Business

Alto Via Settlement Is Slippery Slope Of Muddy Facts

When the GUARDIAN heard news reports last week that Boise City officials had entered into a settlement with property owners in the Alto Via subdivision regarding costs of demolition of houses deemed uninhabitable and a danger, we took notice.

What got our attention was the refusal of city officials to reveal how they were spending the public’s money. They had agreed to keep the settlement amount secret, according to news reports. Had the City not attempted to hide their actions from the public, we would not have been alerted, nor questioned the timing of events, or dates on documents.

We filed a public records request April 26 and within an hour received a “ten day letter,” from the city claiming the records would take longer than three days to “locate, retrieve, and review.” That delaying tactic is pretty much standard response from Boise these days.

This time both KTVB-7 and KBOI-2 television stations also filed. Our request was sent on April 26 and to our surprise by April 28 (Friday afternoon) we had the documents. They are typically cumbersome legal tomes, but a close examination raised more questions than were answered.

The 12 page “RELEASE AND SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT” was dated April 13. Boise City is the “RELEASEE” and the property owners are the “RELEASORS,” as stated in the April 13 document. Boise agreed to pay $257,500 to the releasors. The city also agreed to pay and supervise the demolition and land restoration costs which were outlined in a separate agreement with an Emmett firm. Coincidentally that cost came out to $57,500.

Here is the kicker: The release agreement was dated April 13, but The payment was issued MARCH 15 in response to a MARCH 13 invoice. In fairness, it is POSSIBLE the month on the check is in error, but the check number and subsequent checks would also have to be in error if that is true. We will gladly post a response from the City.

Several points in the agreement defy credibility. Item 8 states “…that payment made is voluntary and is not to be considered as an admission of liability on the part of Parties released. In making this settlement, the Parties intends merely to avoid litigation, specifically avoid the cost of defending this litigation further, and buy their peace.” Sadly, while it may sound absurd to pay, but not admit liability, it may be cheaper. It also is an easy way to sweep guilt (liability) under the rug.

Item 9 has Boise officials and the plaintiffs agreeing to hide their actions from public view as much as possible. “except as otherwise required by the Idaho Public Records Act or other applicable law, this Agreement, its terms and conditions, and the fact that a release and indemnity agreement was entered into by the Releasors in favor of Releasee, are confidential and this confidentiality will, at all times, be honored.”

The DOCUMENTS:Alto Via release4

SFB 18-237 Executed Contract

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device

Comments & Discussion

21 comments for “Alto Via Settlement Is Slippery Slope Of Muddy Facts”

  1. Las Vegas Rebel
    Apr 30, 2018, 9:16 am

    So does this mean that each homeowner gets $257,500
    or do they split that amount collectively?

    EDITOR NOTE–The amount goes into the attorney’s account to be split as the plaintiffs agree among themselves.

  2. Now, well over 2 years in the process!
    Item 10 of the agreement shows all the affected parties.

    More interesting, would be a comparison of this agreement to the first agreement and removal of the first house. Same dollars?
    Same contractor?

    Some recent dirt work as been done on that street- appears to be an access dirt ramp from the 238 property.
    Two years ago ACHD put a little asphalt patch work on the east sidewalk, to blend the broken concrete. That spot is now about a 10 foot drop. Gravity!

    This case really needs to remain in the spotlight as an example of how city, county, AND private individuals agencies can really SCREW stuff up.

  3. A fun poll of readers:

    If you were on a jury, and knowing just the basic facts- the houses are sliding– who would you hold liable?

    And “Rich Buyer Beware” is an option. 🙂

  4. I think a good comparison of who is liable would be the Eagle Island developments in a known flood plain.
    City is admitting some liability in paying for remediation in this case. Who pays for developers greed and gov. allowances when the risks are known but they go ahead and develop anyway with approval of city engineers. Buyer beware or is the general public supposed to be stuck with the bill?

  5. This can’t possibly be the end.

    I’m wondering how well those highly advertised and pushed pushed pushed by the realtors insurance policies worked out for the homeowners?

    “Don’t worry, we got ya covered.”

    “Our good looking agent with clipboard full of documents will protect you from any and all harm.”

  6. Scot M. Ludwig
    Apr 30, 2018, 11:45 am

    As always I appreciate as both a citizen and Boise City Councilmember you paying attention and raising questions. I have some remarks about litigation in general and what I reviewed in the Agreement since I was not involved in the decision-making and had recused myself as a result of an attorney-client relationship with one of the many “Players” in the litigation. As such, the resolution was news to me but anytime litigation can be resolved, that is a positive outcome, especially since this matter has been an awful situation for the Homeowner’s, regardless of fault.

    Regarding some of your questions:
    First, in many settlements of litigation, a check is cut and distributed to the attorneys for the releasing Parties, with the condition that once all signatures on the Release are obtained funds can be distributed. Therefore a delay of 30 days from check delivery to signature on a Release is not unusual.

    Second, a provision whereby there is no admission of liability by the paying Party is typical, especially where there are probably many difficult issues of liability as would exist in a case like this litigation. The full Release provision included in this Agreement protects the taxpayers from further risk and liability.

    Third, insofar as there was a clause to protect disclosure of the settlement discussions and merits of the litigation, this was a very public matter and it is clear from the subject paragraph that the result would be public, referencing the Public Records Request. It may be that the Homeowner’s wanted to put an end to a very sad tale and continued discussion avoided.

    Nevertheless, recognizing that the resolution and the amount would be disclosed publicly, I would have recommended a mutually agreed upon Press Release that both parties approved along with the Non-Disclosure and Confidentiality provision after that Press Release. The Press Release would have included the actual Agreement. Maybe both parties could not agree on that item. Nevertheless, I see nothing nefarious on how this matter was resolved and look forward to all parties moving on.

  7. I, too, am surprised that the city is somehow liable.

    Why?

    To me, this establishes a somewhat uncomfortable precedent.

    If a house up the street from the ill-fated sliding houses was destroyed by a prairie wildfire, would the city be responsible? If the houses in the river bottoms get flooded, should the city pay? How about houses that get swallowed by a sinkhole? (I can’t remember such an incident here, but are the cities where they DO happen responsible?)

    I remember some years ago, several houses at Warm Springs Mesa were slip-sliding due to heavy rains. I can’t remember if the taxpayers were forced to cough up.

    If the city will pay for houses damaged by Mother Nature, I’d expect our insurance bills to drop, as our tax bills go up.

  8. Do Boise elected officials, that make these decisions, have insurance to cover their inexperience’s? Or have the elected officials conditioned Boise property owners to cover the bills? Dave Bieter he’s so transparent. In the private sector SOMEONE WOULD BE FIRED.

    EDITOR NOTE–Payment was on a City check, so they must be self insured.

  9. To bikeboy:

    The City is liable because their stupid Planning and Zoning committee and Building Dept agreed to allow residential construction on a known sliding slope (see all documents referenced in past news articles).

  10. This could set a precedent for city “liability”, but fortunately not for flooding or foothill fires. Homeowners know they are building in perilous locations due to FEMA’s flood zones and local Wildland Urban fire Interface maps.

    Thanks to Mr.Ludwig for the insight including your conflict of interest, though it seems your broad experience is not serving the citizens of Boise best.

  11. Once again, not a single word about ACHD’s liability.

    BG, do you want to do a FOIA on ACHD also?

    It’s my opinion that drainage from Table Rock Road directly above Alto Via may have had some impact. I’m nearly certain the rip rap on the north side of Table Rock Road was not there until after houses had been built on Alto Via. There’s clearly a culvert but I’m not sure when that was installed.

    Some amount of run off from Table Rock Road clearly goes onto the hill above Alto Via. Everyone interested in this debacle should drive up there, park and walk around on the flat area above Alto Via off Table Rock Road.

    Also, after the land started sliding, a monitoring well showed up. So, obviously someone besides me was interested in that patch of ground. And if you look closely you can see a subtle gully heading straight for the most affected section of Alto Via. Coincidence?

    Monitoring well:

    https://i.imgur.com/xRjzzRe.jpg

    westrn guy: I don’t recall any documents noting that hill as a known sliding slope. If you go look closely there is zero evidence of any recent land movement prior to the one that destroyed those homes.

  12. Property Taxes.
    I’ll point out the property right BELOW Alto Via is still owned by the developers.

    270 N STRATA VIA PL

    It has back taxes from years 2015 and 2016 still due.

    In 2016 it was assessed at $1,000,000.
    It is currently assessed at $0. (I’ll buy for $1 it to store an RV). It can’t be ‘worthless’ Assessor!

    Back to the taxes– not paid.
    Not even in 2015, before things were so obviously bad. YET the County Commissioner’s exempted taxes for the Alto Via owners AND one developer parcel, back in June 2017.

    Perhaps City/County should be seizing Richard Paveleks’ million dollar property and Timothy Day’s personal properties- to be sold- to defray the costs of the developers’ mess.

    Pavelek was able to pay the taxes on his personal residence at 100 N Bene Posto Place but not on a Terra Nativa LLP property????

    Oh and their 5 acre vineyard in the same neighborhood, that generates less than $200 of county taxes per year.
    5 ACRES = $200/yr.

    Pavelek’s 4 acres is valued at $490,00 for the DIRT (975,00 total). His 5 acre vineyard is assessed at $11,000, because he chooses to put fancy grapes on it instead of another house, so the county loses over $10,000 a year.
    That is just one of the things screwed up at the Assessor’s office.

    Non bene!!!

  13. Dr. Kenneth Hollenbaugh, a Boise State University Professor in a 1963 report, which was funded by Ada Council of Governments (ACOG which was predecessor of COMPASS) of which Boise City was a member and received a copy of the report, identified geologic hazards in the foothills area.

    His report included geologic hazards including old stabilized landslides in what is now the Alto Via and Nativa Terra area. Boise city personnel were made aware of this report and geologic hazards prior to approval of Alto Via development. Both Boise City and consultants hired by the developer ignored the report or failed to read or understand what was stated by Dr. Hollenbaugh.

    This report is available through the BSU library. In spite of available information and knowledge concerning construction on landslides Alto Via was approved for development. The head of the landslide is visible on aerial photography taken prior to development. Any geologist would have recognized this slide. Development and the introduction of ground water due to street storm water runoff into ACHD drains increased soil pore pressure and lubricated one or multiple slide planes. Once landslide movement started additional water sources from ruptured water and sewer lines and storm water runoff contributed to and accelerated movement.

    The Geotechnical & Geology report furnished to Boise City by the developer was not signed off by a Registered Professional Geologist, as required by Idaho State Law and did not adequately identify geologic hazards present in the Nativa Terra area. Boise City staff did not fully appreciate the geologic hazards present on the site when they were informed of the problems with the Geotechnical Report furnished by the Developer.

    This ancient slide had stabilized prior to development. Construction activities on the head of the slide along with the introduction of large amounts of water most likely reactivated the slide. It will continue to move until some type of stabilization or complete downslope failure takes place. The homeowners were not notified by the City that they were living on an old landslide that could reactivate. Boise City, for failure to understand the geologic hazards that exist in the foothills and ACHD for introduction of storm water runoff into unstable soils and landslides in the foothill area should be better prepared to address these issues prior to allowing development to take place in the foothill area.

    Boise City, paying an additional $57,000. to tear down a house will not stabilize this slide. It would take twice that just to do a detailed geologic study to understand the subsurface conditions that are present. Sometime in the future the area will once again re-stabilize.

  14. western guy
    May 1, 2018, 10:00 pm

    To boisecynic:

    Read GEO’s recollection of history. My original comment regarding Boise City’s culpability was spot on.

  15. A correction to my previous comment. The date of the Hollenbaugh report should be 1973.

    Side Note concerning ACHD.

    With few exceptions ACHD is responsible for design review, approval and maintenance of all storm water infrastructure located in Ada County. A NPDES permit issued by EPA in 2002 to ACHD and others define the requirements and responsibilities of the agencies listed on the permit.

  16. Easterner:

    You kind of hit the nail on the head by proposing an RV Park so we can get that land back in black on the tax ledger.

    However, people have designed houses to withstand land creep. Check out the Portuguese Bend landslide in LA’s Palos Verdes neighborhood.

    I can’t find pics, but one house still there sits on a tripod of 3 shipping containers which are independently adjustable. Such a design in Boise could be made into mother in law apartments given the city’s current love affair with trailers, er mobile homes, er tiny homes or whatever the euphemism du jour is.

    Although the Portuguese Bend landslide is much bigger it’s probably a decent case study. Property has been abandoned since the late 50s. Talks about stabilization are underway. Cost estimates in the $millions.

    One other thing:

    Not mentioned anywhere by anyone is the denuded soil just uphill on Table Rock Road created by off roaders. Any serious study would have to look at how much extra run off is created by that. Maybe it’s time to finish Table Rock Road to full urban standards with curb gutter and sidewalk all the way to the top and a city park at the top. Charge an entrance fee, it could make money.

  17. One more thing. Given the city’s love affair with plaques and memorials, how about a permanent plaque or memorial up there warning future developers, buyers and P&Z members about the issue.

    You should run a contest:

    Alto Via Landslide Debacle Memorial Inscription Contest

    A Tribute to Hubris.

    First prize gets a slice of pizza at yourpizzaplace.com

  18. Steve Rinehart
    May 3, 2018, 7:37 am

    Scott Ludwig: Thank you for the explanation and response. May I suggest that you use your position as a city council member to demand more transparency from the city administration.

  19. I don’t believe I have heard of the ‘shipping container’ method of foundation design. As you can see at Alto Via differential settlement of the soil pretty much precludes any type of structure being built, except maybe a tent. Movement is still continuing, and on a still, quite night one can actually hear the slow creep and movement.

    Maybe, but I doubt it ACHD and Boise City will require a detailed geologic investigation from foothill developers and have a staff person that understands foot hill geologic hazards.

    And of course, a P&Z and council that will finally learn to say NO to development when these hazards are identified. As for now, all one can do is admire geologic process at work.

  20. Geo, I seriously doubt this is the “geologic process at work”- other than gravity.

    The developer went in that area, dug dirt, and moved dirt around.
    It is THAT action and we are now seeing the result.

    Bury a kid’s pet turtle in the back yard, cover it up. Wait 4 weeks and you see the same result. It’s not a ‘geologic process’.

    Had the developer not gone in there with a project, that area would look the same as it did 10 years ago. Or, had the developer gone in done it differently, then the result may be what it is today.

    At some point in the future that area will effectively be done settling and it will be available to build again.

    I would pay a little bit for the land today-AFTER the city uses our tax dollars to clear the land– say, $1,000 an acre.. plant sour-grapes on it and wait 10 years. No worries about “geologic hazards”.

    Boo poo on the city for paying tax dollars on this deal.

  21. fight-stupid
    May 16, 2018, 2:50 pm

    Easterner, do you believe the world is flat too? Take the time and research something before flooding the world with your ignorance. If you were to plant your sour grapes the downhillers would suing you as your property creeps towards theirs.

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