By SUE PASCOE and BILL BRUNS
Only 33 years after a construction crew began a massive infill project in Potrero Canyon by bulldozing the native vegetation, residents and various City officials gathered on Saturday morning to celebrate the opening of George Wolfberg Park.
“Without George Wolfberg’s leadership, this park would never have been completed,” said David Card, vice chair of the Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee and Community Council chair emeritus. “George built on the efforts of the Community Council, and many community organizations, activists and neighbors such as Randy Young and Jack Allen,” as well as four successive City Council members.
Wolfberg, who died in 2020, was an instrumental leader and mentor in Pacific Palisades as he chaired groups that included the Community Council, the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association and the Potrero Advisory Board.
Saturday’s ceremony, held on a long stretch of inviting grass below the Recreation Center, was emceed by outgoing Councilmember Mike Bonin, who was determined to get the park opened before his last day in office on Sunday.
Wolfberg’s widow, Diane, and their three children – Anya, David and Michael –were in attendance.
Cindy Miscikowski, who served as the CD-11 Councilmember from 1997-2005, told Circling the News that the project began moving forward when she worked with Councilmember Marvin Braude (1965-1997).
As homes kept sliding into the canyon and their owners sued the City, Miscikowski said, “We knew we needed funds to stop the erosion in the canyon.” She recalled how landslides, flooding and earthquakes were wreaking havoc on the canyon and surrounding homes.
A 1985 L.A. Times story reported that Braude went to the City Council and said, “This project has to be done,” and received $9.5 million for the project. He predicted it wouldn’t take that much money and any extra would be returned.
Nearly 20 years later, after various delays, construction was still far from complete and had to be halted because City funding had dried up. Miscikowski devised a ingenious plan, approved by the Coastal Commission, whereby the City could sell the 22 residential lots it owned along the edge of Potrero, and the proceeds would be placed in a protected trust fund dedicated to completing the park.
Miscikowski’s successor, Bill Rosendahl, and his senior counsel, Norm Kulla (a past Community Council president), finally got this trust fund established so that work could resume…for another 15 years or so.
In 2005, Miscikowski established the Potrero advisory committee, which held monthly public meetings for three years as it worked with neighbors and the City to reach agreements on various aspects of the park — notably that it would be limited to passive recreation such as hiking along two trails down to PCH and would be landscaped with native vegetation, along with a riparian stream.
Eventually, the committee presented a five-page report to the Bureau of Engineering and Recreation and Parks that reflected a consensus for the park.
Kulla attended the ceremony and praised local historian Randy Young as someone he sought out when he needed information. “He has more Potrero knowledge than any other source.” [Young and the Palisades Historical Society will host a PowerPoint presentation, “The History of Potrero Canyon,” on January 17 at Theatre Palisades.]
Young told CTN that the final cost of the park, beginning when the City took possession of Potrero Canyon through eminent domain from Martha Patterson (paying $175,000 in 1975), will be “close to $100 million.”
He called the decades of construction at Potrero, “A slow-motion nightmare.”
Rob Weber, a member of the advisory committee, said, “The park was started in the 1970s, construction started in the 1980s and in the mid-1990s, it stopped. That’s when George got it going again.”
Weber noted that when he joined the committee, his daughter was 18 months old, and he hoped that he could walk down Potrero from his home to the beach before she went to college. “George told me it would take four to five years,” Weber said. “My daughter is now in her second year in college.”
Card, a landscape designer, explained that the 46-acre park is riparian, which means wetlands or “beside the stream.” The Coastal permit includes plants for the “wet” riparian (such as walnut, cottonwood and willow trees) and for the “dry” riparian: sycamores, coastal oaks, toyons and blue elderberry. The lawn “meadow” includes 12 Torrey pine trees.
“All of the plants in the canyon are natives,” Card said, adding that in the meadow, family picnics, reading, sunbathing and informal play (playing catch, kicking a ball, throwing a frisbee) would be permitted.
Activities forbidden in the park include “organized sports, lights, electricity, amplified sound, noisy toys, heaters, cooking flames and motor vehicles,” Card said. “And this is not a dog park.”
Andrew Wolfberg, George’s nephew, told the nearly 200 residents attending the ceremony, “This park is an endearing legacy for all of you.”
He noted that his uncle, who worked for the City of Los Angeles before retiring, liked to surf, swim and bike, and was a tireless volunteer, including decades as an AYSO referee.
Andrew urged residents to “get off the sidelines” and follow in his uncle’s footsteps. “He took great pride in his volunteer efforts and worked to get others to follow him,” Wolfberg said. “Find an organization you want to help and tell them Uncle George sent you.”
Numerous Potrero rim residents have been arguing that the park is not yet ready to be opened, noting that the perimeter fencing is incomplete, and correct signage (with accurate park hours — from sunrise to sunset) has not been placed. They worry that public safety could be an issue, given there will be minimal oversight of the park.
Meanwhile, there’s no way to access Will Rogers beach from the mouth of the canyon (until the promised pedestrian bridge is built) and the trail along PCH to Temescal Canyon has yet to be built.
Randy Young argues that the opening of the park is a positive development for the community and that residents “need to figure out how to manage it — maybe through a joint power authority. If neighbors become proactive, that would be a good thing.”
Young predicted that eventually, “This will be a beloved park, the way that it goes through the center of the Palisades,” offering 1.7 miles of easily accessible hiking trails with ocean views.
City Engineer Ted Allen said, “This is an exciting project. There are only a few marquee projects, and this is one of them.”
Members of the Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee over the three years of its existence included George Wolfberg (chair), David Card and Rob Weber (co-chairs), Gil Dembo, Bob Harter, John Anderson, Judith Collas, Dennis Hackbarth, Leonard Horn, Carl Mellinger, Stuart Muller, Susan Nash, Maria Rosetti, Norma Spak, Chris Spitz, Stephanie Wilson Blanc, Nancy Castle, Charlene Baskin, Ellen Travis and Roger Woods.