Ranch Blamed for Calif. Landslide to Sell Assets

September 10, 2008

A ranch company found negligent in a 2005 landslide that killed 10 people has agreed to sell its assets to pay for damages, the plaintiffs announced.

A jury in August faulted La Conchita Ranch Co. for failing to build adequate drainage, which could have helped prevent the disaster that followed torrential storms. The company owned the hillside overlooking La Conchita, a bohemian seaside community about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The damage phase of the civil trial is set to begin.

A court-appointed receiver will try to sell the ranch’s avocado and lemon orchards and equipment including tractors and irrigation systems in a private sale by Nov. 1. If that fails, it will go up for auction.

Whether there will be takers for the 700-acre property remains an open question. During the trial, it was disclosed that the ranch had been appraised for $11 million. Several geologists who examined the bluff shortly after the landslide believe it will collapse again.

Ranch attorney Richard Morton argued that the area is geologically unstable and has had at least six landslides, including a 1909 slide that killed four railroad workers.

But plaintiffs’ lawyer Anthony Murray said he was confident there will be buyer because the risks associated with the property can be mitigated.

The proceeds will be split among 36 plaintiffs, who either lost relatives, suffered injuries or lost property. The plaintiffs have the right to accept or reject any sale price and will also receive the limits of the ranch’s insurance policies, Murray said.

The 2005 landslide killed 10 people, destroyed 13 homes and damaged 23 others.

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