Diane Burroughs is
a comedy writer. She wrote for The
Drew Carey Show
in the 90s, and shes now a producer
on Still Standing.
These days, however, as a small brook babbles
from her front yard down through the hills to the nearest thoroughfare a half-mile
away, shes talking less about joke beats and character development than about
Im talking seepage and slippage and water tables, she says, and 100-year-old
springs reactivated by rain that recharged the aquifer. Its nuts.
The rivulet has been running since Friday, February 25 right after the big
rain stopped, Burroughs says when she got out of bed in the morning to find
a steady pulse of water forcing its way through her living room carpet.
I thought, oh shit, holy shit, my house is flooded, Burroughs remembers. Right
away I got out the WetVac and started to suck it up uselessly. The water just
The flow from beneath Burroughs floorboards did not abate with the end of a
week of record rainfall. The sandbags she and five friends picked up from the
nearby fire station had no effect. As the skies cleared and neighbors patched
their leaky roofs and flung open their garage doors to dry the moss off the
walls, Burroughs stream continued to run. She then realized that she was sitting
on something miraculous in this land of imported water and never-ending drought:
A brisk, clear natural spring.
Under other circumstances, a free and local source of running water bubbling
up from beneath layers of filtering soil and sediment would be a fine thing,
but Burroughs spring threatened just about everything she owns. She called
a storage company to come and pick up all of her furniture and most of her clothes.
And then I went on a quest, she says. I called the DWP, Building and Safety
and the Department of Public Works; I called the citys civil engineers and
the park service.
No one had any answers. Often shed find that one agency would refer her to
another agency, which would then turn around and refer her back to the people
she called first. When she contacted the office of her city councilman, Tom
LaBonge, and spoke to chief of field operations Rory Fitzpatrick, she claims
all he said was, Im really sorry, but theres nothing we can do.
Fed up, she even called the fire department. They did come out, she says.
But all they could say was, Well, this is bad, but theres worse than you.
In the days that followed, a trickle of people from the city knocked on the
door: Some guy came from Building and Safety he didnt have a first name,
he just said, Hi, Im Sarkessian, came in, looked around a little and said,
Im not going to tag your house. Then a man and a woman showed up saying they
were from the City of Los Angeles, took some pictures and left. One day, three
or four men in brown shirts park something, I dont know, something to do
with the park they looked around the premises, mumbled a few things and left.
Somebody else came by and said theyd have to fly over her property with a helicopter
to diagnose the problem. I said, Okay, lets see em, she says, and looks
up at the sky expectantly.
Its all very shady, Burroughs says, these city people. They hardly say anything.
They wont tell you anything. Theres not a single city structure in place to
Burroughs ended up spending 14 hours on the phone, accumulated enough phone
numbers to fill several pages in a spiral notebook, and found no one to offer
the slightest hint of a solution. Finally, she called a plumber who happened
to know a geologist. He said, Okay, heres what you do: Find the lowest point
in your property. Dig a pit deep enough to sink a barrel. Punch holes in the
barrel, put it in the pit, and install a pump in the middle of it so you can
run the water out to the street.
Now, the spring has been diverted around in back and alongside of the house,
where it spews out of a blue hose that sticks out from Burroughs front-yard
rock garden and rushes downhill to the nearest storm drain. When I visited four
days after the spring had sprung, I followed the blue hose into the backyard
and peered into the ditch, where a pool was still rising steadily, activating
the pump each time it nudged the float. If it werent causing Burroughs so much
grief, it could have been beautiful.
For the record, Fitzpatrick insists he did everything he could to help Burroughs.
I gave her the names of every city department she should call, he said in
a voice mail. Our council district the fourth, which covers much of the
Hollywood Hills took these rainstorms really hard. Weve red-tagged homes
all over the place. And weve visited every single one.
But Burroughs home is habitable, which is what Sarkessian meant to tell her
and all hes allowed to tell her. All we can do is determine whether a property
is safe to occupy, says Bob Steinbach, assistant bureau chief at Building and
Safety. Anything else is beyond the scope of our department. If it isnt safe,
its still the owners job to get the work done. Often the owners will look
to us to say, What are you going to do about it? What do they want us to do
about it? Whats next is that you hire an engineer. Which is hard these days,
Steinbach acknowledges. Youve got springs popping up all over those hills
lately, and only so many soil engineers in the L.A. area. They have a lot of
work right now.
Burroughs eventually found a retired architect named Aaron Lott who has a plan
for diverting the water elsewhere. I did it for a family up in Brentwood last
year, he says. I think they did okay in this rainstorm I should probably
Meanwhile, water continues to pour from Burroughs spring. And whats maybe
most astonishing is not that a whole roster of city officials failed to find
a way to protect Burroughs house in the end, it isnt really anyones job
but hers but that not one agency in a city in perpetual drought and water
wars was running up the hill to find a way to store it. Burroughs is not insensitive
to this tragedy. Thousands and thousands and thousands of gallons of water,
she says, watching her own small curbside rapids head down the storm drain toward
the ocean. These could be magical healing waters. Its such a waste.