Rancho Palos Verdes City Council
   

TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL

FROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, BUILDING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT

DATE: DECEMBER 16, 2003

SUBJECT: GANADO TRAIL AND THE COOLHEIGHTS LOT

Prepared By: Ara Michael Mihranian, AICP, Senior Planner

RECOMMENDATION

Consider the information provided to the City Council in the November 26, 2003 Staff Memorandum, at the December 6, 2003 site visit, and this follow-up Staff Report; and provide Staff with direction.

BACKGROUND

On October 7, 2003, the City Council accepted the conveyance of public access trail easements by the property owners [Mr. and Mrs. Joe Nassiri] of 3787 Coolheights Drive. That evening, Mr. Ralph Ortolano Jr. expressed a concern that the trail easements being conveyed to the City did not represent the intent of the Planning Commission’s Conditions of Approval, specifically as they pertain to the Ganado Trail, and requested that the Council re-consider the Ganado Trail easement. After the October 7th meeting, Mr. Ortolano Jr. continued to request that the Council re-consider the conveyance of the Ganado Trail easement. On Thursday, November 13, 2003, former Councilman McTaggart requested that Mr. Ralph Ortolano Jr.’s request to consider an alternative trail route easement for the Ganado Trail be placed on the Council’s November 18th agenda. However, since the agenda packet for the November 18th meeting was completed at the time the request was received by Staff, there was insufficient time to prepare a corresponding Staff Report for review by the Council and the public before the meeting (Staff Reports are typically transmitted to the Council and made available to the public the Thursday before the Tuesday meeting).

In order to properly understand this matter, the Council at its November 18th meeting, agreed that before discussing this agenda item, a Staff Report needed to be generated and made available to the public. It was also agreed that a site visit would help the Council to better understand the physical site constraints and the location of the trail easements. Therefore, the Council agreed to continue the discussion of the Ganado Trail location to its December 16, 2003 meeting, and to select a date for the site visit at its December 2, 2003 meeting.

On December 6, 2003, the Council, at an adjourned meeting, conducted a site to view the subject property and related trails in order to familiarize themselves with the physical conditions of the site. After viewing the subject property and trails, the Council continued the discussion on this item to its December 16th meeting. At the site visit, the Council raised specific issues regarding the residential development and the surrounding trails within the Forrestal Nature Preserve and directed Staff to address these issued at its December 16th meeting.

DISCUSSION

The following section discusses the concerns raised at the City Council’s December 6th site visit of the subject property. Staff’s response to the concerns are categorized under two main headings: Project Development Related Concerns and Forrestal Nature Preserve Related Concerns.

For information regarding the process and rationale for the selection of the Ganado Trail route easement, as well as the proposed Ganado Trail route alternative, please see the November 26, 2003 Staff Memorandum previously transmitted to the Council as part of the December 2, 2003 Agenda Packet.

PROJECT DEVELOPMENT RELATED CONCERNS

Status of the Trail Easements

Pursuant to the Planning Commission’s adopted Conditions of Approval for the proposed residential development project at 3787 Coolheights Drive, prior to issuance of grading or building permits, the applicants were required to convey public access trail easements, specifically for the Pirate (A15), Flying Mane (L4), and Ganado (A16) trails, to ensure public access from the Mediterrania Tract to the Forrestal Nature Preserve. On October 7, 2003, the City Council reviewed and accepted the applicants’ conveyance of public trail easements for these specific trails segments that traverse the subject property. Soon thereafter, the easements were recorded with the Los Angeles County Recorders Office and grading and building permits were issued by the City. The applicants have informed Staff that the project [residence] related grading will commence shortly and will take approximately two weeks to complete. It should be noted that pursuant to the project Conditions of Approval and Mitigated Negative Declaration, grading related to the construction of the residence must be completed between September 1st and December 31st. The applicants intend to adhere to this project requirement.

If Council believes that an additional public trail easement should be provided from the terminus of Coolheights Drive, across the applicants’ property, to the eastern ridge of the Forrestal Nature Preserve, the following options exist:

  1. The Council may ask if the applicants are willing to convey another easement across their property. However, as previously reported the applicants have informed Staff that they are not willing to voluntarily convey another trail easement across their property to the City; or,
  2. The Council may offer to purchase, at the fair market value of the land, another trail easement across the applicants’ property; or,
  3. The Council may try to exercise its eminent domain rights to acquire an additional public trail easement across the applicants’ property.

Because the project conditions have been satisfied, and because the building and grading permits already have been issued to the applicants, the applicants can proceed with their project, and any additional trail easement that is obtained cannot interfere with the development of the proposed project.

Cul-de-sac Grant Deeds / Easements

At the time of the preparation of this Staff Report, the legal documents pertaining to the transfer of real property by the neighbors (Nassiris, Farooqs, Ortolano Srs. and Ortolano Jr.) to the City for the construction of the cul-de-sac at the terminus of Coolheights Drive have been executed by the respective parties, accepted by the City, and submitted to Peninsula Escrow. Based on the escrow instruction, the documents cannot be recorded with the Los Angeles County Recorders Office until officially released by the respective parties. The interested parties have been given a deadline of Monday, December 15, 2003 to release the documents for recordation. Staff will provide the Council with a status update at the December 16th meeting.

Erosion Control Measures for the Proposed Residence

At the December 6th site visit, a concern was raised that the recently completed brush clearance, required by the Fire Department, may adversely impact neighboring properties because of erosion and/or water run-off. Pursuant to the adopted Conditions of Approval and Mitigated Negative Declaration, prior to issuance of grading and building permits, an Urban Stormwater Plan that is in conformance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was required to be reviewed and approved by the City to ensure that both short-term construction related activities and long-term development of the property does not adversely impact neighboring properties or the federally protected habitat. Prior to issuance of grading permits, the City reviewed and approved an Urban Stormwater and Erosion Control Plan, that specifically addresses erosion and run-off concerns related to the development of the subject property.

According to the approved Plan, during construction, the perimeter of the construction area will be sandbagged and fenced to prevent debris from flowing into the canyon. As for the slopes recently cleared of vegetation for compliance with the Fire Department’s mandated fuel modification, the City is requiring that the applicants cover the slope with jute netting. The applicants have indicated that the netting will be installed by Monday, December 15, 2003. Furthermore, the root system for the cleared vegetation has remained in-tact to provide slope stability and to allow for re-growth that will eventually be thinned and spaced according to the Fire Department’s standards. To address potential long-term impacts, the on-site drainage system approved for the project has been designed to collect and redirect water run-off generated from the impervious surfaces of the site to the street’s storm-water drains rather than to the canyon below. Nonetheless, a slight increase in debris flow and run-off is anticipated to occur as a result of the recently denuded hillside. The debris and water run-off will flow towards the ravine between the building pad of the subject property and the Quarry Bowl edge (Pirate Trail) and will channel to a catch basin behind residential properties located on Pirate Drive in the Ladera Linda Residential Tract. Residents on Pirate Drive, located immediately adjacent to the catch basin, have raised concerns in the past that any increase in run-off may potentially cause the catch basin to over-flow and flood their properties. The City’s Public Works Department is aware of this concern and has had the catch basin cleared and will be monitoring the condition of the catch basin before, during and after each rain storm to ensure proper flow.

In summary, unless the Council wishes to explore the possibility of an additional public trail on the applicants’ property, all discretionary actions needed to begin construction of the residence have been made and there are no other discretionary issues to be considered by the City with regards to the development of the residential site. The residential grading and construction will be monitored by the City’s Planning and Building and Safety Staff to ensure that the conditions of approval are being met and the project is constructed in accordance to the approved plans.

FORRESTAL NATURE PRESERVE RELATED CONCERNS

Pirate Trail Improvements

At the time the City Council entered into an agreement with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy (PVPLC) to jointly manage the Forrestal Nature Preserve, public safety concerns related to specific trails were identified as priority improvement projects. One of the priority trail improvement projects, as noted in the Forrestal Management Plan, relates to a portion of the Pirate Trail (A15) that traverses the project applicants’ property. Specifically, a portion of the Pirate Trail that is located within the easement area conveyed to the City by the project applicants has been experiencing erosion and undermining of the trail and fence causing a precarious condition for trail users. Recognizing that a safety concern exists on a trail that is frequently used by the public, the Forrestal Steering Committee began to develop an improvement plan to correct the condition of the trail by re-routing the trail away from the Quarry Bowl edge, towards the east, with the least amount of impacts to surrounding habitat.

As seen at the December 6th site visit, the public safety improvements to the Pirate Trail are currently underway. The City and the PVPLC are jointly overseeing the implementation of the Pirate Trail improvements adopted by the Steering Committee with manpower provided by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and a private contractor. In summary, the trail improvements consist of:

  • Re-routing a 3 to 4 foot wide trail to the east, away from the Quarry Bowl edge.
  • Lowering the grade of the Pirate Trail and creating a natural berm that would direct the public away from the Quarry Bowl edge.
  • Re-planting the area surrounding the trail path with native plants that would create an additional buffer between the trail and the Quarry Bowl edge.
  • Installing a post and cable fence to prevent trail users from climbing up to the Quarry Bowl edge and to prevent disturbances to the replanted habitat.
  • Installing warning signs of the Quarry Bowl edge.
  • Installing water bars to re-direct water run-off off the trail thereby minimizing future erosion impacts.

Because these improvements have not been completed, the current Pirate Trail segment has somewhat of a construction zone appearance. The trail paths are wide with loose dirt and some steep slopes are exposed. Once the improvements are completed, the vegetation will re-establish and the trails will take on a more natural appearance. Furthermore, temporary safety fencing will be installed where steep slopes are exposed. These improvements are anticipated to be completed within the next two weeks and will result in a more pedestrian friendly trail.

The specific improvements stated above pertain only to the portion of the Pirate Trail that traverses the subject property (3787 Coolheights Drive) and will not occur for the entire length of the trail. However, since the cause of the erosion and undermining of the fence and trail along the portion of the Pirate Trail that traverses the subject property is directly related to water run-off from the western ridgeline trail, future erosion control improvements are expected to be necessary on the western ridgeline trail. The specifics to the trail improvements are unknown at this time but will likely include the installation of water bars. Any proposed trail improvements to the western ridge trail will be reviewed by the Forrestal Steering Committee through the Project Review Process spelled out in the amended Management Plan. The Committee will seek neighborhood and public input on the trail improvement project as part of that process at a publicly noticed meeting prior to finalizing and constructing the trail improvements.

New Overlook on the Western Ridge

As previously reported, the Forrestal Steering Committee unanimously agreed that a new overlook located on the western ridge, relatively parallel to the existing lookout on the eastern ridge, should be built. Although the location of the new overlook has been plotted, the design of the overlook has not be finalized. The Forrestal Steering Committee will review proposed designs through the Project Review Process spelled out in the amended Management Plan. The Committee will seek neighborhood and public input as part of that process at a publicly noticed meeting prior to finalizing and constructing the overlook.

Putting Green

A comment was made at the December 6th site visit, that the Ganado Trail on the western ridge crosses over a flat plateau on private property in the City of Rolling Hills, referred to as the "putting green." According to City maps (see attachment), the entire "putting green" is located on the City-owned Forrestal Property. City Staff recently spoke to the current resident of 73 Crest Road which is adjacent to the "putting green" and informed them that this area is on City property. According to the property owners, they purchased the lot approximately five years ago and were under the impression that the "putting green" was a part of their lot. The City Attorney intends to officially notify the property owners of 73 Crest Road (Rolling Hills) that the "putting green" is on City (Rancho Palos Verdes) property.

It should also be noted that according to City maps it appears that the foot path that extends from the "putting green" towards to the eastern ridge is on City property. Nonetheless, this portion of the property will be surveyed and staked by the City to physically define the Forrestal property lines and the City’s boundary lines.

Trail Impacts to the City of Rolling Hills

At the December 6th site visit, a resident from the City of Rolling Hills expressed a concern that trails within the Forrestal Nature Preserve should not extend into the City of Rolling Hills. Pursuant to the Forrestal Management Plan, it was conceived that the route of the Ganado Trail would complete the City’s segment of the Palos Verdes Loop Trail up to the City boundary line with Rolling Hills, below the radar domes. Any portion of the Ganado Trail that extends beyond the City boundary line would be in the City of Rolling Hills, outside the City’s jurisdiction, and would require the conveyance of public access trail easements by the respective property owners to the City of Rolling Hills in order to be considered an official access trail. Furthermore, according to the Conceptual Trails Plan (see attachment), the Ganado Trail, whether considering the eastern or western ridge for the sake of this discussion, terminates at the City boundary line with the City of Rolling Hills and the property boundary line with the Rancho Palos Verdes Estates Homeowners Association’s (HOA) Common Area which currently provides a public access trail easement.

It should be noted that there currently is a foot path that extends from the City boundary line through the City of Rolling Hills up to a path that leads to the radar domes. Although it has always been a goal of the City to connect the Forrestal Nature Preserve to the existing trail easement in the Rancho Palos Verdes Estates Tract (adjacent to and below the radar domes), the connection cannot be achieved at this time unless a new trail route is plotted that extends to the bottom of the canyon (below the lots located on Ganado Drive) up to the Common Area owned by the Rancho Palos Verdes Estates Homeowner’s Association (see attached map). An alternative route through the City of Rolling Hills would achieve this goal as well, provided that appropriate easements are conveyed for public access trails.

If a future trail route is contemplated that would connect the Forrestal Nature Preserve to the Common Area owned by the Rancho Palos Verdes Estates HOA, potential impacts to protected habitat may occur that may require the processing of a Take Permit by the Resource Agencies, further environmental review, and possible mitigation.

Forrestal Steering Committee and Future Improvement Projects

The Forrestal Steering Committee, comprised of City and PVPLC representatives and individuals representing special interest groups, such as a local homeowner’s association representative, an equestrian representative, a natural resource/habitat representative and a trail expert/off-road bicyclist, have been assigned with the task of implementing the Forrestal Management Plan. The Management Plan, which was adopted by the Council at the time the City entered into a joint operations agreement with the PVPLC, is currently being reviewed by the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee anticipates proposing amendments to the Management Plan for consideration by the City Council in Spring 2004. In summary, the amendments being considered consist of the following:

  • Identifying a comprehensive and safe trail system on the Forrestal Property.
  • Defining the uses of those trails.
  • Establishing trail standards for those trails.
  • Establishing a process to review and implement improvement projects between the City, the PVPLC, the Committee, and the public.

Regardless of the proposed amendments to the Forrestal Management Plan, it remains a top priority for the Steering Committee that both passive recreational use and preservation within the Forrestal Nature Preserve be fairly balanced for the benefit of the public.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

November 26, 2003 Staff Memorandum

For information regarding the Ganado Trail issue, a Staff Memorandum (dated November 26, 2003) was prepared and originally transmitted to the Council with its December 2, 2003 Agenda Packet that provides background information and explanation of the process and issues that have been raised with respect to the conveyance of the Ganado Trail easement.

Public Notification

A notice informing the public of tonight’s Council meeting on the route of the Ganado Trail has been posted at four different sites within the Forrestal Nature Preserve, mailed to interested parties, mailed to property owners within a 500-foot radius of the subject property (3787 Coolheights Drive) and sent electronically to list-serve subscribers for the Forrestal Nature Preserve and Breaking News updates.

ALTERNATIVES

The following alternative are available for Council consideration:

  1. Receive and file information and take no further action on this matter;
  2. Direct Staff and the City Attorney to determine the appropriate location of an additional trail route across the applicants’ property that would provide public access to the eastern ridge and to formally inquire whether the applicants’ are willing to convey another easement across their property;
  3. Identify any additional issues of concern, provide City Staff with further direction, and continue the hearing to a date certain.

Respectfully submitted,

Joel Rojas, AICP, Director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement

Reviewed by:

Les Evans, City Manager

ATTACHMENTS

  • Forrestal Nature Preserve Site Map
  • Public Comments (since the December 2, 2003 Council Meeting)