Do you own a property on a hillside? Are you prepared for if (and when) it rains again in California and you experience an earth movement event? The following will provide you with a list of consultants and their areas of expertise you will need when you navigate your way through repairing the hillside.

The first individual you should hire is an engineer. What kind of engineer? There are civil, geotechnical, structural, electrical, mechanical, chemical, etc. (there are 38 different engineering degrees one can obtain). Depending on the nature of your event, you want to start with a civil or geotechnical engineer. What’s the difference? In (very) short, civil engineers deal with dirt on the ground, and geotechnical engineers deal with dirt below the ground.

Okay, so how do you decide whether to call a civil or geotechnical engineer? There is no simple answer to this, but the easiest way to decide is based on the nature of your earth movement event. In looking at your hillside, if it appears that just the dirt and/or mud on the top slid down the hill, then it might be surficial, in which case you want to call a civil engineer. If there was a significant amount of dirt and/or mud moved, or if structures moved, you might have had a “deep-seated” failure, in which case you want to call a geotechnical engineer first.

The first visit to your property by an engineer (civil or geotechnical) will likely just involve a visual inspection. At that juncture, the engineer can steer you in the right direction in terms of what other investigation and/or experts are needed, in their opinion. Most (if not all) geotechnical firms also have a geologist on staff. A geologist will analyze the soil samples and, in conjunction with the engineer, determine how to go about repairing the stability of the hillside.

After all of the investigation is completed, the geologist and geotechnical engineer should write a report, documenting their findings and repair recommendations in such a way that it can be presented to a public entity as part of the repair process. This report also needs to be provided to the civil engineer, who can prepare the civil repair plans based on those findings and recommendations. (Depending on the repair recommendations, a structural engineer may also be required, but this is less common.) Most engineers are knowledgeable about their local public entities, including the grading department, and can help walk you through the permit process.

After the permit is issued, it’s time to start the repairs! In addition to needing the engineers and geologist throughout the repair process, you will need a qualified hillside contractor. Beware of a general contractor with no hillside repair experience, because your entire job will likely be subcontracted out and you will be charged an additional 10-30% for your general to “manage” the subcontractor(s). While it is likely that your hillside repair contractor will “sub out” some of the work, like landscaping, beware of the one that plans to subcontract out all of your repairs.
Before you actually break ground, you will likely need a surveyor to stake out the property boundaries. A survey should really be performed early on in the process, so you know on exactly whose property you are digging and repairing.

After the hillside repair contractor completes the main repairs, most public entities will require you to re-plant the hillside. The contractor or a landscaper can do the actual planting, which will likely have to include native, drought-tolerant plants. You may need a landscape architect to assist you in picking the type and location of trees and shrubs to plant. You might also need to retain an arborist.
One final note: beware of one guy wearing many hats and conducting investigations that lead to no reports and no repair recommendations.

In late 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2274 into law, now codified in California Family Code Section 2605. This law empowers California courts to take into consideration “the care of the pet animal” in cases of marital dissolution or legal separation. Under the law, courts will also be allowed to create “shared custody” agreements for companion animals, as well as to enter an order requiring a party to care for the animal prior to the final determination of ownership.

This is a very significant development in the law in this area. Before, the law in California required that the court equally divide all “community” property including pets, which were treated no differently than furniture. Now, pets are treated more like children.

Assembly member Bill Quirk, a sponsor of the bill, had this to say about it: “There was nothing in statute directing judges to treat a pet differently from any other type of property we own. However, as a proud parent of a rescued dog, I know that owners view their pets as more than just property. They are part of our family, and their care needs to be a consideration during
divorce proceedings.”

The new California Family Code Section 2605 provides as follows:

(a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage orfor legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of
the pet animal.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet. Unlike simply dividing furniture, a judge can now consider a wide variety of factors when determining custody of a pet. These include, but are not limited to, the “parent” who:
• fed the pet;
• walked the pet;
• took the pet the vet;
• cared for the pet;
• spent the most time with the pet;
• protected the pet;
• adopted the pet;
• purchased food/vet services for pet.

Judges may even consider allegations of pet or domestic abuse when determining which spouse is best suited to care for the pet after a divorce. Under the pet custody law, pets are much more likely to end up in a loving and caring home. It will be much harder for spouses to fight for custody of the pet out of spite. Courts will step in when necessary and make a determination based on care.
One way to avoid having the Court decide custody is to draft a “pet-nup” early on in your relationship; potentially well before marriage. If you love your pet, contact us today to determine your rights.