy to have the… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

La Cañada Flintridge homeowners may hate them, but the barriers that have lined hillside streets since the 2009 Station fire aren't going away any time soon.

Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service visited four La Cañada neighborhoods on May 8 to weigh the risks of removing the barriers, known as K-rails. The verdict: Loose dirt and a dearth of deeply rooted shrubbery in burn areas make for a continued threat of mud and debris flows during heavy rains — meaning the curbside fortifications must stay put for another year or longer.

“On this thin soil and these steep slopes, you need to give it some more time for native species to take hold. I'd say we're not quite there yet,” said John Harrington, the agency's state conservation engineer for California.

The news is disappointing for many homeowners but should not come as a shock in areas where walls of mud and rock overwhelmed streets, flooded yards and invaded more than two dozen homes in February 2010.


At that time, officials cautioned that it could take five to seven years before the area recovered enough from the 161,000-acre Station fire to see the barriers removed.

The latest survey, done at the request of Rep. David Dreier (R- San Dimas), examined hillside areas above Haskell Street and Big Briar Way, Rock Castle Drive, La Forest Drive, and the Paradise Valley neighborhood atop Ocean View Boulevard.

Harrington and his team were accompanied by officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, which maintains area catch basins and installed the K-rails.

Department of Public Works spokesman Kerjon Lee said officials may remove some barriers in La Crescenta neighborhoods, but plan to leave the K-rails in La Cañada.

Residents see the debris walls as either a reassuring presence or an unwelcome reminder of disaster.

Margaret Manatt, who has lived on La Forest Drive for 43 years, would like to see them go.

“I'm willing to take that chance,” said Manatt, complaining that K-rails hinder views and depress property values. “It seems to me [the hills] have grown back, and we haven't had those torrential rains.”

But Gilbert Jacobi, who lives near the top of La Forest, credits the K-rails with saving his home.

“We're for waiting the full five years. Just having them here helps us sleep a bit better when it rains,” said Jacobi.

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