Contractors for Portrero Canyon Say They Need an additional $3.9 Million to Finish Grading

The mouth of Potrero Canyon Park opens on Pacific Coast Highway and offers magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean.

OHL USA INC, which won the latest Portrero Canyon Park grading contract from L.A. City Department of Public Works for $13,526,579 million, now says it needs an additional $3.9 million to complete the project.

At an L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks facility repair and maintenance commission task force meeting, held Wednesday in Glendale, Potrero project manager Pedro Garcia presented a $3.9 million change order to Chair Lynn Alvarez and Commissioner Joe Halper (a Palisades resident).

According to Garcia, extra excavation on the 46-acre park is needed because 1) last winter’s rain and runoff caused areas of saturated soil; 2) there is some unsuitable material at the excavation site, such as large pieces of concrete and rocks; 3) there is undocumented fill, which has been called not suitable to be built on; 4) there was illegal dumping over the years, leaving organic material that needs to be removed; 5) and it is more economical to continue to use large scrappers that go over the entire area, than pull in a backhoe to do a specific smaller area.

The result is almost a 34 percent overage of the funds allotted for grading. Garcia explained that “there was nothing in the records to indicate they’d find this kind of soil.”

Pacific Palisades Community Council Vice Chair David Card, who also sat on the Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee is well-versed with the project’s history (see below). “They bid $13.5 million and fifteen months later, they (Bureau of Engineering and the contractor) are finding out there’s water and undocumented fill?”

Deputy City Engineer Alfred L. Mata said that in order to prevent future landslides, more buttress fill was needed, and the important thing is to “have compacted soil.”

Regarding the saturated soil, the commissioners were told that when there is water on the site, the soil is not firm, and contractors have to excavate below the water. That compaction, because of the water, is projected to cost $95,151.

The cost of the still-needed excavation and cut is projected at $2,042,552. This is necessary because of the uncompacted cut and because of boulders and concrete.

Another cost, since the contractor now has to dig deeper, is the hauling of extra fill from a quarter of mile away: $700,371.

The cost for over-excavation for buttress toes is placed at $207,168.

Engineering has also included a $854,758 contingency fee, in case something else was missed. The total amount for additional excavation, hauling fill from a quarter of mile away, and compaction is $3.9 million.

Commissioner Halper said, “We’ve been asked to make a recommendation to go forward, but I don’t feel competent to do that. They’re the engineers. One of my concerns is how does this affect the funds? How does it affect the park’s completion?”

Mata said, “I can’t speak to the next phase of the project.”

Halper noted that the design of the project does not yet have an entrance [off PCH]. He had understood that a pedestrian bridge has been proposed to connect the beach to the park.

“We need public access or we’re building a private park for rim residents,” he said. The upper park will be accessible to the public through the Recreation Center.

Halper inquired if the department had started to work with Caltrans or the Coastal Commission about a bridge.

Garcia and Mata had no information about a bridge.

“Until that happens, is there an entrance off Friends Street?” Halper asked. Garcia and Mata did not know.

Alvarez said, “I concur with Joe. It is what it is – do whatever the engineer says needs to be done, but when you present this to the full committee [on October 23], we want to know where the funding is coming from and what impact it will have on other features of the park.”

Halper said, “I’d like to see a PERT (program evaluation review technique) chart, with start dates, completion dates, the cost of the elements and any interdependency going forward.”

During public comment, Card said that he would like a better explanation of the change order and wondered if the BOE had negotiated with the contractor.

“I’m worried that the Bureau of Engineering sees a big pot of money and said, ‘Let’s spend it.’”

Alvarez said, “The whole project needs to be brought before the commissioners and we need to see how the $3.9 million fits in the project.”

Lisa Cahill, Councilman Mike Bonin’s field deputy, said their office needs a more in-depth report because “this is a significant amount of money. When I gave the report to Bonin, he wanted a meeting with answers.”

Bureau of Engineering showed the Rec and Parks Facility Repair and Maintenance Commission photos of why more money was needed to complete grading. In this case there are pieces of concrete and large rocks.

(Editor’s note: The “final” grading project was put out to bid by the L.A. City Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering in April 2018 with a projected cost of $14,792,412 and closed about a month later. There were three bids: Los Angeles Engineering, Inc. bid $14,137,117; OHL USA INC bid $13,526,579; and Sukut Construction, Inc. bid $13,777,777.) 

Brief Recap of Potrero Canyon Park:

* In the 1950s, houses start slipping into Potrero Canyon. The City starts filling the canyon with combustible rubbish, street sweepings, pavement removals and yard trimmings, but this action is opposed by the Huntington Palisades Property Owners Association.  

* 1964: The City acquires the Canyon from Charles and Martha Patterson, using eminent domain.

* 1964-1984: More houses slide into Potrero, prompting neighbors to bring a $75 million lawsuit against the City.

* December 1984: The City purchases 14 residential properties (13 on DePauw and one on Alma Real) for $6.8 million to settle an earlier lawsuit and announces a plan to install a drainage system and create a city park. The park was supposed to be completed in five years at a cost of $3 million. An additional 33 lots were later purchased by the City.

* 1990: Drainage is complete and sub-drains are installed. Grading and compaction starts.

* 2004: Only about 35 percent complete, the project is halted because of lack of funding.  The Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee is named by City Councilman Cindy Miscikowski, with George Wolfberg as chair.

* 2005: Slope failure occurs at 211 and 231 Alma Real. Another lawsuit is brought against the City. Through Bill Rosendahl’s senior deputy Norman Kulla, the City and the Coastal Commission agree that all lots and houses along the canyon, owned by the City, will be sold and the proceeds dedicated towards completion of the park.

* 2011: A ceremony is held, and City officials vow the park will open in 2017 at an additional cost of $30.5 million.

* 2016-2017: Dirt from Caruso’s parking garage construction on Swarthmore is taken to the Canyon to be used for fill.

* 2018: Grading resumes, landscaping will go out to bid.

* 2020: “Final” Potrero Park ribbon-cutting ceremony.


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10 Responses to Contractors for Portrero Canyon Say They Need an additional $3.9 Million to Finish Grading

  1. Paul Glasgall says:

    I’m glad you put in the detailed timeline as I did recall that the additional present requested amount equals what the original project cost was. This is certainly a definitive candidate for a Harvard Case Study in Government. Or should I say government mismanagement on every level.
    The entities overseeing this should be ashamed to even show us this and if I were mayor I would fire ALL of them. Me Halper needs to resign immediately.
    The city and community needs to reassess what the hell they are doing before spending another dime.

  2. Rosalie says:

    What a saga! And Sue Pascoe deserves kudos for staying on top of the Portrero Canyon issue, which included schlepping to Glassell Park during morning rush hour to bring us the story.

  3. Sue says:

    Mr. Joe Halper, who was just appointed to the Rec and Park Board Commission, should be applauded for keeping this whole debacle in the public eye. And thanks to Joe, the City is on notice for the nine-month delay in repairing the much-used tennis courts.

    The money is in a fund exclusively for Potrero–and came from the sale of the rim lots. The question becomes will there be enough left for landscaping and a second entrance (other than just at the Rec and Park entrance by the baseball fields?

  4. Paula H Deats says:

    Sue, you are an entire newspaper – better than any we’ve had since Bill Bruns was “Palisadian Post”managing editor (?). You must work 16 hours a day getting to and from meetings you attend on the Palisades’ behalf, and crucial to our continued well-being. Thank you…every single week!

  5. Dave Kidd says:

    Potrero Canyon has become our very own High Speed Rail project

  6. Finn-Olaf Jones says:

    Thank you, Sue, for keeping the bloating saga of the Potrero Canyon debacle in the public eye. Speaking as a resident on the canyon rim, I can assure Halper, had he ever decided to ask us, NONE of the people on this canyon want this construction nor a “private park.” We all bought into here because we loved the wide open canyon just as it was (this after the drainage system was put in place in 2010), not the city McPark currently being imposed by politicians with oversized egos and limitless budgets. So did the local wildlife, which has suddenly been fenced out of the last wilderness canyon along this increasingly urbanized coast. Meetings with clueless elected public officials who should be on top of this by those of us concerned only brings home what a Keystone Cop project this hole in the ground continues to be.

  7. Rosalie says:

    Ditto! Sue is dedicated to quality journalism and to our community. She hasn’t pushed this much, but she is accepting whatever readers can give so she can pay at least one other quality reporter to cover some of these meetings for her.

  8. Sarah says:

    Or engineered mudslide? If not quickly landscaped, winter rains can wash away bare canyon walls deprived of eons-old grass, bush and tree roots which once helped Potrero hold its shape.

  9. Chris Van Hook says:

    Do you have any idea what the huge mound of dirt is for which they are amassing near PCH and Potrero Cyn project? It gets larger by the day. Trucks go up and down it. What are they doing? I would love to know as I live near the top of the rim and it is below me. Thanks!

  10. Sue says:


    Good question. Let me see if someone has an answer.


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