Burst Water Line Makes Mud Pies in Tenants' Cars

Times Staff Writer

When Anita Chafetz moved to the Los Angeles area from New York two months ago, she rented an expensive Marina del Rey apartment so she could be near the water.

But on Saturday, she was telling her neighbors that this wasn't exactly what she had in mind.

Chafetz and about 25 other residents of the 930-unit Mariner's Village on Old Harbor Lane had to trudge through several inches of water and mud in one of the development's subterranean garages to reach their cars, most of them of the high-priced variety. When they opened the car doors, they discovered that the vehicles also were waterlogged, having sustained an estimated $75,000 damage when an underground water line burst early Saturday morning, Los Angeles County fire officials said.

"This is like, 'Welcome to L.A.,' " Chafetz said as she surveyed several inches of mud and sludge on the floor of her Volvo Turbo.

But while Chafetz managed to find some humor in the episode, her neighbor, Roxanne Rankin, was not as forgiving. But, then again, Rankin's car--a BMW 325i--was only five days old.

'It's Full of Mud'

"Oh, my God, it's full of mud," Rankin said when she opened her car door. "OK, I'm freaking out. I'm just in shock. I just spent $20,000 on a car I can't afford and I feel like it's lost."

Capt. Jerry Patten of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said it appeared that a joint in a pipe about 10 feet underground had broken or slipped off, spewing water into the garage for about three hours before fire officials and the building's maintenance workers were able to locate the shut-off valve.

"There's such a maze of pipes out there," Patten said, explaining the delay. "Until we dig the pipe up, we won't know what happened."

In the meantime, water to many units was shut off for most of the day, sending a parade of robe-clad tenants to the building's management office in search of a vacant apartment where they could shower. Some mumbled under their breath that they expected better service in a beach-front building where one-bedroom units start at $850 and two-bedroom units at $1,200 a month.

The owners of damaged cars found little satisfaction at the office, where they were told that their individual insurance companies would be responsible for repairing the vehicles. Joy King, who works for the management company, cited signs posted in each garage warning residents, "Management is not responsible for damage caused by water."

King said the broken pipe was not something management could have prevented, but simply "an act of God."

Lawsuit Threatened

Her response did not sit well with several of the residents, who were threatening to file a class-action lawsuit to force management to pay for the damage.

Many expressed outrage that they were not awakened and given an opportunity to move their cars when the leak was first discovered about 2 a.m. Some were unaware of the flooding until they went to use their cars in the early afternoon.

"How can you call this an act of God?" asked a livid Don Edison, who was bailing water from the floor of his Cadillac Seville. "It's not rain, it's not flood, it's a broken water main. They tell us it's our problem, but we're not going to let it go at that."

Harry Perlberg, who estimated that he bailed five gallons of water from his Mercedes-Benz, argued that the garage disclaimers were "ridiculous."

"If you go to a movie house and expect to have a pleasant evening and they say they're not responsible for any damage and the roof caves in, are you telling me they wouldn't have to pay?" Perlberg said.

But King offered the frustrated residents little sympathy.

"I don't know what they're complaining about," she said. "I used to live in the desert, and after one flash flood I never did find my car."

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