To homeowners on Avenida del Sol, a serpentine street in the hills of Studio City, an accident last week in which a 30-ton concrete truck rolled off the edge of the road and onto a house below was frightening but not surprising.
"We've been seeing this for a year and a half," resident Chip Worsinger said of the heavy construction traffic on his narrow hillside street. Last week's mishap was the most serious accident, but not the only one, involving construction vehicles on the road since a wave of building began two years ago, he said.
Residents of Avenida del Sol said Monday's accident proves that their street, built by a developer in the 1920s, is neither wide enough nor strong enough to support the large number of heavy trucks and other construction vehicles that have come with the recent building boom.
Crowding on the 1.5-mile semicircular road will continue even when the construction stops, they charge, because developers are building houses so close to the edge of the pavement that future occupants will have no choice but to park their cars on the street.
To the developers and contractors building high-priced houses on Avenida del Sol, the residents' anger is understandable but misplaced. Tom Posey, the general contractor to whom the truck was delivering concrete when the street collapsed under it, said he has addressed homeowners' complaints by removing his equipment from the street.
He also said he has positioned the houses he is building so that they will have adequate off-street parking.
"We've complied about as much as we can," Posey said. "They're being unreasonable with us. They just don't want to see development."
City Councilman Michael Woo on Tuesday ordered an investigation of the cause of the truck accident. He said Friday that the city engineer had asked the Building and Safety Department to order Posey to stop construction work near the site of the mishap until the road is properly reinforced. The department is to issue the order early next week, Woo said.
City officials say that similar debates over hillside development are occurring throughout Los Angeles. The crux of the problem, said Woo aide Diana Brueggemann, is that construction is occurring "on sites that previously people thought were unbuildable."
Many streets in the city's hills are narrow and steep, built when the areas were only sparsely populated, and are inadequate for carrying heavy traffic. In addition, Brueggemann said, the high cost of construction on steep hillsides encourages developers to build large houses that they can sell at high profits.
Worsinger, president of the Hillside Homeowners Coalition, formed last year in response to residents' anger over congestion caused by construction traffic, said he worries that rescue vehicles would be unable to reach accident victims during an emergency. He said that on several occasions postal carriers have been unable to make deliveries because trucks have blocked the road. In addition, he said, parked cars have been damaged by construction materials that fall from passing trucks.
The one point on which residents and builders seem to agree is that the city is not doing enough to regulate construction on steep hillsides.
"Building and Safety should require developers to clear out land for parking," said Sion Shabo, a developer building two houses on Avenida del Sol.
To residents' accusations that developers are building houses too close to the narrow streets, Posey responded, "They're not building any closer than anybody's letting them."
"It's a disastrous situation up here that's not being acknowledged by city officials,' Worsinger said.
The city's current general plan requires roads in hillside residential areas to be at least 28 feet wide and buildings to be at least four feet from the side of the road, Los Angeles Senior City Engineer Charles Jack said. But the requirement is unenforceable on Avenida del Sol because the road was built by a private developer and is still maintained by its residents, rather than by the city, he said. "The law doesn't give us any power to require anything," Jack said.
Woo, whose district includes Avenida del Sol, said he is trying to strengthen hillside construction regulations. An ordinance he introduced to coordinate city departments' responses to complaints about construction site abuses and building code violations will go before the full council later this summer.
He also has proposed a measure limiting the size and density of hillside houses and requiring off-street parking and minimum setbacks. That ordinance was introduced last year and still must go before the city Planning Commission.