It took La Conchita, a coastal community in western Ventura County, Calif., a few years to rebound from a devastating mudslide in 1995 that buried nine homes as 600,000 tons of mud and silt poured down.

By then, the mortgage lenders and insurers had begun to support home sales in the area again, and home prices climbed.

Mark King, who runs MurphyKing Real Estate in nearby Carpinteria with his wife, Debbie Murphy, said the rainstorm that led up to the 1995 slide was called a 500-year event – one that only occurs about once every 500 years. Such reports may have lulled residents into a false sense of security, he added.

After another horrific mudslide on Monday that killed at least 10 people in La Conchita and has displaced all of its residents, that 500-year event now appears to be a 10-year event, King said.

“Over the last seven or eight years (La Conchita) was starting to rebound,” he said. The housing boom really hit its stride in 1998, and price escalation in neighboring communities sent property values up in La Conchita, too, he said. “(The market) had some spill-off – it brought La Conchita with it.”

La Conchita has always been a “bohemian-type of colony neighborhood – kind of an eclectic group who just really loved the area: the smell of the salt air, the get-your-arms-around-it kind of community. That was kind of the appeal.”

There were accusations and a multimillion-dollar lawsuit after the 1995 slide alleging that over-watering of a nearby ranch may have contributed to that incident. But a judge tossed out the case, and geologists have reported that there have been numerous landslides in the history of the La Conchita area.

King said he and his brokerage have been involved with some listings in La Conchita. His latest listing, a mobile home in La Conchita, had an interested prospective buyer who backed out of the deal about a week before the hill’s collapse on Monday.

There was “overwhelming geologic evidence,” he said, that convinced the prospective buyer to back out.

“That mobile home was pushed into a house I sold across the street about 17 years ago,” King said.

County restrictions have prevented new construction in La Conchita, and have also prevented homeowners from adding on to existing homes there.

Patsy Cutler, a Realtor for Coastal Properties in Carpinteria, who once owned a rental property in La Conchita, said she heard about a couple who purchased a home in La Conchita for about $400,000 to $500,000 – and that was three years ago. “Buyers sometimes were attracted to it because the prices were a little less – actually the prices were a little high when it comes down to it,” she said, based on the slide history there.

“The fact that prices went up that much is kind of surprising. (Maybe) people started to really believe that nothing was going to happen there. People get a false hope, they’re in denial of what did happen. They feel lucky to find something that reasonable when prices are so high everywhere else.”

And Cutler agreed with King that the residents of La Conchita simply “love living there,” she said.

Most major insurers do not cover landslides in homeowner policies, and it remains to be seen whether residents in any of the undamaged homes will be allowed to continue living there.

For now, King said, “The entire community is impacted. It’s all on a restricted entry right now.” Shelters have been set up in Carpinteria to house those left homeless by the mudslide, and residents in other communities are “passing the hat” to help out the uprooted residents. King said his company is working to place some of La Conchita’s residents in rental units.


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