At its July 14 meeting at Fort Bragg, the California Coastal Commission approved the Friends Street entrance and the 60-ft. trail that would connect it to other trails in the George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon.
The hearing can be found at click here.
The CC Commissioners were unanimous in their approval and based their determination on a recommendation from the 56-page staff report. Staff felt the trail, landscaping and entrance were consistent with Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act.
This hearing was held because members of the public had brought to the board’s attention that the City had violated the Coastal Act by not receiving permission to construct the Friends Street entrance gate and trail.
The CC agreed with that assessment but also felt that the entrance and trail was part of its mission to enable Coastal access, and agreed it could proceed.
Staff told Commissioners that there were three letters in support of the project and 11 letters in opposition to the project – mainly from people who lived in the neighborhood.
Commissioners were told that the public who opposed the path said they did because:
- It would not be a public benefit
- The trail would cause geologic instability
- The project was inconsistent with CEQA.
Coastal staff representative Shahar Amhay said, “These concerns have been addressed in the staff report.”
He then disputed each allegation separately. He also noted that this would not impact travel flow in the residential neighborhood because there is 500 ft of public street parking along the stretch of a curb near the trailhead.
Regarding CEQA, Amhay noted that the Commission CDP is the regulatory process and had been certified as the functional equivalent of the CEQA process and “this is a relatively minor change to the underlying project.”
In the report, staff noted that the 1985 EIR that the City prepared was adequate to cover the current amendment requests.
The Coastal Commission then heard public comment. Thomas “Randy” Young, who attended the meeting in person, was first to speak to the commissioners.
“This has been one of the most surreal projects in Los Angeles,” said Young, who was representing the Palisades Historical Society. “It has been controversial. The canyon/park was basically built to support the houses on the rim. Over $40 million has gone into this project. This was all done because the community filed a lawsuit forcing the City to spend this amount of money.”
Young said that in the middle of the 1990s, CC staff member Pam Emerson helped plan the park, emphasizing access for the community through well-built trails.
“This is one of the trails we came up with back then. It’s important to keep this trail,” he said.
Jack Allen, who represented the Palisades Preservation Association, said there was a similar situation to this one in Los Pulgas Canyon in 1995 and that a trail had been built with no harmful effects to the public.
“This new trail is very important and will be well used,” Allen said. “It will help a lot of people get to the beach once the bridge is built.”
The president of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society Barbara Kohn urged the commission to adopt the staff report. “We have monitored this project for more than 30 years – millions and millions of public monies has been used on developing this park, and access is absolutely mandatory,” she said and thanked the staff for the comprehensive report.
Friends Street resident Peter Longo said he was embarrassed that the City “was here today with their ‘hat in their hand’ requesting an after-the-fact approval for something they did in the cover of darkness. This entrance was never in anything that they submitted previously.”
Longo said that since he’s lived on Friends have been three major fires in the park area that were all started by the homeless. “Let’s have the city do this correctly: Why rush it?” he asked.
Jeffery Spitz, who lives on Friends Street told commissioners that “I and 60 other local residents have submitted detailed written materials to the commission including the history, citations to legal documents, which I hope the commission will consider.”
He said an entrance, other than the one by the Recreation Center, was not needed. Spitz also said that the “1985 EIR makes no mention of the Friends Street Entrance. And the addendum produced by the City in 2020 falsely asserts to the contrary.
“There is not a single person who lives in the area of this proposed entrance has come forward to support it,” Spitz said.
Christina Spitz said she was a member of the Potrero Canyon advisory committee and that in a 2008 report it was noted that the trail would run from the Recreation Center to the beach.
“Pacific Palisades is a Coastal community and there is ample direct access from other locations to Will Rogers State Beach,” Spitz said and noted that the CC is supposed to study public safety needs and that “No study of public safety impacts has been done and the Staff report is wholly inadequate under controlling law.
“Respectfully,” Christina concluded, “It would be irresponsible for the commission to proceed with this inadequate analysis – given the evidence provided to you that public safety may be compromised.”
West-rim resident William Moran told commissioners that the allegation in the staff report that a trail would not impact traffic flow “is 100 percent inaccurate.” He then tried to explain the problems of traffic at the Via de las Olas Bluffs.
The last speaker of the day Brooke Klein, said the report did not address how people would get to and from Friends Street and that people would be turning around in resident’s drive ways, starting at 5:30 a.m. and that it would pose a safety problem because kids play in the driveways.
“Please do not consider this trail until traffic and environmental studies are done,” she said.
The CC Chair, Donne Brownsey asked the staff if they wanted to address the comments.
Staff member Steve Hudson said, “All the issues raised by the opponents were covered in our staff report and the addendum. The underlying permit for this project was massive with an extensive trail system. This is a very minor trail extension, and it will provide for a new trail head on public streets. There is adequate resources, parking.”
“When is this project going to be completed?” Brownsey asked. “It’s been going on for 35 years.”
“I’ve been part of it for 34 years, and I have no clue, but this is progress,” said CC Executive Director Jack Ainsworth.