A Saratoga landowner blamed for the has been ordered by the courts to remedy an abandoned construction project that allegedly brought on the devastation.
On April 23, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottiola issued an order imposing a mandatory injunction against the landowner.
The order forces him to remove large rocks and boulders intentionally placed on a slope on his property, implement important erosion control measures and complete the original grading plan for the property, according to a news release.
“This is a huge win for the Bear Creek community," said Nicole Gilmore, general manager of .
The court-ordered actions must be taken prior to August.
The landowner was named in court records as Kenneth Jack Eitzen, of Saratoga. He could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.
While Eitzen's construction project, Fairway Hills Estates, sits at 38500 Via Vista Grande directly uphill from Bear Creek, it is not a part of the gated Murrieta community.
According to engineering and geology experts, the landowner's actions—including what appears to be abandoning his project mid-construction—directly led to the severe flooding and mudslides onto the Bear Creek community that occurred during two separate flood events in 2010, Gilmore said.
The Bear Creek Master Association, on behalf of homeowners, hired Lake Forest-based The Perry Law Firm to represent them in the matter.
The lawsuit also asks the county to step in to hold the landowner accountable, she said, while not seeking any monetary damages from the county.
The Perry Law Firm, which filed the initial complaint and the motion for preliminary injunction that was just granted, celebrated on behalf of Bear Creek.
"This ruling is a very positive result for our client," said Michael Perry, founder and managing partner of The Perry Law Firm. "It was a hard-fought battle to get the court to issue the injunction.
"I want to congratulate Larry Roberts and Cecilia Brennan, the attorneys from our office who presented the motion to the court. We know that generally courts do not like ordering mandatory injunctions because they are sometimes difficult to monitor and enforce.
"In this case, the injunction was one of the only ways to force the landowner’s hand to complete the project and remedy the hazardous situation that his project created. We are pleased that the court ultimately agreed with us and issued this ruling in our client’s favor.”
This recent ruling is part of an ongoing lawsuit against the landowner, his construction company, and the County of Riverside based on Eitzen's alleged failure to complete grading and erosion control measures on his property, according to Gilmore.
In addition, Temecula Valley Erosion Control filed a civil claim against Eitzen in April 2011, according to court records. It was not immediately known whether that was related to the cleanup in Bear Creek.
Further, in March 2010, Eitzen received a notice of violation from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board San Diego Region for "illegal sediment discharge" from the site, stemming from a 2008 inspection.
According to the notice of violation, the runoff from the unnamed tributaries feed into Murrieta Creek.
"At a minimum the discharger/operator must implement an effective combination of erosion and sediment control on all disturbed areas during the rainy season," the notice stated, in part.
Gilmore, that occurred just days before Christmas, expressed confidence in the recent ruling.
"Despite nearly two years of commendable efforts by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board and others to hold the landowner accountable for his violations of local and federal regulations, until our lawyers took this matter to court, we have seen little actual results," Gilmore said.
"The last thing our residents and visitors need is to worry about mudslides and boulders crashing down from this adjacent property from an earthquake or rain storm," Gilmore continued.
"Now, at last, we can have some peace of mind that action is actually being taken to remedy the problem. We are very pleased with this result and look forward to the neighboring landowner safely and successfully completing his project."