Landslide lawsuit settled

Four Marysville homeowners get $826,000 for repairs

By KATHY KORENGEL

Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE — When Dean Cavaletto bought his new four-bedroom home three years ago, he never dreamed he would lose most of his yard to a landslide a year later.

And then spend the next two years trying to hold someone responsible for the slide — especially since he thought he’d done everything he could to foresee the disaster.

And although Cavaletto and owners of three other homes on a hill above Cedarcrest Golf Course are about halfway through repairing the slope with funds received from a more than $800,000 settlement, Cavaletto said he’s not satisfied.

"I lost two years of my life fighting this thing," Cavaletto said Wednesday. "It wasn’t worth it."

He said he learned one thing: "Buyers beware, even when you ask the right questions. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear."

Cavaletto and his neighbors on the 8000 block of 72nd Drive NE filed suit against the homes’ developers, builders, engineers and a real estate agent over not being forewarned of the risks that portions of their back yards could slide away during heavy rains in the winter of 1998-99.

In December 1998, part of Cavaletto’s yard fell away after heavy rains, leaving his foundation three feet from the edge of a cliff. In January 1999, Cavaletto and three neighbors had part of their back yards slide off after heavy rains.

In the lawsuit, the homeowners also claimed that defendants knew of the risks, partly because of alleged slides that occurred during development of the land and building of the homes.

Cavaletto said that after the first slide he spent much of the last two winters away from home because of concerns over mudslides. He also said, as a result of the potential risks to his property, his home was recently assessed at much less than what he paid for it.

He also said he thought he’d done everything right when he bought the home. He said he’d asked for geotechnical reports on the slope before he bought it.

"They all came back excellent," he said.

The lawsuit was filed in December 1999 and settled through mediation in August. In the settlement, the developer, Barclay’s North; builders, D. Peterson, Calibre Homes and Evergreen Enterprises; engineering firms Terra Associates and Group Four; and builder and real estate agent Dan Henry agreed to pay a total of $826,000 to the homeowners.

The settlement compensated the homeowners for estimated costs of repairing the faulty slope, as well as for engineering and attorney fees.

Mark Honeywell, attorney for Barclay’s North, said of the settlement, "We neither accept nor admit fault, but everyone did agree that it was not the plaintiff’s fault."

Honeywell also said that "most of the defendants knew at one point or another there were some problems (during development and construction of the homes), but they thought they’d been solved."

Jeff Frank, attorney for Evergreen Enterprises and Dan Henry, said his client "categorically denied knowing of any sliding that occurred during construction."

Honeywell said defendants offered the homeowners compensation because they wanted to "make it right with them."

And although the city of Marysville, which issued building permits for the home, was not named in the lawsuit, Cavaletto said city staff let him down when he turned to them for help after the first slide left part of his patio hanging in the air.

He asked the city to investigate and see if the builders had violated building codes during the permitting process. The city denied his request.

After both slides in 1998, the city did send a geotechnical consultant to the site to ensure it was habitable, city planner Gloria Hirashima said.

The consultant determined there was "no imminent danger to the resident," Hirashima said.

She and Mayor David Weiser declined to comment on whether the city should have done more.

"The city was very happy the homeowners ended up settling with the developers. They had different opinions on what needed to be done, and we were glad they resolved it," Hirashima said.

And although Cavaletto’s home may be more secure when the slope is stabilized about mid-December, his conscience is still troubled.

"It shouldn’t have happened," Cavaletto said.

"If you follow the chain of design and building, it could have been stopped at any point by any number of people, to include the city, and it didn’t happen," he said.

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