A Community Constantly on the Brink of Disaster

House on giant crack

Geologic evidence indicates that landslides, which are part of the larger Rincon Mountain slides, have been occurring at and near La Conchita for many thousands of years.

February 6, 2023
Jason Daniel Feld - Kahana Feld

In the beautiful coastline region along the famous Pacific Coast Highway between Ventura and Santa Barbara rests the small cottage town of La Conchita. With unobstructed ocean views, this community is only 820 feet wide on a narrow strip of land abutting a 590 feet high cliffside bluff. The bluff has a slope of approximately 35 degrees and consists of poorly cemented marine sediments. This is the perfect recipe for constant disaster from a geological perspective and the site of several major landslides that have devastated this community. Geologic evidence indicates that landslides, which are part of the larger Rincon Mountain slides, have been occurring at and near La Conchita for many thousands of years up to the present with reported landslides beginning as early as 1865. In both 1889 and 1909, the Southern Pacific Rail Line
running along the coast was inundated. In the 1909 slide, a train was buried. Since that time, other slides have occurred, covering at times cultivated land, roadways, and the community itself. The two most devastating landslides occurred in 1995 and 2005.

1995 Landslide
From October 1994-March 1995, there was double the amount of seasonal rainfall for the area – in excess of 30 inches. The slide occurred on March 3, 1995, when surface cracks in the upper part of the slope opened on the hillside, and surface runoff was infiltrating into the subsurface. The heavy rains essentially saturated the slope causing a massive slide. On March 4, 1995, the hill behind La Conchita failed, moving tens of meters in minutes, and buried nine homes with no loss of life. The County of Ventura immediately declared the whole community a Geological Hazard Area, imposing building restrictions on the community to restrict new construction. On March 10, 1995, a subsequent debris flow from a canyon to the northwest damaged five additional houses in the northwestern part of La Conchita. In total, the slide measured approximately 390 feet wide, 1080 feet long and 98 feet deep. The deposit covered approximately 9.9 acres, and the volume was estimated to be approximately 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment. The devastation was immeasurable and the damage to homes, property and infrastructure was in the millions of dollars to repair. Litigation quickly arose following the 1995 slide with seventy-one homeowners suing the La Conchita Ranch Co. in Bateman v. La Conchita Ranch Co. The judge ruled that irrigation was not the major cause of the slide and that the ranch owners were not responsible.

Mr. Feld may be contacted at jfeld@kahanafeld.com


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