Draining the Palisades Highlands ‘Swamp’

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

As Highlands resident Peter Culhane drove up Palisades Drive, he noticed a piece of plywood sticking up along the road. He pulled over to take care of the litter, but also found himself in the middle of a swamp. (He found water on both sides of the road, less than a mile from Sunset Boulevard near the first cell-tower pole.)

Thus began an odyssey to drain this swamp.

On August 8, the News met with Culhane (who represents the Highlands on the Pacific Palisades Community Council), Palisades Highlands Presidents Council President David Dwyer and Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness member Bruce Schwartz to look at the stagnant water along the roadway.

Recent news reports had noted that the Zika virus had been found in Long Beach and also in Pasadena. “I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any larvae here,” said Culhane, who alerted Lisa Cahill in Councilman Mike Bonin’s office.

A February Los Angeles Times article reported “The mosquitoes are now found in California, with particularly dense infestations in the San Gabriel Valley.”

Highlands resident Peter Culhane found standing water along Palisades Drive, and then
discovered that drains and culverts were plugged and needed to be cleaned.

Two months later, the California Department of Public Health reported 534 infections as of April. Of those, 111 were pregnant women, with five infections resulting in birth defects. Jason Farned of the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District said, “No community anywhere on the planet has successfully been able to eradicate them. We were really trying to be the first. They’re pretty much here to stay.”

The disease is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which are not native to the United States, but showed up in El Monte in shipments of bamboo from Southeast Asiaabout 15 years ago.

Officials agree that the first line of defense against Zika is mosquito control. Culhane, Dwyer and Schwartz said Cahill was responsive and instantly sent a team from the L.A. County West Vector District to make sure there were no larvae in the standing water. None were found.

The challenge was now how to keep that area free from mosquitoes, which meant getting rid of the standing water. Most drivers on Palisades Drive are focused on the road, and likely don’t notice the standing water.

Dwyer, who grew up in the Palisades, believes water comes down Santa Ynez creek to the Highlands “near the reservoir, where it enters a large pipe, which takes the water under Palisades Drive to the low-flow diversion device” near the Self-Realization Center.

But is this where the water is coming from? Dwyer said this area, now Palisades Drive, was not only a natural creek bed, but also had underground springs that fed the creek.

Additionally, there appears to be water runoff from the residential hillsides (possibly from over-irrigation) as well as from natural springs in Santa Ynez Canyon.

There are concrete ditches on each side of Palisades Drive that divert water into about 20 drains.

Unfortunately, the drains and ditches haven’t been cleaned in about 13 to 15 years, according to Dwyer. Schwartz said that during the multi-year drought, homeless individuals lived in some of the concrete areas and left belongings.

The ditches have also become dumping areas. The News spotted tires, a computer monitor, a chair, a sign and just general garbage—all of which stopped the water from running into a larger drainage culvert. Plants were also growing out of the mud-filled ditches. Stagnant water could be seen in several areas.

The Highlands Presidents Council pays about $200 a month to a private company to pick up litter and car parts left along the city roadway, but something needed to be done about the concrete ditches and channels.

Peter Culhane (left) and Bruce Schwartz look at the debris, which included a computer
monitor, trash and bricks, which had plugged the drain.

Cahill told the News in an August 9 email about an upcoming clean-up effort: “This is an extensive project [that] will take about a month to complete. LASAN [L.A. Sanitation] has been incredibly helpful on this and will hopefully have crews therewithin the next couple of weeks to begin preliminary work and to determine staging for larger equipment. The major work should begin by the end of August.”

Cahill also reassured Culhane, Dwyer and Schwartz, “When we called out Vector Control last time, there was no sign of any mosquitoes and they do have the basins on their list to continue to check.”

She also asked Vector Control to check the basins next to Michael Lane (above the Casa Nostra mini-plaza), and noted that she had talked to Kent Carlson, Sanitation Wastewater Manager I, about the basins. “They will take some additional time to address as they require special equipment and staging the parking lot [with equipment to clean the drains].”

Culhane, Dwyer and Schwartz gave Cahill kudos for listening to their concerns
and for moving so quickly.

One mystery remains about the road. Two three-inch cores have been drilled in the pavement at 800 Palisades Dr. (less than a mile up the road). Water is flowing out of these holes, along the road and downhill towards a drain.

Is that water another spring under the road or is it a leak from the pipe that carries water from Santa Ynez creek? Will it affect the roadway, which is cracked in several places in that area? Cahill responded to these questions.

“I called our DWP liaison and here’s what I found out about the holes on Palisades Drive. This location has been previously investigated and found to be ground water.

This has been ongoing at that location for a long time. It is my understanding from our DWP rep that the holes are acting as relief for the ground water so that it does not cause damage under the street.”

Culhane reported on August 14, “As I drove up Palisades Drive at noon today, I stopped at the swamp and was absolutely delighted to see crew chief, Elton who had already done a ton of work.” Culhane said.

“The progress made to date is so demonstrative, one could now see the bottom of those concrete swale; the bottoms have not seen daylight in decades. Elton said the crew really have their work cut out for them.”

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