K-rails

Local resident Gilbert Jacobi, who is happy to have K-rails in front of his home in the 5400 block of La Forest Drive, shows photos of his cars that were covered by mudflows during the 2010 storms. (Raul Roa/Staff photographer / May 16, 2012)

Three years after the Station fire denuded the hills above La Cañada Flintridge, a federal agency has determined that important earth-holding vegetation has recovered to the point that bulky concrete barriers put in place to protect homes from mudflows are no longer needed.

The barriers, known as K-rails, were installed in 2010 one year after mudflows ravaged hillside properties when rains hit the Station fire burn area with nothing to hold the topsoil in place. But three years later, the barriers have started to outstay their welcome among residents who say they’re ugly and creating their own set of driving hazards.

Representatives with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, together with La Cañada Public Works Director Edward Hitti, surveyed four neighborhoods on April 16 at the request of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

Two days later, Hudson Minshew, a district conservationist with the federal agency, sent a letter to Schiff stating that the area had improved since their last visit in May 2012. As a result, he said, the K-rails and the extra protection they afford are no longer needed.

“We observed a significant recovery of the important deeper-rooted shrubs and trees, as well as greater vegetative cover of the soil within the adjacent watersheds,” Minshew said in the letter. The K-rails, he went on, “have served their purpose and can be removed at the discretion of the city of La Cañada Flintridge.”

But City Manager Mark Alexander said officials are waiting to receive the official report before taking any action.

A decision on whether to remove any K-rails would be made by the City Council.

Residents of the Haskell Highlands neighborhood group have told officials that the barriers, beyond having served their purpose, are an eyesore and create dangerous blind spots.

After residents contacted Schiff, the congressman requested that the Natural Resources Conservation Service tour the neighborhood. The agency surveyed all areas of the city which currently have the barriers in place.

In a statement, Schiff echoed the agency’s remarks that the city now has to evaluate whether to remove the barriers, adding that “safety will be the paramount consideration in the city's decision.”

-- Tiffany Kelly, tiffany.kelly@latimes.com

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.