The re-occurring landslides on Southside Road are not the only problem San Benito County faces as Ridgemark neighborhood’s short answer to allow road access to affected residents is no.
San Benito County will stop clean-up work on recent Southside Road landslides until studies are done to get a better understanding of the composition of the land and why the slides keep occurring, Resource Management Agency Director John Guertin said during the San Benito County Board of Supervisors special meeting on Aug. 28.
A Don Chapin Company representative said at the beginning of the meeting that crews will be working on reconstructing Blossom Lane, completing some road repairs on Southside Road and installing fencing on the top of the slope to prevent rocks from rolling into the roadway.
Representatives from the Sunnyslope County Water District, Ridgemark Homeowners’ Association (HOA), Earth Systems (a geotechnical engineering company), and Lynn Hildon, the owner of the property where the slides occurred, also attended the meeting.
The area has seen five landslides this year, with the first one occurring in mid-May and the most recent one on Aug. 17. So far the county has spent more than $1 million to clean up the slides in an effort to re-open Southside Road.
Rob Hillebrecht, associate engineer at Sunnyslope County Water District, gave a presentation on district’s water treatment process.
“A thorough investigation really needs to happen before we can look into changes or solutions that can happen, otherwise we start getting ahead of ourselves and we go down rabbit trails that get everybody confused,” Hillebrecht said during his concluding remarks.
Hildon, the owner of the property where the slides occurred, shared a video he said was taken Aug. 18 that showed an aerial view of the landslides, water plant and neighboring homes. He reiterated statements he made at the supervisors’ Aug. 21 meeting, specifically that the district began using pond No. 5 two years ago, and that it had not been in use since a 1984 landslide.
“There was never any water that I have ever seen in pond five prior to that expansion,” Hildon said. “So I would like to know how we can come up and say ‘Oh it’s been used this whole time.’ It hasn’t been.”
Hildon said he has lived in his house since 2001.
Hillebrecht responded later that the water district’s records and all the reports to the State Quality Control Board indicate the pond has consistently been used since 1984.
Hildon added that everyone who has gone up the hill could see the problem: The pond is percolating water down the hill.
“The effluent from pond five is what caused this slide,” Hildon said. “And we can deny it, we can do whatever, but the facts are the facts. Until you get the water out of those ponds that slide is going to continue.”
Effluent refers to the treated water which is put in ponds that allow the water to be absorbed by the soil and into the groundwater, according to Hillebrecht.
After Hillebrecht’s presentation, County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa asked Dan Valcazar, president of Ridgemark HOA, whether it was possible to open up the gated community's roads for public access to and from the affected area on Southside Road.
“The short answer is no,” Valcazar said. “The long answer is there are liability concerns, insurance concerns, safety concerns—who is going to pay for it.”
Valcazar added that the initial response from homeowners ranged from anger to laughter. Nonetheless, he said they want to hear what the board proposes.
Board Chairman Anthony Botelho said he understood the HOA’s position, but later expressed disappointment.
“I’m somewhat discouraged to hear Ridgemark Homeowners’ Association say the short answer is no,” Botelho said near the end of the meeting. “That sends a clear signal to me and a very selfish signal.”
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said he was disappointed because the board had helped Ridgemark residents “time and time again.”
Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz said he thought the concept of the meeting was to work together, but was taken aback by Ridgemark residents’ position.
“I can’t say enough words or even the words that I can say, I can’t say today,” De La Cruz said.
During public comment, Stephen Mills, vice president of the Ridgemark Bluffs Homeowners Association (separate from the Ridgemark HOA) asked the board to include all homeowner associations that live in Ridgemark in any negotiations regarding access through the neighborhood.
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