Potrero Canyon History and Facts about the Potrero Pedestrian Bridge

This was Potrero Canyon at Friends Street before the City started infilling the Canyon.

“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” (Pearl S. Buck, 1892-1973.

There are some Palisadians, who claim they have never heard anything about the the proposed pedestrian bridge that would connect George Wolfberg Park with Will Rogers State Beach.

These residents claim they never had a say.

For whatever reason, it appears the Pacific Palisades Community Council likes to court those people and allows them to rehash history.

Here are some facts.

THE HISTORY

According to a 6/27/1985 LA Times article, “About a dozen homes have plunged into the canyon since 1933 because of landslides.”

LA City started acquiring properties inside the canyon and along the rims, as early as the late 60s; more homes/lots were purchased into the 1980s.

“A project proposed in 1972 called for a 125-foot layer of fill to be deposited in the canyon. In 1984, a proposal was made to fill 40 feet of the canyon’s depth and stabilize the most dangerous parts with concrete and metal bulkheads.” (source: 6/27/1985 LA Times article)

At some point, the “plans” included creation of a park in the canyon, and a bridge across PCH.

The June 1985 Final Environmental Impact Report for Potrero Canyon Park Development Project contains the following language:

“The Department of Recreation and Parks is planning for the canyon to serve as a scenic pedestrian accessway between the Palisades Recreation Center and the Will Rogers State Beach Park.” [Second sentence of the introduction];

“Principal objectives to meet in the development of Potrero Canyon Park are as follows: . . . develop a link between community and regional recreational facilities . . . integrate public safety and convenience with recreational uses . . . .” [EIR, p. II-1];

“PROJECT CHARACTERISTICS: As a means of developing Potrero Canyon for public recreation use the project will involve the conversion of the canyon into a pedestrian accessway for passage to Will Rogers State Beach Park from the Palisades Recreation Center. . . . A pedestrian overpass from the canyon mouth over Pacific Coast Highway to the State Park is also proposed for construction.” [EIR, p. II-4](emphasis added);

“When the fill operations are completed, a pedestrian bridge over Pacific Coast Highway, allowing safe access to Will Rogers Beach, is required to be constructed by the Sunspot Motel concessionaire.” [EIR, p. IV-49];

“The development of Potrero Canyon Park will serve as an [sic] pedestrian link from the Palisades Recreation Center to Will Rogers State Beach . . . Direct access to the beach from the canyon park will be by a pedestrian overpass over the Pacific Coast Highway.”  [EIR, p. IV-55](emphasis added); and,

Installation of a permanent pedestrian bridge over PCH would eliminate traffic dangers to pedestrians when crossing to the beach area facilities.”  [EIR, p. IV-57](emphasis added).

In a Los Angeles Times article reporting on the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners’ certification of the Final EIR for the fill project, Councilman Marvin Braude was interviewed regarding the project.  Braude said the park would “provide a gateway to the ocean (from the Palisades Recreation Center). . . . It will include a bridge across the Pacific Coast Highway so that there will be direct pedestrian access to the beaches without crossing a public street.”  (emphasis added)(quotations in original)(copy of article attached).

In a June 1987 Los Angeles Times article reporting on potential development of the adjacent Occidental Petroleum site, Coastal Commission staff member Mark Delaplaine was quoted as saying that the city plans to build a pedestrian overpass at the Sunspot Motel, where a new restaurant was then being planned.

The Sunspot Hotel was located at the base of Potrero Canyon. In 1987 it was determined that this would be where the pedestrian bridge would be placed to connect the Canyon with the beach.

Councilman Braude was quoted in a January 1989 article “The public benefit will be substantial.  This is a mechanism whereby people will be able to get from . . . Palisades Park through the canyon all the way to the ocean. There will be a (pedestrian) bridge over the Pacific Coast Highway. It will make the ocean much more accessible.”

Two years later the Los Angeles Times reported on the Sunspot Motel being renovated and added, “The project includes construction of a pedestrian bridge over Pacific Coast Highway.”

In September 1991, Times article about the Sunspot Motel it was noted, “Recreation and Parks planners describe the property, and Potrero Canyon behind it, as a bridge between the Pacific Palisades Recreation Center, atop the bluffs, and Will Rogers State Beach.”

In April 1997, a Los Angeles City Council motion (96-1916-S1) stated “Potrero Canyon was acquired by the Department of Recreation and Parks in 1964 to provide a connection between the Palisades Recreation Center located on the bluff overlooking the ocean and the coastline. . . .”

The Department of Recreation and Parks presents a “Community Update and Project Overview” in July 2003, which included Phase III of the Project and a discussion of “multi-use trail connecting Palisades Recreation Center with the Beach,” and project diagrams include a “Pedestrian Crossing” from the mouth of the canyon across PCH.

The Pacific Palisades Community Council unanimously passed a motion of  support in May 2004 of a Potrero Canyon Park development plan, contingent upon the final park plans including among other things, “construction of a walk bridge from the mouth of Potrero Canyon over PCH to beach parking.”

Between 2005-2008, the Potrero Canyon Citizens Advisory Committee (PCCAC), which was formed in 2004, spent three years soliciting community input. Dozens of meetings were held, and thousands of voices were heard.

A pedestrian bridge is needed on PCH by Potrero Canyon, to ensure safety in crossing PCH.
Photo: George Wolfberg

The number one recommendation was construction of a bridge across PCH. This recommendation was qualified only by a statement that “the Committee is not opposed to a further neutral assessment of the feasibility, safety and efficacy of an over- crossing as compared with other possible alternatives.”

A 2016 MARRS feasibility study was done, and it concluded that a bridge was the most feasible and effective means of crossing PCH.

When it became apparent there would not be enough money left in the Potrero fund for a bridge, the late George Wolfberg penned a letter to Senator Ben Allen and Assemblyman Richard Bloom, asking if the State might be able to help provide some funding.

The two legislators toured the site in early 2021 and were able to get $11 million in funding for the bridge.

Regarding the lateral trail, it does not provide immediate access to the coast, which was also reported in the MARRS report.

The construction of a lateral trail is dependent on Caltrans providing an easement. CTN has contacted Councilmember Traci Park’s office to see if that easement had ever been given to the City.

Some wonder, if there is no easement from Caltrans, could the $1.15 million that U.S. House of Representative Ted Lieu gave for the trail in July 2022 could be used towards the bridge.

There is ample history of the proposed bridge that goes back to 1985.

This area is where the lateral trail is proposed. It is unclear if Caltrans has given the easement.

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4 Responses to Potrero Canyon History and Facts about the Potrero Pedestrian Bridge

  1. barbara kohn says:

    we were also told in 1985 in a public meeting in the Palisades Library that the project would take 3 years and cost 3 million dollars….Last I checked the cost was quite a bit over 100 million dollars and it is now 38 years later…it’s a different world!!

    ps…great historical recap!!

  2. Sue says:

    I think its interesting that the bridge has been mentioned over the years–mostly because of safety across PCH. If anything, it seems like the need is greater than ever, given the increased traffic density on PCH. George Wolfberg, who was a wise man, has pushed for that feature ever since he was involved with the Potrero project. Sue

  3. John St says:

    Thanks for this great historical overview. In the early 1980s, while with Gruen Associates, I lead a team which prepared a “Beach Properties Improvement Plan” for all beaches owned or operated by the Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors.This plan, which was initiated to upgrade facilities in anticipation of the 1984 Olympics, included a proposal to renovate the Sunspot Motel, build a pedestrian overpassing of PCH and provide interpretive information about The Long Wharf.
    On another matter, I just finished reading The Backyard Bomber of Pacific Palisades by Martha French Patterson which provides very interesting information about their ownership of a large portion of Potrero Canyon .
    Keep up the good work,
    John Stutsman

  4. susan says:

    Big piece of history missing in this timeline is the 1994 rock topple that took out the Sunspot. and the subsequent geotechnical engineering to buttress the entire slopes along Friends Street. That rockfall and the subsequent buttress changed the history significantly and the route to build a bridge.

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