The video of 19-year-old hot dogger Lukas Soelberg surfing on the flooded South Oceanside block December 8 went viral. NBC-7 reported an immediate 40,000 hits of the street surfer getting towed by a rope.
The amusing footage appeared on the opening segment of NBC-7’s 5 p.m. news. The live feed showed cars speeding through the inundated 1900 block of South Coast Highway pushing waves of water into adjoining businesses. The anchor asked the reporter in the field why the city had not closed down the street.
The reporter had no answer. But that turned out to be a very good question.
“The city council knows of no damage [from the rains],” Mayor Peter Weiss said by phone the afternoon after the rain.
The mayor had apparently not spoken with Mostafa Ouraie, owner of a retail/mail order spice store called Zaran Saffron who said this is not the first time rain damaging street water flowed into his storefront. “The city is responsible for this,” says Ouraie who said flood waters breached the curb and flooded his business just two years ago. He pointed to new bubbles in his wood floor and in the wood trim around his front windows caused by water damage from this flood. “The city is responsible for keeping the sewer clean. The city knew the rain was coming. They should have cleared out the drain. The worse thing is the police didn’t close down the street and everyone sped past pushing water into the businesses.”
Dave Rassel co-owner of the Pour House says he called at 2 pm alerting the city about the flooding in front of his restaurant/music venue but was told the city was overwhelmed with calls. He and other South Oceanside business owner say the street was not actually closed down until shortly after 5 pm which means the businesses were pelted by traffic-driven water waves for three hours.
Rassel's Pour House lost a night’s business and his front wall was soaked. Although he had to rent dehumidifiers and fans and pay five employees to get the backwash out of the Pour House, he admits he got off easy compared to other neighbors.
“We had to tear up carpet in all seven rooms” says Ivor Clayton of Dry Express Restoration who was called in to deal with the damage at Excellence Leighton Real Estate. “We are going to have to tear out the bottom two feet of drywall of each room. There was feces and bacteria. We have to disinfect the whole place.”
Owner Doris Leighton says the flood has disrupted her year-and-a-half old business which employs an office manager and seven agents. “Some of my agents don’t have home offices,” says Leighton. “They don’t have a place to meet clients. We’re suffering more than we thought we would without a brick and mortar."
Leighton says it will take at least a month to bring back the building.
She says she had to turn away well-meaning friends who offered to help with the cleanup. “Anything the water touched was contaminated with sewage. I couldn’t have anybody in the building because I would be liable.” Leighton says she spent Friday trying to retrieve hard drives that were on the floor. “I was in a business suit with water up to my knees taking out buckets of water. I got a stomach virus and was vomiting the next day. I was out for the weekend. It was disgusting.”
Even worse, says Leighton: “This is what I do for a living. I know if we needed to have flood insurance. We are not in a flood plain. There was no reason to get flood insurance.”
Leighton says she does not hold any ill will against the drivers who sped through the street pond and made the damaging wakes. “I know they didn’t do it maliciously. They were just having fun.”
Kuthea, co-owner of Hill Street Donut House, says her store lost business due to a day’s cleanup, but the real damage hit her nearby home which is located behind the storefronts.
Why did it take the Oceanside Police so long to close down the street? OPD spokesman Tom Bussey says that question would have to be answered by Lieutenant Dan Sullivan who was the watch commander at the time. Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment.
Oceanside Public Works Director Kyle Kroger says the event was "...an act of God….We got two inches of rain in two hours and there is not much we could do about it. The city does in fact maintain our storm drains. We clean them out prior to the winter season.”
But numerous business owners says the flooding was due to one storm water drain immediately in front of Johnson Interiors furniture store and that once that drain was cleared, the foot high water immediately drained to the sea.
Johnson Interiors owner Meridee Johnson says that drain has caused many floods over the years. “In our 38 years here, this was the second to worst. The worst was 37 years ago.” She says she keeps knee-high rubber boots, sand bags and rakes on hand to mitigate the street flood. “But yes, they waited too long to close down the street,” she says, adding that her business sustained no where near the damage of Leighton Real Estate.
But unlike her harder hit neighbors, Johnson says she is keeping her city hall powder dry. She says she is waiting for the upcoming battle as the city tries to narrow the four blocks of Coast Highway in South Oceanside from four lanes to two which she says will decimate local businesses. “This is not the hill I am going to die on.”
“We live two blocks away,” says Leighton. “It’s funny that on my water bill we are paying more for sewage and water treatment than the water itself.”