Hancock Park condo residents sue over ‘life-threatening’ flooding

| November 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

When it rains, it really, really pours at The Rossmore. During one heavy storm last winter, 29 cars were flooded in the condominium complex’s underground parking garage at 585 N. Rossmore Ave.

FLOODING OCCURS in front of The Rossmore condos and surrounding streets during heavy storms, such as during Hurriane Hilary in August, above.

“Every car was a total loss,” said Caroline Debbané, president of The Rossmore Owners Association (the condo residents’ HOA).

Some cars even floated as the water nearly rose to the ceiling. The water also flooded the elevator and electrical room. Luckily no one was hurt.

During heavy storms, rainwater travels down from Melrose Avenue, flooding the garage in spite of flood barrier measures. “No matter what we do to protect our property, it’s not enough,” said Debbané.

Residents blame an antiquated infrastructure — a storm drain with a too-small pipe that ends underground in front of the five-story complex, where water pressure is so forceful it uplifts a manhole cover.

“With each storm comes the risk of a truly hazardous and potentially life-threatening situation,” says Debbané.

“The city has neglected to properly address the issue. The storm drain system currently in place is overtaxed and grossly inadequate, causing increasingly dangerous conditions and property damage in the neighborhood every time it rains.”

On behalf of The Rossmore Owners Association, attorney Mike McLachlan filed a complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court Sept. 2.

He is calling in a state flood expert for the discovery phase, he said, adding that, in his 28-year career, he has never seen anything like the volume of water that turned Rossmore into a river and shot 6 feet out of the manhole, which was captured on a video.

“The water had nowhere else to go.”

Also listed as a plaintiff in the complaint is longtime penthouse resident Eleanor Corcoran, who was “forced to move out of the building because there was no working elevator in the building after the Jan. 9, 2023, flood,” according to the complaint.

The city’s seven-page response on Oct. 24 denies the allegations, stating that the plaintiffs “knowingly… exposed themselves and, therefore, voluntarily assumed the risks of any damages, injuries and/or liability.”

The city filing adds that damages sustained were “caused by the natural instability of the area which has been of a duration and intensity beyond the capability and duty of the city.”

Deputy City Attorney John Minor told the Chronicle that he has “requested documents from the Bureau of Sanitation and then will undertake the usual discovery, which generally consists of us asking: what are you complaining about, and provide your proof.”

A hearing has been set for Fri., Jan. 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Dept. 37.

Flooding in the area has been documented since at least 1983 in correspondence among the city, the county and The Rossmore apartments and later, after it was converted to condos, the HOA.

In a 1997 letter to then City Councilman John Ferraro, the building property manager wrote the “ownership entity” had spent more than $100,000 on a flood barrier and hired a consultant after the city said it was unable to fix the problem because of the cost.

The consultant reported, “Due to the development in the area the past seventy years, heavy rainfall results in the storm drain becoming overloaded and being inadequate to handle the runoff.”

By 2002, the project was referred to as the Rossmore Avenue Drain project by the city in documents and the Hancock Park Drain by the county. Around then, the Ballona Creek Watershed Task Force was initiated to create a plan for the stakeholders, which include Hancock Park.

Fixing the problem, however, has not proved easy. It “involves the construction of mainline pipes and laterals across 23 intersections in nine different streets in the vicinity of the Wilshire County Club,” according to a March 23, 2001, city document.

Plus, it apparently never has been affordable. In 1998, it was estimated to cost $11 million — more than the city’s entire Flood Control Capital Improvement Program annual budget.

In a 1998 letter, a city engineer wrote to the then director of the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works, “On several occasions the storm water has burped out of the overtaxed 63-inch drain into a sump which is adjacent to an apartment building at [585 North Rossmore]. Both of the apartment building garages as well as the lobby have flooded at various times.”

Some say streams and a river — the Cahuenga Wash — added to the problem, as those were diverted from their natural courses to make room for development, such as with Susan Grossman’s house built on Lillian Way in the 1920s.

“When water comes barreling down the hills,” it floods all of the area streets, preventing crossings on Lillian Way and Clinton Street during storms, Grossman told the Chronicle. “The city hasn’t adequately managed the water that comes through,” she said. Grossman is vice president of land use of the Hancock Park Homeowners Association.

Grossman guesses the problem is only going to get worse, with El Nino predicted to bring wetter conditions, and with the drought in the rearview mirror. Meanwhile, the 39-unit Rossmore HOA has circulated a petition — which, as of early November, has garnered more than 467 signatures — demanding the city repair the “failed storm drain system.”

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Category: Real Estate

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