As sure as the perennial blooms of spring, every winter brings a carpet of green plastic that drapes the slopes of Mojave Hill like a canvas.
For homeowners living below, the plastic is far from a sign of warmer days to come, but a warning to watch out for mudslides.
"My kids think that plastic is a blooming plant because it comes back at the same time every year," said Steve Tayson, whose backyard borders the hillside.
For years, Mojave Hill has been slowly crumbling, causing piles of dirt to tumble into backyards and cracks to appear in concrete patios. There is another complication: The neighborhood is in Lake Forest, the hillside in Mission Viejo.
The Mission Viejo City Council this week approved hiring a company to permanently shore up the slopes, but that project won't get underway until the summer. In the meantime, residents nervously keep one eye on the hill and the other on the latest weather report.
About 24 households, including about eight on top of the hill in Mission Viejo, are affected by the erosion.
The threat of a slide in the Lake Forest neighborhood during recent rainstorms brought firefighters to Ann Talsky's door, asking her "to pack my bags," she told Mission Viejo council members this week. "Ever since then I haven't been sleeping well at night.
"There's not a lot of time left to save that hill."
City officials say experts hired to study the hill have concluded there is no immediate danger of the slope collapsing.
While disaster has yet to strike, residents say the signs of danger are accumulating
"We have sand [coming from the hill] that has nearly covered our fence in the backyard, and that's 4 feet tall," resident Lisa Renaud said. "We take what spills over and fill sandbags with it."
Jack Liddy, a resident for almost two decades, said the plastic tarps and other measures taken by the city to prevent slides have been ineffective.
"It's been our contention all along that the hill hasn't been addressed or plans to correct the problem have not been given the interest that it should have," Liddy said. "In fact, if we had been in Mission Viejo, it probably would have been given more attention."
Erosion has always plagued the hills of Mission Viejo.
"It's well-documented that February was the wettest on record, which contributed to slope failures all over town," said Dennis Wilberg, director of public works. "All I can say is: We didn't overlook that area simply because Lake Forest is at the bottom."
Lake Forest officials said they have no say in how their neighbor deals with the slope. But they said they are in contact with Mission Viejo officials and will monitor the situation.
No matter on which side of the border the houses are sitting, said Mission Viejo Councilwoman Sherri M. Butterfield, she sees a clear, ethical obligation to help the neighborhood.
"I feel so sorry for these people," she said. "I have a big slope sitting behind my house so I know exactly what they are afraid of. To me, where they pay their taxes is something that shouldn't be thought about."
Residents say they will keep a careful eye on plans to fix the slope.
"We want to see a long-term solution, not a Band-Aid plan," Tayson said. "We will become more organized and increasingly more aggressive to discuss a solution. This calls for a squeaky wheel, and we're not going to go away."
Getting residents who live farther from the hillside involved in the repair campaign has been more difficult, neighbors say.
Renaud has worked to rally the neighborhood, going door to door to pass out fliers. She said she was disappointed that only six neighbors attended this week's Mission Viejo council meeting.
"I talked to people who really got hot about this, but they weren't at the meeting after ranting and raving to me," she said.
Other residents expressed sympathy, but made no commitments.
"I think people feel sorry for people living against the hill," Renaud said. "What they don't realize is that if my house doesn't sell well, their house won't sell well either."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
NEIGHBOHOODS: Mojave Hill
Bounded by: Rippling Brook on the east side of the hill, Cripple Creek Road on the west side and Altanero Street on top of the slopes in Mission Viejo
Population: Approximately 24 homes
Hot topic: Lake Forest residents concerned about slides from the hill, which is part of Mission Viejo