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MINUTES FROM OCTOBER 12th 2023 (Special Meeting)

1.   Call to Order and Reading of Community Council’s Mission.  The Mission of the community council was not read but explained by the President.

2.   Roll-call of Board members and Certification of Quorum

Board members present: Maryam Zar, David Card, Sue Kohl, Jenny Li, Beth Holden-Garland, Murray Levy, Haldis Toppel, Karen Ridgley, Betsy Handler, Quentin Fleming, Julie Silliman, Alan Goldsmith, John Padden, Genevieve Bostic, James Alexakis, Hagop Tchakerian, Courtney Macker, Reza Akef, Barbara Kohn, Andrew Wolfberg, Rick McGeagh, Cindi Young, Jessica Rogers.

3.   Introduction of attendees: NA

4.   Approval of Minutes:  NA

5.   Consideration of Agenda & Upcoming Meetings.
The agenda was considered as presented, with an explanation form the President as to the reason for the convening of the meeting.

6.   Treasurer’s Report: NA

7.   General Public Comment. 
There was no general public comment

8.   Reports, Announcements and Concerns.

8.1.   From the Chair/Presiding Officer

8.1.1.  NA

8.2.   From Officers and Chair Emeritus

8.2.1.   NA

8.3.   From At-Large and Area Representatives

8.3.1.   NA

8.4.   From Organizational Representatives

8.4.1.   NA

8.5.   From Government Offices / Representatives

8.5.1.   NA

8.6.   From PPCC Committees, Advisors and WRAC Representatives

8.6.1.   NA

9.   Reports from PPCC Committees.

9.1.   NA

10.   Old Business.

10.1.   The President introduced the reason for the meeting and presided over two hours of commentary focused on the bridge project, given that the next day (October 13) the Board of Public Works (BPW) would address an item on their agenda which would affirm the contract signed between LA City (Board of Engineering) and the chosen contractor for the implementation of the pre-design phase of the bridge. The PPCC Potrero Canyon Oversight Committee (PCOC) has been told the day before on a regular meeting call with CD11 that once the contract was signed, our community would be at a point of no return with respect to the forward movement of the bridge project, as this would begin the predesign phase of what would ultimately culminate in the bridge that connects the George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon to the County parking lot at Will Rogers (State) beach, overpassing PCH.  The President explained the committee had understood the outreach phase would be a process of meaningful outreach which would take into account the concerns and objections as well as the support and design ideas for the bridge, but since after the affirmation of the contract by the Board of Public Works, the project would presumably be set on a course to completion, she felt the PPCC owed the community a chance to be heard. She said she hoped all who were present on the call would speak on the project – whether in support or otherwise – and she opened the floor for discussion.

Alan Goldsmith (At-large 2nd Alternate) said that having reviewed the history of the project, he is struck by the fact that the CA Coastal Commission required an EIR and outreach prior to approval and did not see how the contract for the project could be approved without them. He suggested making a motion to oppose the bridge on the grounds that the conditions today are so radically different than they were in 2004 when this project was conceived (cited crime and public safety issues as well as current Park safety issues and lack of law enforcement resources). The President suggested we allow some more discussion and see if a friendly amendment to the motion on the agenda is appropriate. He also made the point that outreach has not yet been done and that some areas in the Palisades do not have HOA’s, so outreach specifically to those households would be important and in addition to the current list provided by PPCC to the Council office and SD24 (Office of Sen. Ben Allen).

Haldis Toppel (Area 3 Primary) asked for the motion to be restated and went on to say that community outreach is absolutely necessary since conditions have changed drastically and so an EIR and community forum are important in order to determine if we are for or against the bridge, issues include EIR, community outreach to further assess the impact, the maintenance, the funding sources for maintenance, security, access gates, locks after-hours access.

Barbara Kohn (Historical Society Alternate) asked where the CA Coastal Commission feasibility study is so we can review and ask questions about it. Similar to EIR, we were told that study would be done before the bridge project were to advance.

Karen Ridgley (Area Four Primary) said her constituents say their do not want the pedestrian bridge, many are unaware of the bridge, many are concerned about the security, many would like to learn more about the pros and cons. She also commented upon the bike path which may appeal to young people (which have recently caused some issues for law enforcement) who will use the path, and she asked how will that impact pedestrians. Another concern is that beach parking lots will close but where will the security mechanism be for the use of bike path if parking is closed. Additionally, with limited ranger and security resources, she asked, how would the influx of homelessness or crime be regulated. She suggested we needed to get more community input and felt she did not, at the moment, have sufficient information to make a decision.

Lou Kamer (PPCC Transportation Advisor) questions the location of the bridge. He argued that coastal access should be focused at the Temescal Canyon Rd crosswalk and not at the bridge crossing. From a safety standpoint, he said, the location is not wise and the resources should be used at Temescal Canyon Rd.  This would be a bridge that will be vastly underused, and should be moved closer to the Temescal Canyon Rd Crosswalk.

Reza Akef (Area Eight Primary) said, as someone who has been around Potrero Canyon for 20 years or more, he knows the bridge has been part of the vision and the fear mongering against the bridge is unfair. As a stakeholder around the Canyon, he says  Palisadian youth pose the biggest source of problems on and around the Canyon. The fear-mongering that people will come up from the beach is unfair. But he suggests that we should wait a few months and do better outreach in order to hear more from the community and secure the park so it can be safe for everyone in the community.

David Card (PPCC Chair Emeritus) said he’s heard many of these comments before since the original PC Community Advisory Committee, which heard these concerns but still recommended the bridge as a safe crossing across the bridge, in order to prevent deaths. The park would lead people down to the edge of the bluff and might prompt pedestrians to run across PCH, so the bridge was deemed to be the safest passage across PCH. This bridge has been public knowledge for decades, and people have had the opportunity to comment on it all along. Now we have a contractor who will give consulting advice and do research on the bridge, and will research environmental issues, safety issues and other concerns.  We should let this go forward. The process will include an expert in outreach, not just on design but on any matter. Public meetings are built into the contract and communication will be meaningful and reactive. He urged everyone to support the bridge and not even vote (which he suggested is a distraction). He urges that board to just ask for outreach and more information. He reiterated that all comments have asked for more information, and he made the point that advancing to the next phase means more information flowing to the community.

The President remarked that she hopes the outreach will be the kind of outreach that takes the community’s input into account and reflect the input into the bridge project design, and that was precisely what we were here to ensure before allowing the project to advance.

Sue Kohl (PPCC VP) said it’s too late to put the brakes on the bridge, but the question is why there isn’t an EIR and would like to see the outreach process come to the community and ask the community about their concerns. She also asked if this project is bigger than the Palisades – is there a responsibility on the part of the City to provide this bridge to the City as a matter of public access – and asked: is this bigger than the Palisades?

Betsy Handler (Area Five 2nd Alternate) says she has lived here for 30+ years and didn’t know about this bridge. It is incumbent on someone to have many meetings with community wide discussions where matters can be thoroughly fleshed out (safety, environmental impact, location, etc.) and this is premature.  She reaffirmed that provision of recreation and parks is a city function, and we cannot keep people out, but our safety concerns need to be addressed. She said the community outreach cannot be left to the contractor.

Jessica Rogers (PPRA Alternate) said the PPRA is not yet ready to vote on this. This meeting was called at the last minute and she tried to get people from the board at the meeting but less than 20% of their board are represented. She commented favorably about Potrero Canyon Park but noted the horrendous/horrific drug epidemic that has impacted the beach path. She said she no longer goes on the beach path without pepper spray and this is a different world than the days when the bridge was originally conceptualized. Things are changing and we shouldn’t go through with this without involving the entire community. Many people don’t know PPCC and do not read the papers, so outreach has to be much broader – broad outreach needs to take place.  She said people don’t read the Pali Post or Circling the News, so we need to find a way to figure out what the community wants before we go ahead with this project.

The President again explained that the point of today’s meeting is not to curtail outreach but to affirm whether it is meaningful outreach by the contractor that we wish to approve, or if the community is simply not informed enough for this board to allow for the next phase of the project – the predesign phase conducted by the contractor and their professional outreach – to advance.

Assuming we do advance, she reiterated that the input of community members MUST be sought in the outreach phase which must be meaningful and the results implemented into the final project – not simply sought and ignored.

Julie Silliman (Area Seven Primary) said that we are all very well informed about the bridge, so far as these comments reveal. She believes it is premature for us to be saying yes or no to the bridge, after decades of discussion and money secured as well as contractor chosen. She said she believes we are best served by working closely with the contractor to fashion the various variables that have been brought up (and more) by working with the outreach consultant being hired by the contractor. We must turn to this team, begin to work with them, and let them guide the community through meetings (three required) and those should be a good opportunity to give our input for the project. She believes that most usage for the bridge will prove to be by Palisadians, not by County beach goers.

Rick McGeagh (Area Seven 1st Alternate) wants everyone to consider that providing access to the beach was an important part of permitting the park (trail or beach). He said the Park Advisory Board has supported the bridge largely due to the additional parking that the County beach parking lot will provide, were there to be a foot bridge.

The President said it might be true that we need parking, and that park access is a broad City desire, but this small community will host the bridge and continues to host the park, which ultimately must be managed in a way that accommodates our community and protects our public safety interests.  She also noted that a lateral trail also provides beach access and we could simply focus on the trail (with $1.15M secured by Congress).

David Wolfberg (non-Palisadian, Wolfberg family) suggested the community go forward with the redesign phase and stay on top of the outreach portion of that stage and work with contractor to make sure community concerns are addressed. He also suggested that the foot-bridge could help in an emergency situation where evacuation by foot or bike (not by car) is helpful to the community. He acknowledged there are safety concerns around the bridge, just as there may be for any public resource in our community, but that is not a good enough reason not to go forward with an advisable project and address those concerns, instead of halting the project.

Anya Wolfberg (non-Palisadian, Wolfberg family) acknowledged the many serious security concerns but suggested these be brought to the public outreach process and the meetings which will be held by Jacobs (the BOE contractor) and ensure that solutions and deterrents be highly integrated into the design. These include gates and fencing, improved from current fictions, that need to be managed and addressed. She ultimately supports the bridge and recognizes that the trail can also be an access point. She said even when she was growing up in the Palisades, young people’s shenanigans and homeless people in the Canyon existed then/are not new. It can be managed. She suggested that a “regional park” designation can be helpful for us. The President said the community is pushing for that designation for more resources that might be made available for public safety. She said she is familiar with the public outreach team hired by Jacobs, Arelleano Associates, and believes they will address community concerns though the design phase.

John Alle (community member), a lifelong Palisadian and a member of the taskforce that originally contemplated the bridge, suggests things have drastically changed since those days. He serves on the PPTFH volunteer taskforce and not a week goes by when he doesn’t see people carrying sleeping bags and back packs going in/out of Potrero. There are also teens smoking and setting fires in Potrero, and our police are stretched thin. The park is a fire hazard, and we need to emphasize the lateral walkway rather than the bridge. Before we go further on the bridge, which is a costly project and an unneeded extravagance, not a necessity, more outreach needs to be done to assess whether the community wants this.

A few other community members spoke about the bridge reflecting a desire to see the bridge as a car-free manner to get to the beach and a note that crime is not a good enough reason not to invest in public infrastructure. We need to address security issues but forge ahead, not fear the public safety concerns that can be addressed.

The President then turned to LAPD to address public safety.

She noted that many people have now brought up security concerns, not necessarily in staunch opposition to the bridge, but as cautionary tales for the manner in which we proceed on the bridge project. She also noted that since the opening of Potrero Canyon Park on December 10, 2022, there have been numerous causes for concern, from malfunctioning gate locking systems, to non-functioning bathrooms and ineffective fencing to standing water, unreliable first responder access and other public safety concerns. She asked that these all be addressed, in addition to the issues raised about a feasibility study and an EIR.

LAPD Senior Lead Officer (SLO) for Pacific Palisades, Brian Espin, said there have been no homeless in the park (checked repeatedly) but there are enduring issues with young people hanging out in the evenings. He also learned from the fire station that the fireworks used in the park have been the result of use by kids. In general, when you increase foot traffic you do see an increase in criminal activity, “that is a given”, he said. He noted that the Park is “wide open” so it’s difficult for people to hide or camp out and get encampments in there. He does not see likely influx of homeless encampments due to the bridge. But, if the bridge is installed, he’d like to see increased resources allocated to the Palisades.

Cindi Young (Area One 1st Alternate) mentioned the Castellammare Security Committee (begun by her) which took in donations for cameras for all entrances to Castellammare including one on the bridge, and it has been very helpful.

Joe Halper (community member) affirmed the importance of all the thoughts and concerns expressed, but said there’s no reason not to go forward. He explained that the Board of Public Works moment of affirmation is not a moment of no return and that the final project plan will go the Board of Rec and Park Commissioners which will give the community again an opportunity to give feedback and press on priorities and concerns again at that point. He urged the board to move forward.

Reza Akef (Area Eight Primary) said, as a lifelong Palisadian, he can say that this bridge will add value to the Palisades, but input must be had and considered by the City. He complimented the Palisades and the PPCC on its ability to manage matters with City agencies, and then he announced his resignation from the board, effective November 30th. He said we had a lot to be grateful for and not to lose sight of this.

The President then gave the floor to Jake Ettinger, District Representative to SD24, office of Senator Ben Allen, to respond to all that has been raised. She asked for acknowledgment that much has been said about public safety concerns here, and asked for a pledge that the Senator will support the community in their call for sensible safety features that address community concerns.

Jake Ettinger said he understood that PPCC wished to make sure that everyone in the community could provide their input on the bridge project. He then reviewed a timeline. He reiterated the 2004 PPCC motion for support of the bridge, then Coastal Commission report that offers various routes of coastal access, and determines the bridge to be the best option (cites the 2016 MARS Report).  He referred to several PPCC meeting minutes that indicate interest in the bridge but no funding. In 2021, a comprehensive update and timeline was provided to the PPCC Board – prepared by the Executive Committee – in which it was announced that the Offices of Sen Allen and ASM Bloom were looking to find state money for the bridge project. A few months after this update, the state had a surplus of money and an opportunity to secure these funds for this project. “Folks from the community,” Jake said, came to the Senator’s office and represented that there is broad support for the bridge and asked that the state surplus money be considered to help fund the bridge project for coastal access. The Senator, who loves our natural environment, together with ASM Bloom, put in a request and succeeded in securing $11M. At the July 8, 2021 meeting, Sen Allen was present on the call and gave an announcement about the project, the funding secured and the bridge project getting underway, now with funding. He congratulated PPCC and coastal communities (as well as the PPCC Chair at the time and Joe Halper) and commended the funding to make the safe crossing over PCH via bridge, possible. The minutes reflect some Q and A but nothing substantive by way of opposition.

He also said that this past May, PPCC held a meeting where we spoke more in detail about the bridge project and he came away still with the impression that the community is broadly in support of this project. He understood that some may still not be aware of this project, but the office of Sen Allen has been in the community repeatedly and has tried to raise awareness for the project and reflect their sense that this is a win for the Palisades and the broader coastal community.

He said the Senator takes very seriously the public safety concerns heard on this call, and by no means would they wish to create a project that would lead to a huge spike in crime. He clarified that the Park at Potrero Canyon is not a state property or project. With regard to this project, the next step in this process in a two-year feasibility study (a Project Initiation Document/technical term) to give a better design and understanding of what the bridge will look and where it will land, but also comprehensive community engagement. This is an important factor, he said. The process will also engage the rest of the community that does not yet know about the project. The professional community engagement process will make sure that all the concerns have been raised here will be raised in that process and mindful attention will be paid to those (e.g. gates, lighting, safety, etc.). He encouraged everyone to get involved in order to build the best possible bridge that will mitigate many of these public safety concerns.

Regarding the Coastal Commission approval, Jake reiterated that while the Commission hasn’t seen the specific design proposal for this bridge, Commission staff are very supportive in concept of this project and think it will be a better point of coastal access than the lateral trail. They are also very concerned about matters of safety, and they see the bridge as the safest way to cross what is otherwise an unsafe corridor (across PCH).

The next phase of this process will have comprehensive community engagement and outreach. Concerns will be responded to in substance and concerns of course will be mitigated, but they see this bridge as a resource for the entire city. Sen Allen wants to be sure they are mindful of community concerns, and for now Jake said that they hear no real opposition to the bridge.

The President asked Jake to make clear the response to questions about the Feasibility Study and the EIR. Jake said Gaby would be better to answer those questions but of course there will be environmental review of the project in the Project Initiation Study.

CD11 District Director for Councilwoman Traci Park, Gabrielle (“Gaby”) Medina, took the floor to say the Councilwoman was listening to the first portion on the meeting and was happy to see so many people on the call. The CM is listening to what constituents are saying, and she is also acting on what she is hearing.

She explained the agenda item for the Board of Public Works to authorize the starting of the work of the Contractor ($2M contract with Jacobs Eng.) to begin the first portion of the bridge project. She corrected that city liability does not set in after the approval of the project tomorrow, which impacts only the beginning phase of the project which includes the predesign phase that entails geo technical studies, an environmental review and Coastal Commission approval. Gaby reported that she has spoken to BOE and they recommend moving ahead with the agenda item approval at the Board of Public Works tomorrow (10/13) and then holding off on issuing the Notice to Proceed until after the Council Office has had a chance to hold a public meeting in the Palisades to inform the community of the project and its timeline, as well as a chance to hear from the community.  She made clear that the park was opened under the previous administration and its development was done in years prior and that going forward, the office of Councilwoman Park will manage concerns and address them with the contractor and reflect community input in the final design. She pledged that the first meeting we will have with the contractor will be focused on community outreach and that they will take engagement very seriously. She spoke of learned experiences from the current park (IT, locks, gates, safety, lighting, aesthetics, hiking, walking, etc.) and pledged to use the list provided by the PCOC of various community organizations for meaningful outreach.

The President thanked Gaby and Jake and explained again that the purpose of the meeting was a review of bridge project and consider board feedback on whether the PPCC should allow the project to move ahead to the predesign phase (something the BPW would be affirming the next day), or whether we should ask for a halt.

She affirmed that there was quorum (19 voting members remaining on the call) and called for the vote.

The board voted, with 13 in favor, 3 opposed and 3 abstentions, to allow the contractor hired by BOE to conduct meaningful outreach in order to garner the community’s feedback through the process of the predesign phase and implement the results of the feedback in a substantive way that will address the items of common concern and incorporate community sentiment into the final bridge design, including its public safety elements. These may include, but will not be limited to, hours of operation/open to the public, fences, gates, lock mechanisms, monitoring, law enforcement resources, patrolling, cameras, etc.

11.   Adjournment – the meeting was adjourned at 10:10PM.

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