City settles Las Flores law suit for nearly $4.2 million


The city has agreed to buy six properties on Las Flores Canyon Road to settle a lawsuit brought by the properties’ owners, whose homes, on the banks of Las Flores Creek, were repeatedly damaged during major storms by floodwaters diverted from their natural flow by the landslide on Rambla Pacifico Road.

The city, which will pay nearly $4.2 million to the landowners, denied responsibility for the creek’s diversion, but a court of appeal ruling put the city in a “tenuous” legal position, said City Attorney Christi Hogin, and forced it to settle the lawsuit.

The landowners contended in their suit that the diversion of the creek water was a result of landslides caused by shoddy construction and maintenance of Rambla Pacifico Road. Debris from that road blocked portions of the creek and diverted the flow of water and mud towards Las Flores Canyon Road.

The city contended that the road work on Rambla Pacifico, performed by the county years before incorporation, was not the responsibility of the city. The city prevailed on that issue in a lower court, but a court of appeal reversed that ruling and held that Malibu assumed the county’s liability for the road work when it incorporated.

“It may be counter-intuitive to most people in Malibu that the city would be responsible for work the county did,” said Hogin, “but that appears to be the law.”

The plaintiffs also claimed that the city would not issue permits for either repairing flood damage or for rebuilding five of the landowners’ homes that were destroyed in the fire of November 1993.

“That’s not true,” said Hogin. “We have issued building permits.”

Plaintiffs Paul Randall, Chris Spiros, Kambis and Behnaz Samimi, Dorianne Kabo, and Tonya Wexler and Vanessa Wexler lost their homes in the 1993 fire. Plaintiffs Jack and Blanche Teufel did not.

Nonetheless, the thrust of the lawsuit was that the repeated flooding and the landowners’ vulnerability to future flooding from the creek’s diversion rendered their property worthless, which amounted to a “taking” without just compensation under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

The city will pay $400,000 from its general fund to purchase the property, and the balance of the settlement amount will be covered by various insurance policies the city holds.

The city plans to build a berm and a drainage project to secure Las Flores Canyon Road, said Hogin. In the future, the land may be turned into a public park or senior center, she said.

According to the settlement agreement, landslides from Rambla Pacifico continue to move eastward across the floor of Las Flores Canyon, at times at a rate of more than eight feet per year.