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City refuses to put storm drain problems on the agenda

By Jessyka Heredia


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Video Part 1

Video Part 2

February 22, 2024 (Lemon Grove) – Lemon Grove residents showed up at the City Council meeting on February 6 and again on February 20 to deliver public comments voicing disappointment in the city’s response to major losses experienced by many residents and businesses from flooding on January 22.

A group of residents organized a series of clean-ups after the flood, because the city had none planned and residents were afraid if the debris was left to clog the drains further, they might see more damage. The same group created a video showing damage experienced by numerous residents and posted it online. The video shows Chollas Creek filled with palm and eucalyptus trees around the Toyota dealership.

Long-time resident John L. Wood, has been leaving public comment for nearly a decade regarding Chollas Creek being clogged with debris and tree overgrowth. Staff has always put the blame on Toyota, but there never seems to be any action on clearing the creek by the city or Toyota.

Wood told the Council, “Water couldn’t go through the culvert. I measured to the top of the water and the water was 3 feet, 8 inches deep. It is usually a trickle. There is a lot of erosion down there and it’s getting really close to the road on Central Avenue.”

Resident and clean up organizer Alex Ritola said, “Over the past couple of years of residing in Lemon Grove, I developed a strong bond with many neighbors, and I’ve witnessed their dedication to the city. Initially I was an observer of community affairs, and I noticed a staunch reluctance among a bulk of the leaders here in this room when issues needed to be addressed. This sentiment I know is shared by many others, because I have spoken to many. It is pretty evident in the frustration expressed by the constituents. They feel ignored, particularly regarding recent concerns about the storm drains. Despite previous discussions about this very topic in your Council meetings, we see that no action has been taken to address this problem.” He added that this has led residents to question allocation of tax funds and is fueling growing demands for an audit.  .”

Ritola questioned putting “campaign activities, such as sign placements over participating in the community clean-up we just had,” an apparent remark targeting Mayor Racquel Vasquez, who is running for state Assembly and is the only Councilmember currently campaigning. The crowd cheered over Ritola’s statement. Ritola continued, “There is a lack of empathy towards the city’s needs.”

Business owner William Goryoka spoke to the Council about his losses as a car dealership owner in Lemon Grove. Goryoka said he lost everything in the flooding. He owns Legend Auto sales located at 8247 Broadway.

Goryoka spoke to ECM through email and stated, “My business in Lemon Grove, a used car dealership, was flooded. My office was completely flooded. 23 vehicles all flooded.  I lost everything inside the office from paperwork, tools, computers, furniture and much more.”

The car dealer explained, “I have been at the same location since March 2020 and had no issues at all. I have seen much more rain, but it didn't affect anything. My business has been closed since January 22, I lost almost everything” He estimates that he has lost “close to $300k between cars and property. I have been closed trying to fix the place and starting all over again. My insurance won't cover property or vehicles because I do not have flood coverage.” 

While a federal disaster declaration just issued may bring grant relief for residents with flood damage, businesses can only apply for low-interest loans, which Goryoka says he can’t afford.

Resident Debbye Tellez spoke about her situation at her property in Lemon Grove on Central Avenue. Tellez explained, “This isn’t an act of God because I’ve had flooding as bad as I did this time at least 10 times over the past seven years. I’ve gone to city hall repeatedly. I’ve had your engineers out, I’ve had Izzy (the Public Works Director) out. You guys have two culverts on Corona Street. The water runs under the street in a twelve-inch pipe that opens up to my property 26 feet onto my land and runs down 300 feet down the side of my property.”

Tellez claimed that the water runs down to a “1900’s cobblestone creek that cannot hold this much water.”

Tellez stated that the city told her that the city’s attorney “says we did not accept this easement from the county.” Tellez says she was never provided anything to confirm that in writing.

Tellez says she has “eighteen inches of standing water that does not drain.”

Public Works director Izzy Murguia responded to the speakers, “Despite reports, we have worked tirelessly to protect public infrastructure. We have conducted assessment damage surveys of public infrastructure and public facilities, channels, roadways, sidewalks. Our department, Public Works, has the responsibility to protect public health and safety, and to preserve public property and infrastructure from hazardous events. The men and women of Public Works definitely deserve recognition for their hard work.”

On February 20, three more residents came to City Council to talk about sinkholes opening up in their yards due to storm drain failures as a result of this storm.

Austin Thomas who lives on Drexel court stated, “A large sinkhole has formed in our backyard that has caused a large retaining wall to fail that divides our residents from neighbors on Blossom Lane. This sinkhole has consumed half of our backyard and poses as a serious safety concern for the foundation of our house.”

Thomas claimed, “I have had city employees Mike Fellows and Ed Walt come out to our residence two times to assess the wall. They stated there was nothing they could do to assist us besides the city has waived all permitting fees for houses affected by the flood.”

Thomas said that through his “own discovery, we located a culvert that is public infrastructure that sits directly along the wall at Blossom Lane residences. The culvert runs from the top of the hill all the way to the bottom that runs down the street into a storm drain.”

Thomas said he has received an email back from Councilmember George Gastil that thanked him for making him aware of the issue and said he would send city engineers out to assess the wall” and from Councilmember Liana LeBaron, who met him at his property and looked at the damage.

On February 6 and February 20, Councilmember Liana LeBaron asked her colleagues for their support in asking that storm drains be agendized as two councilmembers are needed to support the item, but no other councilmember would agree to support it.

Instead, the Council gave staff direction to hold a workshop on storm drains sometime in the future. City Manager Lydia Romero stated that the city will notify the public when the workshop is scheduled.

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The headline should read "Homeowners Unaware of Runoff Obligations On Private Property." It's heartbreaking but no different than a wildfire or earthquake. Runoff is a murky area of the law anyway and not every storm drain is public. That's where the confusion comes in. I had a private drain that drained my cul de sac at my old home so I have person experience in this. Maybe it's time that the State pass some tort laws to clear up the lines of responsibility. Of course they won't because it might cost them money. And LeBaron should know that to just agendize something does not a solution make. A workshop is the place to start and it ends at budget time with strategic planning and final prioritization during the budget process.

absence of satisfaction

absence of satisfaction https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unsatisfaction

Unsatisfaction is not a word

I think you were looking for "dissatisfaction". But why would a journalist, supposedly trained in written communication know that? SMDH