Storm Warning: No Progress on Slow Down Thru Town


Be prepared is stuntman Brad Bovee's motto as he risks his life to cross Topanga Canyon Boulevard by the video store after the storms.

By Tony Morris

Topanga Canyon Boulevard traffic issues, a focus of the Town Hall meeting held on October 12th at Topanga Elementary School remain unresolved. Three months after Topanga residents met to discuss their concerns regarding traffic in the canyon it appears that no decisions regarding traffic safety in the center of Topanga have been made. Discussions are planned by a committee composed of state and county agencies and local Topanga organizations.

VOL.25 NO. 2
January 25- February 7, 2001


Susan Nissman, Field Deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that she and Laurie Newman, Senior Field Deputy for State Senator Sheila Kuehl will serve as co-chairpersons coordinating the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Committee's work. The committee will include representatives from Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Traffic and Lighting Division, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and representatives of Topanga organizations. A letter was sent to state and county agencies and Topanga organizations providing information on the committee's objectives and setting the first organizational meeting for January 31.

As traffic numbers along the Boulevard continue to grow and concerns over speeding motorists become a daily reality, many residents are calling for action. Arlette Parker, a member of the Slow Down Thru Town effort, said, "We need action now, we have had enough studies and discussions." Parker also said that many of the 2,100 who signed a petition calling for a 25 mph limit from School Road to the Lumber Yard have asked her why there has been no progress .

Topanga Town Council president Dale Robinette said that he "had high hopes after the October 12th meeting, but I am not surprised by the lack of action." Robinette suggested that some steps could be taken in advance of final decisions on traffic plans. "At the very least Entering Topanga signs could be installed north of School Road and south of Topanga Lumber alerting motorists to slow down through the center of town." Robinette said that signage would help to "educate" motorists that they are driving through the main street of Topanga.

TASC's Roger Pugliese sees problems with decisions made regarding traffic safety in Topanga. Pugliese said that Topangans should "proceed with caution because what often happens when dealing with bureaucracies is that the initial response is to do the right thing but agencies have the additional concern of liability." TASC's chairman also said that the emphasis on liability is not "always conducive to the needs of the community."

With traffic safety decisions for the center of Topanga still unresolved, community residents would be well advised to drive with extra caution. Reports of drivers speeding along the Boulevard at blind curves and crossing over the double yellow line are a daily reality. For pedestrians crossing the Boulevard between Topanga Center and Pine Tree Circle north of Abuelita's parking lot there is no pedestrian crossing, so watch out for the other guy.

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Homes in Summit Valley Viewshed on Hold


TASC and VOICE are fighting development of the land south of these water tanks, overlooking Summit Valley.

By Susan Chasen

A developer's proposal to build three houses along the ridgeline of Summit Valley-Ed Edelman Park has run into several major obstacles, including denial of an essential access road from Calabasas and passage of the county's new Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan which allows only one house on the property.

Opponents of the project have argued that the three houses, which would be located south of Topanga's two water tanks, would create unacceptable visual impacts from the park and surrounding areas and would block trails.

Most recently, the developer asked to pull the matter from the county Regional Planning Commission agenda at a hearing December 13 rather than face a likely denial, according to Jose Caldit, a senior planning assistant.

Caldit said the developer is currently researching his options and is expected to respond shortly. A representative of the property owner, Redondo-based Woodbridge Corporation, has not returned phone calls to comment on any future plans.

At a previous hearing September 20, the Planning Commission continued the hearing to December 13 to give the developer time to establish the legality of proposed access from an extension of Le Mans Drive in the Mulholland Heights development in Calabasas. Since that time, however, the Calabasas City Council voted in November to "vacate" the proposed extension of Le Mans Drive.

Also, in October, the county Board of Supervisors adopted the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan which reduces the potential number of houses on the 19.9-acre site from three to one.


Topangans attending the December hearing said the owner's representative, Steve Taylor, indicated an intention to buy two-tenths of an acre. That would put the property over the acreage threshold for two houses. The new North Area Plan allows no more than one house per 10 acres.

"Nothing is going to happen for the time being, but he may try again for two houses," said Herb Petermann, who attended the hearing as chair of VOICE, Viewridge Owners Involved in the Community and the Environment. "We would prefer that the [Santa Monica Mountains] Conservancy purchase this land and extend the parkland because of the viewshed," said Petermann.

According to Petermann, the proposed houses would be on a ridgeline visible from Summit Valley Park and would block the Henry Ridge Trail just at the intersection with the central trail through the park. If even one house is to be built, Petermann suggests it need not block trails or be on the ridge given the size of the property.

TASC board member David Totheroh, who also attended the hearing, agrees. "It clearly would be a blight on the visual open space aspects of hiking around in that park," said Totheroh. "And it makes the trail access an entirely different beast-walking along a ridgeline or walking along someone's gated front yard."

According to Totheroh, the proposal goes against provisions in the North Area Plan intended to protect important "viewshed" resources such as the ridgeline of Summit Valley Park. "To invest $20 million of taxpayer money [for a park] and then put a rim, a stockade, of homes around it is pretty absurd," said Totheroh. "Our reading of the North Area Plan is that unless all other options are ruled out, ridgeline development is a last resort for development of a property."


Protection of the Summit Valley ridgeline has been a goal of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy since it acquired the adjacent 667-acre property-now Summit Valley Ed Edelman Park-in 1994 for nearly $20 million after a 16-year battle to block the proposed Canyon Oaks development. But so far, the proposed selling price has been too high.

"It's so visible from so many places," said Paul Edelman, planning chief for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. "It is something that is pretty darn important to us.Hopefully, he'll come around."

Edelman said he does not think the Conservancy is currently negotiating with the property owner and no appraisal has been ordered. However, he said there were discussions a year ago and the Conservancy was approached again before the September hearing, but the price of about $1 million-$50,000 an acre-is just too high.

Any appraisal, he said, should take into account factors such as engineering costs for resolving access problems and possible geologic stability problems that diminish the profitability of development. Ultimately, the appraisal would probably come closer to $400,000 than $1 million, according to Edelman.

The Conservancy is especially interested in projects with partners to provide matching funds-such as Los Angeles County or Calabasas in this instance, said Edelman. Also, he suggested that with strong community support, state Senator Sheila Kuehl or Assemblywoman Fran Pavley could make member requests seeking funds specifically for the purchase.
It makes a big difference, he said, that it would complement an existing park and protect an existing investment.


As for the site's access problems, officials with the City of Calabasas have determined that extending a road from Mulholland Heights development serves no useful purpose for Calabasas residents.

"That road is not needed by the City of Calabasas for either current or future use," said Mark Persico, Planning and Building Services Director for Calabasas.

Although the extension of Le Mans Drive appears as a "future street" on maps, Persico explained that it pre-dated incorporation of the City of Calabasas. As it turned out, Mulholland Heights has all the access it needs and there's no need to go over a ridgeline into Topanga. "There's no public purpose for that street and that was why it was vacated."

Also, the proposed 60-foot-wide road would have extended through dedicated open space owned by the Mulholland Heights Homeowners Association.

Persico said the developer's representative indicated at the December hearing that he intended to re-approach the City of Calabasas about his loss of access, but so far he has not done so. Without access from Calabasas, the only alternative access would be from Topanga Canyon Boulevard next to the Quest Ranch.

Another issue for the proposed site, according to Petermann, would be geologic instability which is generally associated with ridgeline construction. During the 1994 earthquake, the two water tanks adjacent to the property cracked and left Topanga without its water supply.

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Topanga Christian Fellowship Votes for Independence

Matthew and Stephanie Brayman, the reverend and his wife, will stay, at least for now.

By Michele Johnson

On December 27, the votes were finally in and counted, though some complain a few were lost in the mail. No, this was not the Florida debacle, but the vote by the congregation of Topanga Christian Fellowship Church, debating whether to retain their independence or affiliate with Foursquare Church, a huge international denomination.

As with that other election, the vote was close and, believes the pastor Matthew Brayman, "It wasn't a mandate to quit the whole shooting match." The vote was 16 for independence, 14 for going Foursquare. Karen Wood-Moran, who voted for independence, said the vote wasn't as close as it looks, because according to Church bylaws, a 2/3 vote would have been necessary for any such substantive change.

Ballots were sent out following an emotional meeting at the church on December 3 at which many stood up to protest going Foursquare, but some stood to support Matthew Brayman, who is an ordained Foursquare minister, tied to that denomination. The referendum took place sooner than expected because, said Karen Wood-Moran, "We insisted after the meeting-it was so heated-we wanted to bring it to a halt."

In the end, many believe, the vote was as close as it was because some members did not want to lose Brayman. "He was a motivation for many of the votes," said board member Mimi Sutherland.

As for the protesters, they were especially concerned about giving up the paid-up deed to the Church, a Foursquare requirement for joining that denomination. "For a good number," insisted Brayman, "that was the only sticking point." Brayman added that, contrary to reports, it is not Foursquare's policy to also take over the bank account of its member churches, only its deed.

Over the protests of some members, for the time being the church is still fellowshipping with Foursquare as it has for the past year. A church can enter a fellowship with Foursquare for a period no longer than two years, said Brayman. At the end of that time, they must decide either to become a permanent member or halt the relationship. During the fellowship, church members can send their kids to Foursquare summer camps, attend retreats, and use other services provided by Foursquare. Wood-Moran points out that some of these same benefits could be received by joining a group like American Missionary Fellowship, made up of independent churches.

During fellowship with Foursquare, no tithing is required, but Topanga Christian Fellowship had been voluntarily tithing Foursquare for the last year. According to Brayman, due to protests, the tithing will stop, but "It'll be a matter for the Board to decide what if any value there is to a fellowshipping status of any kind." As for the larger issue, Mimi Sutherland is realistic. "People want to remain nondenominational for now."

She also says, "For now, Matthew is committed to stay." Brayman said he is ready to stay on for the time being, and may even continue with the Church with no Foursquare affiliation at all. "We're not there yet. We may decide the Lord is not concerned with affiliation." And when asked how he feels about pastoring at Topanga Christian Fellowship, he replied, "We're very happy." He and his wife Stephanie are expecting a baby "any minute," said Mimi, and so it's understandable that Matthew says of the controversy, "I'm looking forward to a year without this sort of thing hanging over us."

Wood-Moran hopes that many more Topangans will decide to join the church and "participate in the future of Topanga Fellowship." Board member Patricia Moore-Joshi, who voted against going Foursquare, believes "the fighting spirit of Topanga has been aroused," and that the controversy "is good for the Church and the community."

Mimi Sutherland summed up her feelings this way. "I truly do hope that this will bring a measure of peace to the group. I hope they'll feel they've been heard. The vote may have been split, but there's not a split in the relationship."

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Volunteers Chip In To Make Chipper Program Work

David Totheroh (front) trims a Christmas tree as Thad Geer feeds trees to his chipper.

By Tony Morris

The Topanga Citizens Firesafe Committee Christmas tree chipping was an unqualified success. The TCFC sponsored the program to provide a service for the community and raise funds for the Woman's Club emergency relief fund. Chipping was completed at the Topanga Center parking lot and 25 trees were chipped thanks to equipment supplied at cost by Thad Geer. Mulch produced by the chipper was used by some participants for their gardens.

As a result of this year's successful chipping program, it will be offered next year. Thanks for the effort and organization go to David Totheroh, Anne-Christine von Wetter, Joe Gerson and Thad Geer.

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CHIC Survey: The Results Are In!

By Michele Johnson

The final results of the Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC) survey are in. The survey was sent to every home in the Woman's Club newsletter in November and available over the web. Its intent was to identify Topanga's priorities for new uses for the Community House and the property it stands on.

Of about 2,500 households that received the survey-223 individuals and/or households responded. They were asked to rank the options on a scale of one to five-one being least desirable and five being most desirable.

Using percentages, top marks, about 75% of possible points, went to building a new EOC. After an EOC came-in order-a pool, a senior center, a teen center, ball field improvements, stage improvements, a library, a shade structure, a picnic area, additional parking, a basketball court, a gym, an art center, an outdoor eco center, a tennis court, garden plots, classrooms, a museum, a computer center and, last and apparently least, a horseshoe court.

Committee leaders warn that all of these are just ideas, contingent upon feasibility and fund-raising. A swimming pool, for example, as desirable as Topangans feel it would be, would probably present problems of geology, on-going fund-raising and insurance.

Some improvements, like shade structures and baseball field improvements, which are less costly and complicated, could begin as soon as some funds are raised and volunteers organized. Obviously, a new building would be costly and take a lot of planning and time to achieve. But if a new building were completed, it could double as EOC, senior center, teen center, etc., offering many of the options favored by Topangans.

At the December meeting of CHIC, subcommittees were formed to research feasibility and fund-raising options for items on the survey. They will gather information and report back to the community.

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Sirens in the Night

By Penny Taylor

When Lennie Appelquist started for work at 4:30 a.m., Monday the 8th, the last thing he expected was to run into a high-speed chase on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

David Lester Van Deventer was wanted by police for attempted murder. The Santa Clarita Sheriff's Department began pursuit about 2:50 a.m. The California Highway Patrol took over when Van Deventer's van got on the Golden State Freeway.

Lennie's first indication that something was going on was when he crested Top of Topanga, heading for the valley. He noticed a helicopter with a search light overhead near Reseda and Oxnard.

"It was kind of foggy and the beam from the helicopter made it look really surreal."

He came in direct contact with the pursuit as he approached Mulholland. The white van was coming south, being pursued by the CHP. Afraid of being hit, Lennie pulled to the curb.

"I was tired and it caught me by surprise and I pulled right over. I saw at least 10 patrol cars, at least 5 with their lights and sirens going, coming up from the direction of Ventura Boulevard."
Lennie says they were only going about 35 - 40 mph.

Stephen Nimmer heard the sirens from his home on Robinson. He got up and looked down on Topanga Canyon Boulevard by Froggy's. He saw the van come southbound around the corner by the restaurant, but only saw three patrol cars with lights and sirens following the van. He also indicated that he didn't think they were going more than 35 - 45 mph.

The chase ended with Van Deventer's arrest in Ventura Country four hours after it began.

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Santa Monica Mountains Park Plan Released

Arthur E. Eck, Superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, announced on December 19, 2000, that the National Park Service has released the draft General Management Plan/ Environmental Impact Statement. It is the product of a cooperative effort among the National Park Service, the California State Parks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. After three years of study, public involvement, consultations with local governments and public agencies, this plan describes and analyzes five possible alternatives that might serve as an outline for the protection and enjoyment of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The plan will be available through the Internet at: http.// planning/samo/gmp. Copies may also be obtained by calling (805) 370-2301.

Five public workshops will be held the week of February 5 to provide interested members of the public with the opportunity to discuss the plan options. Workshop locations, directions, and times will be posted on the Internet site identified above, or obtained by calling the National Park Service Visitor Center at (805) 370-2301. The nearest meeting to Topanga will be held Monday, February 5 from 6-9 p.m. at the Calabasas/Agoura Community Center, 2470 Malibu Hills Road. Take the Lost Hills exit.

Comments submittal deadline is February 28, 2001. Letters and postcards should be mailed to Superintendent, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, 401 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91360-4207.

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Tree Trimming Underway

A project is underway to trim 4,973 trees along various county streets in the Topanga area.
The work will be performed under a $178,967 contract awarded to TruGreen LandCare of Monrovia, one of four bidders with the highest being $283,005.

Public Works schedules the trimming work based on a five-year maintenance cycle that coincides with growth rates of trees in this area. Experts select trees for trimming to ensure safe and adequate clearance for vehicles and pedestrians, to prevent damage to private property, and to remove dead wood, weak, diseased or broken limbs. The contractor will also remove 103 dead or irreversibly dying trees. Public Works crews will mark all trees involved, and the contractor will make the trimmed wood available to homeowners for firewood before removing it. The contractor will also recycle tree waste.

The project is expected to begin in January and finish by March 15, in time for the nesting cycle, and will not disrupt traffic and local access.

Dean Lehman, District Engineer with the Road Maintenance Division of DPW requested that residents with questions contact County Senior Inspector Bennie Henderson who will be on scene in Topanga during the course of tree trimming work. Henderson can be reached by calling his pager: (626) 245-0139. Lehman also said that the contractor will be working seven days a week. On weekends they expect to get underway after 8:00 a.m.

When trimming work at each location is completed, pavement marking dots, designating the type of work, will be painted over as well as marking for the corresponding trees. Rosi Dagit of the Resource Conservation District requested that the contractor's crews be particularly careful should they encounter any bird nests. Owl, red-tailed hawk and black-tail kites nests are located in Topanga.

With some of Topanga's narrow streets, minor traffic delays are inevitable as tree trimming trucks and equipment are moved into position. All crews have experienced traffic monitors prepared to keep traffic moving when it is safe to do so.

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T-CEP Update

By Penny Taylor

The Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) had a board meeting Wednesday, January 10th. Team heads attended along with members of the California Highway Patrol Community Help Team and the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station.

Everyone was encouraged that the December benefit at the Mermaid was successful in getting much needed funds.

The new satellite paging system, trailers and team updates was covered. Susan Alice Clark, head of the Small Animal Team is in search of carriers to be disbursed around the canyon for emergency evacuations and is also in need of medical supplies, such as bandages and other first aid items. Susan can be reached at (310) 455-7268.

The CHP mentioned that they had been maintaining a higher profile in the canyon in response to residents' requests and petitions to slow down traffic in town. Unfortunately they pointed out that almost 90% of the speeders stopped were locals.

The big ticket item was discussion of the next T-CEP drill. Residents can look forward to a major disaster drill on January 27th. Just what the disaster is going to be is under wraps at the moment, but I think it's safe to say that hurricanes and tornadoes can be eliminated. So if you see emergency service vehicles en mass on the 27th it is (most likely) just part of the drill.
For those newcomers to the canyon, the T-CEP Hotline, activated at the Emergency Operations Center in times of fire, flood or earthquake, is (310) 455-3000.

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Chamber Corner

Citizen, Business of Year Honored

Every year for the past half-century The Topanga Chamber of Commerce has been recognizing a citizen, and more recently a business and a notable community contributor, that have made a difference to our town. This year's gala 2001 Citizen and Business of the Year Banquet will be held at the Topanga Community House, on Saturday night, January 27 beginning at 7p.m. A full-course, catered dinner with wine and entertainment is planned. Honorees will be hosted, toasted and roasted. This year's awards are being hand crafted from crystal and generously donated by internationally renowned Topanga glass artist Steven V. Correia. Correia has made awards for the president of Argentina and Tiger Woods.

Representatives from the office of Supervisor Yaroslavsky, Fran Pavley, Brad Sherman and Sheila Kuehl will speak and, or attend this event.

Reservations at $20 per person are being taken by phone on a first come, first served basis. Call 310-455-0790. Your tickets will be held at the door.

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Historical Center Opens

Beginning February 4th the Topanga Historical Society Center will be open each Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and each Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Located in Pine Tree Circle Center unit 206, the Topanga Historical Society Center contains an archive library of Topanga historical materials and a display of 14 Topanga photographs. Arranged chronologically and accompanied with descriptive captions, the photographic display spans 60 years beginning with portraits of Topanga's first three homestead families and ending with a 1949 view taken from Top of Topanga after the snow of January 12, 1949. Copies of The Topanga Story and Southern California's Prettiest Drive can be purchased at the Center. For more information or to make a special appointment, call Ami Kirby at 455-1969.

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Topanga Underground Moves to Agoura

Dick Sherman will move his business--lock, stock and cat Muffett--to new site in Agoura.

By Tony Morris

Dick Sherman came to Topanga in 1963 when he worked at Rocketdyne.

In Topanga he joined forces with Carl Ingram who did grading work and earth removal. Sherman started his first business in 1970 with Topanga Unlimited and remembers his first jobs were "catch as catch can." One job at K-Mart involved changing all the lights in the facility after hours.

Sherman recalls Simi Dabah who bought 46 acres from the Catholic Church-a portion of which became the location for Topanga Unlimited. When Dabah was cited by the L.A. County Fire Department for failure to complete brush clearance on the property, he made a deal with Topangan John Nordine to clear the brush. In exchange for the work, he leased part of the property to Nordine for his grading operation. Sherman moved his company to Nordine's yard in 1971. Nordine died in 1975. Over the years Sherman has rented space to Topanga Lumber, Rhodes Electric, Jim Ditzell and others.

In 1991 he changed the name of his company to Topanga Underground and currently specializes in designing and installing septic systems, water mains and underground utilities. With 15 employees in the field, Sherman's operation is one of the most respected in area. He maintains extensive computer records of all Topanga Underground's projects with site photographs and detailed plans, so that owners and municipal agencies have access to the data should maintenance or repair work be required in the future.

Sherman has always been the source of information regarding the County's requirements for septic systems and has shared his expertise with the community whenever new code regulations are issued.

With the recent sale of the yard leased by Topanga Underground, Sherman will be moving the operation to Agoura Road west of Kanan Road in a few weeks. Muffett the cat who lived at the company office on her own heated bed for 11 years, will be moving too.
To contact Dick Sherman at Topanga Underground call: (310) 455-2189. Dick has had the same number for 30 years!

Going Underground: History and Practices

The first in a series to offer the poop on septic systems

By Richard Sherman of Topanga Underground

Septic tanks came into common use in the late 1800s. Prior to that, some areas used cesspools (what we call a seepage/leach pit with no septic tank), outhouses were everywhere and some areas simply piped the sewage to the nearest stream or other body of water. My mother tells of the drainage ditch that ran behind all the houses on her street in a suburb of Saint Louis. All the houses discharged their sewage directly into the ditch. Occasionally it rained, washed it away. Then in 1915, septic tanks were installed and only the tank discharge (effluent) was sent to the ditch. Sewers were not installed until the late 1920s.

Growing awareness of the causes of disease and attitudes about public health prompted the development of public sewer systems and treatment plants. The City of Akron, Ohio's first treatment system consisted of a 1-million gallon septic tank which discharged effluent directly into the Cuyahoga Rover and on into Lake Erie. In areas where sewers were not economical to construct, septic tanks and underground disposal of the septic tank discharge (effluent) became the normal method of waste disposal.

In some rural areas there is so little development that there are few building codes and few enforcement personnel. I remember Bruce Sunkees telling us that in a small county in Montana he built a 1,000 square foot cabin with a two-page 8 1/2" x 11" sketch and it was inspected once when it was done. The inspector did not even look at the sewage disposal system.

In more populated areas where local wells are the primary source of drinking water (Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, some counties in California and others) the codes are far more restrictive than they are here.

There are even areas of major cities that are still on septic systems. There are several thousand systems in the San Fernando Valley South of Ventura Boulevard, between Woodland Hills and Studio City and in the Pacific Palisades. I inspected one in Hollywood. There are even new houses being built in Woodland Hills on septic systems today.

Calabasas rarely approves seepage pits and next door, the city of L.A. does not allow leach fields. In states where each jurisdictions does its own thing there is no consistency in the rules. Some jurisdiction have the same departments both approve and inspect the system and some are approved and inspected by different sections.

Some agencies require that any contractor installing systems has taken a series of classes and passed a test. A special license is then issued. This is in addition to their Contractor's license. Other areas let any contractor, regardless of license class, install systems. In Los Angeles County almost anyone (including the homeowner) may install the system. This leads to a substantial difference in how well the systems are constructed.

Oregon has a septic training center at a state college campus. This center is a 4-acre site where all types of septic tanks have been installed, at grade, and these are operational, with water. All types are represented. There are several one and two compartment conventional tanks, there are four or five secondary treatment type systems. There are example leach trenches and drain fields. Oregon does not use leach pits, as we do, as the ground water levels are not deep enough to provide the required separation between the bottom of the pit and the water table.
Current data reflects that about 1/3 of the residences in the U.S. are on individual septic systems.

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