New Legal Claims Against San Diego Over January Flooding Seek Class-Action Status

The ramifications of the flooding that drove hundreds of people from their homes and caused millions of dollars in damage last month continue to swamp San Diego City Hall.

Source: San Diego Union Tribune | Published on February 12, 2024

California flooding

The ramifications of the flooding that drove hundreds of people from their homes and caused millions of dollars in damage last month continue to swamp San Diego City Hall.

Three more legal claims have been filed against the city, accusing officials of failing to properly maintain flood channels and stormwater drains. The claims are required before any civil lawsuit can be filed, and the attorneys representing the claimants are seeking class-action status.

“The city of San Diego has admitted that for many years the city failed to adequately fund maintenance of the city’s stormwater network,” one of the claims says. “In so acting, the city of San Diego has violated its legal duty.”

City officials had no immediate response to the allegations in the claims, which seek at least $250,000 each. Public agencies regularly decline to comment on legal proceedings so as not to jeopardize their positions in the courtroom.

The claims were filed by San Diego residents Juan Alberto Lopez, JoAnn Murphy and Adrian Manuel Rico, all of whom say they suffered major losses in recent weeks as a result of the city’s stormwater and flood-control failures.

“As a result of the city of San Diego’s failure to maintain its storm drain system in a workable condition, the surface water flow from the January and February 2024 rain has resulted in a taking of, or damage to, hundreds of homes,” the Rico claim states.

The documents say the failures were citywide, affecting at least 17 different neighborhoods from Southcrest and Chollas Creek to areas north of Interstate 8 such as Carmel Valley and Del Cerro.

“This claim seeks not only to recover damages for insured property owners, but also seeks injunctive relief requiring city action be taken to restore and maintain the city of San Diego’s storm drain system,” the claims say.

San Diego already had been served with a legal claim filed late last month by an attorney representing Beta Street resident Gregory Montoya.

Montoya was among a handful of Southcrest-area residents who sued the city five years ago, after storm waters from a 2018 rainstorm overflowed Chollas Creek and severely damaged their homes.

That case was settled for just over $200,000, but the agreement did not require the city to make improvements to the flood channel that would have prevented future damage.

On Jan. 22, millions of gallons of unchecked storm runoff overtook Beta Street and nearby neighborhoods, washing away scores of cars and flooding hundreds of homes and apartments.

Many of those victims continue to be displaced, even though city and county officials have worked to provide emergency housing and other relief.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported days later that the city has a decadeslong record of failing to maintain its flood-control channels or collect enough revenue in fees to pay for improvements.

Under the current fee structure, homeowners pay just 95 cents per month toward infrastructure improvements that city officials say are badly needed and will cost $2 billion or more.

Last week, the City Council president proposed raising such fees to help pay for upgrades, and this week the council said it wanted aggressive action on stormwater in the upcoming city budget.

Legal claims to public agencies must be filed and rejected before a lawsuit can proceed.

The claims filed this week say they expect to seek class-action status, which if granted would let the group of plaintiffs grow far beyond the three named claimants to include potentially thousands of victims.