Top News 

Shots Fired at Arteique and Deerhil

By Michele Johnson

In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 22, shots were fired on Deerhill Road, breaking the peace of a normally bucolic Sylvia Park neighborhood. Several neighbors wakened by the noise called 911, and the Sheriff's station in Lost Hills dispatched deputies to the scene who "detained three carloads of people," said Sergeant John Jones of Lost Hills. "Two were arrested," he continued, charged with discharge of a firearm in a grossly negligent manner, carrying a concealed weapon, driving in possession of an open container, and for the driver, driving with a suspended license. Charged were 19-year-old Jason Holman and 18-year-old Tyler Brown from Van Nuys and Reseda. Jones could not say whether or not they had any gang affiliation.

 VOL.24 NO. 15
July 27 - August 9, 2000



Arson Watch Commander Allen Emerson, who lives up Deerhill, was one of those who called 911. He was awake at about 2:30 a.m., and heard voices outside his window. "There were people on the trail in back of my house. I thought, what the hell. It's 2 o'clock in the morning. Who the hell is out there?" But because the voices were not raised, he didn't become overly alarmed until "about 20 minutes later" when a series of shots rang out. He immediately called 911. The calls started coming into the station at 3:20 a.m., according to Sergeant Jones.

On Deerhill, the scene played out. "One guy was cursing obscenities," continued Emerson, "yelling, 'I want to kill somebody.'" As he listened, he heard several names shouted out, and one car began to race away. Emerson called 911 again. "I called and told them one car was leaving."

According to Sergeant Jones, that car drove around the sheriff's car already on Deerhill that tried to stop it, and continued down the road where it was intercepted by another sheriff's vehicle at the corner of Deerhill and Arteique Road. "The people didn't want to cooperate," Jones said. The deputies who made the stop found an expended casing in the car, a gun that smelled like it had been recently fired and open beer bottles. The deputies then made "a reasonable cause arrest."

At press time, the suspects were still in custody, being questioned. Arraignment was scheduled for Tuesday, July 25. According to Emerson, five bullets and seven shells were found on Deerhill. A Search and Rescue team arrived later that day to hunt for more shells "and possible bodies," Emerson added, though apparently nobody was hurt in the incident.

This is the second Saturday in a row that people were heard on Deerhill in the early morning hours. On Saturday, July 15, at 2:00 a.m. a resident heard a group partying up on the trail above Deerhill. The next day, Emerson said, cigarette butts were found up there, which, he insists, were a real fire danger.

One neighbor put a terrifying spin on the incident. "Any of those bullets could have put any of us at risk. It's the closest thing to a drive-by we've had up here."

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Science Says We're OK

By Rosi Dagit

What do bacteria and the Topanga lagoon have in common? They are all part of the watershed web that we are trying so hard to understand. The research efforts that have taken place over the past year are slowly yielding results that we can use to help us understand how we fit into the picture, and how we can move forward to protect both ourselves and the environment we depend upon. We all live downstream from someone, and here is a clear instance where the actions of each individual can make a real difference.


Thanks to on-going research efforts by Topangans Haley and Jackie Safanov, we now know a lot about the bats living in our bridges. A recent night spent catching a few with bat expert Diana Simmons told us even more. "We knew that the Mexican Freetail bats were the most numerous species, and that mostly young bachelor males hang out together in Old Topanga. But we didn't know that among the many males, the bridges were also nursery roosts for Big Brown bats, a slightly larger species. This research is the first to document the year round residency of these bats in the Santa Monica Mountains," stated Simmons. Public Works has found a way to incorporate the old timbers into the new bridge, so the bats home will be restored in the new bridge. Now we know enough to really take care of the bats when the bridge is replaced.


The first year of sampling water quality at five sites weekly and ten sites monthly has ended, and the report is quite hopeful. Despite some hot spots with regular high bacteria counts, the overall water quality is quite good. We don't have a nutrient problem--no excess nitrogen, phosphorus or ammonia. We don't have a heavy metal problem--no lead, as was suspected by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. And even the hot spots are not enough to overwhelm the natural cleansing process that takes place as the creek leaps and falls over stones along the way to the beach.

This doesn't mean that there aren't some problems needing attention. Clearly the water quality behind Topanga Market is severely impacted by its use as a bathroom by the guys who hang out back there regularly. The port-a-potty provided by the Topanga Town Council is obviously not conveniently placed, so the creek gets used instead. This is a chronic problem that could easily be solved by moving the potty to a better location, as well as by consistent education of the folks who use the area.

The other place of concern is off Entrado Road. The sampling location is downstream of everything in the Glenview neighborhood, so it is not clear where the source(s) of the problem are, but the fecal coliform bacteria counts here continually exceed the standards. Fecal coliform comes from warm-blooded animals, including humans and horses, so the possible sources are many. It would really help if folks in that area checked to see that their septic systems are functioning properly, and that manure from corralled animals is properly disposed of, away from the drainages leading into the creek. Despite the high levels here, the creek seems to cleanse things pretty well before they get to the next sampling location downstream.

A barbed wire fence was recently installed behind the Center. Is this the final solution?

We also learned that the natural levels of total bacteria are quite high in our system. There are thousands of species of bacteria that live in our soils, many of which are beneficial. It is only when the fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria numbers get high that health issues become a concern. While there is no direct link between high levels of coliform bacteria and illnesses, it is still the cheapest indicator to use and the standard worldwide. The real culprit in causing diseases are the viruses, and tests are in the works to allow us to sample directly for these pathogens rather than to rely on the indirect tests provided by bacteria counts.

Our lowest sampling point in the watershed is at the bridge with the stream gauge, two miles up from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). By the time the water has moved through the system and reaches that point it is beautiful and of consistently high quality. The only exception was immediately following the first big rainstorm. Unfortunately, that good water quality degrades by the time it reaches Topanga Beach, after passing through the Rodeo Grounds and the commercial zone along the highway.

Overall, the water sampling data showed a system that is still able to support a diverse group of aquatic plants and animals, and naturally cleanse itself. We have not passed the point of no return, and by taking care, can prove that onsite septic systems are a viable waste management program that can be sustained over time. Look for the site location map and data online by August.

Many thanks to all the volunteers who have helped with data collection over the past year. Topangans Penny Ward, Julie Rosa, Gerlinda and Kevin Gautry, Dona Christianson, Shannon Morrison, Heather Rose and Deborah Low have done a great job. We also want to thank our out-of-Canyon volunteers, Terry Brady, Chris Van Schackt and Jim Yarlborough, who come a long way to lend a hand. New volunteers are always welcome.This project is funded by the State Water Resources Control Board.


Speaking of water quality, the numbers of Pacific Tree Frog, California Tree Frog and Western Toad tadpoles was quite spectacular this year! A survey coordinated by the National Park Service is revisiting sites that were surveyed in the mid 1980s to see how the numbers of amphibians has changed over time. Three locations in Topanga--down in the narrows, along the Backbone Trail in Old Canyon and from Greenleaf to Highvale along Topanga Canyon Boulevard--were sampled by volunteers Kevin Gautry, John Mac Neil, Noel Rhodes, Terry Brady, Dona Christianson, Paul Yamazaki, Heather Rose and myself. We walked through the creeks measuring each run, riffle and pool, counting tadpoles, eggs and adults found along the way. The bacteria that has caused frog deformations worldwide was not found, and all our frogs looked pretty healthy. The final count isn't in, but well over half a million tadpoles were noted. If all of them mature, well, what a vision! A Canyon full of frogs!

Unfortunately this isn't likely, as we also found tons of mosquito fish in the upper watershed. These carnivorous devils are given to homeowners for use in ponds and fountains where they are supposed to control mosquito larvae. They escape into the creek and wreak havoc among the native species, eating everything in sight. The numbers of tadpoles dropped to almost nothing in areas with mosquito fish. We also found a few crayfish--natives of Louisiana that have been released into the creek by misguided fisherman. These guys are really ferocious, and can even eat the poisonous adult California newts. No newts were found in the more disturbed areas of the upper creek.


For years, the idea of restoring the historic lagoon at the mouth of Topanga Creek has been bantered about. In April, photos and a USGS geologic map showing the extent of the former lagoon were found, giving us a glimpse of what used to be. A large portion of the former lagoon sits under 30+ feet of fill added by Caltrans over the years on the southwest side of the creek. The dirt parking lot owned by Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors, as well as the area now covered with businesses and homes on the north side of PCH, used to be a large lagoon supporting diverse species of plants and animals.

But that was in 1915, when the upper watershed had maybe 300 year-round residents. Now we have almost 12,000 people and 3,000 septic systems living in the upper watershed, major state highways and critical utilities along the way. While restoring a portion of the lagoon could definitely help improve water quality at Topanga Beach and encourage more steelhead trout to venture upstream, we need a lot more information about how the system works under present conditions before we make a design. For now, the focus will be on the publicly -owned area south of PCH, but this could be expanded if the Los Angeles Athletic Club property becomes parkland.

The Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project have provided grants to the RCDSMM (Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains) to conduct the necessary background studies needed to identify the constraints that will determine the design of the restored lagoon. A team of scientists from UCLA, Cal State Northridge, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Cal Poly Pomona will work with the Topanga Watershed Committee, Caltrans, Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors, and the RCDSMM to provide a comprehensive framework of information that will allow us to create a self-sustaining, functional lagoon. Historic aerial photos will be scanned into a GIS computer system to generate a three-dimensional model of how the creek channel has changed over time. The sources and sinks of sediments from roadsides, landslides, upslopes and creek banks will be evaluated to understand how sediments move through the system to the sea. Validation of the hydrological model used by the County to develop floodplain maps will be done using real storm event data. Understanding peak flows and water movement is critical, not only to a restored lagoon but to improving flood hazard preparedness throughout the watershed. Last but definitely not least, there will be a series of town hall meetings to develop a comprehensive vision of what functions the community wants the lagoon to serve--for recreation, open space, ecological and water quality benefits. More details will be available in the fall.


The Mermaid Tavern will host an all-day workshop where 40 Topanga lovers will gather to envision a future for the Canyon. Participants will be asked to prepare for the day by reading the Draft Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan, the Local Coastal Plan, the Santa Monica Mountains Area North Plan and assorted other documents that guide planning for Topanga. Together they will identify which policies help further the goals of keeping Topanga the community we love, which ones should be trashed, rewritten, etc. The goal is to develop some guidelines for the future of Topanga which will then be presented to the community at a town meeting in October. Anyone who wishes to help out in this process is welcome, although we are limiting it to the first 40. A tax deductible donation of $20 is requested to help defray costs. Stop by the RCD to fill out a registration form, and pick up your summer reading.

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Car Cleanup

By Rosi Dagit

The 19 wrecked cars that have been corroding away in the steep narrow section of Topanga Creek are finally going to be removed. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Shah's fourth and fifth graders at Topanga Elementary School, the Topanga Watershed Committee and the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), the Urban Streams Restoration Project has provided a grant of $13,200 to cover the costs of a huge Sikorsky S58 helicopter, along with a ground crew, to airlift the cars out of the creek.

Richard Sherman of Topanga Underground, along with a crew of willing volunteers, will use backhoes and flatbed trucks to take the cars from the helipad near Twin Poles to get recycled. A few of the cars and assorted debris will be given to local artists for a sculpture project.

The big event will take place on Saturday, September 9.

In the meantime, we need to get the cars ready to go. They are deep in the Canyon, overgrown with weeds, buried in gravel or embedded in rocks.

We need a crew of strong willing volunteers to help prepare them. Work days are set for Saturday, August 19 and 25, from 9:00 a.m. until the job is done. Volunteers will need to bring and carry lunch, water, and hand tools (chain saws, pry bars, shovels, winches, brawn and brains). We will meet at the RCD office to car pool and sort tools. Please bring what you can to help. It takes approximately an hour to hike into the area, through the boulders and pools along the creek. It will be wet, dirty and oh so satisfying!

We also need trained mechanics who can help remove the fluids from a few of the cars and transport the remains safely out of the creek.

Call Rosi at (310) 455-1030 to volunteer.

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TYS is Back at Bungalow 22

By Paulette Messenheimer

In the last days before school was dismissed, I was informed that Topanga Youth Services (TYS) will again be able to use Bungalow #22 at Topanga Elementary School for their afterschool club room next school year. We have been meeting there after school for two years now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 5:45 p.m., for homework, play rehearsals, games, and discussions using the talking staff. We have had a rock'n'roll band rehearsal on some Fridays from 4:00 to 5:45 p.m. with Noel Rhodes, and there is a possibility that in the upcoming season we may also be open on Mondays and Wednesdays.

In the past, talented adults have taught classes with the group, and more are coming on board this fall. David Esser from Gym for the Mind may be teaching chess strategies and Melissa McGray will be teaching non-competitive games and leading discussions.

Graduating fifth graders visited the club room in June to see what we do and to have a snack. Many of them are interested in joining TYS. Their parents/guardians can complete a one-time registration form this summer. Call (310) 455-3231 to pre-register your graduate and reserve a space at our pool party, which will take place on Wednesday, August 23, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

TYS is all about having events and activities for sixth graders through 16-year-olds. We always welcome parents to join us to help plan and chaperone. Over the years I have found that club members keep up their friendships, and make new ones, because they have a place in the Canyon to 'hang.' I hear that several 'alumni' still go to local spots to meet like we used to do before we had a space at the school.

Teens always need money, and some of them are willing to work for you this summer. Call me if you have something available!

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