“Slow-Motion Disaster” Is Swallowing Homes in Northern California

Monday, May 13, 2013
Robin and Scott Spivey walk past their home. (photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)

It didn’t take former building inspector Scott Spivey long to figure out that something was terribly wrong when his house in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, started developing cracks that rapidly turned into fissures.

Two weeks later, his garage lay 10 feet below street level and his neighbors’ homes were collapsing, but no one could tell them why it was happening. Resident Randall Fitzgerald told the Associated Press it was “a slow moving disaster.”

Within a short time, eight homes in the 30-year-old, hilly volcanic subdivision had to be abandoned and around two dozen more were threatened. The assumption was that the hill was somehow being eroded by water, but a dry winter and groundwater shortages seemed to belie that notion.  

County officials checked original developer plans and reviewed government records, but found nothing to question the integrity of the builders. Consultant Tom Ruppenthal of Utilities Services Associates suspects the problem is simply the “very common” occurrence of shifting groundwater.

He also noted two small leaks that were found and repaired in the country water system last week, but told the AP they were too small to be the problem.  

Residents aren’t so sure. Fitzgerald and one of his neighbors estimated that the two leaks were gushing out about 30 gallons of water a minute. They calculated that over a 60-day period, 2.5 million gallons of water could have drenched the hillside. That equates to 125 swimming pools with 20,000 gallons of water each.

Homeowners are talking about appealing to Governor Jerry Brown for a declaration of disaster and the county Board of Supervisors is expecting an update from the field soon.

But for now, residents are on their own. Spivey told the Lake County News that his insurance company told him they won’t cover the damages.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

One by One, Homes in Calif. Subdivision Sinking (by Tracie Cone, Associated Press)

Leaks Discovered in County Water System at Lakeside Heights; Repairs Made, Monitoring Continues (by Elizabeth Larson, Lake County News)

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