$50 Million Spent on Potrero, Maybe More, and Still No Park

The green circle shows the area of photo 1 and 2, in George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon found below. The road in the upper left is Friends Street.

The latest estimate for the opening of the George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon is now this fall, Pacific Palisades Community Council President David Card told members at their March 24 meeting.

For readers who keep track of always-elastic construction deadlines, L.A. City officials vowed in February 2011 that a new park in the canyon would be dedicated within five years.

At that ceremony down near the mouth of Potrero, longtime resident and Community Council member Ted Mackie quipped: “The people who will attend that park dedication haven’t been born yet.”

For readers who have tried to keep track of the money spent on this park since construction to fill the canyon began in 1988, here are the latest costs.

The initial contract for landscaping was made to Ford E.C. Inc. for $8,892,394 last May, but following the December 2021 rains, an additional $630,000 was asked to repair areas of significant damage located in the lower portion of the park.

In 2016, dirt came from Caruso’s Palisades Village underground parking lot and was deposited in Potrero Canyon. Concern was raised about the dirt quality but was dismissed by City officials. In 2018, OHL USA INC won the new grading bid in Potrero for $13,526,579.

But a year later, OHL asked for and received an additional $4 million because of 1) heavy rains in 2018, 2) fill dirt was undocumented; and 3) there were boulders and rocks on the site.

Former Palisadian-Post editor Bill Bruns found a 1989 letter in his files that was sent to then-Councilmember Cindy Miscikowski.

The resident wrote: “Your predecessor told us that this landfill was to be at no cost to the Taxpayer, which I could feel in my bones at the time that the statement was untrue. But in my naivete I thought “well what’s a couple of hundred thousand dollars?” Well, it is now 12 years later, and the $20 million mentioned in the article was the same $20 million mentioned last year, so someone is suing a minimal public figure instead of the true current cost which must be increasing with the passage of time.”

Ted Mackie told Palisades News in 2015 that he remembered when officials promised in 1984 that the new park would be completed in five years, at a cost of $3 million.

In that 2015 story, Potrero Canyon Project Manager 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.

The park, which lies between Huntington Palisades and DePauw/Friends streets, extends from below the Palisades Recreation Center to Pacific Coast Highway.

Residential property along the rim of Potrero Canyon began sliding into the canyon in the 1960s. From 1964 to 1975, the City purchased properties along the rim, with the eventual goal of stabilizing the canyon. The City, because of litigation, was then required to purchase an additional 22 properties along the canyon rim.

In 1986, a study was done for proposed plans to stabilize the canyon and create the park and the fill project began in 1988. The first phase, completed in 1990, consisted of cleaning out the trees and brush in the 80-ft. high canyon and installing a storm drain.

To fund the completion of Potrero Park, the City and Coastal Commission agreed that all lots and houses owned by the City would be sold and the proceeds dedicated towards completion of the park. Twenty-one properties were sold, generating more than $40 million.

The City must also fulfill an obligation to the Coastal Commission, which required a five-year maintenance assurance at a projected cost of $2.5 million.

But of course, all that real estate money has now been spent.

The state appropriated $11 million for a pedestrian bridge that will connect the mouth of the park with the Will Rogers State Beach parking lot. The City’s Bureau of Engineering is tasked with making the plans—and they’ll get busy on it in July – a mere year later after funding was announced. The true cost of the bridge may be more or less than the money available from the state.

What about the trail that was supposed to be completed from the mouth of Potrero to Temescal Canyon Road (so that hikers who want to access the beach can safely cross at a light instead of darting across six lanes of PCH)? That is part of a Caltrans easement that is still being worked on, according to Card.

The easement goes back to the 1958 “killer slide” below Via de las Olas. At that time, PCH was closer inland to the bluffs, but had to be rerouted following the slide.

District Highway Superintendent Vaugh O. Sheff, who was overseeing the removal of an earlier slide from that area, was killed when the new slide came down the hill from just below Via de las Olas. PCH was moved around the toe of the slide, closer to the ocean, but the Caltrans easement, which is further inland between Potrero and Temescal Canyons, remained.

Pacific Coast Highway used to run closer to Via de las Olas bluffs, but after the “killer slide” it was moved closer to the ocean.


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