Potrero Park: Time to ‘Fire’ the City?

Potrero Canyon Park, which seems to be open to people who live on the canyon rim and walk their dogs there, is officially closed to the public because the area is considered a construction zone.

The long-awaited park, which will feature a hiking trail from the Palisades Recreation Center to Pacific Coast Highway, is awaiting the return of construction trucks and, ultimately, a landscaping crew. Yet neighbors have gates into the canyon—and are using them. Along some stretches the fence has been cut and people slip in to let their dogs run off leash.

The city has spent close to 30 years filling the once-wild Potrero Canyon and attempting to build a passive-recreation park. That must qualify for some sort of record somewhere—taking home the “Gold” in construction boondoggles.

For those of you who have recently moved to Pacific Palisades, allow us to bring you up to date.

Houses started sliding into Potrero Canyon in the 1950s because of inadequate drainage. One of the fixes proposed was filling it with rubbish, pavement removals and yard trimmings, but the Huntington Palisades Property Owners Association stopped that questionable plan.

Canyon owners Charles and Martha Patterson wanted to build a golf course there, but the city used eminent domain to acquire the 30-acre property in 1964 for $175,000. Over the next 20 years, more houses slid into the canyon and neighbors eventually brought a $75 million lawsuit against the city.

In December 1984, the city purchased 14 properties (13 on DePauw and one on Alma Real) for $6.8 million to settle an earlier lawsuit, and then announced a plan to install a drainage system, fill in the canyon and create a city park.

The projected cost of the three-phase project was $3 million and was to be completed within five years (1989). Thirty-three additional lots were acquired for $13 million.

A construction began clearing the canyon and bringing in massive amounts of fill dirt in 1987, and a drainage system was finally completed in 1990. Dirt hauling, gradating and compaction continued for years, but the project came to a halt in 2004 when funding ran out.

The Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee, formed in 2004, spent the next four years meeting and hearing neighbors’ concerns before making recommendations to the city, including the emphasis on having a passive recreation park and a riparian habitat. The meetings were contentious with people shouting down proposed soccer fields and others insisting that the only public access would be through the recreation center and along Pacific Coast Highway. (Neighbor gates don’t count.)

After the 2005 winter storms, there was slope failure at 211 and 231 Alma Real and the city found itself in another lawsuit with the homeowners (now settled).

To fund the completion of Potrero Park, the city and the California Coastal Commission agreed that all lots and houses owned by the city would be sold and the proceeds towards completion of the park.

Almost all the lots have now been sold, many new houses have been built and homeowners are living along the western edge of the canyon.

Unfortunately, the park is no closer to opening now than it was a decade ago. The only positive news is that the city can still tap property sales to pay the final bills, and with the infill completed and drains in place, the likelihood of a rim house slipping into the canyon is negligible.

In February 2011, a ceremony was held at the bottom of Potrero Canyon, and former Councilman Bill Rosendahl vowed that the new park would open five years later.

The Palisades News called the city’s Bureau of Engineering last month to remind them it was 2016, and we asked just when the grand opening celebration might be held.

Spokesperson Mary Nemick said, “The construction of the park is currently projected to be completed in December 2017, and the latest cost estimate is $30.5 million.”

If one were doing a remodel on a house and had a contractor like the city who kept promising that the work would be completed in another year, or the year after or in five years—at an escalating cost—most likely the homeowner would fire the contractor.

Unfortunately, we can’t fire the city. But can we finally trust them? At the 2011 ceremony, local businessman Ted Mackie predicted that the opening wouldn’t happen “in my lifetime.” At this rate, it might not happen in our children’s lifetime.

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