22 Aug 2014
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Rossmoor Scrutinizes Condo Damage Mediation

Mediation is ongoing to resolve foundation cracking hazard; residents wonder about problem recurring in other homes.

Rossmoor Scrutinizes Condo Damage Mediation

Rossmoor maintenance staff scrambled to move in extra chairs to a Creekside meeting room Tuesday to accommodate an overflow crowd.

They were coming to get information about mediation of a foundation problem with a hillside building. More than 60 people crowded in to hear a presentation arranged by the Mutual 68 Board of Directors, one of more than a dozen homeowners associations in the Rossmoor retirement community that fills a whole valley.

For a decade, owners of two condos at 3101 and 3103 Grey Eagle Dr. have grappled with foundation problems at their hillside home built on a lot leveled by fill in 1997. Owners of about 85 other homes in Mutual 68 were wondering about the grading, construction and use of fill on their property.

Mike Cochrane, attorney for the Mutual 68 board, explained that mediation was ongoing and compared it to a three-legged stool — underpinned by counsel for:

  • Mutual 68,
  • the two condo owners, and
  • Shea Homes, the developer of that corner of Rossmoor in the 1990s.

Irv Fisch, owner of one of the condos, said mediation was progressing until December, when Shea Homes representatives "pressured" him and his wife Catherine to sign a release of liability for Shea as part of any mediated settlement.

"That's the impasse," said Fisch. "We are not signing any release of liability from Shea."

Patch has a phone message in to Shea Homes asking for comment on the mediation.

With such an impasse, several people at the meeting drew applause by asking why the Mutual 68 board was waiting for Shea Homes to agree to pay for remediation plus professional services engaged by Mutual 68. The board could move forward with the work to end the decade-long problems for the two condo owners, and hope to recoup the cost legally.

"I've heard nothing about justice to the clients," said Lona Wyatt of Shadowhawk Way.

Paula Tint of Grey Eagle Drive asked if there were other foundation slippage problems in the area. Mike Cochrane, attorney for the Mutual 68 board, said he was not aware of any other investigations into other homes and whether they were built on fill.

Flora Wollman of Shadowhawk Way asked how long it would take for construction of new piers anchoring the foundation to bedrock, and details of a warranty on the work. Geotechnical engineer Phil Gregory, a consultant for Mutual 68, replied, "On the order of three months, four months, realistically."

As to warranty, Cochrane said Mutual 68's goal in arbitration was that Shea would fund repairs, and its contractor would certify a warranty of 10 years.

Gregory sketched the history of construction and problems with the building on a knoll with ravines on two sides. The damage was noticed in 2005 when the slope moved toward the ravine-facing back of the building and the foundation with it, opening up cracks in places and wrenching floors out of alignment. In 2006 and 2007, Shea Homes funded extensive work on the building with the installation of an underground retaining wall and re-leveling of the floors by raising framing and use of shims, spacers and adjustable jacks, Gregory said.

In 2011, cracking damages recurred. "It appeared the foundation elements are still moving," Gregory said. A new repair plan was prepared, envisioning partially hand-dug piers between 15 and 23 feet deep to anchor the back part of the building to bedrock. The financing of this repair plan is part of the mediation.

"The Mutual (68) is not currently in litigation with Shea," said Cochrane. "There are discussions with Shea to resolve this issue."

"This could happen to any of us," said Gilbert Doubet of Saklan Indian Drive.  He asked if the board had any plans to research foundation issues and the use of fill under other homes in the association.

Mutual 68 Board President Jim Hartnett said, "We haven't made a communitywide survey of conditions." There had been some work six years ago on the building next door to 3101 and 3103 Grey Eagle Dr. Before Tuesday, Hartnett said, "We hadn't had any concerns expressed."

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