Future Up For Grabs: North Area Plan Goes to Supervisors
A somber mood settles in
as Susan Nissman speaks and (l to r) Rabyn Blake, Roger Publiese,
Phil Chandler and Casey Kelley listen.
By Michele Johnson
"Our goal here is ambitious to say
the least." Those were Rosi Dagit's opening words at
the Topanga Tomorrow Workshop, a Watershed Committee event
held at the historic Mermaid Tavern. The goal was to review
all the documents with policies pertaining to Topanga and
identify which policies are good for Topanga, terrible for
Topanga, are conflicting or are just plain missing. As it
turned out, with the North Area Plan looming on our horizon,
due for an October 24 vote by the Board of Supervisors, the
meeting narrowed its focus. It became a forum to dissect the
North Area Plan.
About 30 people attended the all-day workshop,
held Saturday, September 30, which was sponsored by the Resource
Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM). The
Mermaid Tavern is surrounded by views that brought home to participants
just what Topanga has to safeguard. Each person there had to read
through inches of documents during the days before the workshop
before they could attend. The event had been publicized for months
and was open to anyone in the Canyon.
Topanga Tomorrow Workshop discusses
North Area Plan at Mermaid Tavern.
The plans most affecting Topanga, soon to become
law superceding other plans, are the North Area Plan and the Local
Coastal Plan. The Topanga Creek Watershed Management Study and the
Community Standards District, our bids for self-regulation, were
also on the agenda.
THE NORTH AREA PLAN UP FOR A VOTE
After working to revise the Watershed Committee's
mission statement and doing initial work on the Watershed Management
Study, everyone agreed to jump forward through the agenda to tackle
the North Area Plan.
The North Area Plan is a component of the L.A. County General Plan
that will dictate land use in the unincorporated areas of the County
outside of Coastal. In Topanga it will cover the area from Cheney
Road on one side and Old Topanga Road near Skyline on the other
to the Calabasas city line.
The new plan will take the place of the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains
Interim Area Plan. It affects only new construction on land that
has not been previously subdivided. As it states, "Existing
legal lots are not affected, and may be developed-following current
development requirements-regardless of lot size."
What it does do is regulate development of open land in the unincorporated
areas of the County. On the whole, the document is more restrictive
than the old Interim plan it replaces. As Laura Shell, aide to Supervisor
Zev Yaroslavsky, later insisted, "The plan is much stronger
than the Interim, much clearer. It reduces density on the average
by 30% over the Interim Plan." For example, in Topanga, a landowner
has already applied to build three homes on a site above Ed Edelman
Park. Under the new plan, Shell said, the parcel would only have
been zoned for one home.
"It's better than the old one," Roger
Pugliese of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) agrees,
"but it has some loopholes in it that encourage development."
And Pugliese pointed out to the workshop that as it languished in
Regional Planning it has been watered down. "In the last year
it has been chipped away at by various interests."
Laura Shell agrees. "We do see it as a problem." At a
hearing last June, she explained, Regional Planning changed the
map allocating the amount of density allowed. Two large areas were
affected. "Some properties had an N20, and the Commission changed
them to a N10 between Kanan Road and Las Virgenes," said Shell.
This means the land, adjacent to Paramount Ranch and Malibu Creek
State Park, is now zoned for one house per ten acres. "Zev
is asking that that be reversed," Shell said. What are the
chances the rest of the Board will go along? "Who can say?
I wish I had that crystal ball."
Even more alarming, the Warner Financial Land property near the
Calabasas landfill was upzoned to a point even above what it had
been in the Interim plan. Areas designated N20 were rezoned N10;
those designated N5 were re-designated N1. This area is next to
the Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor which is barely holding on
by a thread as it is. The corridor at one point narrows to a freeway
underpass, and its existence could be threatened by the planned
development. Yaroslavsky will also request that the land be downzoned
to reflect the earlier version.
Closer to home, says Roger Pugliese, is a 30-acre parcel in Calabasas
that backs up to Quest Ranch bordering Topanga on the Valley side.
That parcel was designated N10 in the March 1999 version of the
Plan. Now it is upzoned to N2. "I am shocked at the amount
of properties that have been upzoned," said Pugliese.
IT'S THE TRAFFIC, STUPID
Some might ask that, since no area actually
in Topanga has been upzoned in the North Area Plan, why should we
worry? Well, as workshop members pointed out, besides our larger
concerns for the parks and the environment throughout the area,
Topanga is specifically affected in one big way: traffic. An increase
in traffic, participants pointed out, could bring more smog to our
skies, oil to our waters and a disastrous change in our rural lifestyle.
The Plan suggests little that can help the traffic situation. It
describes "a substantial increase in commuter traffic,"
even at present levels, with no further build-out. As remedies,
it suggests expanding public transit and corporate car-pooling,
even encourages bicycles to alleviate congestion. It also suggests
adding one lane in each direction to the Ventura Freeway. But other
than calling for periodic passing and turnout lanes on Kanan Road
and Las Virgenes/Malibu Road, there are no suggestions to ease congestion
on the north-south arteries, like our own Highway 27.
Susan Nissman, Yaroslavsky's Senior Field Deputy, who attended the
workshop "as a private citizen," held out some hope that
a park-and-ride plan might be devised for Topanga Canyon. If the
land can be nailed down for a parking facility in the valley, there
may come a day when commuters can be shuttled into town. Nissman
does not see that as a cure-all, though, just as a stop-gap measure.
That's why the idea put forth in section VII-134 of the North Area
Plan is still our best hope: "Limit the intensity and traffic
generation of new residential, commercial, office and business park
development projects to that which is consistent with achieving
and maintaining roadway performance objectives and protecting the
integrity of existing rural communities"
SORTING OUT THE LANGUAGE
The language in the Plan is generally stronger
than in the Interim Plan, claimed Shell. Rosi Dagit said she was
encouraged by the guiding principle of the plan: "Let the land
dictate the type and intensity of use." At one time, she said,
that language would never have been seen in a County document. But,
workshop participants discovered, the language in this version had
been somewhat watered down from earlier versions as well. In one
place, members found that the wording "discourage plan amendments"
was eliminated. Shell countered that any land use plan must allow
amendments. "We can't prohibit people from applying for an
amendmentbut we don't have to grant it." Shell believes the
language has held up fairly well. "In general, has the plan
maintained its integrity?" she was asked. "Yes, definitely,"
she responded. At the workshop, wording changes were suggested that
could strengthen the document, though some warned that the time
for new wording changes might be past. Returning to language in
an old version of the Plan might be allowed, but new wording would
open up the process to review. Shell says Zev hopes the plan, warts
and all, will finally be passed before more developments get approvals
under the old, less restrictive Interim plan.
Even if strong language is included, the County doesn't have a very
good record on follow-through. Shell agreed that under the Interim
Plan, a great number of amendments to ease zoning for certain landowners
were granted. That suggests one more problem with the plan. Any
plan is only as strong as its implementation.
As an example of just how acquiescent the County is on development,
the Supervisors just unanimously approved a huge 2,545 home development
in the 5th district near Newhall. This was more homes at one fell
swoop, Shell pointed out, than the potential build-out of all the
unincorporated lands covered by the North Area Plan.
COMMUNITY ACTION ADVISED
As the workshop wound to a close, at the urging
of Roger Pugliese, the group decided to draft a letter from the
Watershed Committee to the Board of Supervisors calling for downzoning
the land that had been upzoned and strengthening the language to
reflect the March, 1999 version of the North Area Plan. That letter
is posted in the new Community Action forum on TopangaMessenger.com
and on TopangaOnline.com/twc/nplan/. You can also find online several
sample letters calling for the rollback in zoning that can be downloaded,
revised and sent to the County Board of Supervisors. Send your letter
to any of the five supervisors--Zev Yaroslavsky, Michael Antonovich,
Yvonne Burke, Don Knabe, or Gloria Molina at 500 W. Temple Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90012. Or look on Our
Community Action Page for individual e-mail addresses. The sample
letters and information online were provided by the Cornell Preservation
Organization of Agoura, which has been fighting the downzoning all
Anyone can attend the public meeting to voice objections before
the vote by the County Board of Supervisors which will be held downtown
at 500 W. Temple Street on Tuesday, October 24. The meeting starts
at 9:30, but new business will probably not be on the agenda until
about 10:30 a.m., Shell reported.
NEXT FOR TOPANGA TOMORROW
A lot of the usual suspects who have already
donated hundreds of volunteer hours to support Topanga attended
the workshop, along with some new blood. Bill Buerge, owner of the
Mermaid hosted and Rosi Dagit acted as moderator. Among those attending
were David Gottlieb of the RCDSMM, Rabyn Blake of the Topanga Watershed
Management Committee, Realtor Casey Kelly, Earth Day organizer Woody
Hastings, and Town Council boardmember Vic Richards.
Marti Witter and hydrologist Phil Chandler, who both helped write
the Watershed Study, offered their expert advice. Along with Nissman,
governmental Watershed Committee backers Shirley Birosic of the
County Regional Water Quality Board and Larry Charness of L.A. County
Beaches and Harbors also attended.
Feeling that its work isn't yet done, the Topanga Tomorrow Workshop
will meet again on Saturday, November 18, at the library at Top
O' Topanga from 9:00 to 4:00. Everyone willing to do the homework
is invited. A small fee is requested to pay for lunch, so call the
RCDSMM at 455-1030 if you plan to attend.
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Dayworker Law Overturned
You can now legally hire these
By Michele Johnson
Attention, contractors and homeowners. It is
now once again legal to hire day laborers on the streets of Topanga.
In a September 12 decision, a federal judge overturned the 1994
county law, covering the unincorporated areas, that made it a misdemeanor
for any pedestrian to solicit employment, business or money from
people in moving vehicles. It also made it illegal for anyone in
a vehicle to hire labor.
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge George H. King found the law
in violation of the 1st and 14th amendments and permanently enjoined
the county from further enforcement of the ordinance. The county
has no immediate plans to appeal.
The law had not been vigorously enforced in Topanga because there
have been almost no citizen complaints about the hiring practice,
police officials confirmed.
The law was challenged by the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights
of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and Sindicato de Trabajadores por Dia, using
lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational
Fund. "We've been waiting for years for this victory,"
said Victor Narro of CHIRLA. Similar laws are on the books in 23
cities, he pointed out, and now, he believes, those laws, too, can
In his ruling, Judge King said the ordinance was too broadly written,
which left it open to misinterpretation. "Because of its broad
terms," he stated, "the Ordinance burdens a substantial
amount of speech that has not been shown to cause the feared harms
to traffic flow and safety."
Narro reported that in the city of Agoura Hills, which enacted a
very similar ordinance, he has "documented civil rights violations,"
including cases of people being ticketed just for being inside the
city limits of Agoura Hills waiting for a bus. Narro said Agoura
Hills exhibited "everything the judge feared." He said
the ordinance was "so vague that law enforcement would look
at it in a way that would quell the free speech of anybody."
The Agoura Hills ordinance led, Narro said, to a "hateful environment"
in that city. Now that the county law has been overturned, Narro
plans to talk to Agoura Hills city officials "to get them to
abide by the federal courtsI make the argument that none of these
ordinances would survive the ruling."
Tauni Brustin, head of PATCH (People Assisting Topanga Canyon With
Helping Hands), which ran a hiring site for the dayworkers in the
'90s, was pleased to hear of the decision. "I'm glad to hear
of the decision that will give the day laborers a break they really
deserve. They have so much adversity they have to deal with. This
may give them some confidence to go out and find work." Tauni
also said that anyone wishing to hire a dayworker can use her as
a go-between. Just call her at 455-2894 for information.
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Your Rental Unit Could
Be Made Legal
By Michele Johnson
The Messenger recently discovered, and
L.A. County Regional Planning confirmed, that it is possible to
apply for a Conditional Use Permit in order to legally rent out
a permitted attached or detached unit in Topanga and throughout
the unincorporated areas of the county. This has been the law since
1995, but has not been widely advertised by the County. In fact,
under direct questioning for a Messenger article (see "Zoned
Out in Topanga" March 9, 2000), Rudy Lachner, the since retired
Administrator of Land Use Regulation for Regional Planning, denied
there were any legal second units allowed in Topanga, except for
permitted caretaker and granny units.
But John Callas, Acting Administrator of the Land Use Regulation
Division of Regional Planning explained that in 1995 L.A. County
Counsel had reported to Regional Planning that the 1992 state government
code 65852.2 mandated that the county allow second unit housing
in permitted dwellings. According to Callas, the county "immediately
thereafter" started implementing the regulation in two ways.
First, if a homeowner came in to ask about the possibility of renting
out an existing unit, they would be advised of the statute. Second,
at a zoning enforcement hearing, a homeowner would be told of the
option of a legally permitted rental. The county still has no ordinance
of its own on the subject, and said Callas, may not need one. County
Counsel recently advised that the state law may continue to be used
to govern usage of these second units.
The units are restricted to 1,000 square feet in areas outside of
the area governed by the Coastal Commission and 750 square feet
inside Coastal. These limits were imposed by the county. The state
code allows units up to 1,200 square feet per unit. Unlike the regulations
for caretaker and senior citizen units, full kitchens are allowed
under the code. There is no restriction on who can rent the units
and no restriction on the amount of rent that can be paid. For this
reason, said Callas, they are not considered part of the affordable
housing plan, though in Topanga many might argue that they represent
the most affordable legal housing available.
A Conditional Use Permit would cost $3,979 and the unit must be
found to be fully permitted, have adequate sewer services, and meet
standards for parking, height, setback, lot coverage and architectural
review as set by the county.
When asked about the high cost of the Conditional Use Permit, Callas
said, "The fees are based on actual costs." He cited staff
reports, the cost of a public hearing, and other costs. The Permit
could take over four months to get after the completed application
is received. After the application is in, it would be "placed
on a hearing officer agenda or a Regional Planning agenda,"
Mobile homes are not included under the regulations, and non-permitted
units would have to be brought up to code and permitted before an
application could be made. Even if the unit was permitted under
decades-old rules, the original permits would stand.
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Elysium Leaves Robinson
By Andrea Shore Koepke
During the last week of September, Elysium Fields
vacated its longtime, eight-acre Topanga home at 814 Robinson Road.
The removal of the familiar Elysium sign on Topanga Canyon Boulevard
was the final farewell of Elysium from its 32-year residence. One
of the property owners, Dana Lange, confirmed, "Our tenant
has vacated the property. We wish them well." Gary Morton,
co-director of Elysium Fields, commenting on how much work the transition
was for the organization said, "We had 32 years of stuff to
The Lange property at 814 Robinson Road is also in transition. The
Messenger previously reported that the property was in escrow
with an undisclosed group of physicians who planned to develop a
cancer retreat center on the property. Jon Saver of Fred Sands Realty,
the sellers' real estate agent, confirmed that that escrow has fallen
through. When asked what the current status of the property is,
Dana Lange replied, "I have no comment." Mr. Saver would
not confirm or deny whether there is an escrow currently pending
on the property.
While Elysium's home is changing, Elysium lives on. Morton indicated
that Elysium's representatives are currently in escrow on a 20-acre
property in the Santa Monica Mountains. Because the sellers want
to maintain their privacy and that of their neighbors, the exact
address of the property has not been disclosed, Morton said. According
to Betty Meltzer, co-director of Elysium Fields, "Elysium is
undergoing a delicate transition."
Morton stated that Elysium is very excited about the potential new
location and the expanded vision of Elysium's philosophy that the
new landscape could provide. The larger acreage, speckled with sycamores
and oaks, a seasonal lake and waterfall could provide the perfect
backdrop for Elysium's "ecological vision," as Morton
described it. "Elysium is committed to maintaining the property
in its natural state," said Morton. Morton and Elysium's Board
of Directors recognize that Elysium is "at the mercy of the
planning committee" and hope that, if the escrow goes through
and Elysium acquires the property, it can obtain the required permits.
"Elysium Institute," said Meltzer, "is an educational,
recreation and naturist facility. Elysium is about people and people
being themselves au natural without the usual mask of 'what kind
of car do you have.' It's very idealistic." She reported that
the organization attracts "a diversity of people, not just
nudists." Morton noted that Elysium is a clothing optional
facility, one that is inclusive of people who wish to wear clothing,
distinguishing it from most nudist facilities in which nudity is
a requirement. Elysium's membership has doubled in the last 18 months
and its current membership count is about 725, Morton said.
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Something Stinks at Top O' Topanga
Homeowners have been holding their
noses near this sewage treatment site.
By Susan Chasen
The California Regional Water Quality Control
Board has notified Top O' Topanga owner Hometown Topanga that it
is in violation of its wastewater treatment permit.
At issue are problems with the system that have created severe sewage
odors and health anxieties for Top O' Topanga residents. Also, for
nearly two years, the company has failed to report breakdowns and
water quality testing results required under its permit.
Water quality officials say they are still gathering data in the
case to determine what enforcement measures to take. Fines could
be up to $10,000 a day for permit violations, $1,000 a day for late
and inadequate monitoring reports, and $10 per gallon for improperly
treated wastewater discharge.
Officials at Hometown say they are upset about the violations, but
that the fault lies with their contractor, 7-H Technical Services
"If we get fined then I think we'll have to go after our contractor,"
said Lamont Bawden, Hometown regional manager. "This problem
should never have happened if they were doing their job.Hometown,
I think, has been diligent in trying to stay on top of the contractor."
Residents, however, charge that Hometown hasn't been properly maintaining
the aging water treatment and reclamation system since buying the
mobile home park in 1998.
"It's been nearly two years of just thumbing their nose at
the law and at the health of the residents here," said Jim
Lester, a long-time Top O' Topanga resident who described odors
so foul he would gag when he opened his car window to use his security
card when he returned home from work at night.
"We're at their mercy. We have to assume they're operating
according to the law.According to the report of violations, it's
not like they didn't know."
The Water Quality Control Board notified Hometown September 1 of
five violations related to off-site odor problems, including an
unreported breakdown of a blower that aerates the sewage during
processing and prevents odor-causing anaerobic putrefaction.
Also, during inspection in August, a secondary clarifier was reportedly
not functioning properly due to heavy scum accumulation that could
have compromised the chlorination process and the quality of the
reclaimed water released and used for irrigation.
Water officials also noted that required warning signs where reclaimed
water was used for irrigation were not posted in some areas. These
have since been posted.
"They water the slopes with recycled water," said Virginia
Croft (a 16-year resident). "If it's not done right, you don't
know what's going out there. I just feel like it could contaminate
the whole area."
The water treatment plant and a holding pond for reclaimed water
is located behind a fence along the side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard
south of the Top O' Topanga entrance.
According to the Water Quality control Board's notice of violation,
Hometown's monitoring reports include numerous gaps in water quality
data and four failures to report violations of coliform levels dating
back to January 1999. In one instance, no quarterly report was filed.
The only report that was apparently complete over the entire 19-month
period covered showed an "unusual consistency" in flow
measurements, according to the violations report.
Hometown will continue to be in violation of reporting requirements
until the missing data is received, according to water officials.
"This is one that we're looking at closely for follow-up enforcement,"
said Dennis Dickerson, executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional
Water Quality Control Board.
When asked why reporting violations apparently went unnoticed for
so long, he said it was a matter of priorities and resources of
the water board.
"It's unfortunate that many do not get responded to in a timely
manner," said Dickerson. "We'd much prefer to act more
quickly if we had that ability."
In attempting to answer for the treatment plant problems by a September
29 deadline, 7-H Technical Services manager David Thornburgh's letter
noted that it received the notice of violations six days after it
But in some respects, the reply suggested new questions. For example,
there is mention of another unreported breakdown-a chlorine solution
feed pump; failures of a laboratory contractor to take proper samples
or to report findings; and direct payment for sludge removal that
left no documentation.
Hometown has promised to replace the system. But residents, while
welcoming the new system, suspect the protracted planning process
is responsible for maintenance lapses. The nearly $400,000 cost
for the new system will be paid initially by Hometown, but will
be repaid out of increased monthly fees for members of the future
Top O' Topanga homeowner association. The homeowners' association
will be established once Hometown gets state approval of a condo
conversion plan that will allow the company to begin selling lots.
For years residents, who own their homes but faced being priced
out of the park by annual rental increases, have worked to create
an option to purchase the lots under their homes. Hometown is expecting
to have approval to begin closing sales in November.
Bawden said he hopes to see 30 sales close before the end of the
Plans for the new sewage treatment plant will be submitted for agency
approval October 20, according to Pat Corrick, Hometown vice president
If everything goes according to schedule, it should be in operation
by early April, Corrick said.
"It hasn't happened as quickly as we would have hoped,"
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On PCH: Ready, Set, Slow Down
Construction to replace a segment of the regional
Coastal Interceptor Sewer (CIS) located within the Santa Monica
City limits on the west side of Pacific Coast Highway resumed on
October 2, 2000. The sewer was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Traffic controls will once again be imposed throughout the duration
of the construction project, providing a minimum of two northbound
and two southbound lanes to commuters at all times. The California
Incline and the "Rand" on-ramp to PCH from Ocean Avenue
will remain open during construction, and left turns will be permitted
onto PCH from the Incline.
The City will continue to coordinate with government and law enforcement
agencies including Caltrans, Los Angeles, Malibu, the California
Highway Patrol, and the PCH Task Force committee led by Assemblymember
Sheila Kuehl's office throughout the project. Other mitigation measures
include a 24-hour project hotline for information and complaints
(800/200-8340), signage at key highway locations throughout the
region, regional news releases advising commuters to select alternate
routes, and noise and vibration monitoring and mitigation.
The work between the Santa Monica Pier and the California Incline
will be completed by Memorial Day, 2001. Remaining work north of
the Incline will be re-bid at a later date.
All sewer work along the busy corridor was originally scheduled
for completion by Memorial Day, 2000. However, construction issues,
permitting issues, field conditions and design improvements led
to delays that could have extended construction into the summer
months. In the best interests of the public, Santa Monica environmental
and public works officials decided to postpone construction on the
busy corridor until after the summer season to minimize construction
impacts on residents, commuters and the general public.
Even before the quake's damage, the sewer was too small to handle
future wastewater flows. Surface water will be diverted into the
new sewer during dry weather to protect coastal waters from urban
runoff pollution. Once the sewer work has been completed, it will
make a huge difference in the long-term health and vitality of the
City and the Santa Monica Bay.
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Docents Spin a Web
By Rebecca Amos
We are pleased to announce the opening
of our website: tc-docents.org, the official website of the Topanga
In the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, environmental naturalist
training and wildlife education programs are made available to the
public by the Topanga Canyon Docents. Whether your interest lies
in nature photography, California native edible plants, hiking,
birding or historic study of the Chumash and Tongva native cultures,
the docents provide a comprehensive source of information in the
Our fall training session has begun, but we're always willing to
accept "late arrivals." Click
here and check out the Events section to see what new activities
are planned for the docents. We're happy to support local schools
and the community by providing docent-led hikes and events for scout
groups, classes and the public. As always, there is no charge for
these activities. Let us know what we can do for you.
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CHIC Says: "Return
By the time you read this, you should have received
the CHIC (Community House Improvement Committee) Survey as an insert
to the Woman's Club newsletter, Topanga Thymes. CHIC, which
has formed to apply for grants to improve and enlarge the facilities
on the site of the Community House, wants your ideas so they can
set priorities and start feasibility studies.
All surveys should be returned by November 1. If you lose yours,
you can access a new one. Just click
here to go to the Messenger Community Action page to
fill out and e-mail back the completed survey, which will go to
CHIC volunteers for tabulation. Sign up to help, too, if you can.
The process, which will be a long one, is just beginning, so jump
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A Nod For Nader
By Woody Hastings
Topanga Green Party activists are gearing up
for the final push for election 2000, with efforts aimed toward
a strong showing for Ralph Nader and his running mate, Winona LaDuke,
to give the predominant parties a significant progressive challenge.
If Mr. Nader receives just 5% of the vote nationwide, the Greens
will qualify for public campaign funding for 2004, which will help
build the Green Party. Topanga serves as the unofficial capital
of the Green Party in Los Angeles County in that it is the community
that has the highest percentage of registered Greens in the county-perhaps
not a big surprise.
The Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, has been drawing standing-room-only
crowds everywhere he goes and is making campaign history by selling
out 10,000 plus arenas all across the country. Mr. Nader will next
be visiting Southern California on October 20th so stay tuned!
The Green Party is the fastest growing "third" party in
the US and is based on ten key values: Grassroots Democracy, Peace
& Non-violence, Community-based Economics, Environmental Wisdom,
Social Justice, Feminism/Gender Equity, Respect for Diversity, Decentralization,
Personal and Global Responsibility, and Future Focus.
To find out more about the Nader 2000 Campaign and what local Topangans
are doing to support the effort, please call (310) 455-2497 in the
The Southern California Campaign Headquarters of the Nader 2000
campaign is located at 215 S. La Cienega Blvd. Suite 101, Los Angeles,
CA 90211 (310) 652-9690 and you can visit the Nader 2000 websites:
www.votenader.org or for
California info go to cal.votenader.org.
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Community Action Page
The Messenger's website, TopangaMessenger.com,
has opened a new Community Action
page to allow Topangans not just to tap into vital issues, but
to actually do something about them.
The goal of the Messenger is not to advocate, but to educate
within our pages, to let you know everything we can about the important
issues that face Topanga. Once you know the facts, the Messenger
will offer the opportunity for you to go online to protest or to
Kicking off this effort, we offer two opportunities. First, you
can go to the Community Action page to link up to read the North
Area Plan. If you agree with the objections to it outlined in the
front-page article in this issue, you can download sample letters
of protest to revise and send to the e-mail addresses of the County
Board of Supervisors supplied before the October 24th vote of the
The Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC) survey will also
be posted on the Community Action page. You can fill it out and
return it online before November 1. Use the opportunity to volunteer,
if you want. It's your choice. That's what it's all about--more
choice for our readers.
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Digging Up The Mermaid's
A beautifully landscaped Mermaid.
By Bill Buerge
She's drop-dead gorgeous. Topanga, that is.
With her halcyon hillsides carpeted in grey-green sage and ceonothus.
Dragon's breath fog lingering low in canyon crevices. Quality air.
Colorful people. Wily critters. The rich history. Indomitable spirit.
Balmy autumn weather. Good time for a picnic. Which segues to the
task at handannouncing the annual picnic of the Topanga Historical
Society on Sunday, October 22. This year they chose The Mermaid.
Since it's an outdoor gig, perhaps its a good chance to check out
the Mermaid's landscaping. The grounds are maturing and mellowing.
Finally! For ten years it was a matter of accumulating enough plants
to create a sense of lushness. Now, the challenge is controlling
growth. Pruning. Moving plants. Fine-tuning.
Shortly after closing escrow I consulted with a wise architect who
said he thought The Mermaid was more of a landscaping project than
a building restoration project. It kind of surprised me to hear
him say that. He pointed out that The Mermaid came with such a nice
piece of land. Relatively flat. Some views. Enough land to do some
things. A generous setting to frame the structure with landscape.
I looked into historical landscaping and learned it was an area
with its own experts and college degrees. There were actually historical
landscape architects. Should I try to replicate exactly what was
here before? Be rigorously historically correct? I had scant historical
photos at that time to go from. Did I want to do a botanical garden?
I learned there were a zillion kinds of gardens. Some specialized
in particular plants. Others focused on a particular part of the
world. Some were historically significant gardens. There were rose
gardens. Cactus gardens. Whole Aloe estates. Meditation gardens.
Bible gardens hosting every plant mentioned in the scriptures. Shakespeare
gardens. Blue gardens. Gardens dedicated to study and saving endangered
species. And gardens where visual beauty and design were their paramount
purpose for being. The last type appealed to the artist in me.
Eventually a landscaping concept evolved that felt aesthetically
appropriate and historically consistent with The Mermaid. It was
crystallized into a drafted landscaping plan with an itemized plant
list. The Mermaid's garden would be a mixed concept as follows:
1.) Most of the existing mature, larger shrubs and trees would be
kept. The place had "good bones" (a term landscapers use)
to begin with; mature palms, peppers, elms, oaks and a craggy Methuselah
of a mulberry. These large specimens were a real asset as they would
be the "anchors" around which we would amass groupings
of smaller trees, bushes, shrubs, and groundcovers. And, they were
part of the historical fabric that I wanted to preserve. 2.) More
California natives would be introduced. They would be perfectly
compatible with the land and climate, blend in visually with the
surrounding countryside and save on water. 3.) Incorporate lots
of cactus, succulents, grasses and tropicals They suited the Spanish-Mediterreanean
architectural style and offered many visually dazzling varieties
to choose from.
The grounds were contoured. Drainage was corrected. Earlier on,
misdirected run-off had nearly drowned this land-locked mermaid.
Ultimately, every drop of water to fall on or around the structure
was accounted for and its path plotted and directed per a plan prescribed
by the county drainage department. Sprinklers went in. Then, the
first round of small plantings. The rest took a lot of years of
scrounging around the countryside for plants, learning what I needed
to know, joining organizations, visiting specialty nurseries, planting,
fertilizing, mulching, irrigating and paying mortgage-sized water
bills. I've met or befriended a plethora of plantsmen and women.
The plant world is this huge wonderful world. It's filled with the
most serene, robust, giving, dedicated, down-to-earth group of humans
I've ever met. I owe so much to them for their generous council,
support, and gifts of rare plants.
May I pass along my hottest horticultural tip? You don't necessarily
have to buy plants. Get 'em for free. How? It's pretty easy. Put
the word out. Contact landscaping contractors and installers. Friends.
Run an ad in The Pennysaver. Tell everyone you are interested in
adopting plant orphans. Every day in L.A. there are untold truckloads
of phenomenal plants being ripped-up and tossed away to make way
for new construction or landscaping. Whole estates. Spectacular
mature specimens. The plant "don't-wanters" will love
to have you take them off their hands. Saves them time and money.
Otherwise, much of it will end up in our landfills. You usually
do have to go and get them. So, get a truck and some guys and blankets
to wrap up the rootball. You're going to lose some. But, many species
are easy to transplant. Many of my best specimens were obtained
this way. This is a good way to save the environment, save money
and save plants.
Gardening found me. It wasn't an intentional thing. It's a bit of
an obsession now. Got the bug bad. Must be genetic. Folks had it.
The garden was always a big thing. My grandfolks had it. They were
farmers. Plants and soil were their life. Mom says she found a lot
of it on me. Soil that is. Claims that as a baby all too often she'd
find me in the backyard rooting around in the mud covered with ants,
eating fistfuls of dirt and grass, worm pieces dangling from the
corners of my mouth.
Maybe things haven't changed all that much. Anyhow, everyone is
welcome October 22, 12:30 to 4:00. Come check out the garden. I'll
talk and show pictures. Bring your own picnic, food and drink and
a dessert to share. Coffee and tea will be provided. And, please
come through the front gates to park inside rather than parking
on the street.
here to Mouth off!
Historical Library Opens
By Ami Kirby
The task of organizing the massive store of
Topanga historical materials into a library is finally finished.
It took a year and a half to sort through the collection of documents,
community organization records, photographs, newspapers, scrapbooks,
newsletters, and audio and video tapes that were donated by community
members to assist Louise York in writing The Topanga Story.
The materials that filled twenty tightly packed boxes, two file
cabinets and a large suitcase are now classified, cataloged and
arranged for easy access in archival file folders and storage boxes.
The library is located in the Topanga Historical Society's new quarters
in the Pine Tree Circle Center and is open by appointment only until
The library has something for everyone. Of prime importance to all
researchers are the back issues of three Topanga newspapers: the
Topanga Journal (1942-1967), the Messenger (1977 to
present) and the Topanga Lookout (1964-1966). Of equal research
importance is the large collection that contains copies of almost
every picture included in The Topanga Story plus scores more
of early settlers, ranches, community events, businesses, structures,
canyon views and more. History buffs will especially appreciate
two of the archive's oldest original documents, both about Francisco
Trujillo, one of Topanga's earliest homesteaders. These are a 1910
business license petition to sell wine made at his ranch, and a
1916 bill for his funeral expenses. Other old original documents
include records of the Topanga Park Mutual Water Company that began
in 1926, and a fascinating collection of 1924 receipts for supplies
and materials such as mules, harnesses and blacksmith tools used
by workers who developed tract #8319 in Fernwood Park.
Researchers who like delving into community controversies will find
interesting tales in the thick Elysium Fields file and in the two
boxes of documents, clippings, legal briefs, and impassioned election
flyers that describe Topanga's decades long and often bitter water
conflict. Those liking scandal will find it in the file of Charles
Himnan, the Topanga Journal's final editor who was brought
to trial in the mid 1960s for allegedly hiring an assassin to murder
his wife. Creative writers will find enough information in the Topanga
Community Woman's Club files and ledgers (many handwritten) for
an entire novel. And those who want to relive good times can browse
through the Topanga Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner programs,
or the Mermaid Tavern, Theatricum Botanicum, Topanga Symphony and
Topanga Players performance programs. And Topanga's many aging hippies
can rekindle the spark of those heady times while pursuing the contents
of the "Hippies" file.
The Topanga Historical Society urges you to donate your photographs,
records and personal writings about Topanga. Especially needed are
pictures and flyers of the Topanga Corral, theatrical and musical
programs, "Hippie" era and Camp Wildwood photographs,
New Canyon Gallery exhibit notices, and information about Topanga's
speakeasies and party houses. Everything will be carefully handled
and thoughtfully considered. If you have materials to donate, or
want to use the library, call archive librarian Ami Kirby at 455-1969.
here to Mouth off!
High Dollar Burglaries
Captain John O'Brien is asking for the public's
help in identifying the suspect or suspects wanted in connection
with several high dollar loss burglaries that have occurred in the
Malibu/Lost Hills station area between January and August of this
Burglaries have occurred in gated and non-gated communities in Hidden
Hills, Calabasas, and Westlake Village. Similar crimes have occurred
in the North Ranch area of Thousand Oaks.
Only expensive jewelry has been stolen. Less expensive and costume
jewelry is left behind.
The suspect or suspects are neat and orderly, very careful about
fingerprints, and usually enter the rear of the house which often
backs up to open space. The burglaries usually take place during
the early evening hours.
The public is asked to be the eyes and ears of the station and call
the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station complaint desk to report
suspicious activity or suspicious persons. Specific information
about incidents or those wishing to maintain confidentiality can
call Detective Mark Borges.
All calls for service can be initiated by calling the station at
here to Mouth off!
By Dawn Simmons, TCC President
Upcoming Chamber sponsored events:
Notice all the hootin' and howlin' out there lately? It ain't the
owls or coyotes. It's all the local ghosts and ghouls getting ready
for the 3rd Annual Topanga Chamber of Commerce (TCC) Halloween Party!
Join the fun Saturday, October 28, 7 p.m. at Froggy's, 1105 N. Topanga
Canyon Blvd. Music by "Topanga Wildlife." And for those
clever and innovative minds, we continue our costume contest complete
with first-rate prizes! Cost $10/person.
Travel back in time to Ancient Mesopotamia and receive a customary
tribal welcome. Come wrapped in your favorite Middle Eastern garb,
feast on regional foods, envelop yourself in the atmosphere and
let an evening of dancing unfold at "A Night at the Oasis,"
a TCC Fundraiser, Saturday, November 18, Mermaid Tavern, 7 p.m.
$40/person. RSVP: 455-0790.
Ongoing: Monthly Breakfast Mixers 8 a.m., 2nd Wednesday of each
month, at Pat's Topanga Grill, 1861 N. Top. Cyn. Blvd. Generate
business with fellow members! (Non members welcome, nominal donation
Business of the Year/Citizen of the Year-It is time again to select
an outstanding Topanga Business and Citizen of the Year to honor
at our 2001 Installation Dinner in January. Last year's recipients
were the Topanga Gallery and Rosi Dagit respectively. Applications
will be sent to all Topanga organizations. If you would like to
submit an individual nomination, call the TCC hotline and request
an application, 455-0790.
For Prospective Members: The Chamber Hotline (x0790) has
been very active! We are constantly making referrals. Become
a member so we can refer your business!
Join us at our regular meeting the first Thursday of each month,
7:30 p.m. in the Penny Room. See you there!
Send correspondence to: Topanga Chamber of Commerce, P. O. Box
185, Topanga 90290, or call 455-0790.
here to Mouth off!
Become a Dancin' Fool
By Dawn Simmons, TCC President
On Saturday evening, November 4th, meet your
friends and lovers for a glass of wine, dancing, and conversation
at the Topanga Community House.
"Great music too!" says Merlin, T-CEP's (Topanga Coalition
for Emergency Preparedness) new mascot, designed by our very own
Stuart Moskowitz. "Thank you, Stuart, from all of us!"
"Hey did you know that each species of owl makes a different
sound? Here's a little test. Match the sound with the owl. Answers
at the dance."
| Barn Owl
| Great Horned Owl
| Screech Owl
"I am a Screech Owl, maybe my friends the Great Horned Owl and
the Barn Owl will be at the dance too. Listen for them."
THE MUSIC MAKERS
We'll start the evening with music by W, yes
that's W, the group of four young Irish lads (well, one's really
from Oregon) performing music that will move your body, stimulate
your mind and sing to your soul. Tribal by nature, song-writing
vocalists David and Kevin Connolly, along with Scott Walters on
bass and Kim Carroll on guitar and piano, incorporate African percussion
into their performances, often breaking into percussive interludes.
Their first W album is soon to be released. Wow, sounds like a cool
way to start the evening!
Singer-songwriter Ben Elsesser
of Spirit Level. They'll give us an "alternative."
We'll continue the evening's dancing to the
music of an eight-piece "Alternative" band Spirit Level
led by singer/songwriter Ben Elsesser with a Dave Matthews Band
meets Ozomatli meets Bob Marley's lyric style. British-Chilean Elsesser
is on vocals, guitar, percussions, along with Johnny Downer on guitar,
Myke Coles on bass, Mike Turner vocals and on drums, Cyrus Aliakbari,
percussions, Rashid Lanie on keyboards, Andrea Shockley Elsesser
vocals and kalimba and Nakeiltha Campbell, percussions, fuses Afro-Cuban
beats with folk/rock/funk melodies. We'll have a rockin' good time
Throughout the evening there will be raffle
drawings for great stuff donated by our local businesses. We'll
post a list at the dance of all the businesses so you can stop by
and tell them thanks for caring. I'll bet they'd just smile big.
Now don't forgetThe dance is on Saturday, November 4th from 7:00
to 11:30 at the Topanga Community House. Buy tickets today at Pat's
Grill, Fernwood Market and Mimosa's or at the door. Ticket donations
are $15. There'll be snacks, beer, wine and sodas for purchase at
And best of allAfter this night is over you will not only have some
more great memories. You'll also have that "feel good feeling"
of having donated to the efforts of the 200 plus local volunteers
that give so much of their time to learning and teaching everything
we need to know and do during an emergency in Topanga. The money
raised for the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness tonight
will go toward the monthly operations costs, headset phones for
the hotline volunteers orwe'll have a list of our needs and wishes
posted at the dance. For information on T-CEP activities or how
you can get involved, please leave a message on 455-3000 and someone
will call you.
P. S. "Come dance with me" Love Merlin
here to Mouth off!