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Seeing Dots Before Your Eyes?: DPW Explains

By Michele Johnson

For the first time in almost eight years, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is planning to trim Topanga's trees in the public right-of-ways throughout Topanga. In preparation, a new controversial color-coded dot system has been used to identify which trees will be cut. The sheer number of dots have concerned many Topangans, who are worried that Topanga will never be the same once the trimming is done. All together, 5,112 of Topanga's 6,386 trees will be affected. Of those, 145 are slated to be removed, while the majority of the rest will be trimmed to clear the roadway. The trimming will begin January 1 of next year and be completed by March 15 in order to avoid trimming trees in the hot season and to allow birds their nesting season.

 VOL.24 NO. 17
August 24 - September 6, 2000



The requirement to clear the roadway by 17 feet for most trees and 16 feet for oaks is the big concern of many Topangans. That height limit, they say, is excessive for a community like ours. Greenleaf homeowners--led by Gloria Fioramanti, Marilyn Babcock and Margaret Freeman--are protesting the deep cuts planned for their trees. Of 248 trees in the right-of-way on Greenleaf, 224 are scheduled for action, including 10 removals. Of those, 128 are live oaks and many are large "significant" trees. Marilyn Babcock spoke for many Greenleaf residents, protesting, "When 90% of the trees are affected, it's time to worry about the character of the street."


To calm citizens' fears, the Department of Public Works called a meeting on Thursday, August 10, at the Topanga Community House. In Topanga fashion, it didn't start well--the 30 or so people were stuck in the parking lot because the place was locked and no one had a key. Just as Susan Nissman, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's senior aide shouted, "I'm afraid we'll have to have the meeting outside," someone who really didn't want to stand on asphalt for two hours climbed in a window and unlocked the place. Everyone grabbed a chair and the meeting began.

Nissman opened the meeting with introductions and a little background lesson. She said the trimming plan was "customized for the mountains," based on conversations with community members and, she insisted, "The [trimming] standard for DPW is higher than the standard we are putting homeowners to at this time." In fact, she claimed, out of 9,000 trees already cut in the County, there has been only one error--an oak tree was removed before its time.


Dean Lehman, Supervising District Engineer in charge of road maintenance at DPW, then took over the meeting. He insisted that the restless crowd hold their questions until he was done with his presentation. During the course of his talk, he did explain away many of the objections of the crowd.
For example, if you've been appalled at tree trimmings that have taken place on your street in the past few years, don't blame DPW, Lehman said, blame Edison. DPW hasn't cut in Topanga for almost eight years, but Edison cuts yearly to free its power lines. Caltrans also wields saws on state highways like Topanga Canyon Boulevard. It must have been Edison, then, that trimmed only one side of a pine tree in this reporter's right-of-way a few years ago, leaving the tree looking ravaged and lopsided. "We don't want people confusing our work with their work," Lehman insisted.
Knowing Topangans are untrusting environmentalists, the DPW made a point of trimming all the other areas of the County first to serve as a testimonial to their work, Lehman said. They suggest concerned Topangans drive to Cold Creek, off Mulholland, to see how well that area, similar in terrain to Topanga, was trimmed. Roger Pugliese, head of Topanga Association for a Scenic Community said he'd heard the people in Cold Creek "were pleasantly surprised. I understand they've done a good job in other areas," he reported.

"Anyone using a saw must be an arborist or certified tree trimmer," Lehman insisted. Debris from the trimming must be cleaned up and hauled off the site the same day the tree is cut, except for firewood-sized logs that will be left for four days for resident pick-up. Also, says Lehman, the DPW does not top trees, trims outer branches first for minimum clearance, and will paint over those obnoxious dots when the job is done to match the tree.


The dots were put there to identify the cuts required for the contracting company and residents, Lehman said. "Look at the dots," he suggests. "Look at the tree and decide, 'Does this make sense?' If you are uncomfortable, we want to hear from you."

Some in the crowd complained that trees had been earmarked for unnecessary cutting. Manfred Schlosser from the Town Council complained, for example, that some Fernwood area trees that should have been marked weren't, and others were marked that seemed to be too far off the roadway to make a difference. Lehman refused to discuss specifics like this example, but offered to meet onsite with any Topangan who disagrees with the trees marked for trimming or removal. If after the meeting no agreement is reached, another meeting will be scheduled with an arborist. Anyone can call Lehman at (323) 776-7552 to arrange a meeting time. Meetings must take place before the work is open to bid at the end of September. You can obtain a copy of the tree trimming specs at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM) office on Topanga Canyon Boulevard near the center.

In the specs, the DPW supplied a key to the color-coding so that you can check your dots. Orange dots--the majority of them--mean the tree is slated for a trim to provide adequate clearance for vehicles. A yellow dot authorizes a trim to shape, thin or remove dead wood or heavy weight. A purple dot means a drop-crotch trim will be made. This is a radical trim in which the tree will be trimmed to reduce tops, sides, underbranches or individual limbs by trimming back to a strong crotch. Only 40 trees in Topanga are slated for drop-crotch trimming. Finally, a white arrow indicates a tree will be completely removed. "Most trees," the report explains "are being removed because they are dead (most were destroyed in brush fires.) The rest are either diseased or the main body of the tree is growing over the roadway and must be removed to provide necessary clearance."


Private meetings may take care of some of the specific objections, but people, especially residents of oak tree-rich Greenleaf, were left in the end with one major general stumbling point--the height limits for clearance. That, Lehman insisted, could not be changed this go-around, but he allowed that if a movement were made to change the limits for the next scheduled tree-trimming, he would do what he could to help.

That wasn't good enough for many Topangans, who insist the 17-foot limit--supposedly tied to a 17-foot state road limit--is unnecessary. And, though Lehman said there is "not a general philosophy shift" about numbers of trees slated for trimming, one voice from the crowd insisted, "There are trees impacted that have never been brought to this standard before."

The city of Los Angeles' trimming standards are much less stringent than the County's, only 11 feet for residential streets and 13 1/2 feet for major roads, Los Angeles City Street Tree Division confirms.

And though Lehman said he believed the tie to state requirements was mandatory, Wayne Johnson of Caltrans disagrees: "Their roads are their jurisdiction," he said of the County. The state set its limits, he said, based on the fact that semi-trailer trucks can be 14 1/2 feet high and permits can be given for even higher loads. Since Topanga's side-street County roads have no semi traffic and most fire trucks are under 10 feet high, the height limit does seem excessive. There are exceptional needs--for example, a fire truck loaded with a bulldozer, or one of the new 13-foot high fire trucks now being deployed.

The 40-foot clearance requirement from the midpoint of the pavement also seems excessive since some roads up here are only 10 to 20 feet wide and could never accommodate, for example, two passing fire trucks, no matter how carefully they were trimmed.

At the meeting, Marilyn Babcock made an emotional plea. "I grew up in Thousand Oaks," she said. "There are only six oaks left. That's why I moved here. And, she went on, "My children are crying at night," they are so worried about losing the canopy of oak trees. "You'll still have your canopy," insisted Lehman. When pressed, Lehman agreed to meet with Greenleaf residents and bring along an arborist to discuss each tree in question. "There's always exceptions," to the County guidelines, he said. "I will vary for specific situations."

Though many in the crowd were reassured, some were not so easily placated. "I'll chain myself to a tree," said one man. He also reported that some residents are painting their orange spots brown to obscure them, and others plan to "spike" the trees, though these protesters would supposedly leave a note reading "This tree is spiked. Cut at your own risk" to avoid hurting the man with the saw.

Hopefully, cooler heads and an accommodating County effort will prevail. "We will meet with anyone to listen to concerns," Lehman said placatingly. "If we agree, we'll change the marking on the spot."

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North Area Plan Goes to the Supervisors

By Susan Chasen

The County's new land-use plan for regulating development within the northern portions of the Santa Monica Mountains is likely to go to the Board of Supervisors after an expected final vote by the County Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday, August 23.

The Planning Commission, after making minor wording changes, tentatively approved the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan on August 8 and asked that a final vote be set for August 23, according to Project Manager Lee Stark with the County Planning Department.

Once the North Area Plan is forwarded to the Board of Supervisors, Stark said, a 30-day public review period will be announced and a public hearing scheduled.

Most likely the public hearing will not be set before October 24 or November 28 because of notification requirements, Stark said. Generally, planning matters are scheduled on the fourth Thursday of each month.

In the meantime, an updated draft of the plan, which covers 21,000 acres and allows for a maximum of 2,700 potential new homes, may be viewed online at
The North Area Plan has received generally favorable reactions for improved environmental protections, though a last-minute change in June that up-zoned numerous parcels raised some concerns. That move, prompted by Supervisor Don Knabe's commission appointee Cheryl Vargo, re-designated areas between Las Virgenes Road and Kanan Road to allow one house per 10 acres instead of one per 20 as had been previously printed on the plan's draft map. In one instance the designation went from one house per five acres to one house per acre.

According to Stark, the maximum impact of these changes is an addition of 167 homes over the 1,600 acres affected by the revision. However he suggested that, in reality, the number of potential home sites would likely be significantly less because the changes include areas of greater than 50 percent slope which the County's Hillside Management Ordinance limits to one house per 20 acres regardless of the general designation depicted on the County's land-use map.

Roger Pugliese, chair of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community), says these changes concern him and will be fought when the plan goes to the Board of Supervisors.
"They're not as harmless as some people might suggest," said Pugliese of the last-minute up-zoning, initiated months after the public hearing period was closed and by a commissioner from another district. "Developers have been trying to change this thing so it becomes less damaging to them," said Pugliese. "I'm beginning to hear about how it's being kind of eroded and it's starting to concern me."

This new plan, two-and-a-half years in drafting, will eventually replace the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains Interim Area Plan, originally approved in 1981 to apply for a one-year period. Later, when other major planning projects intervened and subsequent deadlines for completing a new plan were missed, the Interim plan was extended indefinitely.

Some equestrians have expressed concern that the new plan should do more to specifically facilitate recreational uses in the mountains and that environmental protections and development controls may ultimately restrict equestrian uses.

According to Stark, however, this plan is more "equestrian friendly" than the Interim Area Plan was and is in no way intended to reduce horse ownership or use.

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Saving a Life

By Gary Harryman

 Hero: a person noted or admired for nobility, courage, or outstanding achievement; regarded as a role model or ideal as "He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child's life."

- Webster's dictionary
In the early afternoon on Friday, July 14, Jason Holland, one of Topanga's own, was standing in line to cash his paycheck at a Bank of America in Woodland Hills when two women charged into the bank screaming for help. Although the women were clearly distressed over the condition of the baby one was holding in her arms, everyone in the bank stared frozen in place. Jason stepped out of line to get a better look at the baby and found it was frothing at the mouth, sweating profusely, and breathing raggedly.

Taking charge, Jason shouted "Call 911," grabbed the baby from its mother's arms and, sitting down cross-legged on the floor, cradled the baby in his lap and began the "ABC's" (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) he learned from his training as a lifeguard. As soon as Jason cleared the baby's airway the infant began crying--"That was a good sign. Then I looked for a pulse. It's hard to find on an infant that small, but I found it on his inner arm just below his armpit."

The baby is doing fine. Jason is 19 years old, single, and drives a monster orange and white Chevy Blazer-if any girls are interested.

Jason Holland--just an everyday hero.

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Earth Day 2000 Tally Is In

By Woody Hastings

It took a while to sort through all of the receipts and expenses, and some long-awaited checks only recently arrived, but the final tally is in! In addition to raising ecological awareness, understanding of the unique Topanga watershed, and the undeniable spirit of Topanga environmental consciousness, the Earth Day 2000 Experience raised $9,280 for the Topanga Watershed Committee!

A heartfelt congratulations to all of the volunteers involved in organizing the festival, and an equally hearty thanks to all of the attendees--Topangans and others--who gave so generously at the gate, for the raffle, and in supporting the organizations and vendors at the festival. And we shouldn't forget the volunteers--over 100--who removed more than two tons of debris from Topanga Creek, State Park, and Beach. Great work!

Also, special thanks to the Topanga Woman's Club for co-sponsoring the event, and to the other sponsors and supporters including Zev Yaroslavsky and Susan Nissman, Environment Now, Whole Foods Market, Reed's Ginger Brew, Santa Monica Mirror, Topanga Lumber, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Disaster Response Team (for excellent last minute assistance with the parking), and Steve and Leslie Carlson of the former Willows, where we held most of our organizing meetings. And one final special thanks to Robin Kedric Wolfe, who flew in all the way from Ohio to serve as emcee.

The Topanga Earth Day Organizing Committee (TEDOC) has met once since Earth Day, and the general consensus is that we want to do it again next April. This is an open invitation to all Topangans to take part in organizing "2001: A Topanga Earth Day Odyssey," tentatively scheduled for Sunday, April 22, 2001.

One last thingif you didn't get an Earth Day 2000 t-shirt, they are still available at the Resource Conservation District office at 122 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, phone (310) 455-1030. Funds from sales still go to the TWC. If you are interested in helping with the next Earth Day, please call (310) 455-2497 or email

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