The Laguna Niguel planning commission set to meet later Tuesday night is considering allowing a new townhome project to be built where another one stood two decades ago, on land where a tragic landslide took place.
Currently, it's a greenbelt. But in 1998, there were homes.
That year some of them collapsed and slid down the hill—others had to be destroyed in the name of safety. Residents say rebuilding at the bottom of this hill is a bad idea. But the developer says the project isn’t on the land that moved.
The Cove at El Niguel would have 22 townhomes with work-from-home layouts designed to attract a young buyer.
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The developer says the plan is to build on two acres of land close to Crown Valley Parkway. But off in the distance is a reminder of what was: a huge concrete buttress protecting the hill and the land beneath it which contains an ancient landslide.
"We’re 100% off the slide area," Maurice Depasquale, developer spokesperson, said.
Elliot Mangoubi remembers the tension and trauma from 24 years ago. He was living on Via Estoril —his dream home—as he watched his neighbors homes literally fall apart.
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"There was a certain amount of uncertainty as in, 'are we OK? Are we not OK? What’s going to happen?'" Mangoubi said.
It didn’t happen all at once, but nine homes collapsed, or had to be pushed down the hill. At the bottom, 41 damaged condos were razed so the hill could be stabilized.
The area has remained open land since then. Homeowners say they believed it would stay that way.
But the developer says after 20 years of monitoring the soil, the land has not moved.
"We know that all of those caissons and tie backs and everything else the HOA installed to fix the landslide did indeed fix it," Depasquale said.
Renee Carlson was in college when the hill across from her home gave way.
"It seems to me, got to be some investigation on the property and I would be shocked it's even possible to build on even at the lower point," she said.
"Provide a guarantee that nothing will happen in future for next umpteen years, I’m OK with it."
This may turn into a debate among geologists. The developer says his experts say it’s OK to build. City staff are recommending approval of the plan, but the homeowners say their experts have said it is not safe to build there again.
The plan goes to vote Tuesday night. It’s expected the “losing” side will appeal to the city council.