Concrete barriers

K-rails line the 5400 block of La Forest Drive in La Canada Flintridge. (Raul Roa/Staff photographer / May 16, 2012)

Residents from a hillside neighborhood in La Cañada Flintridge believe it’s time to remove concrete K-rail barriers designed to protect their homes from debris flows.

The K-rails were installed in early 2010 after mudslides struck several areas along the northern edges of the city, causing heavy damages. The debris flows were blamed on heavy bursts of rain falling on hillsides denuded by the 2009 Station fire.

Last year, city officials voted to keep them the barriers place until the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service deemed the area safe.

Authorities with the department are scheduled to survey the area next month. Residents of Big Briar Way and Haskell Street told City Council members on Monday that they think their neighborhood doesn’t need the K-rails as much as other neighborhoods in the city do.

“We hold the idea that our portion of La Cañada is different from the Ocean View portion of La Cañada, that they are not the same thing,” said Big Briar Way resident Pam Raymer-Lea, “that they are not in the same danger, because they have two different terrains.”

Raymer-Lea and others who are part of the Haskell Highlands neighborhood group have asked city officials to support their request for separately evaluating their area’s need for the K-rails. The group believes the risk for mudslides in the area is slim, so it’s unnecessary to keep the barriers in place. They also cause blind spots on streets and reduce property values, the residents say.

“Thank you very much for taking our safety in consideration and having the K-rails there,” said Raymer-Lea. “But they may not be necessary anymore.”

Members of the City Council could not comment on the issue at the meeting because the item was not on the agenda, but Mayor Laura Olhasso said she believes the city can work to accommodate the request.

City Manager Mark Alexander said the Natural Resources Conservation Service has in fact evaluated each neighborhood separately when conducting their assessments of the K-rails.

“They certainly were not under any directions from the city to generalize what their conclusions were about the community as a whole,” he said. “In fact, because this concern was raised a year ago, we had asked the NRCS to give its opinions specifically about the Haskell and Big Briar area and they did that.”

Alexander said the city can again direct authorities to look at the neighborhoods individually.

“You can be assured that all of us would like to have the K-rails removed as quickly as it’s safe to do so,” said Olhasso.

Eldon Horst, chair of the Haskell Highlands, said residents will probably come back next month to request a public hearing on the federal agency’s findings.

The group has sent letters to the agency and to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

A spokeswoman for NRCS said authorities are set to meet internally to discuss the issue before May.

Schiff said in a statement that he has received the letter. “I am planning to work with NRCS to make them aware of the neighborhood's concerns about how the 2012 study was conducted, and hopefully convince them to do a more thorough investigation of the issues raised.”

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