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San Clemente hillside still moving, preventing any plans for repairs

It will take a while for railroads between San Diego and Orange County to get repaired. So far, there's no finishing date. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne looks into the reasons why.

A hillside moved late Monday under the back patio of San Clemente's Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, above the railroad tracks that were closed last week by debris falling from the hill.

"There is continual movement on the landslide," said San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan. "It's still sliding down towards the bottom of the hill."

Because of the occurrence, Duncan said no plans can be made to repair the site or re-open the railroad tracks. "It's going to be a long process, because we don't even have things stabilized right now. And so we certainly can't do any work or get up on that hillside. We might do more damage than good if we got up there right now trying to do anything."


The Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens is a historical landmark for the city of San Clemente. It's where the city’s founder, Ole Hanson, lived in 1927 and began developing the rest of the city.

The property is now city-owned and used as a venue for weddings, music, art and cultural programming. But all those events came crumbling down last week when a landslide in the back patio forced the center to close.

"It's a devastating scene for those of us who know what it used to look like," Duncan said. "The ground literally dropped 40 feet. Well, it dropped about 20 feet and moved about 40 feet out."

Debris from the landslide came close to the rail line passing below Casa Romantica, forcing a closure of rail service between San Diego and Orange County two weeks after service were restored from a previous interruption.

San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan said the landslide is going to need all hands on deck, not just to restore rail services but to preserve and secure the historic landmark.


"We're hoping that the federal government can step in, because we don't have the funding or resources to do a large project like this. This is going to (cost) millions and millions of dollars," Duncan said.

Congressman Mike Levin (D, CA-49) toured the property over the weekend and said the damage accelerates the urgency to relocate the tracks.

"We know that extreme weather over the next years and decades will continue to get worse, not better. And we've got to be able to react to our changing climate and be a part of that resiliency," Levin said. "Which means that we've got to look at relocating these tracks."

Levin said funding for the planning, design and engineering for relocation in North County is in the billions, but largely secured.

The same needs to happen for the Orange County section.

"It won't happen overnight. But we are making progress, and we have to keep it up and be very mindful that in the near term we're gonna do everything possible to get that rail corridor up and running as soon as we can," he said.
Bus bridges will continue shuttling travelers from Oceanside to Irvine until rail service is restored.

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KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.