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San Benito
February 20, 2024

Official: Report says pond caused Southside Road landslides

A report presented to county supervisors this week concluded that deficiencies with a specific pond maintained by the Sunnyslope Water District caused continued landslides along Southside Road.
But that report has not been released to the public yet, and its contents came up in a closed session among county supervisors Tuesday.
Anthony Botelho is the supervisor acknowledging publicly that the county-commissioned soil report points to geological deficiencies at “Pond 5” maintained by Sunnyslope Water District near Southside Road. That water district’s general manager, meanwhile, expressed frustration because the county has not provided the report to his agency despite repeated requests for the information.
The landslide issue came up at this week’s meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission when the LAFCO panel had been considering annexation of a 90-home subdivision, near Ridgemark, into the Sunnyslope Water District.
“I’m a little disappointed and frustrated with them that it could come out in a LAFCO meeting but they refuse to share it publicly,” said Don Ridenhour, the Sunnyslope Water District general manager. “What do you conclude from them refusing to release the report?”
He said Sunnyslope has had multiple public records requests to the county for the report since speculation ensued about two months ago it was finished. Ridenhour also contended that county officials had been “playing games” the past three LAFCO meetings while holding up the annexation request.
LAFCO members Thursday voted 3-2 on the subdivision annexation, with Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and County Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz dissenting. The yes vote means the development gets annexed into the Sunnyslope Water District, but the project still faces additional hurdles at the county level.
Botelho is on the LAFCO panel and broached the report topic in the meeting. He voted in favor of the subdivision annexation and said he concluded, in regard to his yes vote, that it’s the panel’s job to focus on capacity and not other issues. He said Sunnyslope had plenty of room to handle the 90 new homes, while officials were told the water district is currently at just 40 percent capacity.
“Sunnyslope demonstrated that even without the pond that was responsible for the landslide, that they have quite a bit of excessive capacity to handle the additional hookups,” Botelho told San Benito Live on Friday.
Botelho affirmed the county report pointed fault at the Sunnyslope pond.
“We got the report back, and in my opinion it’s pretty definitive that one of the ponds was responsible for that landslide,” he said.
He said Sunnyslope has “quite a few ponds” overall and five in that area.
Botelho said the issue was handled in closed session — supervisors received a presentation Tuesday — because there may be prospects for litigation.
“Since the report reflects that one of the ponds contributed greatly to that landslide, it would be us asking for reimbursement from Sunnyslope Water District,” Botelho said.
There were at least a handful of landslides over the summer that prompted road closures to a portion of Southside Road, in the Blossom Lane and Tyler Trail area, and the county’s repair costs have reached about $1.2 million on it.
Ridenhour responded this way when told the county weighed the matter in closed session due to potential litigation with Sunnyslope.
“It’s all about money,” Ridenhour said. “But how are you ever going to resolve it unless you release the information?”
Velazquez seconded Ridenhour’s perspective on transparency and said he had asked Botelho in the LAFCO meeting for the information.
“You can’t make decisions if you don’t have information,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez said he wasn’t convinced by the report’s conclusion as presented and wondered about risks from other nearby ponds.
“I was vehemently against it,” he said. “I said absolutely not. We can’t keep repeating the same mistakes.”
In the months after the landslides, county officials speculated over a cause and ordered soil testing to the area. Botelho said testing found that Pond 5 had geological issues causing water to leak and cause the landslides.
Ridenhour, meanwhile, said the county’s testing won’t be the last of the analysis.
“If they think their technical analysis is going to be the end of it, it won’t be the end of it,” he said.

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