September 2019: Palisades Fire Arson Investigation: Potrero Canyon Needs Additional $4.6 Million

Fire crews continued to work along Palisades Drive on October 22.

Question: How many fires were reported in the Highlands this fall?

A brush fire was reported west of Calle De Palermo on the western edge of the Highlands around 2:16 p.m. on September 13. According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the preliminary report was “One and half acres of brush burning uphill in medium to heavy brush.”

The second fire was reported on September 30, and burned between apartments located on Sunset Boulevard and near Calvary Christian School.

The fire covered about two acres and burned uphill toward Paseo Miramar. According to LAFD, the fire was “threatening homes (number unknown) at the top of the hill. Air Ops water drops are currently focused on the homes and defending them while firefighters work to get through the brush to continue extinguishment at the head of the fire.”

The third fire, called the Palisades Fire, was reported on October 21 at 800 Palisades Dr. and burned 42 acres. According to LAFD, “Investigators have determined this fire to have been incendiary (arson) and continue to work what remains an open investigation.”

Answer: Three.

Bureau of Engineering showed the Rec and Parks Facility Repair and Maintenance Commission photos of why more money was needed to complete grading.

Question: Why was an additional $3.9 million requested for Potrero Canyon to complete grading for the eventual park?

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. “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?” That’s almost a 34 percent overage of the funds allotted for grading.

What the public was not told was that this was the second overage requested. 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.

(Editor’s note: The “final” grading project was put out to bid by the 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. OHL won the bid.) 

More money was requested for extra evacuation of the 46-acre park, because City engineers said there was saturated soil from rain last winter, and the soil contained unsuitable material and undocumented fill. Isn’t this where the City trucked soil from Caruso’s Palisades Village garage excavation?

The need for the extra money cuts into future landscaping funds and effectively eliminates any hope of a pedestrian bridge over PCH, paid for via Potrero funds accumulated from the sale of City-owned property along the canyon’s rim.

Answer: There needs to be an accounting of the funds. Someone in the City should be held accountable for the cost overruns and the reason that this park, which began construction in 1985 and was supposed to be completed in 1990 at a cost of $3 million, has not been finished. Rec and Parks Commissioner Joe Halper (who lives in Pacific Palisades) has asked for a Program Evaluation Review Technique chart, with start dates, completion dates, the cost of the elements and any interdependency going forward. So far it has not been produced.

The red car was in the left lane, which is supposed to turn left. Instead, it turned onto PCH, nearly missing the car next to it.

Question: Why do drivers make illegal turns off Chautauqua onto Pacific Coast Highway?

All PCH traffic is supposed to be restricted to the right-hand lane, either north or southbound onto PCH. The left lane is restricted to people turning left onto W. Channel Road. Unfortunately, the signal at that crazy intersection is exceptionally long, so quite often cars in the right lane are backed up beyond the downhill curve. It can sometimes take two or three signal changes to reach the intersection.

Councilman Mike Bonin’s Field Deputy Lisa Cahill wrote a July 24 follow-up report to the Community Council regarding “Potential redesign of Chautauqua and PCH intersection.” She noted that “much of this is a state/Caltrans issue. The city has done a great deal on our end to improve the intersection. The Councilmember has asked that his Transportation Deputy, Eric Bruins, put together a task force to help ensure that these other agencies work together to find solutions.”

Community Council Secretary Chris Spitz wrote: “In early September, I wrote to Lisa and Eric Bruins, CD 11 Transportation Deputy, for an update on this matter (and other topics in Lisa’s July report). Eric replied in an email to us on Sept. 5:

“For PCH/Chautauqua, Mike will be sending a letter to the Caltrans District 7 Director requesting that he take a series of actions in coordination with LADOT and our office. Lisa or I will keep PPCC in the loop.”

Following this, Cahill indicated that she would be providing an oral update to the Board at an upcoming meeting (we haven’t had that yet).

Answer: Some self-important drivers in the left-hand lane, who are supposed to turn onto Channel Road, cut into the middle of the intersection to gain access to southbound PCH. This causes people in the right lane to miss their turn getting through on the short green light. Anger ensues! There have been numerous emails, lots of suggestions, and the Councilman’s office is putting together a task force.

Lee Calvert, who was a member of the Optimist Club and worked with Arnie on the Fourth of July parade and Jackie Maduff, Arnie’s wife, are by the plaque that was dedicated on September 24.

Question: Why was a brass plaque dedicated to  Arnie Wishnick in the Village Green?

Answer: Arnie Wishnick, the 25-year executive director of the Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce, was also a long-time member of the Village Green Board, the triangular park located between Sunset, Swarthmore and Antioch. In honor of Wishnick, who died in the spring, a brass plaque was dedicated on the Village Green on September 24.

Question: Why was trash overflowing in front of the library?

Residents used to send donations to the Chamber of Commerce to help hire Chrysalis workers to keep the trash picked up in the Village area (and to empty trash cans in the Marquez area and around the high school).

When the Chamber of Commerce, under new leadership, announced that it was out of the trash business, this left several areas without pickup, including the library.

Answer: Friends of the Palisades Library board members Laura Schneider and Nina Kidd emptied the trash themselves. The Palisades Pit Stop clean and sanitized the bins and the Friends arranged for a Palisades PRIDE gardener to remove the trash.

Then the Community Council became involved.   Secretary Chris Spitz contacted L.A. Sanitation’s Bill Musselman and wrote in a September 12 email: “We have decided that we would like the City/Sanitation to remove the old concrete bin and replace it with the black ALB as soon as possible, with trash collection by Sanitation to occur weekly (or more, depending on the level of trash that you find).”

Now the City empties the sole trash bin several times a week. Problem solved, thanks to local activists.

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