The January 11, 2018 sewage spill on Hanscom Dr. in South Pasadena was the fault of homeowner Alison Smith, city officials told reporters Friday afternoon. And while the city filed its answer and cross compliant in the lawsuit Smith brought seeking redress for damages and emotional distress, the city is not only prepared to mediate, but is even willing to pay for the mediator.
Overwhelmed by what the city officials regard as a plethora of misinformation on social media about the events surrounding the Hanscom Dr. sewage fiasco, South Pasadena’s top officials called on local media to attend a 2:00 pm sit down in the city’s Fire Station to press their case. Present were Mayor Marina Khubesrian, City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, Spokesman John Pope and on the phone, City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe.
“It is not true that the City accepted responsibility for the sewage spill, which we believe was caused by a clog in Ms. Smith’s own sewer lateral,” Pope said. And while the cause remains in dispute and is the subject of an ongoing city investigation as well as the litigation, “it is the city’s position that it was her own un-permitted plumbing work” which caused the backup.
After Pope gave a detailed timeline of events, Highsmith discussed aspects of the case at length. The city also disclosed the results of its controversial inspection of the Smith home last week, saying it’s building official identified 29 findings constituting a wealth of permit violations—a record of noncompliance that the officials said was nearly unprecedented.
“Ms. Smith has chosen to knowingly perform substantial work inside and outside her home and on her property without any building permits, electric permits, plumbing permits, mechanical permits or grading permits,” he said. But Highsmith said the city would try to work out a compliance plan with Smith and vowed not to bring the inspection findings into the litigation.
Highsmith also sought to clear up criticism that the city overreacted when it sent three police offers to serve Smith the warrant and on the next day stationed both a uniformed officer and a police captain in an unmarked car for the inspection itself. The City Attorney said sending police officers is common practice in South Pasadena and elsewhere to serve warrants to the rare building owners who do not grant officials permission to inspect their property. She said that this was the only time she was aware of it happening this year in South Pasadena.
She said the three officers were on their way to another event when they were called upon to serve the warrant.
In addition to a copy of Pope’s statement, the city provided a copy of the timeline, a copy of the building inspection report and a copy of original claim Smith filed.
“Generally the city avoids addressing legal issues in public when there is pending litigation,” Pope told the reporters. “However we have little choice but to respond when the facts are ignored or misrepresented as they have been repeatedly” in regard to Smith affair.
More on this issue as the story unfolds.