As land slides alarmingly, Rancho Palos Verdes is seeking state and federal emergency declarations

A construction worker walks along cracked pavement
A construction worker on Feb. 9 walks along Dauntless Drive in Rancho Palos Verdes, where land movement exacerbated by recent storms has cracked pavement and damaged homes.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

City leaders in Rancho Palos Verdes plan to ask the state to waive environmental reviews and other regulatory hurdles so they can expedite their fight against the accelerating landslide complex that threatens crucial infrastructure in the city and hundreds of homes.

Amid drenching rainstorms that threaten to worsen the problem, the City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency for the area. The landslide complex that underlies much of the coastal city has been slowly shifting for decades, but over the last few months, the movement has increased alarmingly.

Officials also voted to ask the governor to request that President Biden designate the landslide complex as a federal disaster, which could free up potential funding streams, including from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


“It is time to take action,” Councilmember David Bradley said at the crowded meeting Tuesday night. “Anything we can do and as fast as we can do it, we need to do it.”

The council already has declared a local emergency, but the situation has since deteriorated with back-to-back rainy winters. A statewide emergency proclamation could enable the city to jump-start its $33-million landslide remediation project — which has been in development since 2016 but remains months away from clearing final environmental reviews.

A street in Rancho Palos Verdes closed by storm damage
Streets are closed as new land movement exacerbated by recent storms has caused additional damage in Rancho Palos Verdes.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“It is paramount at this point that we are able to move quickly and not be held up with lengthy permitting processes,” City Manager Ara Mihranian said. Those reviews are “acceptable under normal conditions, but we are not operating under normal conditions today.”

That project was supposed to proactively stabilize the Portuguese Bend area, but the issue has recently become more urgent.

Record-setting rainstorms that have drenched Southern California have caused water to infiltrate the layers of clay in the landslide area, softening it and allowing for more rapid movement.


More and faster land movement has wreaked havoc across Portuguese Bend on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where a slow-moving landslide has lurked for decades.

Feb. 18, 2024

Two homes have been red tagged. Other residents have reported cracks in their walls, doorways that have split at the seams and sinkholes on their properties. The pavement on Palos Verdes Drive South, a major roadway through the community, is buckling. Wayfarers Chapel, L.A.’s famed “Glass Church,” was forced to close this month because of the land movement.

“In some areas, [the land] is moving up to 10 feet a year,” Mihranian said. “That’s significant movement, and we’re seeing the damage that’s being sustained throughout the community. We have approximately 400 homes that are threatened by this landslide.”

If Newsom issues the emergency declaration, it would help the city move more quickly to stabilize the Portuguese Bend landslide area by allowing it to bypass much of the state permitting gantlet that such projects typically face, including reviews by the California Coastal Commission, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the State Water Resources Control Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The council may also ask that the governor waive requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act related to the remediation effort.

“When you look at the timeline and the path forward for us getting work done, I think requesting the suspension of entitlements will help us get to the finish line sooner,” Mihranian said.

If the governor approves the request, Mihranian estimates work could begin as early as the spring, as opposed to sometime next year.

City officials’ most urgent goal is to prevent rainwater from seeping into the ground. According to a city staff report, the city seeks to do so by filling fissures that have developed, constructing drainage swales that will divert runoff to the ocean and installing more “dewatering wells” to extract groundwater.

Land movement exacerbated by recent storms has caused large cracks in pavement and damage to nearby homes.
Traffic barrels and cracked and sunken pavement can be seen on Dauntless Drive in Rancho Palos Verdes on Feb. 9.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn urged Newsom on Monday to visit Rancho Palos Verdes to see the effects of the land movement firsthand.

“I think if the governor came here and saw the buckling streets, the homes sinking and cracking apart, and the historic Wayfarers Chapel on the verge of collapsing, he would understand the urgency of this request,” Hahn said in a statement. “This is a crisis that is getting worse by the day, and I urge Gov. Newsom to visit us and see it with his own eyes.”

It was announced on the website for the famed chapel and event space that accelerated ground movements had led to its closure.

Feb. 15, 2024

The ground in Portuguese Bend has been shifting extremely slowly for decades, making it one of the most studied landslides in the nation. But the movement has intensified in the last several months.

Major land movement is now occurring across nearly 700 acres, or a little more than 1 square mile. GPS monitoring conducted in January showed that the average rate of movement within the complex between October 2023 and January accelerated three to four times compared with movement a year earlier, according to a staff report.

“What’s happening is unprecedented,” Mike Phipps, Rancho Palos Verdes’ contracted geologist, told The Times this month after reviewing more than 16 years of data. “We haven’t seen this kind of movement in the upper areas of the landslide in the whole history of monitoring this landslide.”


The city is not yet asking the governor to help pay for the landslide remediation work, mostly because of the delay such a request would cause. City staff wrote in a report that “time is of the essence for the emergency work to stabilize the area due to the immediate threat to public safety.”

But a federal disaster declaration could free up FEMA funds.