Part 2: The Controversial Magur Residential Deck Above Potrero Canyon Reveals Uneven Enforcement

Homes and walls can be seen along the west rim of Potrero as grading continued in Potrero Canyon.

After witnessing the numerous walls and other structures facing into Potrero Canyon Park, Commissioner Esther Margulies admitted at a L.A. Westside Planning Commission hearing on February 4 that “Screening is not working. Enforcement is not the City’s forte.”

It seemed that the Magurs had been singled out, because they had received the needed permits and approvals from the City, but the City later reversed its decision, saying the initial approval had been made in error.

In an October 2016 story (“PLUM Committee Denies Appeal”), this editor reported that the Magurs had filed an appeal with the L.A. City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee questioning the safety of the dirt that was to be excavated for Caruso’s underground parking structure and transported to Potrero Park.

At the PLUM hearing, City Councilmembers Jose Huizar (Chair), Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Gilbert Cedillo, Mitchell Englander and Curren Price Jr. heard that by donating 122,000 cubic yards of dirt from its construction project, Caruso Affiliated would not have to pay to transport the dirt to a distant location, and the City estimated it would save $3 million by not having to import dirt to complete the park.

Bureau of Engineering’s Norman Mundy said the California Department of Toxic Substances had approved the soil for unrestricted use. But, Magur told Councilmembers that the Environmental Impact Review referenced by the City in the report was from 1985.

Huntington Palisades resident Lora Fremont asked the Councilmembers to have the dirt tested by an independent entity. Tetra Tech had been hired by Caruso Affiliated to test the soil.

“The soil needs independent testing,” said Magur. “There should be a supplemental environmental report.”

Fremont had sought out a specialist from UCLA who had read the report and told her that the dirt below the existing parking lot off Swarthmore Avenue had not been tested.

In that story, Debbie Dyner Harris from Councilman Mike Bonin’s office argued that the dirt and the dirt hauling agreement between Caruso and the City was a great partnership and said, “This is the last significant hurdle we face before we start planting.”

Magur’s appeal was denied. After that hearing, CTN spoke to Magur, who said, “I’m anxious to have the Canyon finished, and I support Caruso’s project. I just think there should be reasonable oversight of the dirt. Once it is in the canyon, and then if there’s a problem, it will be much more expensive to rectify.”

Magur was right.

In October 2019, the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks was presented with a $3.9 million change order for grading. Three reasons were given for the higher cost: the fill dirt was undocumented; there were boulders and rocks throughout the 46-acre site, making the ground unstable; and heavy rains in 2018 had produced excessive drainage into the canyon.

This wasn’t the first time that extra money had been requested for soil/grading. Five months earlier, June 5, 2019, the Board of Recreation approved item No. 19-177: “Potrero Canyon Park – Grading (G775) (W.O. E1907428) Project – Request Authority to Negotiate Change Orders to Contract 3644.”

That change order, approved by Rec and Parks, allowed up to $603,564 (4.5 percent) of the original contract award for soil improvement.

In the document, Potrero Park was described as a passive park with a riparian zone containing wetland trees and plants that will run the center of the park through a series of large retention basins. The basins will allow recycled stormwater to percolate through the soil and eventually go into the storm drain and be pumped back up to the top of the park.

“In order to maintain water flowing through the basins, the soil contained in these basins needs to be very granular. However, since there is no granular soil onsite, the contractor will need to process the onsite soil to obtain the correct gradation required for the basins to work as designed.”

“The onsite soil was imported in early 2017, as a donation to the City in a partnering effort with a development located less than one mile from the site [Caruso’s Palisades Village].”

Long-time resident Jack Allen wrote a comment about CTN’s story (“Potrero Canyon Funds Continue to Be Sucked Away, Caruso’s Soil Proclaimed Not Granular Enough”): “When it was first proposed that the excavation materials from Carusoville be used in Potrero Canyon, I questioned the proposal. Most of the soils in the area east of Sunset and north of Carey contain adobe and other clay-like materials which make them unsuitable for use in the Potrero landfill because water tends to flow over rather than percolate through clay-like soils. That is what causes landslides.

“That the materials being removed from Carusoville were clay-like was confirmed when I observed the materials being put in the dump trucks,” Allen said. “Moreover, it isn’t surprising that Caruso’s soil engineers reported erroneously the soils were suitable for use in Potrero Canyon…. Because the problems with the soils deposited by Caruso in Potrero Canyon have to be remedied, Caruso should have to pay the cost of remedying those problems. If his soil engineers goofed, then Caruso should require them to compensate him for the costs of the remediation.”

On October 4, 2019, Circling the News sent an email to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and asked when they found out the dirt was not going to work. His office never replied.

Additional cost for the dirt grading, so far: at least $4.5 million. The pile of dirt near the mouth of the canyon along PCH? Right now, the City has no plans to move that dirt pile, since it would cost money to transport it.

This past November a month after CTN asked Bonin’s office about the “bad” Potrero dirt, Magur, who was a one of the lone voices asking for greater City scrutiny on Potrero soil, is informed that the permit that he received to build a porch and a deck was issued “in error.” A City Commission sided with two neighbors who filed an appeal opposing his two completed structures.

Potrero Canyon seen from above.
Photo: Billy Marrone Visit: dji

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