A collapsed drain channel opened Wednesday in the ground near a condominium complex in La Habra, roughly fours years after the terrain collapsed not too far away in a similar fashion.

The recent collapse that created a hole 40 feet wide complicates matters in an ongoing legal dispute between a homeowners association and the city of La Habra on whether the needed repairs are the responsibility of the property owner or the city.

Either way, residents are worried that expected rain in the next several days could worsen the situation.

“Our concern is the incoming storm. Is is it going to cause more damage? Are we in more danger?” resident Raymond Carillo said. “When is that going to be cleaned out? There’s a lot of questions and very little answers.”

In January 2019, the ground collapsed at the Coyote Village complex, creating a 120-by-40-foot hole. Residents were evacuated as emergency repairs were done.

Carillo has lived at the property since 1999 and said it felt like a small earthquake when the ground gave way over four years ago. He saw toppled trees and slabs of concrete lifted off the ground.

He felt the same type of heavy bump Wednesday evening when the second collapse took place. On Thursday night, he and his wife listened to chunks of earth fall into the damaged drainage channel, unsure if they should leave their home. The new hole is about seven feet away from his front door.

“Hopefully this new situation is going to light a fire under some public officials to get the ball rolling. What’s it going to take? Property damage? Personal damage? It needs to get taken care of ASAP,” Carillo said.

But the city of La Habra and the homeowners association have yet to agree on who is responsible for fixing the hole that opened in 2019.

Gary Kranker, deputy city attorney for La Habra, said repairs for the private storm drain that collapsed in 2019 are the homeowners association’s responsibility. The city claims the site was not properly maintained and had excessive soil and pine trees on top of the drain channel.

La Habra offered to hire contractors to clean out the channel this week so that any incoming storm water can flow through unobstructed, said Kranker, adding that the homeowners association would be responsible for the cost.

The homeowners association is suing La Habra, claiming the city is responsible for fixing the 2019 collapse.

An email and phone call to the Coyote Village property manager, Diversified Assn. Management based in Tustin, and the homeowner’s association’s attorney, were not immediately answered.

Sen. Josh Newman, whose district includes La Habra, secured $8.5 million in state funding to repair and reinforce the damage, according to his office. His office announced the funding in July, but none of the repair work has begun, according to Kranker.

But state law prohibits the use of public funds to fix a private drain channel, Kranker said. He added the city is currently trying to verify with the California Attorney General’s Office and the California Department of Water Resources if the city can use those state funds for the project.

He reiterated the city is not taking over the project, because it is private land.

“We’re not repairing the channel, other than making sure that it’s functional,” Kranker said. “We’re not putting back a cement top on it.”

The city has a contractor lined up to start cleaning out the channel, according to Kranker, but they have not received approval from the homeowners association.

Anthony Marinello owns a condominium at the complex that was originally his grandmother’s home. But for the last four years, he’s watched as the first opening remained unfilled and covered with a tarp and sandbags. Marinello said the pool and tennis courts at the complex have been closed for the last four years due to the ground collapse.

He said he can’t imagine what the property managers are doing with all the residents’ monthly homeowners association fees.

“The fact that we’re just still waiting for the last one to be fixed after four years is incredible,” Marinello said. “You know, so do we have to wait another four years for this next one to be fixed?”

Nathan Solis

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