Potrero Canyon Funds Continue to Be Sucked Away, Caruso’s Soil Proclaimed Not Granular Enough

Bureau of Engineering requested an additional $600,000 in June to help modify the soil in Potrero Canyon. They said the soil dumped from the Caruso Palisades Village wasn’t granular enough.

At the October 2 L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks facility repair and maintenance commission task force meeting, Potrero Canyon Park project manager Pedro Garcia presented a $3.9 million change order to Chair Lynn Alvarez and Commissioner Joe Halper (a Palisades resident).

The construction firm, OHL USA, Inc. had initially won the bid for grading from the L.A. Bureau of Engineering for $13,526,579.

Three reasons were given for the cost overruns: the heavy rains last winter which produced excessive drainage into the canyon, the fill dirt was undocumented and there were boulders and rocks throughout the 46-acre site, making the ground unstable.

Halper and Alvarez admitted that they were not engineers and felt like there didn’t have the expertise to judge if the claims were correct. They agreed to let Garcia bring the project before the full Rec and Parks board with a PERT (program evaluation review technique) that showed start and completion dates, the costs of elements and any interdependency going forward.

What the public was not told is this is the second overage that has been requested by Garcia and OHL USA, Inc.

A reader sent Circling the News a June 5, 2019 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, allows up to $603,564 or 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].”

Circling the News wonders: If the Bureau of Engineering knew the Park needed granular soil, why wasn’t that type of soil used?

The June request for additional money said the City saved money with this dirt donation, even though they are now going to have to spend $600,000 to process the soil (to make it granular). There is no mention of how much the City saved by using this soil.

In a 2016 Palisades News story (“The Quality of Swarthmore Dirt Questioned”), this writer reported that “The City estimates it will save $3 million by using the 122,000 cubic yards of Swarthmore dirt in the canyon, while allowing the park below the Palisades Recreation Center to be completed sooner.”

Then, a rim resident questioned the quality of the dirt, knowing that a dry cleaner and a gas station had been situated on part of the property purchased.

This writer contacted California Department of Toxic Substances Control in 2016 and asked project manager Jose Diaz if the dirt had been tested for contamination. I then wrote, “He said that Caruso Affiliated had hired Pasadena-based Tetra Tech, which gave the soil a good report. Diaz was asked if any outside testing would be done. He replied that generally if the company’s reputation is good (tetratech.com), no additional testing is done by the state.”

In this year’s $600,000 change of work order, BOE wrote: “The scope of work includes mobilizing screening equipment to process approximately 40,000 cubic yards of soil and use of special equipment to carefully place the newly screened material within the basins.”

The request noted that it is “difficult to calculate exactly how much soil will be need to be processed to obtain the required amount of granular soil.”

If the soil was not the type needed, why was it accepted? A simple Google search showed that it is easy to tell the type of soil. (Visit: http://www.fao.org/tempref/FI/CDrom/FAO_Training/FAO_Training/General/x6706e/x6706e07.htm)

The amount remaining in the Potrero Canyon Trust Fund in this notice was $16,232,018 – but OHL USA, Inc. has not been paid in its entirety, and there are at least two change orders, plus landscaping and a pedestrian bridge that need to be completed.

Members of the Potrero Canyon Citizen Advisory Committee worry there will not be enough money for everything. All of the City-owned residential lots along the canyon rim have been sold, so no additional funds are available.

If the lots along Friends Street could be rezoned and sold, it might provide additional funding.

In the meantime, an Envirostar notification about the Palisades Village dirt was sent on September 27, 2019. Diaz explained the notification to Circling the News: “The property is restricted to commercial use only because residual concentrations of chemicals remain below the property. DTSC determined that the property cannot be used for single family homes, schools, daycare centers or hospitals. A deed restriction was filed with LA County. Future buyers will be notified of that restriction.”

Rob Weber, who was the sub-committee chair of the Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee said “We are disappointed that the project continues to fall further behind schedule and over budget. We remain focused on pushing the City to complete what was promised to Pacific Palisades over 35 years ago: a lovely passive park with trails leading to the beach for the enjoyment of the community.”

(Editor’s note: I received email from Potrero rim neighbors that they never wanted a public park. I understand that because I, too, would love a beautiful undeveloped open space in my backyard. But, Canyon history is driving this park. The City paid massive settlements when the houses started sliding into the Canyon. If the Canyon had not been filled and graded over the past three decades, houses would have continued to slide, and the most recent occupants would not have been able to buy along the Canyon. The City has spent millions of public monies; none of the Potrero drainage, infill and restoration has been done with private funds.)

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3 Responses to Potrero Canyon Funds Continue to Be Sucked Away, Caruso’s Soil Proclaimed Not Granular Enough

  1. Diane Bleak says:

    What the City of Los Angeles has done to the ecosystem of Potrero Park is a disgrace.
    If they had just left it along and installed a couple of picnic tables and trail paths like they do in Santa Barbara and San Diego, it would have been beautiful and NATURAL.
    Instead, The City killed the entire ecosystem,
    Nothing will grow there now, the city transformed that space into WASTE land due to incompetence and lack of knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, and BASIC engineering.
    Disgrace….

    • Finn-Olaf Jones says:

      Amen! The canyon was stabilized years ago and, despite the rusting decades-old “No Trespassing” signs the indigenous wildlife, plants and LA citizens from ALL over the city (it was renowned as a gathering spot for, amongst other people, mountain biking and model plane enthusiasts) had already reclaimed it again before this new wrecking crew came in.

  2. JACK ALLEN says:

    I hate to say I told you so but 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 claylike was confirmed when I observed the materials being put in the dump trucks. Moreover, it isn’t surprising that Caruso’s soil engineers reported erroneously the soils were suitable for use in Potrero Canyon just like Caruso’s traffic engineers stated that Carusoville would not result in any significant traffic problems. 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.

    Potrero Canyon has been a problem since the beginning. The homeowers along the rim sued the City claiming that the City drain caused the problem because it continued to erode the Canyon but in fact Potrero Canyon was historically the drainage channel for all the area between Temescal Canyon and Iliff Street north of La Cruz. Monument was a gully that ran through Carusoville southwest to La Cruz and Alma Real. The original developers put a drain pipe in from Bestor Blvd. to Alma Real and then filled in the gully. However, when the area became developed covering the ground with buildings and asphault, instead of soaking into the ground, the water flowed into the drain pipe and into Portrero Canyon increasing the natural erosion of the Canyon.

    Nevertheless, except during the rainy season, the Canyon was dry. However, has properties along the Canyon rim were developed, the water flow into the Canyon increased significantly until there was water flowing most of the year. The water was not coming from the City drain but from over irrigation of lawns on properties located on the rim and also from leaking pipes on their properties so those owners were in large part responsible for the damage being caused by the erosion of the bluffs on which those properties were located.

    But the City, rather than fighting the cases in court, decided to settle with the owners paying them full value rather than its share, if any, of the damages. When the City decided to fill Potrero Canyon, rather than get involved in more law suits in 1990, PPRA objected on the grounds that it would cost far more to repair the damage than to just buy up the properties on the Canyon rim. That has proven to be true.

    Moreover, the filling of the Canyon is only a temporary fix. Eventually all the properties will slide into the Canyon. The partial filling of the canyon will only delay the inevitable. And selling the properties along the rim that the City purchased is not wise because eventually those properties will slide into the Canyon. You can delay Mother Nature but eventually she will have her way.

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