Potrero Park Will Open: Guess the Latest Date

By Sarah Stockman
Staff Writer

Since 1984 the City of L.A. has been attempting to turn unstable Potrero Canyon into a public park, extending from the Palisades Recreation Center down to Pacific Coast Highway. It seems as if almost every year or so, the project completion date gets pushed back further and further. This year is no exception.

Back in 2011, the ribbon-cutting date for Potrero Park was predicted for 2017. The News has learned that the new completion date is sometime in 2020, more than 30 years since the project’s original predicted completion date of 1989.

Mary Nemick, director of communications for the Department of Public Works, cites a permitting issue for the latest delay. 

People will be able to enter Potrero Park off Frontera Drive at the Recreation Center. Photo: Matthew Stockman

“The recent delays have been related to the city’s effort to build a section of the park near PCH,” Nemick said. “Originally, we planned to purchase the adjacent land from the owner, Caltrans. However, the timeline for that would have been too long.”

Instead, the city applied for an encroachment permit from Caltrans, but this has also proved complicated. “The process for securing the permit has taken multiple submittals to the state,” Nemick said. “We are now submitting our application for a third time.”

The new schedule places park completion sometime in 2020. The remaining construction, including grading and landscaping, is projected to cost $25.6 million.

Potrero Canyon originally became a problem in the 1950s when houses along the rim began sliding into the canyon. At the time, the canyon was privately owned, but the city acquired it in 1964 through eminent domain. Despite the continued slipping of homes, the city did nothing to resolve the issue until neighbors filed a $75-million lawsuit.

In response to the lawsuit, the city purchased 14 properties on Alma Real and DePauw and announced a plan to install a drainage system in the canyon, fill the canyon (about 80 feet high above PCH), and then build a passive-recreation park.

The estimated cost was $3 million, the start date was 1984 and the completion date was 1989. However, by 1990 only the drainage system had been completed.

The second phase of the project, which involved hauling in dirt and grading the canyon, began in earnest in 1990 and continued until 2004, when the project was brought to an abrupt halt because funding ran out.

After creating the Potrero Canyon Advisory Committee in 2004 and then spending years trying to find money to complete the project, the city decided to gradually auction the 20-plus residential lots that it owned along the rim of the canyon.

Grading construction resumed in 2011 with a guarantee by then-Councilman Bill Rosendahl that the ribbon-cutting for Potrero Park would take place in 2017.

In 2016, Caruso’s Palisades Village project began hauling dirt to Potrero from the excavation for the three-level parking structure, an arrangement that benefitted both projects by greatly shortening the necessary haul routes.

“The construction of the park is currently projected to be completed in December 2017,” Nemick told the News in August 2016. At that time, the estimated completion cost was $30.5 million.

As December 2017 approaches, it is clear that the completion date for this long-awaited park must again be adjusted.

The News contacted Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office, and his new spokeswoman Jamarah Hayner responded:

“Thanks to 122,000 cubic yards of dirt from the Palisades Village project, we are moving ahead with the construction of Potrero on schedule,” Hayner said. “[We] have recently received a permit from Caltrans that will allow us to continue our progress and complete the project on time in 2020.”

This permit Hayner refers to is a conditional encroachment permit, since a permanent Caltrans permit has yet to be approved.

Nemick says this permit will help construction continue on schedule while the city submits its third permanent permit request to Caltrans. “This should help keep things on track as we move closer to the start of construction,” Nemick said.

According to Nemick, the latest estimated start of construction is summer 2018, with the completion date sometime in 2020.

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