How an ‘ancient landslide’ keeps threatening a railroad, homes in San Clemente
On a small hilltop in the rolling hills of South San Diego County, the views of the Pacific Coast Highway and the Santa Ana River are stunning.
But behind the view lies a very dangerous situation.
A railroad tracks crisscross the area. It’s a railroad that carries nearly $2 billion worth of goods per year — from milk and eggs to lumber and steel.
In the 1960s, the railroad needed to make a massive addition to its track. It was about four miles long, and the new section is now being built with high-powered explosives.
It would have changed the character of the area forever.
But, for the past five years, the town of San Clemente has been trying to stop it.
A few miles away, a different kind of road construction is in progress. It’s on Interstate 5. It has been years in the making, and has required blasting away a mountain — literally, as the mountain is on fire.
The first time I saw the fire I thought we were in some kind of horror movie. It was July of 2012, just after a big rain storm.
One of the two homes located along the ridge that is the site of this railroad is already in flames. The homes of that ridge are protected by fencing in all directions. I am on a hilltop overlooking the ridge with this view of the Santa Ana River, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the Bay Bridge and the ocean. We are looking into the northern part of San Clemente, where a railroad track is nearing completion.
If you look at the ridge from across the street you can see the ridge that will be made into a railroad hill. Construction is in its final stages, and is scheduled to stop next week.
This is a residential neighborhood, many of the homes have been built on the hill. When one of these homes is destroyed by an earthquake, a landslide could cause the town near to a complete loss of life.
There are two things in this development project that the residents of San Clemente fear