Resident: City Owes Me Over Sewage-Soiled Yard

1. Homeowner Alison Smith (right) speaks to the South Pasadena City Council Aug. 21 alongside her children Rowan (from left), Arthur and Aliza regarding sewage that she said flooded her yard at 1726 Hanscom Dr. from a city-owned pipe blockage. Photo by Skye Hannah

When Alison Smith moved into her home at 1726 Hanscom Dr. in South Pasadena two years ago with her three children, she was charmed by the city feeling like “a slice of all-Americana,” and by the quality of the schools.

Yet her fulfillment turned to frustration in January 2018 when, she said, a city-owned pipe clogged and redirected several nearby homes’ sewage into her backyard, covering it with  sludge and rendering it unusable.

After initially receiving an admittance of responsibility by the city for the clog and fixing the pipe, she said the city has since retracted its stance of support — leaving her on the hook for about $100,000, including attorney costs, she said.

To navigate the blockades she was encountering with the city, she reluctantly hired an attorney. On Aug. 21, she took matters into her own hands and presented the issue directly to City Council.

“We love this community,” Smith told the Review. “I’m just kind of in shock of how this whole situation has been treated, and I’m saddened by that because the City Council does tout on how important their community members are to them, and then something happens like this and I feel like I’ve just literally been set up through the back burner and not listened to.”

According to a statement from South Pasadena Public Information Officer John Pope, “City staff strives to provide the highest quality of customer service to all South Pasadena residents. Because there is ongoing legal action related to this incident, the city cannot respond to allegations raised in public comments by Ms. Smith at the Aug. 21 Council meeting.”

“I just want justice to be served,” said Smith. “I want to be paid for my loss of use and my loss of property and a soil cleanup, and I just want it taken care of.”

Smith, a substitute teacher for the South Pasadena Unified School District elementary schools and a dance representative at the South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC), said that had the city immediately taken care of the issue, it would have cost the city under $50,000 for the services used to assess the issue and covering the damage of her property. Now with attorney costs, the cost sits at around $100,000.

The issue started the morning of Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, when Smith noticed her backyard of newly installed artificial grass for her children to play on was soaking wet. A clean-out pipe in the yard had lost its lid and gray water was pouring out, soon followed by excrement and other plumbing waste. After employing the services of a plumbing and roto service, and finding her and her neighbor’s lines clear, the roto-service workers ended up noticing an easement unfinished behind her house with a city-owned pipe running through it, she said. 

When she contacted the city, she said she was told the pipes had just been installed 18 months ago and there was no way it could be clogged. As the offices were about to close, there was no further way the city could help her, according to Smith.

In desperation, Smith called the city’s non-emergency line. A maintenance truck was sent, and with the help of the roto service workers, they discovered it was indeed the city pipe, according to Smith. Within 15 minutes, she said four maintenance trucks were at her property and city officials in suits explained that the city pipe’s clog had redirected around 16 houses’ sewage into her yard.

She said she received many apologies from the city and a card for an independent contractor SERVPRO, which the city recommended for cleanup.

“They said, ‘Call them immediately, you want that cleaned up immediately, in the meantime close all of your doors and windows, do not let your kids, do not let your pets into the backyard,’ ” said Smith.

When SERVPRO arrived, they quoted her $22,000 for cleanup. She declined, feeling the city would step in to cover the cost. She ended up filling out paperwork at city offices and turning in recommended receipts for the assessment and plumbing services.

Yet 10 days later, she received a letter from the city that the issue was under investigation. When she did not hear from the city for a month, she ended up hiring an attorney to help her navigate the issue. She said the city eventually came back with a first settlement offer of $13,000, which wouldn’t cover the cleanup of the recommended contractor. Since then, the city has offered incremental increases and she now wants the issue to be resolved and finished. She fears that the issue could stretch on for years, rendering her without a usable backyard for her family.

“They admitted it was their fault the day of,” said Smith. “I had city officials, I had four trucks outside my house, everyone was apologetic. They said go turn in your receipts, we’ll take care of all of this and now they’re not.”