By Andie King
Homeowners in the Anaheim Hills area were shocked to learn that a nondescript envelope that looked like junk mail carried a big hit to the wallet: a proposed $923 annual assessment, with a three percent annual increase, in perpetuity. The package invited the 303 homeowners in the Santiago Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) to meet and vote for the assessment at a March 28 meeting.
Homeowners, who had never heard of GHAD, “felt blind-sided” and began searching through their home purchase documents for any disclosure or reference to an abatement district or the 1999 City of Anaheim legal settlement and resolution that created it. Some were familiar with the landslide of 1993, but were unaware of Anaheim’s response to it. At least one of the homes subject to the assessment was not even built in 1999. Many homeowners believe they are being penalized unjustly, and the assessment will negatively effect the future sale of their home, as compared to houses “just down the street and not in the district.” Some of the 303 homeowners, who fall under four different homeowners associations, believe those management groups should bear the assessment.
Back to the beginning
But for Anaheim Hills resident Kaye Moyer, the assessment is vital, and a long time in the making. She and husband Rick, both scientists, moved to the area in 1995 and knew there had been a landslide. A few years later they noted a large diameter electrical line on the curb, and began calling the city to have it removed. They were told it was a “dead” line, and to just cut it. Fortunately, before she took her garden shears to it, she learned it was the “live” electrical supply to a GHAD pump. That prompted her interest in GHAD, but it was not until 2017 that the couple crashed a GHAD board meeting. Rick was appointed to the GHAD board that night.
Kaye was elected to the Santiago GHAD board in 2018. She is happy to explain the history leading up to the homeowners' assessment vote.
In 1993, one year after the city had an engineering firm analyze the area for landslide potential, heavy rains and an underground water table caused a 25-acre landslide in Anaheim Hills. Homes were evacuated, sewer lines were impacted, housing prices plummeted 67 percent, and surrounding homeowners could not get insurance required for their mortgages.
Anaheim engaged Eberhart & Stone to create a system of underground wells to drain the water away from the hill. The water table in the hill varies in depth, different under each residence. Four different types of wells emptied approximately 37,000 gallons per day into the sewer lines and out to Walnut Reservoir.
Meanwhile, area homeowners sued the city; the city subsequently sued the homeowners and others. The issue was ugly, and not settled until 1999. Homeowners received some $15 million, and $3.5 million was set aside to maintain the wells. The Santiago Geological Hazard Abatement District was created to oversee the maintenance of the wells. Anaheim appointed the first five-person board of directors.
Cluster of errors
Moyer calls what happened next “benign neglect.” The GHAD overlay area included four HOAs and 40 homes not in an association. Anaheim washed its hands of the GHAD, providing no ongoing oversight. The four affected HOAs were not included in legal actions or named in the GHAD. HOAs do not pay property taxes, so were not given any real responsibilities, despite the fact that GHAD equipment dots many of the common areas that the HOAs are obligated to maintain. More homes were built, taxing the drainage system. HOAs changed out native vegetation and increased irrigation.
Boards were not elected, but appointed, and operated in (illegal) closed session. The wells were not checked and maintained properly. No one followed up when wells were blocked, or the maintenance report read “could not locate.” Bushes obscured wells; others filled with silt and debris. Trees grew in v-ditches. A second overlay map appeared at one point.
There are four types of wells beneath the hills of Anaheim. The 39 black boxes dotting the hillside are pumped wells that go 200 to 300 feet straight down; each has an electrical box somewhere nearby to power the pump. Currently, six are inactive. There are 87 horizontal dewatering wells, with pipes 200 to 300 feet long, slanted beneath the hillsides, pulling the water out by the force of gravity.
There are 28 original observation wells used to measure water depth; three additional observation wells were later added to Avenida de Santiago. Ten standpipe piezometers measure water pressure. There were originally 10 inclinometers, which measure angles of slope/tilt, on five sites; one is out of service, and, long ago, a decision was made to monitor only one pair of them.
Kaye Moyer says it comes down to this, “It is certain there will be another landslide if the wells are not maintained.” She believes that if there had been proper oversight and maintenance in prior years, an assessment would probably have been levied a decade ago, but for a much smaller amount. Now, the GHAD is running out of money, and needs to play catch up, refurbishing and replacing those wells that were long neglected.
Since 2017, the Moyers have spent countless hours researching, calling city, county and state officials, tromping through underbrush and chopping down overgrown vegetation to find neglected wells. They are working to make the GHAD a viable and transparent entity that will properly maintain the existing wells that will, in turn, maintain property values and the ability of homeowners to get insurance.
The board has slashed administrative costs, hired ENGEO Inc. to monitor and maintain the wells. Information has been sent to every GHAD residence, inviting them to the meeting and to vote. There is an open seat on the board which they hope a resident will fill. They also hope residents will realize the severity of the situation and review santiagoghad.org. Property owners are always welcome to contact Kaye to learn more, (909) 496-4929. Their home value depends on it.
AH residents stunned by emergence
of mislaid abatement district