HISTORY OF GEORGE WOLFBERG PARK AT POTRERO CANYON
Why it is Important?
Land Acknowledgement to the Tongva Indian Tribe
Potrero Canyon is, together with the adjacent canyons, located on unceded ancestral land of the Comicrabit (Komee-krabit) settlement of the people now more broadly referred to as the Tongva (pronounced Toe-ng-Vay), often also associated as "Gabrielino-Tongva Indians" from the mission era. The people were known by many names, but "Tongva" is the word the majority call themselves today, because it means "people of the earth" and this is a common thread in the fabric that traces their lineage. Comicrabit sits between Topaanga to the west which aligns with the canyon bearing their name, and Kuruvaanga to our east, the settlement that surrounded the natural spring on the present University High School campus which is still protected and maintained by the Gabrielino/Tongva Springs Foundation. The Saangna settlement was just down the coast. We thank the people of these settlements and their descendants for their historical stewardship in this place. Even as we present this acknowledgement, we strongly encourage you to research these histories as well as the call by indigenous leaders to move "beyond land acknowledgement." Please see the bottom of the About page for links to more information to explore.
A History of Landslides and Erosion
George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon is located in Council District Eleven, above Will Rogers State Beach and the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades in the City of Los Angeles, California. Since severe erosion was first detected in 1933, about a dozen houses have tumbled into Potrero Canyon. By the early 1990s, many more had lost back yards or garages. Plans were laid at least three times since the mid-1950s to fill the void.
The park was purchased in 1964 by the Department of Recreation and Parks to provide coastal access to and from Palisades Park. The canyon historically included a natural watercourse through which run-off from the Santa Monica Mountains and runoff from the Palisades community was carried to the Pacific Ocean.
Abnormally high runoff from strong storms in 1978 and 1980 caused extensive erosion, landslides and slippages. Plans to address the site did not gain momentum until 1980 when 11 property owners sued Los Angeles officials, contending that mislaid city storm drains had undermined the mile-long canyon and their homes. That led the City to acquire twenty-two (22) damaged private properties along the canyon rim. The project “is important because the taxpayers would be subject to very substantial claims against the city if it weren’t done,” said then City Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district included the canyon. “And it will eventually be a spectacular and wonderful addition to the city’s park system.” At the time, cost estimates were over $25 million and were much debated.
Initially, it was thought the project would be completed by 1995. Since then, the Department of Recreation and Parks and Bureau of Engineering have worked with the California Coastal Commission to remediate the problems through a multi-phased project that has included the installation of a storm drain and subdrain system, buttressed landfill to support the canyon walls and eventually development of a riparian corridor and hiking trails within the canyon. In 2008, the work in Potrero Canyon involved the repair of two recent landslides and the final grading of approximately 300,000 cubic yards of stockpiled soil. This final grading was suspended due to a lack of funds. The cost to complete this project phase was estimated at $1.2 million including funds outstanding owed to the grading contractor.
A Vision of Restoration
A future riparian habitat restoration was planned proposing the creation of 7.38 acres of habitat on top of the newly filled canyon which would support the adjacent residential properties. This was planned to be the final phase of a multi-year and multi-phase endeavor to stabilize the collapsed coastal bluff system, bioremediate urban run-off, restore and expand the natural wildlife habitat in a coastal canyon. This was jointly recommended and approved by the City of Los Angeles and the State of California Coastal Commission. At the conclusion of this project, all storm and urban runoff entering the canyon, including new property-owner provided subdrainage systems on adjacent residential properties will be drained off-site to Will Rogers State Beach through a subsurface drain located at the base of the 100 foot high fill placed in the canyon. The restoration project will divert and filter the runoff before it reaches the beach. The cost estimates for the final phase of this project are between $7 and $12 million.
In the original State Coastal Commission project approval which occurred decades ago, the Commission placed restrictions on the sale of the City-owned adjacent residential lots until the riparian habitat and park construction requirements were completed and funding for inspection and maintenance had been identified. This condition was difficult to meet. In negotiations with Commission staff, the City sought permission to explore the sales some of the adjacent lots in order to fund the remainder of the work that needs to be completed. Commission staff have indicated that they would only be willing to consider this option if the City designates a specific and separate account into which the totality of all lot proceeds would be deposited. The account would be specifically designated to pay for all remaining development phases of the park and its restoration.
Prior to any properties along the canyon rim becoming available for resale, all health, safety and welfare safeguards needed to be certified. These safeguards and restrictions include, but are not limited to, City Building and Safety standards, individual property subdrainage systems linking into the City subdrainage system to prevent uncontrolled surface runoff into the canyon design restrictions, notification of geologic problems, and other conditions as identified by the Coastal Commission and the City of Los Angeles. Additionally, there was a desire in the community to create lot design standards that could be recorded on the individual lots as deed restrictions to facilitate compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. There was a great need to continue the canyon restoration and to complete the fill project that was in various phases of construction for a decade.
Creation of the Potrero Canyon Trust Fund and Community Advisory Committee
In 2008 the City Council, with approval of the Mayor, established the "Potrero Canyon Trust Fund" within Council District 11 to capture 100% of the property resale proceeds for the 22 lots adjacent to Potrero Canyon and to complete Phases II and III and attendant projects of the Potrero Canyon Park Restoration. It was allocated to the Bureau of Engineering. Also the General Manager of the General Services Department was authorized to sell City-owned lots on Alma Real to fund this Trust Fund, which was specifically to fund Potrero Canyon Park Restoration and related improvements. In addition, the Office of Council District Eleven, in conjunction with the Department of Recreation and Parks, Bureau of Engineering, Pacific Palisades Community Council and the Park Advisory Board for Palisades Recreation Center were authorized to appoint a "Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee" to work with the City to ensure community participation in the future development of the Potrero Canyon Park.
The park is finally complete! The riparian habitat will be irrigated by diverting and cleaning urban runoff and storm water flowing in the existing storm drain. Site specific native California plant species will be planted throughout the canyon to restore natural habitat. Walking paths will extend from the Palisades Recreation Center to the beach. An ADA compliant restroom will be installed in the northerly portion of the canyon with additional parking for Preserve visitors provided at the Palisades Recreation Center.