Sudden hillside erosion prompts concern on the Playa del Rey bluffs

By Gary Walker

A tarp covers unstable soil on the Playa del Rey bluffs
Photo by Michael Kraxenberger

Recent rainstorms may have brought welcome relief for much of drought-stricken Southern California, but resulting mudslides on the Playa del Rey bluffs have startled locals and made it potentially unsafe for some hillside residents to enter their backyards.

Grading inspectors with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety visited on Jan. 27 to conduct an investigation of the bluffs below 8124 and 8128 Billowvista Drive, where on Feb. 1 they posted yellow warning placards.

“The dwellings can be occupied, but the yellow placards specify there is to be no access to the rear of the properties,” Building and Safety Chief Inspector Jeff Napier explained.

The north-facing hillside sits above the Ballona Wetlands, near but not directly above the Southern California Gas Co. natural gas storage field.

The slope failure, commonly referred to as a mudslide, has left the land below it in a vulnerable state after a series of sustained January and early February downpours. A rain gauge at LAX recorded a record-setting nearly three inches of rainfall on Jan. 22, according to the National Weather Service.

Napier said the city is still investigating the depth of the Playa del Rey mudslide and whether to be concerned about subsidence — i.e., the gradual sinking or caving in of an area of land.

“Based on just the visual observations without exploration data, it is more than a mudslide. At this point it is our opinion that it appears to be a fairly shallow movement of the surface material, but further investigation needs to be done,” he said.

Building and Safety workers strung yellow tape halfway down the bluffs last week below Cabora Road and adjacent to the Ballona Wetlands to provide a perimeter for the slide.

That perimeter “is not to be crossed,” Napier warned.

Nearby, underneath the tape, nature persists undaunted. Wetland birds frolicked in the pools of water left by the rains, and at night frogs serenaded motorists on Culver Boulevard and guests across the way at the Inn at Playa del Rey.

Monday brought more rain, but Napier said without further examination of the bluff his team couldn’t make a determination whether additional rainfall would change the conditions
of the hillside.

“There is always a chance that there could be more movement when rain is predicted,” he noted.