Owners Say "Neigh" To New Zoning Proposal
By Susan Chasen
Responding to widespread protest from
equestrians over proposed restrictions on horse facilities,
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has recommended abandoning the
controversial "Light Resort and Recreation" zoning
proposal, which he agrees strayed far from its original purpose
of safeguarding against commercial over-development in portions
of the Santa Monica Mountains.
"The R-R-L proposal, as drafted by
staff at the Planning Commissions direction, restricts
uses far beyond what was originally intended," wrote
Yaroslavsky in a June 6 letter delivered to the County Regional
Planning Commission at its June 7 meeting.
PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER
"Can't I be your neigh-bor?"
"While I had suggested that
the [Resort and Recreation] zone be reviewed to increase control
over unregulated commercial uses, the restrictions will unnecessarily
impact residential horse properties. It was never the desire
of the Board of Supervisors to enact such restrictions."
Instead, Yaroslavsky directed the commission
to create a Community Standards District which would focus
narrowly on Triunfo Canyon, which has access problems and
a history of conflict between commercial and residential owners,
and along nearby commercially zoned portions of Mulholland
The R-R-L zoning proposal became highly
controversial because of several unprecedented restrictions
on the number of horses allowed on properties, and costly
new permit requirements it would have imposed on existing
horse facilities such as stables, riding academies and relatively
minor grading projects such as a small horse arena.
While only properties zoned R-R might
have eventually been rezoned to R-R-L, equestrians were united
in support of those property owners as well as in opposition
to the precedent of the new horse restrictions in any zone.
Several stable owners who happened to be at
the Planning Commission meeting to hear discussion on the Countys
draft North Area Plan were pleased at the unexpected announcement.
"We feel very good about it and very happy," said Ruth
Gerson, a long-time trails advocate and president of the newly formed
Recreation and Equestrian Coalition based in Agoura Hills. "Mobilizing
the equestrian community absolutely made a difference. Horse people
from Lancaster, Palos Verdes, and Tujunga to Malibu made a difference
to help defeat this proposed zoning."
The sudden reversal on the proposed ordinance,
which has been more than a year-and-a-half in drafting, met with
remarkably fast acceptance among the commissioners. They agreed
to formally drop the ordinance at their June 14 meeting.
"I completely concur," said Ester
Feldman, Yaroslavskys commission appointee who had proposed
some of the specific restrictions regarding horse-keeping. "It
makes sense to focus the fix on the particular areas where there
have been problems."
The key objections to the R-R-L were provisions
that limited horse raising to two per "usable net acre"
rather than per "gross acre," and that limited horse grazing
to seven per "usable net acre" with a five-acre minimum.
The unprecedented "usable net acre" designation excluded
land of greater than 25 percent slope, along with residences, other
structures and any other areas not accessible to the horses. Horse
grazing previously had no limit.
Also, it required costly conditional use permits
(CUPs) for stables and riding academies which are currently not
required in the R-R zone.
In addition to the expense for these CUPs, which
begin with a $3,979 fee and usually progress to many thousands of
dollars more for specialized data for County review and then to
meet County-imposed conditions, there is increasing distrust among
horse facility owners that the lengthy CUP process will ultimately
result in approval of a viable business. County planners, however,
say that neighbors support the CUP process because it allows for
public hearings and community input.
Yaroslavskys suggestion of creating a
Community Standards Districtsuch as Topanga already hasfor
protecting mountain resources and balancing competing interests
in the Triunfo areas concentrated R-R zones and unrestricted
C-3 commercial zones, will provide for community input. But it will
also tend to put the greatest burden on new businesses while offering
lenient grandfathering provisions for existing operations, according
to Laura Shell, Yaroslavskys planning deputy.
Existing horse facilities and other businesses
in those areas would have a minimum of 20 years, perhaps more, before
having to obtain a CUP, said Shell.
"Were trying to be sensitive to the
concerns that have been raised," said Shell. "We really
regret the situation that it created. It went off on a tangent that
wasnt the original intent."
Although there was merit in many provisions
of the R-R-L, said Shell--such as eliminating intense uses like
golf courses or universities, and setting development standards--it
went too far and lost needed support in the community.
"It failed, as I think anyone who was at
the hearing saw," said Shell of the May 17 hearing of the Regional
Planning Commission in Calabasas.
At that hearing, an overflowing crowd of about
200 concerned equestrians urged the Planning Commission to drop
the proposed R-R-L ordinance. They carried signs that read: "Keep
our horses in our mountains," "R-R-L Restricts Rural Lifestyles,"
and "Zev, Why?"
They called for an Environmental Impact Report
on the ordinance, charging that alleged water quality impacts from
horse facilities are based on guesswork and that negative impacts
from a loss of horse facilities--such as increased trailering of
horses into the mountains and increased residential development
from sold-off horse properties--should be factored in.
As if stepping in to answer equestrians
charge that the R-R-L was a "solution searching for a problem,"
representatives of state and national parks, the Regional Water
Quality Control Board and Heal the Bay testified that water quality
problems are an issue that will have to be addressed sooner or later.
They testified that horse manure is suspected
of being a significant source of harmful excess nutrients in the
Malibu watershed--the second largest watershed flowing into Santa
According to Melinda Merryfield-Becker, standards
unit chief for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board,
"total maximum daily load" standards for bacteria and
nutrients in the Malibu Watershed have to be completed by next summer
to comply with a 1999 consent decree resulting from a Heal the Bay
and Santa Monica BayKeeper lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental
"The impact of horse corrals remains largely
unquantified," acknowledged Merryfield-Becker, but she also
said they are a likely contributor to elevated phosphate and nitrogen
levels--or nutrients that stimulate algae growth,--creating matting
and reducing dissolved oxygen in the water that supports riparian
and marine life.
Equestrian advocates countered that it would
be wrong to use water quality arguments to justify the R-R-Ls
horse restrictions when no hard data has been gathered to quantify
horse-related impacts as compared with other suspected sources such
as septic systems, run-off from lawn fertilizer and other development-related
"Nobody in here really knows what they're
talking about," said Don Schmitz, a Malibu development consultant
and spokesman for the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition.
He pointedly asked the commissioners if they
knew the number of horses, the number of horse facilities, their
proximity to trails, the gross revenues involved and the numbers
of tourists and jobs that could be affected by an R-R-L zone change.
"It will in fact price out many equestrian
and recreational facilities. Its disingenuous to say otherwise,"
He also complained that County promises that
only certain R-R-zoned properties would likely be rezoned to R-R-L
unfairly allows the County to "pick and choose individual properties
that can be picked off and will lose their rights."
Others suggested that the loss of horse facilities
would ultimately lead to more development, and that eliminating
horses to protect the environment would be throwing the baby out
with the bath water. Several spoke of the impact it would have on
Shell agreed that the water quality issue was
an example of how the R-R-L ordinance veered off course from its
original purpose of regulating land use.
"The water quality issue, while its
very important, is not the reason we started this effort,"
said Shell. "Water quality kind of got wrapped into it.
"Lets wait until we have some studies,"
said Shell, noting that the water board is starting to do them.
RIFT BETWEEN HORSE LOVERS & BIOLOVERS
Although, the R-R-L has now been dropped, the
issues raised by the proposed zone have revealed a deepening rift
between environmentalists seeking to protect natural resources and
equestrians seeking to protect a rural way of life.
Equestrians, alarmed by the R-R-L proposal and
by numerous recent enforcement actions against boarding stables
in agricultural zones which the County says are required to have
CUPs, are now worried that the new North Area Plan, which sets land
use policy for the inland half of the Santa Monica Mountains, will
similarly result in new restrictions on equestrian uses.
According to Gerson, the current draft North
Area Plan lumps development of recreational and equestrian facilities
in with housing and other development, and will result in the same
sorts of increased requirements defeated in the R-R-L.
"Were talking about development of
recreational facilities and equestrian facilities near trailheads
so people can get out onto the trails," said Gerson.
Ultimately these restrictions will limit recreational
opportunities, accommodations and services for people visiting the
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, according to Gerson.
While the R-R zone would have allowed these
uses, and are now safe from the R-R-L, those zones are almost all
in Triunfo Canyon, said Gerson. Establishing Bed and Breakfasts,
equestrian facilities near trailheads, hostels or mountain bike
courses is going to be difficult, said Gerson.
The R-R-L was originally a response to Triunfo-Lobo
Canyon homeowners who wanted to prevent future nightmares like they
experienced with the party venue known as "Fantasy Island."
The noise, bright lights, traffic and environmental disregard of
Fantasy Island created general despair among its residential neighbors
before it was eventually shut down.
At the May hearing, several representatives
of these homeowners spoke gratefully in favor of the R-R-L ordinance
which prohibits outdoor dance pavilions and outdoor amplified sound
and includes development standards for lighting, noise, erosion
control and protection of the view from public areas.
While some were opposed to the proposed restrictions
on horse facilities, they still expressed concerns that horse-trailers
could clog escape routes on the dead-end Triunfo Canyon Road during
Several Topangans were present at the hearing,
but none spoke. Many local equestrians have been generally concerned
about changes in County land use approaches that one day might affect
horse-keeping in other zones. There is also a fear that informal
horse boarding will come under closer scrutiny.
The R-R-L would not have expressly affected
existing personal horse-keeping provisions which allow one horse
per 5,000 square feet on a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet,
or eight horses per acre. However, equestrians throughout the mountains
were concerned that the "usable net acre" standard could
make its way into the personal horse-keeping provisions and virtually
eliminate horse-keeping throughout the many sloped canyons of the
Topanga only has two properties--one at the
end of Callon Drive and the Camp Wildwood Resort--currently zoned
"RR" that theoretically could have faced a change to R-R-L.
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Los Angeles County:
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
By Michele Johnson
| On the third Wednesday
of November, Topangans may wake up with a post-election hangover--and
not just the monster headache of another Bush in the White House.
A well-meant initiative on the ballot meant to break up Los
Angeles County may leave Topanga Zev-less and politically toothless.
A new map of the districts has already been proposed by the
Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Association, to be put
in place if the current five districts are eventually divided
into nine. If the supervisors approve that mapping version,
Topanga would end up outside of Zev Yaroslavskys Third
District and be placed in a sprawling new Ninth District that
would extend from Agoura Hills to Lancaster with a complete
unknown at the helm.
The current districts and
their Supervisors: First District Gloria Molina, Second
District Yvonne Braithwaite-Burke, Third District Zev Yaroslavsky,
Fourth District Don Knabe and Fifth District Mike Antonovich.
A breakup is due for good reasons,
proponents say. Five supervisors now decide the destiny of
about 10 million people. Thats two million souls per
supervisor, making each constituency larger than the population
of 17 individual states.
For that reason, State Senate Majority
Leader Richard Polanco is proposing a constitutional amendment
to require any county with more than five million residents
to have a minimum of nine districts. Opponents say this is
dirty pool, because Los Angeles County alone would be affected
by the initiative, leaving us in the unique position of having
our local political fate decided by millions of Californians
who dont even live here.
The proposed realignment
is a vastly different landscape!
The bill would also require a 12-year term limit
and would cut office budgets. Says Joel Bellman, press liaison for
Yaroslavsky, "The Board has been very tepid on the idea of
an outside constituency coming in to break up the district."
He points out that if the initiative passes, there would be 57 counties
in California deciding the fate of Los Angeles County. "Why
should voters in other jurisdictions decide how we should be governed?"
Polanco says the County can forestall that eventuality
by placing its own breakup proposal on the November ballot: "The
state would not go forward if we do ours," Bellman confirmed.
He says, faced with those options, "Chances are really good"
that the County will come up with its own proposal. "The County
has a proposal wending its way through the bureaucracy," he
adds, though the County proposal would not include term limits.
Bellman argues that if voters are unhappy with any supervisor, they
can always vote him out of office. But , he also contends that term
limits "guarantee that no one will be around long enough to
gain any experience--have no time to learn the ropes and develop
a deep commitment to their constituents."
The Board is split on the issue of a breakup.
For example, Mike Antonovich is opposed, Gloria Molina is for it,
and Zev stands somewhere in the middle. For some time, Yaroslavsky
has been pushing a compromise plan to add an elected County executive
or mayor who would oversee some functions of the Board and also
head up the administrative staff.
Bellman also argues that the state proposal
would leave the County strapped for funds and unable to be as responsive
to its constituents as it currently is. Polancos measure,
he says, would take the current budget and split it nine ways. Bellman
points out that Yaroslavskys office only has about 25 people
on its payroll, not counting the pool of 125 or so assistants who
serve functions for the supervisors as a group. "The fewer
bodies we have, the longer you have to wait." The County proposal
would provide more money than the state version to accommodate the
The proposal must be passed by the supervisors
and be ready for the ballot by August. But even then, the proposal
on the ballot would not indicate exactly how the district would
be redrawn. That would be based on information from the 2000 census,
says Bellman. Anyone who would like to register an opinion about
the breakup, or how those lines should be drawn, can call the supervisors
office at (213) 974-3333.
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A Little Piece
of Paradise for Sale
By Michele Johnson
The nine acres of gorgeously landscaped property
occupied by Elysium Institute--a clothing- optional resort--went
on the block a few weeks ago for $2.6 million. But although this
site may close, it will still be no clothes for Elysium, as they
are actively seeking another location.
In 1968 the current Elysium
property was acquired by set designer and photographer Ed
Lange, who hoped to create a dream paradise for naturists
there. Lange, a vocal civil libertarian, fought the County
and his neighbors for years for the right to keep the resort
open. He succeeded so well that in 1995 he was named Topangas
Citizen of the Year, and by the time of his death shortly
thereafter he'd made peace with most Topangans, who now consider
Elysium a good neighbor.
Lange left the property to his two daughters,
Dana Lange and Lisa Lang. Dana was his hand-picked successor,
but retired from the Board of Elysium in December, 1999. Now,
Dana and her sister have decided its time to sell.
PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER
The idyllic Elysium.
"We were advised a couple of months ago
that the girls wanted to sell the property," said Betty Leslie
Meltzer, Managing Director of the non-profit Elysium Institute.
Faced with their decision, the Elysium Board decided to bid on the
property. "We gathered together as many advisors as we could
find, mostly from our membership," Betty said, "and found
a financial manager. We got the money together, based on our Profit
and Loss, and made an offer." But, she said, "We were
turned down. Our income doesnt warrant $2.6 million."
Also, if they stayed, they would be faced with "major investments"
to restore the old buildings used as clubhouses and offices.
"What they are asking is just out of our
reach," insists Gary Mussell, Co-Director and Secretary/Treasurer
of Elysium Institute. "If they get their money, God bless them,"
he said. "But after the euphoria of the summer is behind us,
maybe well talk again."
Betty insists that whatever happens, Elysium
Institute "will continue, whether on this site or not."
As we spoke, Betty was about to leave to view Topanga properties
that might fill the bill. "Wed have to have accessibility
and no neighbor problems." They would prefer to stay in Topanga:
"We love the Canyon," said Mussell, but they will look
outside the area if they need to. Shes not worried about finding
a place as lush and landscaped as Elysiums current home. "We
would work to beautify it," she says. Many of the members volunteer
to do their gardens--recently, they put in grass and rose beds.
"We would have the support of those kinds of people. Its
like their home away from home." And, she added, Elysium is
"one of the few places that doesnt get destructed by
use. People take care of it."
Unfortunately, this happened just as the fortunes
of the struggling Elysium were turning around. Membership had doubled
in the last year to about 700, and last May its Conditional Use
Permit (CUP) was extended for another 15 years by the County. Theyll
lose the permit if they move; it will go with the property. But
Betty points out, "Weve been here for 32 years. That
should be helpful in getting a [new] permit."
Plans have also been alive to create a center
for educational facilities and healing retreats that could draw
clients like the Healing Institute to increase Elysiums income
over its lean winter months. Theyll continue to focus on those
changes. "We want to move forward."
WHO WILL BUY?
If Elysium goes, who will come? According to
Betty, potential buyers have already been viewing the prime property.
One letter writer to the Messenger wondered if the land could
be subdivided. Though the attorney for Fred Sands Realty, which
lists the property, was unavailable to be interviewed for this article,
it is our understanding that Elysium's nine acres are divided into
14 parcels which could be individually built on. Reliable sources
say most potential buyers at this point are looking at the property
for its CUP, which would open the door for its use as a resort or
health spa. Additionally, the property is in coastal, so approvals
on individual homes on a property surrounded on three sides by state
park land may not be easy to come by.
The CUP itself features building restrictions
that allow refurbishing, but no new construction. It also places
limits on parking and noise. Only 200 cars are permitted on the
grounds at one time, and no amplified music is allowed.
Betty says Elysium has been happy to comply
with the CUP restrictions. "We put signs out to slow incoming
and outgoing traffic and are careful to monitor sound levels. We
really work not to create an 'us and them' atmosphere. We feel interwoven
with the Canyon." She says many Topangans are members of the
resort, though the majority come from outside the Canyon. Many more
Topangans visit Elysium for the classes open to nonmembers that
range from swim aerobics to tennis. For July and August, Betty is
putting together a schedule of member events that could include
an art festival, concerts, and their annual comedians' night, Stand
Up Against Domestic Violence. The proceeds go to support shelters
for victims of abuse. Last year some of the comedians, Betty said,
"had never performed before nudists. They had a ball. Two stripped
down and did the whole thing. One just ended up in a cowboy hat."
Even if the land is sold, Betty "would hope well be on
this site through the season."
The nudist scene is still alive and well in
the United States, Betty insists. She recently did a phone interview
on the "Roseanne" show, which was doing a special bit
on nudist resorts. They had a fact sheet showing that there are
267 resorts in the U.S. with half a million members. When Roseanne
asked her, "Are you naked now?" Betty answered, "Yes,
and so are you. Under our clothes, we're all naked!"
Baring all, Betty tells us that she still hopes
new negotiations will bring a last-minute deal with the Lange daughters:
"We want to create a win-win situation for the landowners and
Editor's Note: At press time the owners were
unavailable for comment.
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By Tony Morris
Last year, with the help of several members
of the Topanga Citizens Firesafe Committee, almost 100 households
got together and did something great--they got their brush clearance
done, gave work to some very helpful local business people, and
did some significant recycling. The Chipper Program proved that
with a little work and good old cooperation we Topangans can accomplish
minor miracles--brush clearance, erosion control, soil rejuvenation
with no landfill impacts, all at the same time!
PHOTO BY ANNE-CHRISTINE VON WETTER
Last year's chipper program
accomplished minor miracles.
| Rosi Dagit drafted a
few brush-clearing and chipper guidelines; Anne-Christine von
Wetter and David Totheroh scheduled the chippers, negotiated
fees, organized and mapped the routes; and Burt Rashby, Vic
Richards, Ken Smith and Manfred Schlosser helped with traffic
control as the chippers moved through the Canyon chipping various
sized piles of brush that participants left at the bottoms of
driveways, in turnouts, or alongside the road.
There is no reason why what we did last year
throughout the Canyon cant be done this year in every neighborhood.
All it takes is to get together with a few of your neighbors, call
and schedule a time with one of the local chipper services and you're
on your way.
For information packets, or for pointers on
how to set up your own neighborhood chipper program, call Anne-Christine
von Wetter at (310) 455-2600 or David Totheroh at (310) 455-1219;
or you can contact our local brush clearance services directly:
Thad Geer (310) 455-4336, Richard Brown (310) 455-9611 or Vicki
and Peter Norwood (310) 455-3027.
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By Tony Morris
On Saturday, May 28, at 1:30 p.m., a Topanga
resident ,driving a Jeep Cherokee west in the 800 block of Fernwood
Pacific Drive, lost control of her vehicle, drove off the roadway
and struck a steel post. The fire hydrant protection post impaled
the undercarriage of the vehicle and shattered the engine block,
causing the Cherokee to overturn in the driveway at 835 Fernwood
Pacific. According to Topanga resident Jonas Hardy, who was driving
east on Fernwood, flames could be seen coming from the engine compartment.
Hardy stopped his vehicle, was able to locate a fire extinguisher
from a neighbor, and succeeded in putting out the fire. A motorist
who had been following behind the Cherokee helped the driver exit
the heavily damaged vehicle.
Fernwood residents report that drivers regularly
exceed safe speed limits on Fernwood Pacific Drive. With the increase
in traffic, the CHP cautioned drivers that they should observe the
15-mile-per-hour courtesy speed signs on blind curves even though
the posted speed limit may be higher. The courtesy speed signs were
installed to advise drivers to reduce speed at all such locations
on Fernwood Pacific and throughout Topanga.
PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS
A close call on Fernwood
Units from the California Highway Patrol
(CHP), Los Angeles County Sheriffs, and paramedics from
Los Angeles County Fire Departments Station 69 responded
to a 911 call reporting the accident.
CHP officers stated that the 44-year-old
female driver was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test,
and after a second request and refusal the driver was placed
under arrest and taken to West Hills Medical Center for treatment
of injuries. The driver was then transferred to the Lost Hills
Sheriff's Station and released on $2,500 bail. No formal charges
have been filed.
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County Crews on the
A project will soon be underway to repave Red
Rock Road near Old Topanga Canyon Road and Arteique Road, from Topanga
Canyon Boulevard to where it ends.
The repaving project is expected to cost between
$400,000 and $500,000, and to take 35 working days for completion,
beginning in July and ending in September.
Once work begins, Red Rock Road may be reduced
to one lane for both directions, and controlled by flag operators
during daylight working hours.
The County also intends to slurry-seal approximately
seven miles of pavement in Topanga, Calabasas and unincorporated
areas of West Hills. Slurry-seal is a mixture of asphalt and sand
applied to existing pavement to seal minor cracks and extend the
life of the roadway. This project calls for a type of slurry that
uses recycled automobile tires as one of its components.
The project is expected to start in July and
take 15 working days to complete, ending in August. Once work begins,
Viewridge Road, Coastline Drive, and Vanowen Street may be reduced
to one traffic lane for both directions controlled by flag operators
during daylight working hours. Other project streets may be closed
to through traffic while they are being slurry-sealed. While paving
and sealing, local access will be maintained at all times.
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