Residents Win—For Now

By MICHELE ADAMS

Special to the Palisades News

 

Standing at the base of the lot and looking up a steep, cliff-like slope that climbs 115 feet above the street, it’s hard to imagine the proposed single-family home at 1345 Paskenta as anything but outrageous, risky and inconceivable. The property consists of a mostly 1:1 (100%) slope and is virtually unbuildable. It was created as a by-product when the road from upper Chautauqua to the Marinette-Oracle subdivision was developed in the 1950s.

To build the home, practically the entire hillside would need to be removed. The excavation of 6,045 cubic yards of earth exceeds the code maximum by nearly 4,500 cubic yards. In an effort to hold the hillside in place, a series of foundations and retaining walls—approximately 150 feet long and 50-60 feet above grade—would need to be built. To accomplish the excavation, an estimated 850 round-trips by 10-wheeler dump trucks would transport the earth material from Paskenta down along the narrow, winding neighborhood streets of Chautauqua and Drummond to Sunset. The hauling alone would take about six months and street parking would be prohibited along the one-mile route.

The dangers of haul routes in hillside areas are well documented as developers game the system using loopholes and exemptions to push excavation limits well beyond code maximums. In the past two years, for example, there have been three deadly accidents involving construction trucks on the narrow hillside streets of Beverly Hills.

About a dozen Paskenta-adjacent neighbors received a notice from the City days before an April 5 hearing for a haul-route approval and an exemption from required CEQA environmental studies. With little time to prepare, a group of us attended the hearing, hoping the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners would listen to our concerns. Fortunately, a technicality worked in our favor and the Board was forced to continue the matter until May 10. This gave us time to gather factual information to educate the Board about the hazards and risks of the project. We also realized that we were dealing with a broken system and the various departments granting approvals didn’t communicate with each other.

Meanwhile, we mobilized a campaign to educate and rally residents from Oracle and Marinette all the way down to Sunset. At first, we took an old-school approach, passing out flyers, as we simultaneously built an online communications and information platform for our evolving group. The response was overwhelming and people came together with dedicated participation because they understood the severity and risks of the development and its impact on the neighborhood.

Thankfully, Councilman Mike Bonin shared our concerns, and just days before the May 10 hearing he was instrumental in getting the environmental exemption revoked by the Planning Department. The project can’t move forward until the full impacts of the proposal have been studied in a more public and transparent process. There is more work to be done, but the strength of our group continues to grow through our collaboration, combined talents and persistent drive. We’ll be ready for what comes next.

 

                (Michele Adams, a former editor at Martha Stewart Living, is leading The Coalition to Protect Paskenta Road.)

 

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