Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Coping with loss

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series about the Bluebird Canyon landslide of 2005.]

Some miss the ocean view. Others say it’s the neighbors. For many, it’s stability, security, sanctuary.

What Bluebird Canyon landslide victim Tim Saunders misses most about his now-demolished Flamingo Road home is the way the sun illuminated all 2,000 square feet of it.


“It was so bright when the sun came up in the morning. It just lit up the house and it was light all day long,” said Saunders, who drives by the hill almost every day to admire his former view. “When I’d be stuck on the 5 Freeway, it was just nice to think about getting home to enjoy that at the end of the day.”

On June 1, 2005, Saunders was away in Oxnard. His cohabitant and “sweetheart” Sherry Way had just exited the shower when she heard what sounded like hail drumming on the skylight. When the neighbors yelled to evacuate, she ran barefoot straight down the hill as her house slid 50 feet toward the canyon floor.

The house was one of 11 that had to be completely demolished, their residents allowed only a few precious hours inside to recover belongings. Six others were severely damaged and deemed uninhabitable.

Needless to say, Saunders returned to Laguna Beach shell-shocked.


“The house fractured into several pieces,” Saunders said. “The slide just tore it apart.”

Though he plans to rebuild when the City of Laguna Beach opens the area up for redevelopment later this month, Saunders knows he can’t replace what he lost. And at 66 years old, he also knows trying isn’t going to be easy.

“My heart wants me to build and return, and my head tells me that is would be crazy to take on such a daunting project at my age,” said the retired business owner. “For sure I won’t be able to recreate the house and that lighting, either because of code changes or the expenses.”

Amid all the uncertainties the future holds, one thing Saunders is confident in is the stability of the land.

“I feel that they reconstructed it like a giant block of interlocking Legos,” he said.

But planning, restructuring and eventually rebuilding will cost him a good portion of his life savings, on top of the $2,000-a-month mortgage he continues to pay on his extinct home and the $1,500 he is losing each month by living in his own rental property in Laguna Hills, money that should be funding his retirement.

He was one of the few — possibly the sole — landslide victim to receive money from his homeowner’s insurance policy: $3,000 for broken glass. Everything else will come straight out of pocket.

“I’m still figuring out the financing, which is part of this whole emotional roller coaster I’ve been on,” Saunders said.


For neighbors Kay and Lewis Wright, the ordeal of rebuilding is too much to bear at 80 and 89 years old, respectively.

With only three trash bags and two backpacks filled with miscellaneous possessions — a few pieces of valuable artwork, assorted purse contents, some important paperwork and a selection of favorite outfits — the couple has settled into a home in Laguna Woods since “riding” down the canyon while inside their Flamingo Road home 2 1/2 years ago.

“It’s not that we wouldn’t like to rebuild, but we’re getting up there in years and we don’t want to haggle around with contracting and picking out fixtures and all that,” Kay Wright said.

“We’re going to stay here and hopefully we’ll have a lovely lot to put on sale when this all gets straightened out.”