Rolling Hills Estates residents watch their world sink, hope to salvage memories after landslide

A person stands with his arms crossed behind yellow "Do not cross" tape outdoors.
Homeowner Weber “Wei” Yen stands next to caution tape near his home, which was caught in a landslide, on Tuesday in Rolling Hills Estates.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

From his unfamiliar hotel room Tuesday morning, Weber “Wei” Yen instinctively looked for his favorite coffee mug — the one he’s used almost every day for the last 25 years.

“I can’t get it anymore,” said Yen, who had returned to his Rolling Hills Estates neighborhood to check on his collapsed home. He got the mug on a trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. “It’s that kind of stuff,” he said. “You try to reach for something that’s no longer there.”

Yen, 73, can’t even begin to list everything he and his family have probably lost since their home began slipping into the canyon it overlooked on Peartree Lane. Officials still don’t know what caused the clear-day landslide that forced the evacuation late Saturday of 12 homes, many now completely lost. At least 16 people have been displaced, and the land continues to shift, officials have said.


“I had to jam a lifetime of memories into two suitcases,” Yen said. “It’s sad, all these children pictures, memorabilia; they can never be recovered.”

The ground is still moving in Rolling Hills Estates, more than a day after 12 homes were evacuated because of major ground slides.

July 10, 2023

The home Yen shared with his wife for the last 10 years now sits at least 15 feet below its original spot. The roof is visibly damaged; the garage has slid so far into the canyon that it is no longer visible from the road.

“It’s lower by at least one floor,” Yen said. He went to take a photo for his insurance records, joking darkly that he needed to do so quickly, “before it’s gone.”

On Saturday, after Los Angeles County Fire Department officials warned residents they might have to flee, Yen said, he tried to pack up those priceless memories — family scrapbooks, awards won by his children when they were young.

Lopsided, damaged homes on a hillside.
A hillside continues to collapse, and homes along Peartree Lane in Rolling Hills Estates fall along with it.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But when fire officials returned and gave him just 10 minutes to get out, he said, everything became a blur. With his wife traveling, it was just him trying to pack up their 2,000-square-foot duplex.


“I have many pictures I could have — should have — taken out, but you know I was under so much pressure,” Yen said. “I already put them in boxes, [but] I left them in the living room.

“In those days, you don’t have digital memories; you have film,” Yen said, shaking his head. “That’s gone.”

He said he was able to grab some important documents, including passports, necessary medicine and some clothes.

“I didn’t have time to think about a lot else,” he said.

Those family photos and memories hold the greatest sentimental value for him, but he knows much else was probably lost: antiques, oil paintings, handmade china, his wife’s favorite clothes and bags. But he remains hopeful that, when the ground settles, he might be able to salvage some of those items.

“Maybe what’s left on the ground we can go rummage through,” Yen said. “I hope that’s the case, because there might be some valuables — valuables to us, anyways.”

Right now, it’s a waiting game for Yen: waiting to hear what his insurance might cover, what any geologists sent in to examine the catastrophe say about the future of the land, and any other answers he can get about what went wrong.


“I’m feeling sad and confused and angry — angry that no one had told us earlier about this,” Yen said. “This is pretty significant [ground] movement; someone should have known about it.”

Yen said he had noticed a few cracks in his home two days before the evacuation — as did other neighbors — but he had no idea the issue was widespread. He said he called his neighborhood homeowners association, requesting someone come check out his property, but was told that although the HOA was aware of the issue, it was each owner’s problem to handle.

“I think there’s negligence on someone’s part,” Yen said. “The officials were notified. ... It pisses me off that someone dropped the ball on that.”

The management company for the Rolling Hills Park Villas homeowners association, Scott Management, as well as a member of the board, declined to comment or take questions from a Los Angeles Times reporter Tuesday.

A person photographs a house that appears to be sinking on one side.
Weber “Wei” Yen takes a photo of his sinking property Tuesday morning, three days after he was forced to evacuate his home of 10 years.
(Grace Toohey / Los Angeles Times)

Yen said that, by Saturday, a gap between his front patio and stoop had grown to 4 inches wide, and that he was no longer able to open his front door. He said he left inquiries with some local geologists but didn’t immediately hear back — but he didn’t realize the extent of the issue.


“I had no idea,” Yen said. “It’s one of those things that’s so new, I was so confused. ... We didn’t think it was going to be that serious.”

He’s hoping he and his wife may be able to stay in the area they’ve come to love, depending on how their insurance coverage shakes out. The couple had planned to spend the rest of their days in their Rolling Hills Estates home.

“I love this area,” Yen said, “but then again the sliding hillsides [are] scary.”

The city of Rolling Hills Estates plans to declare an emergency at its Tuesday council meeting, Mayor Britt Huff said, hoping to free up additional aid for residents.

Although this landslide came as a shock to residents, the Palos Verdes Peninsula is known to be prone to such movement.

Not far from Peartree Lane, a slow-moving slide continues to shift land in the Portuguese Bend area, first catalyzed in 1956. In the late 1990s, another landslide collapsed a hilltop office park in Rolling Hills Estates.

The California Geological Survey warned that after this winter’s heavy rains, the risk for “deep-seated” landslides would increase, triggered by changes in underground water. Landslides can also be triggered by earthquakes, rain or human modifications to the land.

Each day since his evacuation, Yen has returned to what remains of his shrinking land, noticing Tuesday that the lemon tree in the frontyard remained upright — with the huge drop-off just behind it.

“It’s kind of strange, like no one else is affected,” Yen said of the larger canyon. “What did we do wrong?”