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Woodland Ordinance To Be Pruned:
County Delays Vote When The People Protest

By Michele Johnson

The people have spoken. Under pressure from developers and homeowners alike, the County Regional Planning Commission postponed a July 26 vote on the Woodland or Protected Tree Ordinance until September 27 or until, as Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's aide Laura Shell puts it, "We can sit down with representatives and leaders to walk through the ordinance."

Already several key changes are on the table. The most potentially important suggestion, made by Planning Commissioner Esther Feldman at the July 26 meeting, was that a 40-foot perimeter around each individual home be exempt from the permit process. This idea is in force in a similar ordinance in Calabasas, and Regional Planning is considering adopting it. The County hopes that would answer a lot of objections raised by individual property owners.
At the meeting Feldman also suggested creating a tiered system of fees based on the number of trees that would be removed. In fact, it seems like it's back to the drawing board for the beleaguered County agency. Laura Shell even went so far as to say, "Maybe single-family residences should be exempt."

The news of the postponement of the vote has been hailed as a victory by the many Topangans who oppose the ordinance. They range from those who would like to see the ordinance completely abolished to those who would like it revised to ease the burden for the single-family homeowner. Dale Robinette, president of the Town Council, said he's heard from lots of irate people. "I got calls and e-mails from people I'd never heard from before. Personally," Robinette said, "I'm ecstatic. I'm a big believer in property rights."

 VOL.24 NO. 16
August 10 - 23, 2000



In its recent newsletter TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) stated that though they support the idea of protecting woodlands and native trees, "The proposed ordinance goes too far and does it in an inappropriate way. Its implementation would impose onerous burdens on individual homeowners." Roger Pugliese head of TASC put it more explicitly: "The idea behind the ordinance is fabulous." But, in his opinion, "It's poorly written." He also feels the ordinance needs a public airing. "I think that what's important is that there's always community involvement."

Realtor Casey Kelley, who wrote one of the first letters to the Messenger objecting to the ordinance, agrees. (CLICK HERE FOR CASEY'S LETTER) "I think the postponement is obviously necessary because people awakened to what is going on." She believes, "The free zone is a step in the right direction." But she adds, "I go back to the original purpose of the ordinance--to stop wholesale trashing of our heritage." And, she concludes, "I'm not sure the ordinance should be applied to homeowners to begin with."

Obviously, when the Oak Tree Ordinance was drafted in 1982, it was aimed at stopping the wholesale destruction of oaks at the hands of developers' bulldozers. Today, developers are again in the forefront of opposition to the ordinance, confirms Laura Shell. The Building Industry Association, the developers' lobby, is firmly opposed to widening the ordinance. Rosi Dagit of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM) warns, "As a County we're losing the battle big-time. There's a number of ways we can improve the ordinance, but we do need to move forward out of the oaks-only issue."

David Totheroh, who opposes the ordinance, disagrees. (CLICK HERE FOR DAVID'S LETTER) "I would like to see an exploration of the need for the ordinance. . .I have no idea what the need for an ordinance is." He feels a community meeting is called for. "We sure as hell ought to have something to say about it."

The County denies the charge that there has been little public involvement in the process. According to Laura Shell, in October 1999 the County announced the first public hearing on the Woodland Ordinance with "a mailing to an extensive list of homeowners groups and community organizations" including Topanga Creekside Homeowners Association; Viewridge Homeowners, Inc.; Topanga Skyline Homeowners Association; Homeowners Association of Viewridge Estates and Homeowners Association of Topanga. Then last January, after people complained that there was not enough community outreach on the ordinance, Shell says Regional Planning made a second mailing to notify organizations about the next scheduled public hearing. (The Messenger, TASC and the Topanga Town Council were not included on the list of those notified.) All together, Shell said, there were "six or seven public hearings."
Typically, she added, the County notifies people of the first public hearing on a subject, but after that, "It is their responsibility to check back with us. We do not do notification before every one."

Rosi Dagit says that she announced the date of the last public hearing at the Watershed Committee meeting held right before it. She couldn't speak at length about the ordinance at that meeting, she said, because she received a "late posting of the revision by Regional Planning." Dagit also attempted to set up a community meeting at Calamigos Ranch, but says the parties who'd offered to help canceled out. "As a result of the current concerns," she states, "I hope that this will finally occur."

So far, though, the County has no plans to hold a community-wide meeting on the subject, says Shell, but will plan to meet with civic leaders throughout the County instead. She did say that Los Angeles County would be open to sending a representative to speak about the ordinance to a Watershed, Town Council or other representative body's meeting in Topanga.

The RCDSMM has also been accused of offering to share information from the tree data collected for the City Green survey with Regional Planning so that they could use it to enforce the ordinance. Rosi Dagit hotly denies this accusation. "The tree inventory data collected by Topanga volunteers has never been requested by Regional Planning, nor any other regulatory agency, nor has it been offered to them." In fact no addresses or plot numbers are even attached to the data, she said. Laura Shell confirms this. "She never offered any data to the Commission on the ordinance." In fact to the contrary, Shell says, "She's given significant testimony requesting incentives for single-family owners."


Anyone can get a copy of the Woodland Ordinance and its recently printed guidelines. Just log on to: But having the ordinance in hand may not be enough. There are many misconceptions about what the ordinance actually says. To walk through its minefield of confusing rhetoric, we asked Annie Lin, acting senior Regional Planning assistant to assist us.
As most of us know by now, the Woodland or Protected Tree Ordinance is actually a revision of the 1982 Oak Tree Ordinance. It widens the ordinance to protect the Western sycamore, California walnut and Joshua trees with one trunk measuring six inches in diameter and four and one-half feet above ground. It also extends protection to "specified native woodlands."
It holds that "a person shall not remove or encroach into a woodland, or protected tree or any tree that has been provided as a replacement tree unless a valid woodland or protected tree permit is first obtained."

There are several exemptions. One of the most important reads, "Cases of emergency caused by a protected tree being in a dangerous location or condition, or being irretrievably damaged through flood, fire, wind or lightning, as determined after visual inspection by a licensed forester with County Forestry and Fire Warden." First question: Is this one man or two? One Forester/Fire Warden, Lin responds. Foresters can be tough with their calls, some opponents claim. Does the County give them guidelines to follow? Not really, says Lin. They develop their own guidelines. "It's really their call." She's hoping that will change with the adoption of this ordinance. "We are working to establish better guidelines for consistency."

Tree maintenance is also allowed, "limited to medium pruning of branches not to exceed two inches in diameter." When asked if this isn't micro-managing--I mean, can't we leave this up to the good sense of the individual? Lin replied, "Right now that is still the case. That may change in the meetings."

Also exempt: "Maintenance and/or brush clearance required by the Fire Code." The need for clearance has to be certified by a County Forester/Fire Warden. But the notice of removal that you get from the Fire Department is the only piece of paper you'd need, says Lin. That acts as official certification. So removal or pruning for fire brush clearance is exempt.

Also, according to the guidelines, if you're a single-family homeowner, you don't need a permit unless you plan to remove or encroach three or more trees, a heritage oak, or replacement trees you added to obtain a past permit.

So even if the 40-foot rule weren't in effect, there are not too many situations in which the average homeowner would need a permit to remove or prune protected trees or woodlands. But if you do, there's no doubt about it, the process is a pain. First there's the fee. As the fees now stand, a tree permit would cost $486 total for the combination of trees or woodlands affected. You'd need a detailed site plan and photographs of the woodlands or protected trees. The photos would actually mean less hassle than before, Lin says, since you would no longer be required to measure every tree for identification. In the old version, too, you "used to inventory all oak trees within 200 feet." Now just those directly involved need to be inventoried.


Let's say you have a woodland on your property--that's "a native tree dominant plant community in which three or more adjacent trees are of a species listed in" the ordinance guidelines. Those plants and trees run to four pages in the guidelines. How is a person supposed to know whether they even have a woodland as defined? I mean, some of us aren't botanists. "You're right," concedes Annie Lin, and she agrees that "maybe more detailed description or pictures of trees" might help to clue the clueless in.

So let's say you have a woodland on your property.

More than a simple permit might be required to remove or encroach upon it. Fees could jump to $2,130 if a public hearing is required, and if a biological constraints report is necessary an additional deposit of $1,000 would be required that would be drawn on as necessary. These fees will probably be tiered in the final version, based on how many trees are to be removed. This wouldn't include the private costs of an expert to draw up the report.

A biological constraints analysis is theoretically required whenever a woodlands would be affected. The analysis would include a "field reconnaissance" by an arborist, biologist or botanist and require a host of other information, including maps and photos.

If the 40-foot exemption is passed, it would be unlikely the average homeowner would have to face these daunting obstacles often. And already, with the waivers set forth in the guidelines, a biological constraints analysis or public hearing would seldom be necessary for a single family homeowner. Except for the heritage oaks measuring 36 inches around or historically significant trees, no analysis is necessary if the woodlands comprise an area of less than 1/4 of an acre,have five or fewer keystone/associated trees measuring at least six inches, or if the homeowner only proposes to remove two or fewer trees. A single family homeowner would also not need an analysis if the woodlands are simply being encroached upon within 15 feet of the woodlands boundary.

And, says Annie Lin, that list of exemptions "is not exhaustive" and may certainly be expanded.


If you get the ordinance in your hot little hands, the part "Application-Burden of Proof" on p. 15 might seem particularly onerous. The director, hearing officer or commission could decide to ask us to prove that our woodlands will not affect "biotic resources" nearby--that is, a neighbor's woodlands or creek. We also could have to prove no soil erosion would happen. Most of the provisions in this section seem aimed at the developer, but the question remains: Why not say so?

The Woodland or Protected Tree Ordinance has only just begun to evolve into what it will eventually be. Now that the first battle has been won, says Roger Pugliese, "We need to approach this in a rational and sane way."

"On the same hand," he continues, "we need to protect as many trees as we can. I love trees."


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It's Gonna Be A Long Hot Summer:

Fire on the S-Curves

By Susan Chasen

The brush fire on the S-curves August 1 burned a little over a half-acre and was knocked down in less than an hour, but it might have been much worse if not for the fast and overwhelming response from the Fire Department, and for the mercifully stagnant air.


Fighting fire from the air.

Meanwhile, the disaster that wasn't still created that unique mixture of reactions that is Topanga, from T-CEP's volunteers fielding hotline calls and Arson Watch assisting with traffic and information gathering, to Fernwood residents wondering whether to stay or go, to other Canyon residents and commuters who were waylaid by the four-and-a-half hour road closure from Pacific Coast Highway to Old Topanga Canyon Road.

 The brush fire began a little before 10:30 a.m. and had burned a little over a half acre of medium to heavy brush by 11:01 a.m. before it was extinguished at 11:28 a.m., though crews continued to work until 3 p.m. cutting out burned material and verifying that there was no risk of the fire restarting. Also, a small rock slide reportedly required clean-up from Caltrans and closed the road again for a while. Approximately 100 fire personnel responded to the fire caused by a burning vehicle, according to Inspector Ray Rodriguez with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. This included five fire engines, three helicopters and four "camp" crews of 13 to 18 each, who were in this case almost all women inmates of a county camp program in Malibu.

On the ground, these women inmates did a terrific job.

One of the fire engines, Engine 88, was stationed at the intersection of Tuna Canyon Road and Medley Lane above Fernwood as a precaution. Two of the helicopters belonged to the Los Angeles County Fire Department and one belonged to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
 At 10:20 a.m., Topanga resident Uma Friedland pulled her smoking Ford Mustang to the side of the road. She was heading south on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Shortly after she was helped from her car, it burst into flames, eventually igniting the brush. Friedland was uninjured.


The culprit.

T. R. Lifter, 35, of Granada Hills, was in a car heading northbound when he saw greenish smoke filling the inside of a car and noticed a woman panicking inside. "I didn't drag her out of the car," said Lifter, downplaying his role. "I just opened the door."

That was what made it such a shocking experience, Lifter said, because it showed how paralyzing panic can be for people.

It was more like being in a sitcom than being a hero, said Lifter, who simply had the presence of mind to open the door and say: "Wow! Just get out of your car." The California Highway Patrol officer arriving on the scene later, however, said it probably did save Friedland's life.

"I'm happy we were able to help her," said Lifter.

According to Lifter, he and some others on the scene were able to retrieve a few personal items from the car and were almost able to extinguish the fire.

Another motorist had a fire extinguisher, but, according to Lifter, it took just a few seconds too long to get the hood up. When they opened it, the oxygen fueled the flames at first, but the fire extinguisher was working. "If it [the extinguisher] had lasted another 10 seconds, it would have extinguished the fire fully," said Lifter.

Instead, it continued to burn until there was an explosion, probably the gas tank, according to Lifter, and some piece of burning debris flew way up beyond the steep rock along the roadside at that point to ignite the brush above it.

Then followed a bizarre spectacle in which the flaming car, its brakes presumably destroyed in the fire, began to roll down the hill and across the road until it hit a guardrail. If the guardrail hadn't been there, according to Lifter, the car would have gone over the cliff and caused a much bigger fire.

Adding to the shock of the experience, Lifter said, was the near collision of another car whose impatient driver was trying to squeeze by the scene with the on-coming, out-of-control flaming car.

Friedland was not available to comment at press time, but CHP Officer Pack said she reportedly was disoriented by the smoke, had her seatbelt on and thought the door was locked.

Officer Pack said he understands how frustrating road closures can be, but he urged people to understand that the CHP is not going to keep roads closed any longer than necessary.
"We do our best to clear it out as soon as possible," Officer Pack said. He also said he was surprised to learn how many Topangans don't know the alternate routes into Topanga.
Specifically, in this case, drivers seemed unfamiliar with the route from PCH up Las Flores Canyon Road, right on Rambla Pacifica, right on Schueren Road, right on Saddle Peak and left on Tuna Canyon Road. Pack said he tried to tell drivers the route, but it's complicated to describe.

Also, Pack complained himself that some drivers ran through coned off areas, at one point nearly hitting firefighters on the scene. "We don't leave them there if they're not needed," said Pack. "They're there to protect innocent people down there working."

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T-CEP Evacuation Report Due

By Susan Chasen

It's been nearly seven years since Topanga's last big fire, so the S-curves fire last week with its high risk location and happy outcome felt like a fire drill for the community. And it was well timed too.

Any day now all Topanga addresses are going to be receiving "Evacuating Topanga: Risks, Choices and Responsibilities" in the mail, an extensive study about fire preparedness by T-CEP's Fred Feer. The report covers many of the questions Fernwood residents were asking themselves on that Tuesday morning after it dawned on them what that sweet, smoky smell in the air was.

"I didn't start it," joked Feer about the August 1 fire that seems perfectly timed to get people to read his report and to be ready next time a real fire disaster strikes.

"We were just very lucky," said Feer. "First, there was practically no wind. And second, it was close to the fire station.

"It's exactly the kind of thing that happens pretty often. Usually we're able to cope with it, but one of these times, we're not going to be," said Feer, who was among the volunteers who fielded 50 to 60 calls to T-CEP's 455-3000 hotline the morning of the fire.

According to Feer, Topanga averages one or two major fires every 10 years. Probably no one has put as much time and thought into the subject of getting ready for the next big fire in Topanga as Feer, who is Vice President for Operations with the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP), and director of its Disaster Response Team. The product of all this is his 54-page "Evacuating Topanga" which may be a revelation to many Topangans.
What's unusual about the report is that it actually explores the option of staying put during a fire and suggests that there are many advantages to doing so, provided sufficient precautions are taken in advance.

This may not be news to old-timers who have done this many times and have reason to trust their instincts. But for newer residents, who come from cities and may never have considered staying, information on how to take on such a responsibility safely will be crucial and Feer's report is a good place to start.

Initially, said Feer, the report was going to focus on the safe evacuation of Topanga residents, but it "sort of evolved" into almost its opposite. "It went from being a study of evacuation to a study of alternatives to evacuation," explains Feer. "What it is now is largely about decision making."

The choice is between preparing to stay during a fire, with all the stress and uncertainties that go with it, or to evacuate.

"All we're trying to do is say: 'Look, we have risks here. It's your responsibility to make these choices. It can't be made for you,'" says Feer. "You shouldn't sit in the middle of a fire-prone area and say 'there's nothing I can do' and just ignore it."

Feer received a $30,000 grant from the California Community Foundation to prepare the report, which he sees as applying to communities across the country where urban life is increasingly encroaching into wild areas.

Feer got involved in local fire and disaster preparedness after the 1993 Topanga Fire and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake when concerned Topangans created T-CEP.

According to Feer, with Topanga's average of one to two major fires burning more than 500 acres every 10 years, time may be running out. Each year, the Santa Monica Mountains face 20 to 30 "red flag" or high-fire-risk days, usually due to Santa Ana winds and low humidity. Also, it may take only 10 to 20 years after a fire for renewed brush growth to become susceptible again.
"This has been a very dry year and all over Southern California it's been the worst fire season in a long time," said Feer. "We've been just incredibly lucky."

The advantage of staying and sheltering in one's home during a fire is that, generally, the fire passes within a few minutes, but the house remains at risk from airborne embers for many hours afterward, when firefighters have moved on and evacuees are not yet being allowed back.
Feer's advice for staying includes laying down in the lowest center point of the house where he said temperatures are not likely to be life-threatening. Temperatures can be 100 degrees cooler at the floor than just six inches higher, Feer said.

"It's going to be very uncomfortable. It's going to be very noisy. And it's going to be very scary," cautions Feer, but it's not likely to be lethal. "Your house is not going to blow up and burn down in a few minutes."

According to Feer, radiant heat will ignite paper at 450 degrees. But radiant temperatures inside a house, at its lowest point ,are not likely to go that high. Double-paned windows with fire resistant coverings or foil lining to reflect heat can help reduce radiant heat inside the house. However, it is important to move flammable curtains or other items away from windows where they could ignite.

Other essentials for staying include teaming up with at least one other person, dressing in layered cotton or wool clothing, or fire protective clothing, all-leather boots, and wearing a filter mask or kerchief and goggles to protect against smoke. According to Feer, wetting kerchiefs or clothes poses a risk of flash scalding and serious injury once the fire is near. Similarly, goggles can cause burns and should be removed as the fire approaches.

Also, hoses, a water pump and a supply of stored water should be available, perhaps with fire-retarding gels or foams.

Even if one doesn't intend to stay, familiarity with some of these strategies may be life-saving if there's no time to leave safely.

Among the measures that should be taken whether one is staying or evacuating, are closing but not locking all windows and doors; and shutting off fuel tanks and interior water valves. Before a fire, vents should be screened over and potential heat traps should be mitigated, roofs should be well-maintained and cleared of debris, critical items to be saved should be identified and a fire emergency plan should be created and rehearsed. Also, thought should be given to fire resistant landscaping and home improvements.

A middle ground between staying and going may be the use of identified public refuge areas such as Topanga Elementary School , the Community House and Big Rock Recreation Area where large parking lots provide a safe distance from fires but which would allow people to return more quickly to put out embers on and around their houses.

Generally canyon bottom areas, especially where water is present, are relatively safe during a fire, according to the report. Also, areas where the fire has to burn downhill or against the wind can provide safe refuge.

Establishing additional refuge areas, such as the Center which has never burned, is proposed as a community goal in the report. But, according to Feer, that suggestion was one of the Fire Department's major concerns.

Essentially the response was: "What do you mean your gonna look for more. We did that," said Feer.

"The reason we've got to do these things ourselves," says Feer, "is the Fire Department, the bureaucracy, is afraid of liability. They're vulnerable if they say you can shelter in your house."
At the same time, Feer said, "if people really took things seriously and prepared to stay, then I think the Fire Department would be delighted."

Although a Fire Department evacuation order is technically mandatory, fire officials are unlikely to have the resources while fighting a fire to remove people against their will.

Some, including Messenger publisher Ian Brodie, are advocating a change in Fire Department strategy, which currently favors early evacuations, in light of successes in Australia with residents staying put.

During a 1998 fire in Australia, firefighters advised residents to stay with their houses, and only seven houses were destroyed out of 1,000 deemed to be threatened. Six of those that burned were unoccupied. This approach is gaining official acceptance in Australia and has long been unofficially accepted by Topanga's old-timers.

As for Feer's own preparations, he has 1,300 gallons of water stored along with fire-retarding gel, and he has followed almost all of his own advice.

"We're down to an irreducible clash of opinion," admits Feer. "We have bougainvillea up one side of the house. It's really bad stuff, but my wife will not think of cutting it out."

Whether one stays or goes, much depends on brush clearance and avoiding fuel ladders of vegetation, fencing or other flammables that will lead a fire to the house. Time and again, Feer's report returns to the magic number of a 30-foot clearance of vegetation.

"The key is not to eliminate it entirely, but to break it up so you don't get a huge mass burning all at once," said Feer. "Your main protection is what you do with the brush.

"I think it's possible to reduce fire danger and not sacrifice aesthetics and privacy, but you've got to think about it," said Feer. "It's easy to get drawn into the technology of it. But it's really a question of being sensitive to the environment you are in."

Some of these measures may best be done through neighborhood organizations such as those already working with T-CEP.

Feer says he knows everyone is not going to sit down and read the report from start to finish, but he hopes it will be a resource that people will dip into and that it will increase the level of community preparedness. Also, he hopes a one-page survey in the report will guide T-CEP's future educational efforts.

"The first thing I want people to do is fill out the survey and mail it back," says Feer. "We really don't know what people think about fire here."

If there is sufficient response, explains Feer, it may indicate that Topangans would be interested in special training courses or other preparedness-related programs if they were offered.

This report, a year in the making, has been a labor of community spirit, if not love, for Feer, a former Rand analyst who has lived in Topanga for 16 years.

"I do this because I find it an interesting puzzle," says Feer. "It occupies my mind in an interesting way."


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Green Light Could Be Given for Signal at Center

By Tony Morris

A preliminary review of proposed improvements including a new signal at the Center for Topanga Canyon Boulevard was presented by Caltrans at a meeting held at the office of Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl on July 21st. Participants included Kuehl's Senior Field Deputy Laurie Newman; Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's Senior Field Deputy Susan Nissman; Sheik Moinuddin, Caltrans Senior Transportation Engineer; Tetsuo Kohama, Caltrans Transportation Engineer; Roger Pugliese, TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) Board Chairman, and Dale Robinette, President of the Topanga Town Council.

In preparation since April of this year, the preliminary report includes traffic surveys conducted along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, traffic accident history and proposed improvement projects along the Boulevard from School Road to Grandview. During an April site visit by Caltrans, the Messenger passed along a number of concerns and questions from Topanga residents.

 Sheik Moinuddin, Caltrans Senior Transportation Engineer in charge of engineering for Route 27 (Topanga Canyon Boulevard), told meeting participants that Caltrans' aim is "to make the Boulevard safer for local Topanga residents." Moinuddin noted that the section of the Boulevard under review has "too many entrances and exits." Drivers are easily distracted and this can cause accidents. Moinuddin reviewed the accident history from July 1, 1996 through June 30, 1999.


Coming soon: another traffic light?

Also presented was a summary of southbound and northbound traffic during "rush hour" periods. The summary noted that traffic peaked between 7 and 8 a.m. at 1,050 vehicles an hour, and from 5 to 6 p.m. at 1,025 vehicles per hour.

Laurie Newman stressed that a review of Caltrans' draft proposals for proposed improvement projects "includes preliminary suggestions to start a dialogue for a way to address these concerns."

"These are just suggestions," she insisted and full public review in Topanga will take place before any changes occur.

Caltrans' draft report included its responses to concerns and questions raised by the Messenger to Caltrans in April of this year:

Q: What is planned for north and southbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the north entry to the Pine Tree Circle shopping mall?

A: Prohibit left turns from southbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard into the Pine Tree Circle shopping mall by installing double/double yellow pavement marking or channelizers and appropriate signing. Also, vehicles will be allowed to make right turns only onto Topanga Canyon Boulevard from this exit.

Citing the width of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Caltrans' Moinuddin said that, in order to prevent drivers from turning left out of the north exit to Pine Tree Circle, double/double yellow lines could be installed on the pavement.

Q: Are turn lanes or passing lanes planned for northbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the south entry (across from the Topanga Center) into the Pine Tree Circle shopping mall?

A: Signalize Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the south entry to the Pine Tree Circle shopping mall and Topanga Center. Install crosswalk at the intersection and install appropriate pavement markings and advanced signing. Ask our local agency to require that this location be used as the only entry/exit point for the Pine Tree Circle Mall, eliminating the other entry/exit point. This can be accomplished through internal traffic circulation. Passing lane is not feasible due to the existing inadequate width of the roadway.

The prospect of an additional traffic light in the center of Topanga was questioned by a number of meeting participants. Caltrans' Moinuddin explained that the signal would provide pedestrians with a safe crossing between Topanga Center and Pine Tree Circle. Susan Nissman stressed that, although the proposed improvements are in a preliminary stage, "whatever comes should be seen from the perspective of public safety and should make it safer and easier for all the community to use the roads."

Q: What is planned for northbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the blind curve located at the Topanga Central Garage?

A: Install advanced signing to warn motorists of vehicles entering from the side.

Q: Is the installation of a traffic signal possible at the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Old Topanga Canyon Road?

A: Traffic counts and field observations were conducted at this intersection. This intersection does not meet Caltrans requirements for installing a traffic signal. However, we propose to install a traffic signal at the Pine Tree Circle intersection.

Rush hour traffic often prevents drivers from turning left onto Topanga Canyon when the intersection is blocked by slow moving southbound rush hour traffic. TASC's Roger Pugliese asked if a CHP unit or off-duty officer could be utilized to keep this intersection clear and to assist drivers making a left turn from Old Topanga Road onto Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Susan Nissman emphasized the need for drivers to be able to turn left onto the Boulevard as a large number of parents take their children to Topanga Elementary School .

Q: What is planned for the crosswalks at the intersections of Topanga Canyon Boulevard with Old Topanga Road and Fernwood Pacific Drive?

A: The crosswalk at the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Old Topanga Road will be removed. Field observations at this location showed that the crosswalk was not being used. The crosswalk should be relocated at the Pine Tree Circle. Also, install advanced warning signs to notify motorists of vehicles entering from the side.

Field observations of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Fernwood Pacific Drive showed that the crosswalk is being used. Install Pedestrian Crossing sign at the crosswalk. Also, install advanced warning signs to notify motorists of vehicles entering from the side.

Q: What is planned for the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard at Lookout Trail and the video store?

A: Prohibit left turns from the video store and Lookout Trail to increase sight distance along southbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Lookout Trail. "No Stopping" at any time restriction will be enforced between Lookout Trail and Fernwood Pacific Drive. Also, trim trees and shrubs (located on private property) at the corner of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Lookout Trail.

Susan Nissman raised the concern that prohibiting a left-hand turn from Lookout Trail onto Topanga Canyon Boulevard would be a major problem for Fernwood residents going to work. Traffic at the intersection of Fernwood Pacific Drive and the Boulevard would be congested if left-hand turns were prohibited at Lookout Trail.

Q: What is planned at the blind curve located at the Fernwood Market and Fred Sands Realty?

A: Prohibit left turns from southbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard into the Fernwood Market and Fred Sands Realty. Also, prohibit left turns from the Fernwood Market. To increase sight distance along southbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Lookout Trail to the Fernwood Market, remove trees (located on private property) along the eastside of the roadway.

Laurie Newman announced that a public presentation would be scheduled at the Topanga Elementary School Auditorium on October 12th, with a Town Hall meeting from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. and a discussion of traffic issues from 8 to 9 p.m.

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Treacherous Traffic

By Penny Taylor

Fatal Accident on Tuna

On Tuesday, July 25, a Porsche driven by Joseph J. Cantlay, age 36, of Los Angeles was traveling north on Tuna Canyon Road coming uphill from Pacific Coast Highway, when it failed to negotiate a curve and fell 100 feet over the embankment.

Neither Mr. Cantlay nor his passenger, Antoine R. Trezona, also of Los Angeles, were wearing seatbelts and both were thrown from the car.
Mr. Trezona sustained "moderate" injuries and went to a nearby home for help.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies and Fire Station 69 responded to the accident scene, where it was determined Mr. Cantlay had been killed when he was ejected in front of the Porsche and the car landed on him.
Mr. Trezona was transported to UCLA Medical Center in a Los Angeles Country Fire Department helicopter.

Tuna Canyon south of Saddlepeak was closed for investigation of the accident and removal of the Porsche. The lights and helicopter attracted residents who were worried there might be a fire.

Both men had been drinking prior to the accident, but Mr. Cantlay's blood alcohol results from the Los Angeles Country Coroner are still pending.

It is unknown why the driver took the turn to go the wrong way up Tuna from PCH. The investigation led by Officer Ron Cohan of the California Highway Patrol is still underway.

Topanga Youths Injured in Motorbike Mishap

On Monday, July 31 Joel Ector, 15, and John Voboril, 16, were injured when their motorbike collided with a vehicle in the 100 South block of Topanga Canyon Boulevard in front of Topanga Creek General Store and Abuelita's restaurant. Both boys were thrown from the bike.

Joel sustained moderate injuries, while John, the driver, was thrown through the windshield, and received chest injuries, multiple leg fractures, a broken wrist and lost his spleen. He was transported via a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter to the Northridge Medical Center where he underwent surgery. Family friend Kathleen Hernandez met him as he arrived at the hospital because his father was out of town visiting a sick friend. John was wearing a helmet and Hernandez said, "I think that saved him from being decapitated."

There are conflicting reports as to whether the youths were traveling the same direction as the car and hit the automobile from behind or whether the car turned in front of them and the young men hit the vehicle from the side.

John Voboril has since had more surgery to repair the breaks in his leg and is recovering at Northridge Medical Center. Joel Ector was treated for a broken leg and torn spleen and is now recovering at home.

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Elysium Bids on New Home

By Michele Johnson

Elysium Fields clothing- optional resort has opened a 45-day escrow on a new site in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Topanga. "Unfortunately for our love of Topanga, it's not in Topanga, but it's close by," said Betty Meltzer, co-Director of Elysium. She cannot disclose the exact site, says Meltzer, "because the current owner is still residing there."

Since they still have to pull permits with Regional Planning, Meltzer says, "It's not a finger snap." But, she says, "We have a top man representing us to get permits and clearances." As for now, she figures Elysium will be staying in their present location "indefinitely."

Elysium is renting its current location on a month-to-month lease. When asked if they had been told how long they have at their present location, which is being sold by the daughters of Elysium founder Ed Lange, Meltzer replied, "We have received no notice except that the property is up for sale for $2.6 million. The big information is that we're not closing, we're moving. People are excited because we've found a home, but it isn't secure yet. We're doing everything we can to secure the future.I wish I had a crystal ball, but I don't."

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Warren Chase Retires

By Penny Taylor

The road side sign outside the crystal store read, "Don't retire Captain Chase." And just below it, as a final plea to the Board of Supervisors, "Zev!!!"

Residents stated they had made calls to the Board of Supervisors to protest the forced retirement of Warren Chase, Captain of Los Angeles County Fire Station 69, but no action was taken.

The courts denied a restraining order to stop the forced retirement, and July 31 was his last day of duty.

On Sunday, July 30, fire fighters and members of the community gathered at Station 69 for punch, cake, ping pong and to talk over old times. . .

For the full story, see the current newsstand edition of the Messenger.

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Wildlife Center Seeks New Site

By Mollie Hogan

The Nature of Wildworks, Topanga's own nonprofit wildlife center, needs to find a larger, more suitable and more accessible, acreage of land--for both the immediate needs and future plans. We hope and trust this does not mean leaving Topanga, the most animal-friendly place in the world!

Saul Spitz and Moon are looking for a new home.
I was so lucky when I first determined to create a wildlife center, that fate had already directed me to this very special place on earth.
In these first five years of its existence, Wildworks has flourished here in its Topanga location.

The phone rarely stops ringing. In addition to calls from donors and volunteers, there are always appeals on behalf of animals in need--which are all too often beyond the capacity of our small facility.
Also, there is the ever-increasing scheduling of our educational wildlife outreach programs that have become our most rewarding activity, with the nonreleasable wild animals in our care graciously serving as goodwill ambassadors for all of their kind in the wild.
In fact, we really need more space just for the ultimate comfort and well-being of these special animals to whom we have pledged lifetime care.

Our Wildworks center's current goal of a large new exercise "freedom cage" for our resident animals will finally soon be a reality. However, we can't help but wish that we would be erecting it on the spacious new site that we envision for our center.
The stated ultimate goal of The Nature of Wildworks has always been an Educational/Environmental Center located on a sizeable acreage of land to be maintained as an unspoiled natural habitat for a free-roaming wildlife population along with an expanded facility for its community of protected animals.

Our new center would be open to the public to promote interactive experiences with animals and nature, with congenial indoor and outdoor meeting places providing an incentive for groups to address ecological concerns and work toward viable solutions.

Sources of funding for our new center will be grants, outreach program fees, and public donations. But first of all, a suitable acreage of land available for non-profit use must be found-hopefully, right here in Topanga.

Five years ago when I first envisioned my wildlife center, I sat on a Topanga hillside seeing this wonderful canyon countryside from the point of view of the mountain lion then in my care and the ones who still roam freely here. I am now envisioning the new site for our wildlife center with that same mountain lion view.
Anyone knowing of some likely land available for non-profit use in the worthwhile cause of animals and nature, please call or write us at Wildworks, P.O. Box 109, Topanga 90290 (310) 455-0550 e-mail:

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Studio RMA To Open in Center

By Tony Morris

Robert Mechielsen will be opening Studio RMA in the Topanga Center soon. A native of the Netherlands, Mechielsen will be providing architectural and design services to the Topanga community. A graduate of Delft University, Mechielsen specializes in residential design and has also designed a major addition for the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

For Mechielsen, coming from the "middle of Holland where everything is cows or sidewalks" the opportunity to come to the United States was "part of the American Dream."


Robert Mecheilsen, living "part of the American Dream."

Because the Netherlands as a country has no room to expand, new projects are, for the most part, related to an urban context. Designing projects in the countryside usually is not an option. In order to experience the French countryside, Mechielsen received a scholarship from the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris and spent a year living near Avignon. His travels have taken him to Iquitos, Peru, Ronda, Spain and he is currently working on several projects in Hawaii. As a Topanga resident living in close proximity to nature, Mechielsen expects to draw upon this experience in his work.

Studio RMA is located at 135A South Topanga Canyon Blvd. Topanga CA 90290 Telephone: (310) 455-7504, Fax: (310) 455-7051.

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