Rancho Palos Verdes council members are trying to stop local landslides by any means necessary, even if it means breaking the law.
On July 5, the council considered three measures aimed at halting landslides at Portuguese Bend and Abalone Cove, but the council may have moved onto shaky legal ground by voting to leave an undetermined number of square metal baskets filled with rocks, known as gabions, on the shoreline between Inspiration Point and the Portuguese Bend Club.
The boxes, stretched out along almost 2,000 feet of coastline, are designed to prevent landslides by minimizing beach erosion. But storms in March, 1992, destroyed a number of gabions and the city has been unsuccessful in snagging Federal Emergency Management Agency money for new ones.
In addition, a temporary gabion permit, issued by the California Coastal Commission, expired in 1992.
Trent Pulliam, the director of public works, suggested on July 5 that the council remove any remaining gabions. But the council decided that protecting Palos Verdes Drive South, a main roadway, from landslides is more important than permit compliance.
"It's politically correct to fix the infrastructure people use to get back and forth from work," said Councilman John C. McTaggart, who criticized FEMA for not providing money to replace the damaged gabions.
FEMA refused the city's request for funds to replace the gabions because they don't last long, and because Rancho Palos Verdes failed to document the damage or obtain the necessary permits, according to a FEMA memo dated Jan. 19. Pulliam has countered that FEMA does not want to pay for the gabions and is simply stalling.
FEMA, however, did agree to contribute $20,000 toward removal of damaged gabions. A city report estimates the total cost of removal at $20,000 to $30,000.
If the city finds any undamaged gabions and leaves them in place, it could be in violation of the coastal commission permit.
Nancy Cave, the coastal commission's superintendent of enforcement, said the case has not been brought to her attention. But she said that if the coastal commission deems the city a "knowing and intentional" violator, Rancho Palos Verdes could be fined up to $15,000 per day.
Also on July 5, the council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, considered two measures to curb landslides at Abalone Cove, adjacent to Portuguese Bend.
The agency held a public hearing on drilling six dewatering wells, which function like standard wells and are meant to lower the ground water level. A final vote on the wells is expected Tuesday.