Property manager sues county over snow removal |

Property manager sues county over snow removal

Rob Bhatt

Lake Tahoe Accommodations owner Jim Morris on Friday accused county officials of taking a “cavalier attitude” toward preparing for snow removal during major storms.

“We are no strangers to snow removal up here,” Morris said in a small claims hearing in El Dorado County Municipal Court. “Our government needs to be able to adapt to it.”

Morris is suing the county for $1,875, the amount he refunded to clients last winter after they were unable to reach the Alice Lake Road house they had rented for a family reunion.

The clients, a family from Texas, arrived in South Lake Tahoe on Dec. 22 during the tail end of a storm that dropped more than four feet of snow during roughly 48 hours. Unable to reach the home, the family stayed at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, and Morris returned to them the money they had paid in advance to rent the home for five days.

Morris during the court hearing accused county snow removal officials of failing to adequately prepare for snowstorms.

“They don’t really take it seriously to get ahead of the storm,” he said. “They got way beyond the storm and never got caught up.”

The storm that began last Dec. 20 was initially only expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow, recounted Tom Halvorson, the county highway superintendent in charge of snow removal crews.

“Had that prediction been true, that amount of snow would not have been a problem for us,” Halvorson told Judge Jerald Lasarow.

Instead, it turned into one of the largest blizzards in the area’s history.

About two feet of heavy, wet snow had accumulated as dawn broke the following morning, and the weather showed no signs of letting up.

Meanwhile, Halvorson’s crew had been depleted by four cases of illness and three people out on disability.

The shortage of plow drivers, the large accumulation of heavy, wet snow were complicated by abandoned cars that had gotten stuck on area roads, according to Halvorson and plow driver Larry Brown.

Many roads plowed by county snowplows remained impassable for close to four days.

Halvorson said that he directed his night supervisor to call a crew together several hours after the storm began, when it became apparent that the forecast underestimated the magnitude of the blizzard.

By Saturday afternoon, however, the snow was too deep for plows to clear. Instead, the roads were cleared by rotary blowers, which move at extremely slow speeds.

John Hendrickson, an attorney for the county, contested Morris’ lawsuit on a number of procedural and legal grounds. Among these, he said California law states county officials are immune from liability caused by weather conditions.

Lasarow indicated he may issue a ruling on the matter by the end of this week.

“What I have to decide here is, was the county in any way negligent or at fault for not getting to Alice Lake Road and leaving a number of people stranded,” the judge said during the hearing.

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