Movement Continues at South OC Landslide

Southern California's Recent Deluge Of Rainstorms Causes Landslides

Photo: Getty Images

SAN CLEMENTE (CNS) - Observers said there continues to be movement under a landslide that has shuttered the Casa Romantica Cultural Center in San Clemente, canceled weddings and other events at the historic venue, suspended rail service in southern Orange County and led to the evacuation of nearby residents.

The landslide, which was first reported Thursday afternoon, sent dirt and debris cascading down a hillside, heavily damaging the center's concrete terrace and prompting Metrolink to shut down rail service south of Laguna Niguel, while Amtrak officials said service was disrupted south of Irvine.

Spokesman Scott Johnson said the Metrolink service suspension was done out of caution and will be reopened once it is safe. That left no service available to San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente or Oceanside.

Metrolink officials said weekend trains on the Orange County Line will operate south of San Juan Capistrano, but there won't be any alternate transportation, such as temporary bus service, to shuttle passengers farther south.

Inland Empire-Orange County Line trains will extend to San Juan Capistrano over the weekend, officials said.

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner, which uses the same tracks, suspended service between Irvine and San Diego due to the landslide, although Amtrak officials said some limited service would be available as far as San Juan Capistrano.

Casa Romantica was red-tagged, or deemed unsuitable for occupation, along with some condominium units farther down the hillside following Thursday's slide. It was unclear exactly how many residents were displaced.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said it could take a long time to repair the damage at Casa Romantica.

"I was on the balcony before the terrace that fell," Foley said of a visit to the center Friday. "That's going to take a lot of construction work to get that back."

She anticipated the repairs may require Coastal Commission approval as well as city permits.

The hillside "slid like 20 feet so they've red-tagged four buildings, including Casa Romantica, and the other buildings are residential, so they're working with them to get (the residents) out," Foley said.

Casa Romantica has weddings booked through next year so a lot of those plans have been disrupted too, Foley said.

"Then we have the railroad tracks closed for awhile because the hillside continues to slide and it's on the tracks now, which is different than the other slides, where it wasn't quite like on the tracks," she said.

"We're all working on a long-term study of the railroad tracks," Foley said of the county, the Orange County Transportation Authority and Rep. Mike Levin's office.

The landslide occurred around 1 p.m. Thursday, roughly two weeks after officials at Casa Romantica first reported ground movement that caused some cracks on the property's concrete terrace facing the ocean.

While slight movement had been continuing over the past two weeks, the ground collapsed by about 10 feet on Thursday afternoon, damaging the Casa Romatica terrace, part of which tumbled down the hillside.

The San Clemente City Council earlier this week approved a $75,000 contract with a geologic contractor to study the ground movement and develop a plan for shoring up the hillside. The contractor was working at the site this week when the slide occurred.

It was located about two miles north of where the Orange County Transportation Authority is finishing up construction to shore up a hillside slope near the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association in San Clemente, officials said. Work in that area led to an extended disruption of rail service between Orange County and San Diego earlier this year. Service in the area was restored earlier this month.

Levin, D-Dana Point, said the landslide was a reminder of the urgency to address climate change.

"The recurrent landslides in our district are a constant reminder that we must continue to take the climate crisis seriously and invest in support systems to ensure residents are safe and our infrastructure is sound," Levin said in a statement.. "I'm in communication with local authorities to assess what is needed in the short-term, and I am fighting to bring federal resources to our district in the long-term to protect residents and our infrastructure against future landslides.

"I secured $9.3 million in federal funds for the Army Corps to bring sand to our beaches to protect against erosion, and last month I brought Federal Railroad Administrator (Amit) Bose to see our transportation challenges and push for the relocation of the railroad tracks on the LOSSAN corridor. I have requested $4 million to support the Orange County Transportation Authority to study this. This is a priority for me, and I'll continue to work with our local, state, and federal partners to make this a reality for our region."

Foley added, "It's the water saturation of that cliffside that we've not seen in 60 years... We've never to my knowledge had that much rain in this short of time."

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