The nation’s attention has been riveted on La Conchita in California’s Ventura County, a hamlet that fronts on Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean beyond and huddles underneath a ridge that towers 600 feet above it.
During the torrential downpours, part of that ridge collapsed and sent tons and tons of mud and rocks and earth roaring downhill burying many of the houses and the folks inside them. At last count 10 of the 260 La Conchita residents were killed in the landslide.
All in all, according to the Los Angeles Times, 13 homes were destroyed and 19 red-tagged, meaning inspectors deemed them too dangerous to enter.
Tragic as this was, nobody can claim that the calamity came as a major surprise. Ten years ago a similar landslide came crashing down on nine houses, burying them under the mud and rubble, and ever since experts have been warning that it would happen again. Of course we sympathize with those who lost loved ones and property; however this wasn’t a case of if, but of when.
Since that 1995 mudslide, county officials have warned residents that the area is unsafe but say they don’t have legal authority to order residents to leave. Yet some residents blame county officials for not doing enough to prevent the second slide in about a decade.
Michael Farrow told the Times his home for 10 years was “the redheaded ugly stepchild of Ventura County,” a place where people took pride in doing their own thing.
“We all knew the mountain could come down,” said Farrow, “We were just praying it wouldn’t. We were obviously in denial.”
Other residents said the danger of the hill, if thought of at all, was pushed to the back of their minds.
“Everyone got used to it. People started moving back, even moving into the houses at the edge of the old slide. People became complacent,” another resident said. “No one suspected this.”
Even if they had, she said, “People here are very stubborn. People are gamblers here.” They have just lost that gamble.
Despite knowing the risk, some residents say it was all the government’s fault.
“La Conchita has always been an afterthought to the county,” The Times reported that Annelle Beebe, a 20-year resident told a community meeting. “It seems like they never react to our concerns. Compared to Malibu, where the very, very wealthy live, they never have these kinds of problems. Los Angeles County keeps them safe. But La Conchita has been forgotten.
“People say maybe you shouldn’t live there anymore … but we’ve enjoyed the best years of our lives there and now we’re having to cope with all of this. They don’t know what it feels like to lose your friends, your homes, everything.”
There have been complaints that nobody warned the residents to evacuate their homes, but it isn’t brain surgery to ask that if there is a cloudburst bigger than the one they had 10 years ago, if they are living under a 600-foot mountain that’s been known to have landslides triggered by massive amounts of rain, why are they staying there. They should get out while the storm persists. Did they need someone to come and knock on the door to warn them of the obvious?
This is what we’ve done in America. It’s the same old story of moving next to the airport and demanding that the government do something about the noise. When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came to the area he actually promised to help them move back in when they should be moving out.
We are living in a society of denial, and we are paying the price for buying the fiction that Big Brother has an obligation to look after every segment of our lives, from cradle to grave.
That resident who said he was in denial was right on the mark. His whole community was in denial. What they need to do is stop blaming the authorities and ask themselves, “Why are we living here?
©2004 Mike Reagan. You must contact us if you would like to print this column in your publication or post on the internet. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561