MINUTES FOR MARCH 9th 2017
Voting members in attendance: Maryam Zar, Richard Cohen, George Wolfberg, Chris Spitz, Lou Kamer, David Kaplan, Sue Kohl, Cathy Russell, Danielle Samulon, Barbara Marinacci, Dick Wulliger, Richard Blumenberg, Sarah Conner, Gil Dembo, Katie Braude, Rick McGeagh, Leiauna Anderson, Rick Mills, David Card, Peter Culhane.
Voting alternates: Andrew Wolfberg, Susan Payne.
Non-voting advisors and alternates: Kevin Niles, Brian Deming, Barbara Kohn, Carol Bruch, Bruce Schwartz, Andy Frew, Ted Mackie.
- Certification of Quorum. The Chair Maryam Zar called the meeting to order at 7:03pm and certified that a quorum was present.
- Reading of Community Council’s Mission Statement. Brian Deming read the Council’s Mission.
- Introduction of the Board and Audience. The board and audience were introduced. Reza Akef explained from the audience that he was not attending the meeting as a board member (Area 8 Alternate Andrew Wolfberg was in attendance in Reza’s place as the voting member).
- Approval of Minutes & Upcoming Meetings. 1) Approval of Minutes: Maryam deemed the minutes of February 23, 2017 (as distributed on March 9, 2017) approved. 2) Upcoming Meetings: 3/23/17: 1) Caruso Village Project report and Q/A; 2) Shell Station discussion and possible motion. 4/13/17: 1) WRAC-recommended motions regarding density; 2) Moku Sushi CUB; 3) appointment of Nominating Committee for PPCC officer nominees. 4/27/17: 1) PPTFH Count report; 2) (tentative) Bylaws amendments (first distribution). 5/11/17: 1) (tentative) Bylaws amendments discussion and vote; 2) (tentative) Bernheimer Gardens new property owners; 3) Nominating Committee announcement. 5/25/17: 1) MKPOA/PPCL presentation; 2) City Attorney as guest.
- Consideration of Agenda. Maryam announced that the Agenda is as distributed.
- Treasurer’s report. Richard Cohen reported that PPCC has a bank account balance of $41,764. There was one significant transaction: PPCC received a $2,000 contribution from Morgan Stanley, Richard’s employer, in honor of Richard’s volunteer service of many years.
- Reports, Announcements and Concerns
7.1.From the Chair
7.1.1. Maryam welcomed the newly-appointed representative for Canyon Elementary School, Leiauna Anderson, as the Education Representative on the board. Leiauna replaces the former representative Dustin Hall, who due to work commitments is unable to continue serving in this capacity. Maryam thanked Dustin for his service.
7.1.2. Regarding the recent election results, Maryam reported that Mike Bonin has been re-elected as our Councilman; there will be a runoff for the LAUSD District 4 seat between Steve Zimmer and Nick Melvoin; and Measure H passed while Measure S failed.
7.1.3. Regarding Morgan Stanley, this was a $2,000 contribution from the Morgan Stanley Foundation. Maryam thanked Richard Cohen for his steady volunteer service to the board and Morgan Stanley for its generous contribution. A letter of thanks will be sent.
7.2. From Officers
7.2.1. Chris Spitz (Chair/President Emeritus): Chris reported that the Board of Public Works yesterday denied the adjacent property owners’ appeal of issuance of a Coastal Development Permit for the temporary pole top distributing station (TPTDS) at Sunset and Marquez. CD11 Westside District Director Debbie Dyner Harris attended the hearing and asked Chris to let the PPCC board know that the Board of Public Works indicated its concern with infrastructure projects that benefit the community; that work will not immediately commence on the PTDS because there are additional processes that must play out first; and that LADWP stated at the hearing that it is happy to continue conversations with the adjacent property owners. We received a Notice of Permit Issuance today, which indicates that the Coastal permit is issued and will become effective in 20 days unless a further appeal is filed. The project is also subject to dual jurisdiction under the Coastal Act and will require an additional permit from the California Coastal Commission.
7.3. From At-Large and Area Reps
7.3.1. Peter Culhane (Area 2). Peter reported that there is an ongoing list of things to do in the Highlands and around town, and that he, Lou Kamer and Brian Deming are joining forces to get work done. They will keep everyone posted.
7.3.2. Lou Kamer (At Large). Lou reported that there will be a Chautauqua cleanup a week from Sunday at 8am; the goal is to make the pedestrian path walk-able so that it isn’t a trip hazard. He explained that this work will be outside of PPCC and is part of an ongoing process in which members of this board will help out and try to find what they can do themselves instead of waiting for the City to act. Many people have volunteered and want to work. He also reported that after hauling is over, they will think about talking to the City about further improvements on Chautauqua so that the roadway and vegetation can be a wonderful entrance to the Palisades. Lou will also be talking about pedestrian safety and crosswalks at a future PPCC meeting.
7.3.3 (Add-on item) Sue Kohl (Area 5). Sue announced that she has sent out notice to Alphabets Street residents for addresses with sidewalk trip hazards; she received 25-30 such addresses. The City is coming out on March 15 to do repair work. They do not fill potholes; they put asphalt over sidewalks which have been raised up and are a trip hazard due to tree roots. The work is to make sidewalks safe for pedestrians. Any addresses that are not completed will be added to the list for the next scheduled repair date.
7.4. From Organizational Reps
7.4.1. Rick McGeagh (PPBA). Rick announced that the annual PPBA Pancake Breakfast and Opening Day ceremonies will take place at the Palisades Rec. Center on March 11. The Pancake Breakfast is from 7:30-10:30am and Opening ceremonies are at 9:30am. Breakfast tickets are $5 and all proceeds benefit PPBA. Keanu Reeves will throw out the first ball.
7.4.2. Sarah Conner (PPRA). Sarah announced that PPRA was at the appeal hearing for the TPTDS. She reported that PPRA supports a pad-mounted alternative and maintains that the TPTDS was erected without notification or proper permits. PPRA’s position is that a pad-mount would be economically feasible, can be done quickly and would reduce visible blight. There will likely be an appeal by the adjacent property owners, which PPRA will support. PPRA encourages the community to switch to LED lighting and to consider getting (variable speed) pool motors since rebates are available. There may be as many as five additional TPTDS coming in the Palisades and PPRA believes we need alternative solutions. Brian Deming added that support for the pad-mounted alternative is not an effort to revive locating the TPTDS near Marquez Charter School. Maryam stated that she has invited the owners of the adjacent Bernheimer lot and LADWP representatives to attend our May 11 board meeting to present information, unless the issue is moot by then.
7.4.3. Richard Blumenberg (PPCL). Richard advised that the City Council yesterday passed the R1 Variation Zones for Pacific Palisades. The Council also voted the week before to pass the BMO-BHO Amendments. Once signed by the Mayor the ordinances will go into effect. Maps of the areas affected and information showing the restrictions can be found on the Planning or Neighborhood Conservation websites.
7.4.4. David Card (PP Rotary). David announced that Rustic Canyon Recreation Center will host its annual free Spring Festival and first annual Crafters Fair on April 15, from 11am-2pm (Festival) and 11am-4pm (Crafters Fair). David explained that in addition to being the Rotary Club representative to PPCC, he is also a member of the Rustic Canyon Park Advisory Board and has therefore been reporting on Rustic Canyon Park events.
7.4.5. (Add-on item) Gil Dembo (TCA). Gil announced that TCA has a new Facebook page, www.facebook.com/temescalcanyonassociation.
7.4.6. (Add-on item) Susan Payne (Chamber of Commerce). Susan reported that the Chamber is hosting a new event this year, the Distinguished Speaker Series. The next event is on March 30, 8am at Pepperdine. The speaker will be Brendan Jacobson, Google Strategic Partnerships Manager. Pepperdine will provide breakfast. Tickets are $35/Chamber members, $45/general admission.
7.5 From Governmental Representatives
7.5.1. Michael Moore – Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”), SLO – Not present.
7.5.2. Sharon Shapiro – Office of Councilman Mike Bonin, Field Deputy – Not present.
7.5.3. Stephanie Cohen – Office of Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Field Representative – Not present.
7.6. From PPCC Advisors – None.
- Reports from Committees.
8.1. VPCLU (David Kaplan, Co-Chair). David gave an update on the Caruso Village Project construction. He explained that the appeal of the Caruso signs by certain residents with LADBS was dismissed, and another appeal by these residents filed with the Public Works Department was in turn also dismissed. Caruso will be getting involved with local schools for a contest to select kids’ art to be placed on the fencing; Caruso VP Michael Gazzano will attend our March 23 board meeting to describe more about what they intend to do. Vintage Grocers will also come before us with their CUB application at a future date. David reminded the board that as part of PPCC’s approval of the project last year, we had suggested that Caruso start a fund to help with projects, particularly in the business district; Caruso has now agreed to donate $9,000 to the Park Advisory Board to help with addition of new parking. David also reported that Michael Gazzano advises that the hauling has been successful so far and will be done by end of this month if not sooner.
- General Public Comment. Marge Gold announced that the Village Green will be “yarn-bombed” in honor of National Women’s History Month. She encouraged local schools to bring students to view the displays. Leiauna Anderson (new PPCC Education rep) will endeavor to let schools know about the project. Daphne Gronich, PAPA President, reported that the first Parade volunteer meeting this year will take place next Monday at the American Legion at 6:30pm. All interested in becoming volunteers are welcome to attend. Bill Bruns stated that the new library bookstore will be larger than the old Village Books space and should generate a lot of money for the library.
- Old Business – None.
- New Business –
11.1. Friends of the Library. Presentation by Laurel Garver and Rick Leslie, AIA. Laurel chairs the library bookstore and previously received the PPCC Golden Sparkplug award for her efforts. The new bookstore is an expanded version of the original bookstore. The Friends have been using an outdoor space on the patio to sell books, CDs and DVDs. They received a generous bequest from a longtime member, Jimmy Mitchell, which allows them to break ground on a larger interior bookstore. City approvals are required and there is a March 20 hearing with the Planning Dept. Laurel explained that the Friends are asking for PPCC to support the project. Rick Leslie is the project architect; he gave a brief presentation on the architectural plans and design. The new bookstore will be 1,100 sq. ft., much larger than the patio area, and will fill a triangular space inside between the teen and children’s sections, in back of the check-out desk. Sale proceeds will support library programs and supplement the purchase of books and materials for the library. Construction will take about 8 months; library services and use will remain the same during construction.
George Wolfberg made the following motion, seconded by Andrew Wolfberg: “PPCC supports the creation of a new bookstore within the Palisades Library.” The motion passed unanimously.
Chris Spitz then made a motion, seconded by Andrew Wolfberg, to add the following language to the previous motion: “We find the proposed bookstore to be a positive addition to the Palisades and understand that the proceeds from sales will continue to support library programs and supplement the purchase of books and materials for the Palisades Branch library.” The motion also passed unanimously.
11.2. Earlham Construction Project (15210, 15214 & 15218 Earlham). Invited to present: Reza Akef (developer) with soils engineer Dr. Hans Hoek (geologist with Byer Geotechnical) and grading engineer Jeffrey Wilson (geologist with the LADBS Grading Division); neighbors Brett Bjornson, Hart Levin, Mike Sultan and Randi & Paul Frisch. Maryam announced that Reza had recused himself as a board member and was attending the meeting as developer of the projects at the above addresses. Reza explained that the projects were started in 2014, when he sought to create homes on the site that blend in with the community. He submitted plans to the City for required structural and engineering study and approval. He selected Byer Geotechnical as the geologist for the projects. Byer has worked for over 45 years in the field, is very well-respected and one of the best in the region. Together with his geologist, Reza answered all questions the City had, including questions from the head of the LADBS Grading Division. Reza also met with community members many times, on over 6 occasions in the last year. He mailed 32 letters to his neighborhood about a community meeting in July. He explained that he is at the board meeting tonight because there has been a lot of misinformation and confusion about the projects and he wants to have a productive conversation and reach a solution. Reza showed the board plans of the three homes he plans to build. He reduced the roofline/height on two of the residences at the community’s request. On the third residence he had to add a bedroom on the roof due to the slope of the property but he did bring the roofline down. Reza explained these were four lots originally, not one lot; in the past the community has said it wants less density so he decided to take the four lots and make them into three 12,000 sq. ft. lots, which the Planning Dept. approved. Each home is about 6500 sq. ft. with a 3000 sq. ft. basement (which brings each to about 10,000 sq. ft.). The basement level is tucked under the dirt that no one will see. Reza explained that had he built two stories at street level he would have had to build a 10 ft. high retaining wall. He has lowered the heights as much as possible and pushed the projects deeper into the canyon, so that less is seen but more exists. Reza explained that the heights are lower than what is allowed under the Municipal Code, everything is minimized and no variances are sought.
Jeffrey Wilson of the LADBS Grading Division then spoke regarding geologic issues. He explained that he has been with the department for 11 years as a geologist. He has primary responsibility for review of geological and grading reports and is concerned for the safety of development in the community. Mr. Wilson advised that he is responsible for reviewing these projects. He is aware of the Potrero Canyon landslides and the City’s project to fill the Canyon to protect homes. The hillsides are now buttressed by fill, which protects the rim properties. The projects at issue are not relying on fill but instead are relying on friction piles being placed into bedrock. Mr. Wilson further stated that that is the standard practice, and the consulting geologist and City inspector have in fact determined where the bedrock is.
Reza then distributed a rendering showing rooflines of the projects viewed from the top down. He stated that the design of these homes minimizes impacts and that he has gone beyond the setbacks required by Coastal; most of the setbacks will be 10 feet. There will be larger open spaces between homes and increased green space. He is using less than 33% of the lots for the construction and is trying to do 60% landscaping around the homes, taking into account deed restrictions. Reza noted that this has been an extremely difficult process to go through. He must provide lateral support, including shoring with I-beams and lagging to support traffic overload on the adjacent street, and he must post a $250,000 bond. The lateral support work must be done before drilling starts for caissons and friction piles for the homes. Reza explained that he wants to be transparent and to answer any and all questions openly.
Neighbor Brett Bjornson spoke next. He passed out maps and showed posters of geologic conditions on Earlham. He disputed that there is now a 27% slope and spoke about drill holes being in 3 spots from which a 27% slope was assumed. He also showed pictures of the area from years ago showing a steep 80% slope. He discussed geologic activity near his home and at 15206 Earlham. Brett stated that at the bottom of the canyon there is a pond created by the fill. He maintains that there is no certified fill where Reza proposes to build. Brett also explained that he doubts the current geological report.
Soils Engineer Dr. Hans Hoek then explained that he is a geologist with Byer Geotechnical and wrote the geological report. He is a licensed geologist with a PhD in geology. He stated that Brett Bjornson’s assertions have little to do with geology and design. The arguments are based on surveys that were done in 1960s, 70s and 80s, before grading started. There are many detailed maps with contours of the canyon which show streams at different times. Dr. Hoek explained that Byer considered all that information and drilled 8 boring holes to look for bedrock. He stated that bedrock can be recognized in the borings. They identified where the bedrock was based on the 8 borings and interpolated where it was supposed to be. The slope is measured from the bottom where bedrock is found. The flatter the slope the more conservative the approach. Dr. Hoek disputed Brett’s presentation regarding the existing slope. He noted that no geologist has submitted a letter supporting Brett’s conclusions. Dr. Hoek stated that he has read all the reports and studies and the facts support his position regarding the geologic conditions. According to Dr. Hoek, all the homes will be completely supported by bedrock.
Neighbor Mike Sultan then spoke, noting that Reza’s father started 10 years ago trying to build four homes at the site, but those homes were never built. Mike maintained that instability has been a problem on Earlham for many years and that landslide no. 5 has never been removed under the Earlham bluffs. He stated that there are numerous reports from state agencies and from John Byer in the past regarding geologic conditions; Byer previously stated in a letter that nothing could be built there. Mike showed pictures of Potrero Canyon in the past and said that he believed dirt in tributary canyons has never been compacted or certified. The past pictures show a steep drop. Mike also opposes the projects due to their size. In his opinion a home of 10,000 sq. ft. on the bluff is out of character. He believes the homes will be four stories high on the backside. Mike explained that Reza has provided a wider view corridor but is allowed to build 1600 to 1800 sq. ft. more because of the expanded view corridor. Mike said that residents don’t want the view corridor. He is also concerned about conflicting geological reports, and he read from the 1993 letter from Byer. Mr. Wilson explained that since that letter was written, the canyon has been buttressed to a higher degree and made safer. Mike replied that the 1993 Recreation and Parks report regarding the finger canyon concluded that the bluffs can’t be certified for further development. Mr. Wilson reiterated that conditions have changed since then; the recent buttressing of the slope with fill creates safer conditions. Dr. Hoek added that originally it was believed there would not be structural fill; now in order to build a house the developer has to go 80 ft. down until piles are supported in the bedrock below; John Byer did not realize 20 years ago that people would be drilling holes for piles.
Maryam Zar noted that based on what has been explained the homes don’t rely on fill but on bedrock for support. She indicated that she understands the City will be regularly monitoring the progress of construction and asked whether residents distrust the City to do its work correctly. Brett replied that residents do distrust the City and he suggested that negligence or improper activity by the geologists is involved. Mike added that he wants assurances from the City and from a 3rd party geologist, although he also acknowledged that Reza has been transparent and has worked with the community.
David Kaplan, Area 6 rep, explained that this body is not going to issue any determination or make any statement to allow these projects to be built or not to be built. That is not our purpose or role. The intent here is to give everyone an opportunity to describe their positions and help them perhaps come to a resolution. It is not our intent to force anything down anyone’s throat, nor do we have a dog in this fight. David stated that he understands that there were written statements in the past that nothing should be built here, which may or may not be true now. In the event the degree of slope is 80% as some say, and holes are dug and it is determined that the bedrock is actually 50 ft. farther down than originally believed, that will be addressed by City monitoring. David suggested that if this occurs, pilings could be built to connect to bedrock no matter where the bedrock is located.
Brett then questioned the geologist’s interpolation of where bedrock is located and suggested the boring holes were strategically placed. Maryam asked why Dr. Hoek drilled in those particular spots. Dr. Hoek explained that they drilled 8 holes and the previous borings were done in different places. He tried to locate the bottom of the landslide and to get enough information to know where the bedrock is located. He did not strategically place borings to obtain the desired result.
Paul Green, a resident on Earlham, then spoke. He remembers an 80% slope in the past and believes there cannot be bedrock at 40 ft. Another resident, Chip Houghton, stated that there are many issues; this isn’t all black and white. He believes there is a need to follow through with concerns and he wants to make sure it’s done the right way.
Richard Cohen explained that PPCC does not take positions on residential projects such as this. We don’t normally consider by-right, single family construction and we aren’t capable of analyzing geology. Richard stated that we are fortunate to have highly respected professionals Mr. Wilson and Dr. Hoek at our meeting and it is inappropriate for anyone in attendance to use words like “negligence” or to suggest improper activity in connection with the geologists’ work. We should appreciate their having come to our meeting to provide information and to answer the community’s questions.
Andrew Wolfberg asked if there will be a drain installed and how will it make the projects safer for the community. Dr. Hoek replied that there will be a drain; currently there is erosion because of lack of a drain, but that condition will be fixed.
David Card remarked that there is curb drain at the bottom of Earlham, which was the cause of the Potrero landslide problem years ago. He asked what is happening with the curb drain. Rick Mills then stated that he assumes there are a host of conditions on the grading permits; as construction progresses and inspectors monitor the situation, any issues that arise such as bedrock variance will be addressed to meet grading requirements.
Regarding David Card’s question, Reza responded that he met with former Potrero Canyon project manager Rob Hancock of BOE. Reza posted a $250,000 bond and will be redrawing and building the curb storm drain and connecting it with the canyon storm drain. He must do significant dirt removal at the site. He also negotiated with Rob Hancock for the City to allow 450 truckloads of dirt to go directly into the canyon rather than be hauled from the site using residential streets.
Regarding Rick Mills’ statement, Reza explained that both Byer and the City Grading Division have reviewed all letters submitted by Brett. They have determined that the arguments in these letters have no merit and are irrelevant. A geological report was issued by Byer and set forth many conditions, including provisions for lateral support. As the projects progress, the City will monitor the situation and if there are any issues the projects will be halted until the problems can be resolved.
Brett advised that the projects will be appealed and he will not spend money on a geologist. David Kaplan encouraged all parties to work together to try and work out something that satisfies everyone. Susan Payne remarked that the information presented by Brett regarding geology was confusing and the neighbors should retain a geologist to do a geological report in order to substantiate their arguments. Rick Mills reiterated that the City will do its job and monitor the projects and if there are unforeseen conditions, Reza will be required to meet them. Maryam inquired whether the board was interested in taking any action or position in regard to these projects; no motion was made to take any board action or position.
- Adjournment. Maryam adjourned the meeting at 9:04 pm.