Liability for Las Flores properties longtime dispute


Litigation involving six families who owned land alongside Las Flores Creek, the county of Los Angeles and, later, the city has been going on for a number of years.

In September 1996, the county settled with the plaintiffs, over the opposition of the city, for a reported $2 million, plus a guaranty the plaintiffs would get another $3 million if they could not recover it from anyone else, namely the city of Malibu. At that time, the city and its insurance carriers argued the city was not liable for something the county had created years before Malibu incorporated, and they refused to settle or contribute in any significant way. The county settled its portion of the case and the Superior Court approved the settlement over the city’s objection. The plaintiffs then continued with their lawsuit against the city.

Subsequent events and an appellate court decision proved the city and its insurance carriers’ gamble wrong.

Repeated flooding of the properties along Las Flores Creek — February 1992, December 1992, March 1993, January through March 1994 and January through March 1995 — made the properties worthless, according to the plaintiffs. The flooding occurred after Malibu had become a city, and the plaintiffs maintained the city bore some of the responsibility. The flooding had been caused by the eastward movement of the Rambla Pacifico landslide into Las Flores Creek, which, during rainy years, pushed the creek over into the homes along the eastern side of the creekbed. Although the original problem dated back to the 1920s and 1930s when Rambla Pacifico was first built, and although the road has been closed since 1978, the slide is still moving, in some years as much as eight feet. According to the appellate court decision, the city assumed a portion of the responsibility when it became a city.