Residents losing homes to landslide file suit against city

EVERETT, Wash. - Homeowners in the Valley View neighborhood of Everett say they hoped to settle things amicably. They hoped Everett officials would agree to compensate them without a battle. Now, those residents say the only way to fight city hall is to file a lawsuit.

"It's just been frustrating. They don't admit to anything that they've done," says Jay Himmelman, one of five homeowners suing the city. "I seriously think the City of Everett was wrong. We've been wronged. Our life really sucks because of this."

The suit claims a 2004 city drainage project is responsible for erosion that has undermined the ground and is causing the hill to slowly shift downward. That project included installing a drainage pipe designed to reduce flooding in another part of the neighborhood.

Residents say the pipe now diverts stormwater into a small creek that runs along the base of the hillside below their properties.

The affected homeowners on Panaview Boulevard and Burl Place say the city rushed the project and did not follow all procedures necessary to protect other properties from damage.

Himmelman and his wife feel lucky they can live in their house right now. The city has red-tagged other homes deemed too dangerous to occupy. One home has been destroyed after sliding part way down the hill and collapsing. Himmelman, an engineer, says the shifting ground will eventually destroy his place, as well.

"It just a matter of time before this house goes down. We've invested in this house. And now this house is essentially worth zero," he says.

The suit is asking the city to pay for restoration, cleanup and property damage, as well as emotional stress and legal fees. No dollar amount is listed, but earlier legal filings indicate residents are seeking $133,000 to $2.3 million for each home.

City officials will not comment on pending litigation, but they released a written statement in response to the lawsuit. It reads in part:

"While the City continues to recognize the hardship that the slide presents to several of the affected property owners, the City does not agree that its 2004 drainage project was a cause of the landslides."

"Slope instability has been a problem in the area in question for years, and several of the affected homes had been dealing with landslides for many years prior to the drainage upgrade the City completed in 2004."

"Some of the affected homes were originally designed with special foundations, due to the known slide risk identified when the homes were originally built. The fact that sliding occurred in some of the years after 2004 does not mean that the storm drainage project caused the sliding, particularly given that sliding was a recurrent problem before the storm drainage work."

Himmelman and his neighbors believe they've got a good case, and continue to document the problem with photographs, video and instruments they've installed themselves to monitor rainfall, water flow and soil shift.

"We've been trying to work with them and they deny everything," he says. "It was time to file a lawsuit."