Landslide repair bills paid, money left over

Repair bills for infrastructure damaged in the 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide have been paid, with enough money left from a temporary sales tax to bulk up a disaster fund.

At the July 20 meeting, the City Council approved nearly $34 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state to pay for all but $2.5 million of the total cost of the repairs, covered by the Disaster Relief Fund.

The Laguna Beach County Water District and the city's Street Lighting Fund also contributed funds for repairs of their property damaged in the slide.

"What isn't evident in this is the lack of lawsuits, which happens in every other community," Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman said. "The heartbreak of [the lost homes] was tempered by the extraordinary efforts of Elizabeth Pearson. The charitable outreach started with her."

Person, the city's mayor, was also mayor in 2005, when the hillside collapsed June 1, 2005. She was instrumental in finding housing for residents whose homes were wrenched from their foundations and helping to organize fundraisers, assisted by residents and the Laguna Relief and Resource Center.

Resident Bob Burnham, who was appointed to oversee the repairs to city property and liaise with the property owners, also was applauded at the meeting.

The slide destroyed city infrastructure that included a 500-foot section of Flamingo Road, two large water mains, numerous sewer mains and storm drains.

After an initial rejection by FEMA, and subsequent intervention by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who visited the site, it was determined that the landslide was covered by a Presidential Disaster Declaration issued the previous February on account of heavy winter rains.

In November 2005, Laguna voters approved a temporary half-cent sales tax to cover the difference between the then-unknown government financial assistance and the actual costs, and to add to the city's Disaster Fund as a hedge against future emergencies.

No federal, state or sales tax funds were distributed to owners of property damaged or destroyed in the slide.

Repairs to the slope were completed in August 2008 and Flamingo Road was reopened.

As of June 30, the fund has a balance of about $8.2 million, from which the city will return $266,333 to the state for an overpayment.

The council approval of the costs and the reimbursements closed out the Bluebird repair project, five years and two months after the slide.

"The bottom line is the federal government and the state are paying most of the bills," City Manager Ken Frank said.

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