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You might have noticed I enjoy doing transcripts. They’re easy and you guys seem to like them. Let me know if that’s not the case.
I’m interested in this question about the city’s legal liability in matters like the landslide in La Jolla. As you probably know, there’s this popular impression spreading that City Attorney Mike Aguirre exposed the city to liability with his comments in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
I don’t know. I think it’d be absurd for the city to have to, in effect, cover something that insurance companies won’t. I’d like to find out how much the city’s paid out in earth movement settlements with homeowners.
About Aguirre, I talked to one lawyer, an expert in municipal law, who didn’t want to be named. He said he initially thought the city attorney had exposed the city more but then he made what I thought was a really good point: “Liability needs to be proven by facts.”
Even if a plaintiff wanted to introduce his statements as an admission by the city, I doubt it would be admitted. I have no doubt that his statements gave comfort to those who will sue the city, and at least will cost the city many dollars in attorneys’ fees. His actions have been reckless, and certainly not those I would want of my attorney if I was facing potential liability. The thing to watch for is whether, without City Council approval, he tries to cut a deal with any plaintiff. That would not in the best interests of the city, but makes him look good.
Continuing with the same theme, Aguirre was on the Roger Hedgecock show yesterday. It was rather amusing as he apparently was racing to the scene of a major water main break on Ingraham Street near SeaWorld.
Hedgecock had some questions for the city attorney:
Hedgecock: Do you think, based on any evidence you’ve seen in the last 24 hours since this slide up on Mount Soledad, that the city did anything wrong?
Aguirre: Well, the one thing we did that was wrong has been, since this happened, not tell the truth about what we knew. For example, on the 19th of September, we wrote to the Soledad Mountain homeowners, our chief engineer, that there have been a series of water links on service connections from our main water line on your street and that we were hiring a geotechnical consultant to conduct a soil investigation in the area to determine the cause of the recent leaks. I don’t believe that the city of San Diego has any liability for what happened but I think we do have a responsibility to make sure that whatever information we put out is accurate and information that people can rely upon.
Was that inaccurate?
Well, what I just read is accurate. What has been said by some, I think, has not been as consistent with that statement as I think it should have been.
OK, what do you mean?
Well, I mean, we wrote people on Sept. 19 telling them that there have been a series of water leaks on the connections from the main water line on Soledad Mountain Road where the cave-in took place. And other people have said “Oh no, there wasn’t any water leaking over there.” I think that is incorrect, one …
Who’s saying that?
Well, I don’t want to get into personalities but let me just say that it’s important that individuals who are speaking for the city, remember that; uh, I went through a complete review today; we have settled almost every single slide case that has been brought in the city of San Diego and the most important thing is to make sure we have insurance coverage. And when individuals make comments that might interfere with that that actually compromises the city’s legal position. I have retained expert insurance legal counsel. We have gone back and are doing a very careful legal analysis of all the legal elements that are in play here in terms of any potential causes of action for dangerous conditions or for inverse condemnation and we need to make sure that the statements being made are either not made at all or are consistent with the city’s best legal position.
OK, I think I’m going to leave it there Mike because I could spend the rest of the afternoon telling you how actually opposed I am to what you just said. But I’m just going to leave it. Because it just needs to be discussed, and maybe this discussion itself is too open from the standpoint of my concern that those statements and others you have made like them are going to make settlement necessary and are going to subsidize these homeowners’ loss through the taxpayer base of the rest of the community of the city of San Diego because when you talk settlement, you’re not talking about insurance that’s free. You’re talking about insurance that we the taxpayers pay for.
I think what you want to be careful of though is that if you have potential exposure, that you don’t do something that negates your insurance coverage. And as I said to you before, we’ve handled numerous slide cases in the city of San Diego and all of them have been settled and the most important thing is to make sure we have the resources to deal with the problem. I will say this: If you live in the city of San Diego and your house is impacted in the way that occurred here where there’s obviously going to be roads that have to be repaired, houses that are going to have to be repaired, money is going to have to be secured from the federal government for emergency purposes and the rest of it, I think that our primary focus has to be to make sure we have the resources to do the reconstruction. You’re not going to leave all these houses abandoned on the side of the road and I think the most important thing is we address this in the most mature way possible recognizing what our legal interests are. I will tell you that what I’m telling you and what I’m doing is going to be the least expensive for the taxpayers and if people go out and try to pretend that facts are other than they are, that will be the most expensive. …
So Aguirre is accusing city officials of trying to lie to residents about water leaks that were occurring in the area and he’s promising that if you were affected in the landslide, your house is not going to be abandoned.