Stormwater flooding from a manhole at Canon Perdido and Nopal streets seen on Jan. 9, 2023. (Santa Barbara Police Department photo)
Stormwater flooding from a manhole at East Canon Perdido and Nopal streets seen on Jan. 9. (Santa Barbara Police Department photo)

A couple have sued the City of Santa Barbara over the flooding of their rental property during the Jan. 9 winter storm after a manhole cover blew off on East Canon Perdido Street.

The plaintiffs, husband and wife William — who is an attorney and filed the lawsuit himself — and Clarissa Short, own the property with four rental units at 810 E. Canon Perdido St., which is located diagonally across the street from a manhole accessing a 33-inch diameter culvert that carries stormwater to the Pacific Ocean.

In the legal complaint, the plaintiffs said the City of Santa Barbara failed to properly re-secure the manhole cover after removing it for roadwork about six months prior.

“The city’s failure to properly reinstall that manhole cover to resist normal stormwater uplift pressure caused the manhole to be a ticking time bomb waiting only for this first large winter storm to be set off,” the lawsuit said. “Inevitably, with the rainstorm of January 9, 2023, the pressurized stormwater in the pipe blew off the unsecured manhole cover. Stormwater erupted in a geyser to a height of 7 feet, falling onto East Canon Perdido Street, and then flowing onto surrounding properties.”

With the quick flooding of the property, the lawsuit said the Shorts suffered and continue to suffer “real property damage, personal property damage, lost rent, diminution of value and other damages.”

Other defendants that the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include the County of Santa Barbara; the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District; and Lash Construction Inc., which performed the roadwork in July 2022.

The lawsuit states that the manhole cover was reinstalled or replaced after the roadwork, but it was not properly fortified, bolted down or otherwise properly secured against hydraulic pressure.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs’ property flooded up to 36 inches above grade, with water damaging the property’s structure and contents.

“The dwelling became uninhabitable, forcing the occupants to relocate,” the complaint said. “Plaintiffs incurred expenses including in the form of inspections, remediations, repairs, cleanup, appliance replacements, lost rent, increased insurance and other expenses. … Plaintiffs have received no compensation for the damage to the property.”

The lawsuit also added that the manhole was first installed in the late 1970s and never caused any flooding before the July 2022 roadwork.

City representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment. No responses to the lawsuit had been filed in court as of Wednesday.

In January, the city’s Public Works Department said the storm overwhelmed the city’s stormwater system and its wastewater treatment plant was at max capacity.

“Frankly, with that level of intensity, there’s nothing that can be done,” Public Works Director Cliff Maurer said at the time. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality.”