Agencies Fail to Act: Pacific Palisades Hikers Suffer

By Sarah Stockman
Staff Writer

In August 2016, the Palisades News investigated why a popular public parking lot and restroom at an entrance to the Temescal Ridge Trail in the Highlands had been closed.

What started out as reporting for an article about access to a trailhead soon revealed a tangled, unresolved ownership dispute. Although the property in question should have been owned by the City of Los Angeles, it had instead been auctioned to the highest bidder by the County of Los Angeles in 2013.

Now, almost a year later, the issue still has not been resolved.

The property has remained open for parking, but the facility is a mess. Trash overflows from the one trash can, spilling into piles on the ground. Of the two restrooms, only one is unlocked. There’s no toilet paper in it, and a year’s worth of debris litters the floor.

Trash overflows at a facility that was supposed to be maintained for hikers by the city.
Trash overflows at a facility that was supposed to be maintained for hikers by the city.

Both the California Coastal Commission and Councilman Mike Bonin’s office are working to solve the problem.

“We remain disappointed that the public parking lot and restrooms are not being maintained,” Noaki Schwartz, Coastal Commission Public Information Officer, said. “The commission is taking this enforcement case very seriously and considers this a high priority public access case because this is the only trailhead to this portion of Topanga State Park.”

“The goal is, still, to iron out some of the details of this really confusing kind of twisting, turning world of how this property got sold,” David Graham-Caso, Bonin’s communications director, said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a very simple answer to it.”

The issue with the property is a complicated legal one, which is why it is taking so long to resolve. The property was deeded to the city in 2003 by Headland Properties Associates (the original developers of the Highlands), but the deed was not recorded. Because of this, the property was sold multiple times and ended up in the hands of current owner Ben Kalaf.

The L.A. City Attorney’s Office is also involved and is trying to determine how to legally get the property back to the city.

“[The city attorney] is looking at how we [the city] can legally go back to assume the property,” Graham-Caso said. “It’s a matter of if there is a specific legal way to get to it. It takes a little bit of untangling. That’s part of the delay and confusion.”

The News reached out to the city attorney’s office, but they said they could not comment on an ongoing case.

Despite the legal confusion, Councilman Bonin remains determined to return the property to the public.

“It is Councilmember Bonin’s goal . . . to make sure this [property] is open and maintained as it was intended,” Graham-Caso said.

The Coastal Commission’s goal mirrors that of the city. They, too, want the property back in the hands of the public.

“Ultimately the permit requires that this property and the public amenities be transferred to and managed by a government agency or nonprofit organization approved by the executive director of the Coastal Commission,” Schwartz said. “This is something we are working towards.”

While they iron out the details, the property will remain unmaintained, to the detriment of hikers. The trailhead is located at 16701 Via La Costa.

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