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2000 Election Day: Fire & Political Fireworks!

Bob Wiley (left) and Carol and Art Marshburn come to cast their votes. This is the last Topanga vote for the Marshburns, since they move this week to Cupertino, California.

By Penny Taylor

Election Day, Tuesday, November 7th, and the first thing I noticed when I walked outside was the wind. It left me with an uneasy feeling, but I wasn't into flashbacks yet.

Voter turnout at the Topanga Christian Fellowship Church was steady, but I didn't have to wait in line. Running into a friend in the parking lot I found out she had a monstrous case of the flu and settled for a wave instead of a hug. (Feel better, Karen.)

 VOL.24 NO. 23
November 16 - 29, 2000


I mean, how bad could the day be? L.A. Times columnist Al Martinez was in town so there wasn't going to be a major disaster. I recalled Mr. Martinez writing that he had been out of town when any major disaster struck-the big fire, the earthquake and when Riordan was elected mayor. I checked it out. Mr. Martinez was reportedly home with the flu, so supposedly we were safe. (Hope you're feeling better Mr. Martinez. You make me laugh, sometimes you make me cry, but you never cease to move me.)

Allen Emerson, head of Arson Watch, sat down for lunch two tables away. He was fighting a terrible case of the flu, but still had his radio by his side. I think Allen has a symbiotic relationship with that radio. He flagged me down as I was leaving. There was an "incident" on Observation or Grandview.

Seconds later, Allen was up and out the door. It was a fully involved structure fire.

That's when the flashbacks started. November 2, 1993, Election Day, an arson fire had started at the top of Old Canyon. The sky had been so black with smoke that it looked like an atom bomb had gone off. The beginning of four days of hell.

As I drove to the fire on Observation the wind was gusting and the only thing to alleviate a total sense of dread was a blue sky, then wisps of white smoke as I got closer.

Having gotten the call at 1:57 p.m., Captain Steve Floyd and the crew of C Shift responded to the call at 19918 Observation. Captain Floyd indicated that there wasn't wind when they arrived, but it was gusting to approximately 25 mph a short time later. A fire department helicopter was on site, along with engine 69, patrol 69, engine 70, patrol 70, the Battalion Chief from Battalion 5, engine 67 and a utility vehicle.

The fire was located in a large wood storage shed at the rear of the property on a steep hillside about 50 feet behind the main house. Although there had been some brush clearance, the surrounding area was laced with a variety of pine trees and the fire had already progressed uphill about 40' to 50' into the brush, scorching the base of a small pine.

On my arrival, although the fire was already under control, flames still streamed across the 2' x 4' wood railing on the roof of the shed, which had apparently been used as a sun deck.

Firefighters were going in with axes and saws to cut away the wood and get to underlying hot spots. Other firefighters were dragging hoses up into the bush to douche the area and avoid another flareup.

Captain Floyd indicated that he thought the fire had been started by what seemed to be melting wax left in a pot on a stove in the shed. He estimated the damage to the building at approximately $20,000 and $5,000 to the contents.

In the meantime, surveyor Jack MacNeil, who was working in the area, notified T-CEP Director, Pat MacNeil, who left her post as a poll worker at the Community House and activated the T-CEP Emergency Operations Center. Along with Fred Feer, Pat fielded about 15 phone calls in the half hour EOC was in operation. Jack went to Observation to meet with the Battalion Chief. A status message went on the hotline when the fire was knocked down.


It was 7:30 p.m. before I got to Abuelita's where people were meeting to watch election coverage. Bush was sitting with 51% and Gore with 45%. As we all know, Florida had previously been announced as a Gore state, but at 7:30 p.m. it was back to being undecided, as was California. It was impossible to hear the TV with the background noise.

Elena Perez reflected, "I think it's a shame if it swings for Bush, because Gore would at least keep us on track so we could make some real decisions."

And the Nader "theft of votes" raised its head. Jackie Kane spoke up. "I think people for Nader are really naïve, because it's going to set us back." She laughed, "Now all my Nader friends are going to hate me."

Author Lamar Hawkins' disappointment was evident. "I was very excited when Gore took Florida. I was singing in my car on the way home. But now they've taken it away again.I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and my mother worked for Al Gore's father." She went on to describe what a great person he was and then lamented, "He shrunk his personality (for this election)." Still, she maintains a positive outlook. "This country is a great country. It will survive."

Gary Meyer of Topanga Online voted for Gore. "I was waiting until the last minute. I wanted to support the Green party, but it's too close."

Jim Olney was visiting from Monterey. He'd sent in an absentee ballot. Whatever the outcome he saw the close race as a positive thing. "People are talking more than they've talked in a long time. At least it's got people talking."

The turnout to watch election coverage wasn't nearly as large as I'd anticipated. It seemed more people were curled up at home or at friends' houses watching coverage. But there was an international flavor. A lot of the patrons were from Great Britain, and some from Ireland and even Holland.

Robert Mechielsen, an architect from Holland says the electoral process and freedom is why he came to America. In Holland there are about 22 parties. Those that are elected from those parties form a coalition and choose the Prime Minister, but the country is still headed by a Queen.

One Topanga resident from England looked at the incoming election results and stated, "It's sad." She wouldn't elaborate and left.

In all the hubbub I looked at the television and noticed that there's going to be a celebrity version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Charlie Sheen and Kermit the Frog were featured. There was something comically prophetic in their appearance in the midst of the election drama.

It was hard to keep track of more local results, since those were drawn on a small tickertape strip at the bottom of the screen. Background conversations included Nazi Germany, Hitler's Youth and Communism.

By 10:00 Bush was leading Gore in Florida by a little less than a 100,000 votes. Aja Horvat was depressed. "I want Gore to win. I couldn't handle looking at Bush for four years. I wouldn't even want to watch TV."

I commented on everyone being nervous and the bartender cracked, "Of course they're nervous. They know what it means. Mass insanity."


We watched Nader as he called the third largest party in America "a watchdog party." But the crowd behind him was thin and he wasn't destined to get his 5 percent. I noticed how he looks older. Does anyone out there beside me see the resemblance to Abraham Lincoln?

With the election so close, tension in the room escalated and I withdrew into zoning on the TV screen. I couldn't help but recall Susan Sarandon's dialogue in "White Palace" when a well-to-do businessman commented on the terrible leadership in the country and the lament of the working class.

"Mister, I am working classIt doesn't matter to me who's in the f--king White House. Merle Haggard could be made president and I'd still be working for minimum f--king wage, choking on hamburger grease and Betty here would still be serving your turkey dinner for 30 bucks a day."

Wails of despair could be heard as ABC announced that the other networks were giving Florida to Bush. ABC soon followed. The shout could be heard, "Florida sucks!"

Then again as I went home and the moon reflected over the mountains I realized there's a bright spot. Sheila Kuehl was elected to her State Senate seat. She'll make a great Senator. She'll wow them with her intelligence, experience, tough integrity, wit and sincere feel for the people. Getting the notice of the state at large she'll go on to be a great governor, where of course she will draw the attention of the country and go on to be the first woman president. There's still hope.

Remember, you heard it here first.

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The Story Behind Lower Topanga Park

By Susan Chasen

Residential tenants of Lower Topanga Canyon are willing to consider eventual relocation from their homes of many years to make way for a major parkland acquisition that would expand Topanga State Park to the coast if reasonable lease extensions and relocation money are part of the deal.

But their lawyer contends that the use of a third party to broker the sale of the 1,655-acre property from the property owner, LAACO, to State Parks is intended to circumvent relocation laws which would ensure fair treatment of his clients.

The question of whether relocation will be required of the 14 businesses on the portion of the property along Pacific Coast Highway is still undecided according to parties involved in the prospective sale.

Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl and State Parks officials meanwhile offer assurances that the American Land Conservancy, which is acting as the middleman, will be monitored closely and that residents and businesses will be treated fairly.

The American Land Conservancy, or ALC, acquired a purchase option in January on the 1,655-acre Lower Topanga Canyon property which would increase Topanga State Park by 15 percent and create a "mountains to the sea" park. The option expires in March.

Residents of 56 homes and owners of businesses on the property have been worried about the sale of the property because it reportedly will require relocation for some or all of them.
Attorney Frank Angel, who is well known in Topanga for his work for TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) in the Canyon Oaks and Upper Tuna Canyon battles, is representing the residents.

According to Angel, relocation of the residents should not be a pre-condition of the sale. Reports that only open lands can be acquired with Proposition 12 funds-including the $40 million budgeted for the Lower Topanga acquisition-are not true, he said.

According to Angel, this argument is used to justify third-party involvement in the deal, an involvement which could result in inflated costs to taxpayers, consuming funds that could go to other parks' acquisitions.

"They don't need ALC," said Angel, speaking of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which has been trying to buy Lower Topanga Canyon from the Los Angeles Athletic Club, now known as LAACO, for nearly 30 years.

"It is clear Prop 12 is a pretext. At bottom, State Parks doesn't want the tenants," said Angel. "And they don't want to pay the relocation money.

"It's a scheme concocted by ALC to use them as a private pass through, as a dummy entity, and circumvent relocation laws."

At an October 12 meeting in Topanga, ALC president Harriet Burgess assured The Messenger that relocation laws would be followed, but Angel counters that it shouldn't be left up to the ALC.
"This is a public function. They have no business dealing with relocation laws," said Angel. "This is a public function for the State of California to do. They're going to shortchange the tenants and taxpayers."


An official at State Parks, however, acknowledged that there could be a special director's finding to allow purchase of Lower Topanga Canyon as it is, but he said it isn't in the agency's interest to do so.

"If we were to go in and acquire the property, and we wanted to retain the residential units, we would probably have to put a whole lot of money into making the property safe and sanitary," said Warren Westrup, State Parks Chief of the Office of Acquisition and Real Property Services.
"We want LAACO and ALC to do right by those people," said Westrup. "We're going to stay at arms length until that happens."

At the same time, State Parks is clearly preparing to acquire the property, having received a 3-year, $40 million appropriation out of Prop 12 funds for that purpose.

According to budget documents, State Parks has identified construction costs of $4 million for a parking area, trail building, a crossing to the beach, and road realignment for access to the property. Completion of the project is scheduled for the end of June 2003.

"The money was appropriated on the basis that there was potentially an opportunity in the future for the state to acquire the property," said Westrup. But he said State Parks did not approach the ALC.

"They are not our agent. We did not talk to them in advance."

According to Westrup, State Parks is particularly concerned about water quality problems allegedly associated with septic systems on the property.

"It's not prudent to inherit a water quality problem," said Westrup.

Angel, however, strongly disputes the assumption that water quality problems at the beach are linked to tenant septic systems when no studies have ever made such a connection.

Instead, he points the finger at urban runoff which he says have been found to be principal sources of contamination in Ballona and Malibu.

Discussion of excluding businesses from relocation as visitor services, Angel said, would show the pollution argument to be a sham, since their septic systems generally have much heavier loads.

Similarly, he disputes assumptions about the residences standing in the way of wetlands restoration.

"Restoration does not require relocation of a single tenant because no one has a house where there was a wetland before," said Angel.

Westrup said he was not sure what the fate of the commercial tenants would be. He said it might depend on their contribution to water quality problems, but that State Parks has not said they would require them to be relocated.


Previously, ALC project manager Jeff Stump said the businesses would be retained as visitor services. But Julie Benson, spokesperson for LAACO, says his comments were premature.
According to Benson, much of the discussion on this project has been premature and rumor driven.

ALC and LAACO need to come to an agreement, said Benson. "There isn't any certainty until there's an agreement.

"LAACO is very committed to working with the renters. We just need a starting point," said Benson. "We have confidence that if we get to that point that the renters will be compensated very fairly."

She said they "will not be presented with a done deal."

In addition to Angel's charge that the ALC isn't necessary, Lower Topanga residents have also turned up numerous articles from internet searches that raise questions about ALC's tactics. Some ALC deals in Nevada, California and elsewhere have reportedly left detractors--including environmentalists and the federal government-in their wake.

According to a federal investigation into U.S. Forest Service land swaps, the ALC was involved in one deal which is believed to have resulted in a $6 million loss for taxpayers because appraisals on the properties were inaccurate. ALC was also criticized for entertainment and gifts given to a Forest Service supervisor potentially connected to the deal.

Detractors see the ALC's land deals--which reportedly have facilitated suburban development in Las Vegas and logging of an old growth forest in Montecino, California, in exchange for parkland protection elsewhere--as giving the power to set parkland priorities to private third parties. And questions have been raised about ALC compensation taken in the form of percentages on the sales. One report had ALC taking 25 percent.


Benson, however, defended ALC's record and experience in brokering complicated sales such as Lower Topanga.

According to Benson, LAACO, which has been interested in selling Lower Topanga Canyon for years, sought out the ALC because of its expertise in parkland acquisitions. ALC is able to meet state standards for environmental assessments, appraisal of the property and other requirements, Benson said.

While the state would likely be able to reimburse ALC for some of these services, Benson said, additional compensation for ALC would be from LAACO, as it would be with any real estate broker, and is confidential.

Asked about the appraisal that was reportedly due in May to the ALC, Benson said it still has not come in. LAACO's appraisal, she said, is $65 million.

The appraisal will prove critical to the ultimate turnover of the property to State Parks. Given the complexities of the site and its potential or lack of potential for profitable development, it would seem subject to wide variation.

According to Westrup of State Parks, there are safeguards against overpaying for the property. State Parks will submit the appraisal for review by the state General Services Agency and will not pay more than fair market value.

"We have no ability to raise the amount we offer someone because we really, really want that property," said Westrup. "We will want disclosure as to what they are paying for it."

While ALC's expenses will be factored in, Westrup said, "They've got to be able to substantiate how they arrived at their conclusions.They're not entitled to $1 million off the top."

Angel, however, contends that the appraisal is long overdue.

He said he is preparing possible causes of action against State Parks and the ALC, as well as certain individuals. Also, he said he is preparing a taxpayer lawsuit if the state overpays.


Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl said she is confident in the current process, but is concerned that unfounded fears could derail the deal.

"I'm going to keep a close watch on all of it," said Kuehl, who as a newly elected state Senator added that she expects to be around for the next eight years to do it.

She said she will closely follow the appraisal, relocation and future use plans for the site.
"I don't think we'll have that criticism on this purchase," said Kuehl of complaints about past ALC deals.

"My work is on the line here. I worked very hard to get that money," said Kuehl. "Personally, I think it's a crowning achievement to add it to the state park system."

Kuehl said she does not favor a leaseback to the tenants and suggested that a fair relocation with sufficient notice of perhaps a year should be achievable.

"To give a lease for an additional five years to stay right where they are, I don't think that moves us along at all," said Kuehl.

As for why State Parks is not directly involved, Kuehl said she wasn't sure how the property would stack up within the state hierarchy for land acquisitions if relocation and potential clean-up issues were left up to the state.

"There's no evidence that they won't comply [with relocation laws]," said Kuehl of ALC. "And a lot of us are going to be watching to make sure that they do comply."

As for the businesses, Kuehl said she doesn't think a decision has been made.

"I do support the ability of those businesses to continue, but I'm not certain that they have to continue at those locations."


Angel said he would like to see the parkland acquired without a big controversy or litigation.
"If the alternative of having a fair and equitable solution negotiated in an amicable manner doesn't work," said Angel, "everyone is going to lose."

"What the residents want," said Angel, "is an orderly transition with reasonable extended leases and relocation money."

"The tenants don't want to kill the park deal," said Angel. "Shouldn't this be a deal where everyone agrees and shakes hands?"

There are examples of State Parks buying lands and offering leases to tenants.

Angel cites the controversial Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County in which tenants of historic cottages as well as nearby trailers were given extended leases. Now a controversy is raging there over State Parks turning over management of the cottages to a concessionaire which is making it into a high-priced resort. ALC has worked as a consultant to the concessionaire on the project.

"Crystal Cove is not a good parallel to this," said Westrup. "We've been criticized severely for having people at Crystal Cove stay on as long as they have. You have to learn some lessons from the past. We're not going to go there again."

Westrup said this situation compares more to acquisition of Topanga Beach in the 1970s and the eventual removal of beach residences there.

"There were some very upset people at the time," said Westrup.

For Scott Dittrich, a 28-year resident of Lower Topanga, the record surrounding this acquisition is based partly on misinformation and exaggerations about the property's past.

In particular, Dittrich cites photographs from the 1920s that show the lagoon much as it is today. Descriptions from the ALC of a year-round Topanga Creek, "dashing over boulders" on its way to the ocean and suggestions it was once a significant Steelhead trout habitat are suspect, Dittrich believes.

According to Dittrich, the creek is often dry from April to December and the lagoon was never bigger than Malibu Lagoon as has been suggested.

"Somehow we're standing in the way of turning this back," said Dittrich. "It doesn't matter what you say because the ends justify the means."

Dittrich says he has invested $80,000 in his home. He said he would rather see everyone come together and make a deal than have money wasted on a relocation company that can't possibly provide a comparable alternative.

"There's a lot of pressure on us because we've invested so much," said Dittrich. "They don't want to talk to us. It's just so mean-spirited.

"If you treat people right, then everybody's a hero."

"What would really seem unfair," said Dittrich, "is to kick everyone off in a hurry and then let the property sit while a plan is developed."

The residents are seeking a reasonable timeframe and fair compensation to assist with finding new homes, said Dittrich.

Topanga resident Andy Leonard, owner of the Reel Inn, said he will be very upset if his business is targeted for relocation, but at the same time he has had no illusions about his situation.

"The businesses all have been allowed to grow because of the circumstances with the landlord-reasonable rents in exchange for no leases," said Leonard.

"They have allowed for a level of service and value to be provided to the community for a very long time."

Leonard believes there's no replacement for this situation.

"We're all worried. I lose sleep at night and have, since I got the restaurant in 1987, that I'm going to have to move. It's a big deal," said Leonard. On the other hand, he said: "I never imagined it would be there for my children to run."

If they get 10 more years, said Leonard, "then we'd have 10 more years of reasonably priced fish. Then we'd have to move someplace else and charge the prices Gladstone's does."
"If there's a use for visitor services in this park, I'd like to think the Reel Inn could provide some kind of service.

"There's been a fish restaurant as near as I can tell back into the 20s," said Leonard, according to reports from old-timers. "There's been a little fish restaurant there for a long time. With a couple of breaks, it's still a fish restaurant."

Leonard agrees that preservation of the land as a park is more important to his children's future than the commercial strip. The question is what point in history should the property be restored to, noted Leonard.

"Something's going to happen. And I can only hope that something that's OK is going to happen to us, and I hope that something OK happens to everyone."

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New Faces on Fire Team

The new guys at station 69, Captain Rick Pfeiffer (left) and
Engineer Mike Nava.

By Penny Taylor

Since the retirement of Captain Warren Chase from the Los Angeles Country Fire Department, Topanga's B Shift has been covered by other captains coming in on overtime. Sometimes it's been Mike Johnson or Steve Floyd who have been in Topanga for years and know the community well. On other occasions captains from other areas came who were not as familiar with the territory.

Not knowing the lay of the land in the city isn't always a problem. Fire fighter/paramedic Bobby Fullove joked about it the other day. If the streets are numbered "85th," "86th," you'd have to be pretty lame to not be able to find "87th," he cracked. But in Topanga where the streets aren't straight, the signs aren't always easy to find in the dark, there aren't blue reflectors in the center of the street marking a fire hydrant and water pressure varies so much that some hydrants have to be specially marked so that hoses won't get blown outwell, knowing the terrain can be critical.

Worry not, we've got a new fire captain on B Shift and he's brought along a new engineer. Okay, yeah, they are flatlanders and one was with the Inglewood fire department for years before his department got taken over by the county, but it looks like we lucked out.

Captain Rick Pfeiffer has been a firefighter for 29 years. He was raised in Inglewood where he was stationed and he's a second generation firefighter. Although he was originally going to be a cop, his father who was a battalion chief, had talked some of his friends into becoming firemen and Rick started giving the job a closer look.

Before he was a captain, he was also a paramedic for 8 years and kept up his certification for 13 years. He's been a captain now for 18 years. He was one of the captains who came up to help us out during the 1993 fire, so he's not unfamiliar with the canyon. And he's enthusiastic! After 29 years on the job, how many people do you know who still love their job? He's quick to point out that he likes going to work and that's made possible not only by loving what you do, but liking the people you work with. He'd known one of the men he worked with in Inglewood since he was three years old and his co-worker was four.

Captain Pfieffer says he's looking forward to good community relations and getting to know the area. He'd only been on for three shifts when we spoke, but the first time I saw him he was cruising Cheney after getting to know Paradise Lane. Each shift they're going out and getting a first hand look at different parts of the canyon.

One of the biggest differences is the pace. Where he comes from there'd be anywhere from 5 to 20 calls a day. In Topanga that can be more like two or three, unless it rains and the idiots come sliding out, in which case the numbers jump. Not used to being able to sleep through the night he laughed, "Last night I woke up twice thinking I might be missing something."

The father of two girls and one boy, he's also a grandfather. He and his family have lived in Thousand Oaks for 25 years now and one of his passions is restoring antique vehicles. He recently donated a 1952 America La France fire engine to a museum and he's busy working on a 1951 Ford and a 1928 America La France fire engine. When asked if it would be running in time for next year's Topanga Days, he laughed. It would take a couple of years to have it up and running.

Mike Nava is our new firefighter on B Shift. Mike was recently promoted to engineer, and Bobby Fullove pointed out, "And he's going to be a great one." Mike's also looking forward to working in the canyon. With eight years of experience as a firefighter, he has a well-rounded background, including six years as a paramedic. He's handled a variety of cases from geriatric to trauma. He's coming to us after working in South Central Los Angeles.

Mike was raised in the San Fernando Valley and lives in Newbury Park. He has two boys and two girls and they're at that age where he's heavy into coaching baseball. Mike also enjoys playing golf.

So we have men with experience who are eager to know Topanga. Rattlesnake calls will be new for them, but as cold as it's been getting they can get a feel for that next summer. They'll be cruising your neighborhoods getting to know the territory, so introduce yourselves and let them get to know you, too.

Welcome to Topanga guys. Oh, and the sign for Walnut Trail is on the right just a wee bit up Fernwood, behind the bamboo stalks.

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Meet Our Fire Tigers

Our helicopter patrol. (L to r) Jim Cook, firefighter/paramedic, Jerry James, pilot, and John O'Brien firefighter/paramedic.


By Tony Morris

The Los Angeles County Fire Department is prepared for this year's fire season with an arsenal of fire fighting aircraft. If a wildfire emergency call is received from Topanga, County Fire Department helicopters, S-64 SkyCrane Helitankers and SuperScoopers are airborne within minutes. County Fire Department helicopters from Camp 8-Malibu, Camp 9-Pacoima/Santa Clarita and Camp 2-La Cañada/Flintridge (near JPL) are dispatched to the wildfire scene.
County Fire Department helicopter crews are prepared for rescue, medical evacuation and fire-fighting emergencies seven days a week. With 11 pilots and 18 firefighter paramedics, the County's crews are called upon daily to save lives. This year more than 4,000 medical evacuation flights have been made to area hospitals.

Jerry James, with over 10,500 hours as a pilot, started flying helicopters in 1969 during the Vietnam war. James and his team of firefighter paramedics can be airborne within minutes of a 911 call. James has evacuated accident victims from Pacific Coast Highway. Topanga Elementary School's upper playground and the Community House ballfield can be used as emergency helicopter landing sites.

During the off-fire season, County Fire Department helicopters are used to re-seed burned watershed areas to assist in stabilizing the soil and prevent mud slides during the rainy season. James and his fellow pilots transport fire crews to work sites in the mountains where a critical network of miles of firebreaks, trails and fire roads is maintained.

As initial attack aircraft, the CL-415 SuperScoopers provide a rapid response capability in the event of wildfire emergencies. Michel Bradette, a SuperScooper pilot with the Service Aerien of Quebec-which leases two aircraft to the County during the fire season-started flying when he was 17. Bradette, who says he "always thought about flying," flew light planes in Quebec providing supplies to fishing and hunting camps, piloting single engine aircraft to Shefferville, Forestville on the St. Lawrence River and Chibougamau in Quebec's north country. With years of experience flying the CL-215 and CL-215T, precursors to the CL-415 SuperScooper, Bradette is a member of the Service Aerien's contingent of 8 pilots and three mechanics now on duty during the fire season.

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Firehawks Added to Arsenal

This Sikorsky S-70A Firehawk will add to our water
drop capability.


By Tony Morris

On Tuesday, October 31st Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the $25 million purchase of two Sikorsky S-70A Firehawk helicopters. Originally designed for military use, the Firehawks will be converted for emergency medical services and firefighting. Each helicopter can carry 1,000 gallons of water and will replace 25 year old Bell 205 helicopters which carry 360 gallons. With twin engines, the Firehawks provide a margin of safety should one engine fail during rescue and firefighting missions.

According to Assistant Chief Rader the Firehawks will be ready in March 2001 and will be flown across country to the west coast for EMS interior installation and water tank outfitting.

According to City News Service, the Firehawks have the capability of loading water with a snorkel device from designated water sources and will not have to land to resupply the aircraft with a water payload, according to Chief P. Michael Freeman.

Describing the Los Angeles region as "unique in regard to fire danger and emergency rescue situations because of its geography, sporadic moisture cycles, seasonal Santa Ana winds and location next to an urban center," Freeman said the Firehawks "fit the job".

The County will continue to lease two CL-415 SuperScoopers which carry 1,600 gallons and can "scoop" water from the Pacific ocean and numerous water sources throughout the County. The SuperScoopers are leased from the province of Quebec during the height of the fire season, normally September through November. At this time the County does not plan to purchase SuperScoopers "because of funding and technical difficulties" Freeman said.

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Topanga Christian Fellowship Church Fights for Survival

Founding families broke ground on Topanga Christian Fellowship Church's home in 1943.

By Michele Johnson

Next year, members of Topanga Christian Fellowship Church, a fixture in Topanga since it was hand-built by 300 founding families in the 1940s, will be asked to cast a vote that may put the whole future of the Church in doubt. The Church hit a low point a few years ago when it lost its last pastor. "The last pastor resigned because we weren't doing well financially," said Mimi Sutherland, a trustee and long-time leader of the Church.

Topanga Christian Fellowship was almost bankrupt, and with no pastor there, the three trustees took turns leading the congregation. It dropped at that point to a low of six or eight people at Sunday service, says Matthew Brayman, the current pastor.

With its back against the wall, the trustees went to the school of theology at the Foursquare Church On The Way in Van Nuys to request students to temporarily fill in the gap. Two students shared the position for a while, but after Matthew Brayman graduated and became a full-fledged candidate, he was hired full-time in 1999 as a Foursquare-affiliated pastor. Since then, tithing church membership has grown to 35 and the weekly congregation has numbered as high as 68. Brayman and his wife Stephanie also started a Sunday school, which has drawn in new families.


When he was hired, both Brayman and Mimi Sutherland agree it was with the idea of looking into an eventual official union with the Foursquare Church. But, said a critic of the move, Karen Wood-Moran, no one warned the congregation at that time that the Church, always independent, would not only fall under the religious aegis of Foursquare but also have to relinquish its paid-up deed and bank account to Foursquare. "The community must know this. They have a right to know what's going on."

Pastor Matthew, as the congregation call him, said that he did not go into the details of the impending union earlier because he wanted the congregation to get to know him first.

But, protests Moran, "A lot of us want to stay nondenominational" and many do not want to turn over the deed. "It became like a hostile corporate takeover." She estimates that of those that are aware of the situation, 10 of the 35 fully tithing member families join her in opposition to the move. And of the others, many still do not know the implications of joining Foursquare.


This comes at a time, says Moran, when the Church has never been in better shape financially. "We're finally financially solvent after 50 years," she said. Topanga Christian Fellowship was deeded land that it recently sold, and now has a fat bank account that could carry it for a while even without increasing its tithing membership. It was even able to purchase a home at the Top O' Topanga mobile home estates for Pastor Matthew and Stephanie.

Moran, incensed at the congregation being left in the dark, recently began writing letters of opposition, and even asked for the resignation of both Brayman and Sutherland. After intense meetings, all agreed that the facts would be laid out before the whole congregation at a meeting after 10:30 services and lunch on December 3. Dan Ussery, a District Administer of Foursquare, will be there to discuss all the implications of the move.


Patricia Moore-Joshi, a trustee who originally voted to look into going Foursquare, has since changed her mind. She says, "I certainly understand Karen's angst about becoming part of a denomination." And, she went on, "I'm 100 percent against going denominational. I believe in the independent spirit of Topanga. And we will have more control if we keep it in Topanga." Sutherland, on the other hand, who moved to Topanga with her husband Bill in 1950, insists that Foursquare's philosophy is very close to Topanga Christian Fellowship. "The basic tenants are the same." And joining them could offer "a platter of goodies. We've never had so much opportunity to have so much available." They offer, for example, summer and winter camps for children that could be a draw to families.

But beyond the loss of independence, Moore-Joshi says, "When I heard the deed transferred, I said this will never fly in Topanga. Nobody told the congregation that the deed was going to change." Of the transfer, even Mimi Sutherland says, "Many think that the fact they require a deed is a stumbling block. I agree. It doesn't set well with me, either."

In fact, the Church has been loosely affiliated with other churches in the past, but those churches never demanded to take possession of the assets. Why does Foursquare have this policy? Well, according to Brayman, Foursquare is concerned about liability. If they hold the assets and Topanga Christian Fellowship is sued, it will fall under their insurance and protection.


And if the Christian Fellowship Church continues to struggle, could Foursquare decide to sell it? Brayman insists, "The Foursquare Church is not interested in closing down churches unless the church has dwindled to the place where it can't pay its bills." Even then, he says, Foursquare officials have told him they would sustain a church for a period of time to see if it can get on its feet again. Despite this assurance, critics worry that Foursquare is a huge entity, run in a corporate manner, and money considerations could eventually come first.

All agree, though, that if there is no union, the Church may be in danger of folding anyway. Moore-Joshi recently sent an open letter to the congregation with the approval of the trustees and the pastor, laying out the problems and inviting all members to the December 3 meeting. She stressed that the real question is not just one of independence, but that the church "is in danger because it is undernourished! The church needs to be fed by YOU! We need members." She went on to point out, "Churches die! They die when people drop out. Church growth experts say a church with less than 80 members is guaranteed certain death." Moore-Joshi says the vote by closed ballot on whether to go Foursquare will come next year, maybe as early as February or March. She urges anyone who wants to become involved to begin attending services and consider becoming a fully tithing member, offering 10 percent of their income to the church. Only active, tithing members can vote. "My hope is that Topangans wake up, stay independent, and hire an independent pastor.But I really don't know what the congregation will do. I have great faith in Topanga's independencebut you never know."

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Blackie Seeks Rental

Blackie Lamoreaux, the Honorary Chairman of 2000 Topanga Days and a beloved figure in Topanga, is seeking a rental. He has been living in his van on private property, but must soon leave that temporary situation. He is on a fixed government income, but can pay $150-$200 per month rent, or could serve as a watchman and do light maintenance in lieu of some or all of the rent. Please call the Messenger at 455-1303 if you can help.

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Yaroslavsky Dedicates Legal Self-Help Center

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky today joined Van Nuys Court officials and others to officially open the new Self-Help Legal Access Center, capping a two-year effort to establish an office to assist litigants without attorneys in representing themselves more effectively.

Joining Yaroslavsky were Assistant Presiding Judge James A. Bascue; Van Nuys Superior Court Supervising Judge Michael Farrell; and Neal Dudovitz, Executive Director of San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc., whose agency will operate the Center under a County contract in conjunction with the County's Department of Consumer Affairs. Also on hand were attorney and Valley resident Janice Kamenir-Reznik, a Yaroslavsky appointee to the County Judicial Procedures Commission and a prime mover behind the creation of the Center; and San Fernando Valley Bar Association President Christine Lyden.

Yaroslavsky hailed the program as an innovative attempt to improve the quality of representation while expediting court proceedings. Most self-represented litigants are involved in divorce and child-custody cases or small-business disputes, he added, and the Center will help explain the laws, regulations and court procedures relevant to their cases.

"We want to enable them to achieve better results and make informed choices regarding their legal options," Yaroslavsky said. Many such litigants, he said, are unprepared to proceed properly with their cases, which compromises their legal position and impedes court operations.

Yaroslavsky said that the $313,000 pilot program would be evaluated after a year of operation to assess its effectiveness and consider its potential expansion to other court locations.
The Self-Help Legal Access Center is located adjacent to the Van Nuys Civic Center at the intersection of Sylvan and Sylmar. For general information or directions to the Center, call (818) 896-5211. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and 1:30-4:30 p.m. daily.

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Break-In at Topanga School

By Tony Morris

Topanga Elementary School was the scene of a break-in, vandalism and burglary which occurred sometime over the weekend of November 4th and 5th according to the school's principal, Eileen Goodman. Vandals defaced the walls of several classrooms, damaged a guitar used by teachers and stole a computer system valued at $1,500. Principal Goodman says that the computer had been in use for only six months.

On Monday November 6th, after teachers arrived at the school to discover the forcible entry and burglary, deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff's station were immediately notified. The Sheriff's Department is currently investigating the burglary and no further information was available at press time.

Principal Goodman said that the LA Unified School District obtained the computer system through the LAAMP Program of the Annenberg Foundation. School officials are not certain if the loss is covered by insurance. Goodman said that the computer was an important resource for the school's students and she would welcome calls from those interested in exploring how the system might be replaced.

Topanga Elementary School's telephone number is : 310-455-3711.

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Toy Drive for Tots

The Seventh Day Adventist Church of Canoga Park will collect toys in Topanga from November 25th to December 9th for children of Interval House Crisis Shelters and Centers for Victims of Domestic Violence in Seal Beach.

Topangan Marty Martinez, who is coordinating the drive here, said that those who wish to donate new, unwrapped toys may do so at the Topanga General Store and Fernwood Market.
Toys and other gifts are needed for both small children and teenage girls and boys.

For more information, call Pastor Rockne Dahl, of the Seventh Day Adventist Church at (818) 882-1171. His office hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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New Broker at Coast & Canyon

Coast and Canyon Realtors welcomes new agent Elizabeth Baldwin, formerly with Coldwell Banker in Malibu. Elizabeth has been a resident of Topanga Canyon for five years and has been residing in the Los Angeles area for over fifteen years. She's a graduate of Pepperdine University with a degree in Communications, a true asset in real estate! Prior to entering the real estate field, Elizabeth was an actress appearing in the daytime dramas "Days of Our Lives," and "The Bold and the Beautiful," among many other sitcoms and T.V. series. She's looking forward to giving 100 percent commitment to serving Coast and Canyon Realtors and Topanga Canyon's real estate needs! Elizabeth can be reached at Coast and Canyon Realtors (310) 455-2041.

Elizabeth Baldwin, new gal in town at Coast and Canyon.