Everett homeowners file lawsuit over landslides

EVERETT — The owners of five homes threatened by landslides in the Valley View neighborhood filed a lawsuit Wednesday, blaming a city public works project for eroding the hillside below them.

Since September, eight sets of homeowners have filed damage claims, putting the city of Everett on notice that they’re prepared to sue. That means that more could eventually join the suit.

“My clients, they have begged them to address the issue and the city has turned a deaf ear to them,” said attorney David Bricklin of Seattle. “There are two misfortunes here: one, that the city damaged the property in the first place, and two, that having damaged the property, they’re not taking responsibility for it.”

The city on Thursday had no additional comment on the situation. That is a standard response when lawsuits are pending. City staff have given presentations on the Valley View slide as recently as last week.

At issue is a drainage-improvement project that sends stormwater into a creek below the plaintiffs’ homes. The project, built in 2004, was designed to stop flooding of homes on a nearby cul-de-sac, which it accomplished.

The project, however, “dramatically increased the volume and peak flow of stormwater being discharged to the creek below (the) plaintiffs’ homes,” the homeowners allege in the complaint they filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The increased stormwater has caused the erosion at the toe of the slope that supports the affected homes, the suit maintains.

The suit accuses the city of either taking homeowners’ property for drainage improvement without compensation, or being negligent in designing and building the drainage project.

“They just put a new pipe in and greatly increased the water flow,” Bricklin said. “‘OK. Fixed one problem.’ And never gave a moment’s thought to whether they were creating another one in its place.”

The middle-class neighborhood east of I-5 was built between the late 1960s and the 1980s.

While city officials say problems started much earlier, the shifting ground became obvious to current homeowners of Panaview Boulevard and Burl Place in December 2010 and January 2011. Driveway cracks and leaning trees were some of the first clues.

By March 2011, one house had begun falling down the hillside, which overlooks the Snohomish Valley. So far, the city has red-tagged that home and two others. That means the city considers those houses unsafe to enter.

City leaders have expressed sympathy, but have denied their actions are to blame for the slide.

On Nov. 27, city engineer Ryan Sass gave the City Council a briefing about the area’s landslide risks prior to 2004. The city contends the situation in Valley View owes to a combination of fill dirt, natural topography, groundwater movement and heavy rainfall during the winter of 2010 to 2011.

Sass noted that some of the affected homes were built with special foundations because of the landslide hazards known to exist at the time.

“Landslide activity has been ongoing long, long before the 2004 drainage project,” he told council members.

Geology experts who studied the area in 1983 said the slope was “only marginally stable and the loose fill placed on the slope is unstable,” according to documents Sass presented. Another consultant examined a slope that gave way in 1997.

The suit seeks compensation for property damage, cleanup and restoration costs, emotional stress and legal costs. It doesn’t list a specific dollar figure. The earlier tort claims listed damage amounts of $133,000 to $2.3 million for each of the homes.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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