Atascadero couple evacuated from home near creek blames city for erosion

Atascadero Creek threatens nearby home

After a glut of storms in San Luis Obispo County, a swelling Atascadero Creek is eating away at the earth underneath this home.
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After a glut of storms in San Luis Obispo County, a swelling Atascadero Creek is eating away at the earth underneath this home.

A North County couple whose house is in danger of toppling into Atascadero Creek after heavy rain may be experiencing some déjà vu — the same thing nearly happened to their home more than 20 years ago.

John and Erna Shaydak have lived at their home on Ensenada Avenue, near the intersection of Capistrano, Cabrillo and Mercedes avenues, since the 1970s. The creek, owned by the Atascadero Land Preservation Society, rushes behind the couple’s yellow house, which is situated on a 90-degree bend in the waterway.

The Shaydaks were evacuated Wednesday, and their house has been red-tagged, or declared uninhabitable.

On Friday, their white shed appeared precariously close to the edge of the bank, a large portion of which looked like it had been chomped away. Tree roots and pipes stuck out of the bank, and rocks tumbled down into the water. The house sat just a little farther back from the creek.

The couple has been staying in a hotel while they figure out a better housing solution, and their children are continuing to remove items from their home, some of which are being stored at the Atascadero Mutual Water Co.

“I spent the last couple of years making sure we would be able to stay for the rest of our lives,” John Shaydak said tearfully on Friday.

A file photo from a Jan. 21, 1993, Tribune story shows erosion along Atascadero Creek next to John Shaydak’s home. C.H. Bolcom - Telegram-Tribune

Shaydak expressed similar concerns about his home in a Jan. 21, 1993, Tribune article headlined, “Creek takes a gulp of man’s back yard.” The article details Shaydak’s struggles after a big portion of his property was washed away after heavy rains.

“I’ve seen the creek with a lot of water before, but I have never seen this type of erosion,” Shaydak told The Tribune at the time. “I’ve lost a lot of property.”

Then and now, Shaydak blames the city of Atascadero for his situation. He said he agreed to allow the city to install a 30-foot drainage pipe behind his home in 1992 to help improve drainage on Mercedes Avenue.

Shaydak said the city poured concrete across the creekbed when workers installed the pipe, which he said directed the flow of water into the bank.

Twenty-four years ago, Councilwoman Bonita Borgeson helped Shaydak get assistance from the city, which installed dirt and concrete riprap along the bank to prevent further erosion, according to the article. John Neil, a city engineering consultant, said at the time that he wasn’t sure whether the city’s work had contributed to the erosion.

“It’s not a good situation being on a 90-degree bend of a river,” Neil told The Tribune. “But whether ... putting a pipe in exacerbated the situation, I just can’t say. It doesn’t appear so.”

John and Erna Shaydak’s home, which was declared uninhabitable because Atascadero Creek threatens to undermine the house. This photo was taken on Feb. 10, 2017. David Middlecamp - dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

On Monday, Nick DeBar, city director of public works, said the city continues to investigate the situation, which means digging through decades-old records to figure out what kind of work was done back in the 1990s.

DeBar said he was aware the city had installed the riprap to reinforce the creek bank and confirmed the existence of the drainage pipe. But DeBar said he didn’t think the pipe had an impact on the creek’s flow. He said the house being situated near the corner of a 90-degree curve could be one of “a number of factors” that contributed to the erosion.

Shaydak said he loves Atascadero, but the city should have done more to fix its mistake in the 1990s, before more of the bank eroded away.

“I guess I have to pay for what the city’s done to me if I want to save the house,” he said.

Brandon White, the Shaydaks’ grandson, started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the couple.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27