Landslide Web site skewers Anaheim
CITIES: A resident whose $1.2 million home was damaged in 1993 goes online with his side of the story.
February 9, 1998
By ANN PEPPER
The Orange County Register
From Anaheim Hills
The 25-acre landslide that crumbled his Anaheim Hills neighborhood in 1993 changed more than the landscape for Gerald M. Steiner.
He says he doesn't sleep much anymore. He has lost 115 pounds. He's in the process of donating his home once valued at $1.2 million, now assessed at about $250,000 to charity. And he is sharing his pain and his anger with the world, via the Internet.
Steiner, 56, has gone online with an elaborate, colorful, no-holds-barred Web site. It's aimed, he says, at calling attention to the wrongs he believes Anaheim has committed against about 240 neighbors who are suing the city to recover their losses from the Santiago Landslide.
Steiner believes he has struck a nerve. He contends the city has begun a campaign of harassment aimed at getting him to take down the site, which is located at anaheim-landslide.com.
Attorneys for the city deny intimidating Steiner, and they dismiss the Web site as a misinformed annoyance.
"Who's harassing who?" asked Anaheim's attorney, Michael D. Rubin.
Replete with videos, maps, court documents, animations and innuendo, the site doesn't hesitate to point where Steiner thinks blame lies, and why. Neither does Steiner shy from digs at city officials, notably Mayor Tom Daly.
One area shows a photo illustration of Daly dressed in prison stripes standing behind bars. In another, an animated cartoon Daly dances away from Anaheim Hills toward a pot of gold labeled "Disneyland" over the caption: "Show me the money."
Bret Colson, spokesman for Anaheim, said Friday that Daly declined to comment on the site because of the pending litigation.
Other areas are more sober: copies of court depositions, maps outlining the landslide, videos, animations of the hillside collapsing, and much more.
His site, Steiner said, helps level the public-opinion playing field between the neighbors and the city, with its team of attorneys from the high-powered firm of Rutan & Tucker.
"I think in future, political action will be a basic part of the Internet," Steiner said. "It will, among other things, give a chance to a politician that doesn't have the funding of a major corporation to present himself to the public."
Steiner, who owns a video-duplication service, put in up to 30 hours per week getting the site online it went up about six months ago and it takes about 10 hours weekly to maintain it. The effort, he said, has helped him cope with the devastation he has felt since the rain-saturated hillside under his home collapsed.
"(The time spent) is not so bad," he said. "There are a lot of hours in the day now. I don't sleep the way I used to. And I seriously feel someone has to do this. (What Anaheim has done) is a wrong, and I feel very strongly that wrongs have to be righted."
The homeowners' lawsuit argues that Anaheim city officials knew their properties were landslide-prone, yet allowed residential construction on them without telling prospective buyers.
Steiner's Web site demands that the city admit wrongdoing and commit to ensuring against future landslides in the neighborhood.
Anaheim denies the charges and is fighting the suit. In a 1995 countersuit it has since conditionally withdrawn, the city's attorneys argued that residents helped cause the slide by overwatering landscaping and because of leaky backyard swimming pools.
Steiner says that since his Web site went up, Anaheim has used several government bureaucracies to intimidate him into shutting it down.
Among other things, Steiner said he's been deluged by city requests for documents related to the Web site. Court records show the city has asked Steiner to provide documents that support the allegations contained in the site, including all E-mail messages he has received in connection with it.
The homeowners' attorney, William E. Stoner, said Anaheim's demands have been unreasonable.
"It has singled (Steiner) out for a barrage of discovery requests," Stoner said. "The city already has the information it is seeking from Mr. Steiner, so this appears to be harassment rather than legitimate discovery."
The city's attorneys, however, say Anaheim has done nothing to harass Steiner.
"I don't particularly think it's in anybody's best interests to have the Web site up, because it has lots of misinformation," Rubin said. "Our interest in it? He has sued us and he is making claims that the city has done wrong, bad and improper things, and we are defending the city. ... We need to get as much information as we can about the Web page. ... We are trying to defend ourselves against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit."
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