Park hillside to get improvements

After nearly a decade of waiting, city officials have decided to move ahead on a plan to fortify and beautify the hillside slope behind Memorial Park.

Landscaping improvements and installation of retaining walls, storm drains, a footpath and a lighting system are intended both to allow recreational use of the slope area and prevent erosion that could threaten stability of the La Cañada Elementary School play area above it.

With state funding for the project at risk of evaporating, City Council members took an urgency vote last week to spend $40,000 on light poles and fixtures for the project so that work could start as early as this month.

The bulk of the hillside-enhancement project’s anticipated price tag is to be funded by roughly $360,000 in state grant funds, with La Cañada Flintridge officials expecting to contribute $65,000 in city funds, said Carl Alameda, senior management analyst for the city.

“The Parks and Rec. Commission has really wanted to make that hillside an active-use area,” Alameda said. The lighted walking paths would help accomplish the goal of stabilizing the hillside, he added.

State grant money for the project first became available in 2002 after voters approved park-improvement funding for cities under Proposition 40.

City officials have for years held off starting the project, however, in the hopes of fulfilling larger plans that included installation of play and exercise areas along the new hillside trail — a vision ultimately deemed unfeasible because the price tag for that work was estimated at nearly $1.2 million.

“We originally had a very grandiose plan to do some really wild stuff on that hillside, but that was when money [seemed] more available. Now I think the real issue is being sure that hillside is reinforced,” said James Kambe, chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

Another incentive to move now is that the state’s grant offer is set to expire June 30 if the city does not act, said Lee Butterfield, policy development manager for the California State Parks Office of Grants and Local Services.

City Hall relied on an informal competitive bidding process last week to authorize purchase of the light poles, which could take weeks to deliver, in order to break ground as early as Feb. 28 and finish work on or before March 25.

In that process, which is expected to save money by avoiding contractor markups, city staff solicited seven bidders. Use of an informal bidding process is lawful “upon finding that [the formal process] would be impracticable, useless, uneconomical or a threat to the public health, safety or welfare,” reads municipal code.

A state parks-and-recreation-grant program approved by voters in 2000 had also been considered for Memorial Park, but priority was given to enhancement of the half-acre Glenhaven Park.

“This is kind of a long-term maintenance and aesthetic problem,” said Councilman Greg Brown, who worries that natural erosion might otherwise eventually threaten stability of the playground above.

As for the bigger plans of the past, “It’s definitely scaled back,” Brown said. “It’s not, if money were no object, what you would like to do. But this is the prudent course.”

City Hall this week initiated a formal competitive bidding process for work on the Memorial Park project. Council members are expected to award a contract to the lowest bidder at their Feb. 22 meeting.

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