Chamber Chooses Top Contributors of the Year

By Tony Morris

The Topanga Chamber of Commerce 53rd annual Citizen and Business Contributor of the Year banquet was celebrated at the Community House on Saturday, January 27th. Gail McDonald Tune, organizer of the event, reported that 180 Topangans gathered together for the annual celebration which was inaugurated in 1954. Topanga's own Wally High sang and played his guitar providing entertainment for the capacity audience throughout the night.

VOL.25 NO. 3
February 8 - 21, 2001



New Chamber officers and friends: L to R Peter Norwood, Treasurer; Yolande Michaels, Corresponding Secretary; Caren Ebert, board member; Livia Salamon, President; Ron Denend, Vice President; Kathi Burke, Recording Secretary; Gail McDonald Tune, board member; and Assemblyperson Fran Pavley.

Pat Burke and Bill Buerge share top honors at Chamber Dinner.

Wally High once again rocks the room.
For the whole story see the current newsstand edition of the Messenger.

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Did the Earth Move For You Too?


Pat MacNeil (third from left) and Fred Feer (in vest), chairs of T-CEP, debrief volunteers at the recent earthquake drill.

By Penny Taylor

Walking into the chaos of the T-CEP Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Saturday the 27th could have been comical if it hadn't been for the newspaper headlines that same morning reporting that at least 6,000 people had been killed and thousands others were missing in the 7.9 earthquake that struck India the previous day. The estimated death toll has since grown to over 10,000 with news reports of relief supplies and rescue workers pouring into India. It is a grim reminder of the possibilities Southern Californians face each day. Our buildings are better built to withstand earthquakes, our populace is less dense than India's 1 billion 14 million, but it remains to be seen what will happen in the next earthquake, especially when we haven't seen the likes of a 7.9.

Still, Topangans are an independent lot. A slide blocks off the s-curves necessitating the closure of one lane and leaving traffic open to only locals for six months and it's, "Yeah! All right! We should have done this earlier!" So it's not surprising that we would get together to prepare for all the eventualities with the idea that we may be cut off and face major calamities without outside assistance.

T-CEP's last drill was on a massive scale and based on a fast moving fire. Sheriff's Deputies, CHP officers, Search and Rescue, the Red Cross, Arson Watch and the various teams of T-CEP were brought into play. Saturday's drill was on a much smaller scale, centering mainly around the operations of the EOC, and not as carefully choreographed as the previous drill.

Brad Davis let it be known that there was going to be an earthquake, but other than that disaster scenarios were kept secret and the usual managers of the EOC, Pat MacNeil and Fred Feer, were initially cut out of the loop.

So what would seem like a simple drill, after the extensive practice and size of the last exercise, was really a wakeup call of what we would deal with if the team leaders weren't in the canyon and less experienced volunteers stepped in. But then the point was to give them the experience.
Initially the EOC was opened by Randy Neece of the Plans and Intelligence Team (P&I) and Andrea Makshanoff, who would be making her debut as the EOC Manager.

Opening the EOC is a by-the-book thing. First get in and turn on all the ham radio receivers so that when operators come in they can go straight to work. Calls are made to Susan Nissman of Zev Yaroslavsky's office and the heads of T-CEP. Susan would begin calling everyone on her list. The Sheriff's department needs to be notified that the EOC is being opened.

On this day Randy was informed that Fred Feer was unavailable and that Pat MacNeil was in Long Beach. (Yeah, right. I happen to know for a fact that Pat had her feet up at home, happy in the knowledge that for once she wouldn't be one of the first ones in and the last to leave. Undoubtedly, the mother hen in her was probably worrying about her brood at the EOC, but she has to get over that.)

Lynn Sherman, the Hotline Supervisor was reportedly sick (I hope not) and Carol Feer was called to head the hotline operators. Lynn did put out the calls to bring in other hotline operators.
Terry Valente of the Disaster Response Team (DRT) showed up on her own as did Buzz Tarlow, who runs the ham radios. They would be followed shortly thereafter by Renee Gander who runs the radios for Arson Watch and John Hollis and members of the P&I Team. Deputy Peter Sanzone and Lieutenant Sabalone were there from the Lost Hills Sheriff's station.

As in a real earthquake, volunteers are expected to deal with any emergencies at their own homes first and then report to the EOC when they can. This is one of the reasons for the extensive need for volunteers who can fill team positions. If five people are on a team, maybe only three can actually get to the EOC. If the emergency is long term, volunteers need to work in shifts. T-CEP is trying to get away from the early days when a person was literally at the EOC for 24 hours at a time.


Plans and Intelligence (P&I) is the clearing house for information coming into the EOC from Arson Watch, ham radio operators, the Sheriff's Department, Fire Department, CHP, DRT members and hotline operators. They log the information, time code it, map the location of the incident, determine its urgency and pass on information to the EOC Manager and others as needed.

One of the best organized and tightest knit teams, they meet every month and routinely have mini drills in Randy's living room or at regular P&I meetings. They've spent a lot of time developing 1, 2 and 3 person teams to deal with mapping, triage and other aspects of any emergency.
Randy says, "It really takes three people in a perfect world, but we know in reality that we may have two people and maybe only one." This drill was a good opportunity to see how P&I works as the hub of the ECO. He stated, "We started really getting our functions going."

It seemed to be working fairly well when I arrived at the EOC about 09:30 hours. (This 24 hour clock can get confusing for some.) But the rest of the trailer had more of a spatial quality to it.


For this drill I was stepping in as Public Information Officer (PIO). (This should not be confused with Plans and Intelligence. In a crisis I struggle for both. And in this position there's really not much I can do to mess things up.) As the PIO I have this long list of responsibilities under a job description that was outlined from another city's Public Information Office and tailored for Topanga. In pulling out the still unfinished document I was startled to see I'd started working on it back in August of 1999.

To use Randy's phrase, "In a perfect world I'm supposed to serve as a coordination point, ensure that the public within affected areas receives 'complete, accurate and consistent information about life safety procedures, public health advisories, relief assistance programs and other vital information,' coordinate media releases, develop, format and hold press conferences with the EOC Director, maintain a positive relationship with the media and supervise the information branch. There're two more pages of Activation and Operational Phase GuidelinesIn your dreams.

Angela, as EOC Manager, was thrown into a situation where a massive amount of information was being thrown at her with the speed of a AK47 and disseminating it, let alone acting upon it, when totally new to the position must have been an overwhelming sensation.


There was a fire reported at Rocco's, a slide at Brookside Drive and a person was trapped with the creek rising. A mobile home had slipped on Heathercliff and someone was trapped there. There was a reported heart attack victim on Walnut Trail and a slide on Grandview that had a third person trapped. The DRT team member who went to investigate got trapped as well. Old Canyon was closed north of Summit to Summit and also near Mill Creek Stables, and Topanga Canyon Boulevard was closed all the way from a slide at Amerigas to PCH, with numerous slides in between and two power poles down, one of which had live wires. There was another fire on Fernwood, part of a building had collapsed at Topanga Elementary School. Dr. Roy had called in from out of the canyon and said he was on his way and would arrive at his office in Topanga and would be in within the hour to treat victims. Communications with the Sheriff's Department had been down, but was now active.

The stack of incident forms went on and I felt myself glad that it was only a drill. I couldn't even find the sign-in sheet. Joe Adams says I should always expect the worst and then be happy when it doesn't happen. I'm working on it, Joe.


Fred Feer came in to keep an eye on things, but since he wasn't technically supposed to be there everyone pretty much ignored him and went on with their jobs. Slow on the uptake, I didn't know he wasn't really there and started throwing questions at him, which he answered even though he wasn't really there and I found that to be a great help. (The answers, not his absence.)
Then Pat MacNeil and Fred showed up for real and everyone went out for a pickup truck tailgate meeting for shift change. It was a nice sunny afternoon and I tried to imagine doing it in the rain. A real emergency doesn't wait for good weather.

In the meantime Gabrielle Lamerand was heading the Red Cross Team over at the Community House. More of a meeting than a drill, Topanga Red Cross Volunteers were getting together with people representative of a variety of neighborhoods in Topanga, like Greenleaf and Summit. They'd been invited to meet the Red Cross volunteers, learn about the Red Cross presence, services and capabilities in the canyon along with being given a chance to talk about their concerns and get answers to questions. Over 60 people got together between 9 and 11 a.m. for a positive meeting that brought up such ideas as Nurse First Aid Kits and 3-4 page emergency booklets that could be given out in case of disaster.

It was a good morning, with volunteers learning new positions and old-timers honing their skills. Practice, practice, practice. Later everyone met at Abuelita's for a re-hash of the morning's activities and to talk over what could have been done better.

Like Randy said, "I think Brad did a great job of organizing it. Everyone got an awful lot from it."
If any of you are interested in joining T-CEP in any number of capacities, please phone (310) 455-3000. There are T-CEP groups located around the canyon with individual team phone numbers you can call. Susan Alice Clark needs help on the Small Animal Rescue Team and there's always a need for more hotline operators. I could use people with transportation who can come in as backup and post and distribute information around the canyon in a real emergency.
Remember, it's your canyon and in a catastrophic emergency help from outside may be slow in coming. It won't be so bad if we already know what we're going to do-can do for ourselves.

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Watershed Committee on Tap


Winter rains fill Topanga creek, viewed from teh bridge at Sassafras.

By Rosi Dagit and Michele Johnson

On Saturday, January 13, a busy Watershed Committee meeting featured several key announcements. Dona Christianson requested help mapping and eradicating invasive weeds, in particular cape ivy, which is now in bloom. State Parks is also looking for help and has a small budget to do eradication. Dona hopes to start a Topanga Weed Warrior group. Call Dona at 455-2095 to volunteer.

Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, announced the formation of a Weed Management Area in L.A. County to deal with invasive exotic weeds threatening to take over the native vegetation, especially in the creek.


Dan Irwin, a Topanga graphic designer, offered to design a logo for the Committee and has contributed a camera ready layout for Living Lightly in the Watershed information that will be included in the next 455 directory, published by the Messenger. Information for the section was prepared by Woody Hastings and Andrew Rasmussen.

Leigh and Mary Bloom will include the information in a brochure for the Welcome To Topanga packet they provide to new families in the Canyon, and Gary Meyer offered to make the information available on TopangaOnline.

Catherine Tirr, a local painter and Julia Howell of the Howell-Green Gallery announced that a percentage of the sales from Catherine's work, shown at the gallery this Spring, will be donated to the Watershed Committee.

Woody Hastings announced that the Earth Day Committee is looking for a location for their celebration. Call him with ideas at 455-2497.

Bernt Kapra, resident of the Rodeo Grounds at the mouth of Topanga Creek spoke about the concerns of the renters in Lower Topanga who would be impacted by the sale of the land by L.A. Athletic Club to State Parks. He asked to be put on the March 15 meeting agenda to present information gathered by residents regarding the area.

Susan Nissman announced that the Topanga Boulevard Traffic Committee was to have its first meeting on January 31. Glenn Bailey, Director of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCSSMM), announced that there is a vacancy on the Board now that Fran Pavley has moved to the Assembly. Contact Margo at 455-1030 for information about applying.


The Water Quality study continues, including sampling in the lagoon itself. Data after the October storm and in November indicate that the watershed shows a few hot spots (Entrado Road, behind Topanga Market, Falls Drive), but is overall in good shape by the time the water reaches the bridge two miles up from PCH. In the lagoon, bacteria counts were on the threshold of safe contact.

The Sediment Study is in full swing. Erosion troughs are in place and channel cross-sections are being measured following each storm event.

The Topanga Lagoon and Watershed Restoration Feasibility study is also in progress. Historical aerial photos and maps are being digitized into a GIS system so that changes over time can be illustrated. The Hydrological Analysis RFP went out and proposals were due in by mid-January. Those are being reviewed by 12 members of the Technical and Landowners Advisory Committee, and a consultant will be selected this month.

The Topanga Stream Team is measuring the flow during rains. Over 25 volunteers have been trained. Scott King and Dennis King have installed stream gages on bridges for more accurate data collection.

The RCDSMM has submitted a grant proposal to the Department of Conservation for a Topanga Watershed Coordinator position to expand the education efforts of the Committee, provide organizational support and be a liaison to the County Local Coastal Planning efforts.

The Prop 13 deadline was February 1 and Rosi Dagit will meet with members of the County Watershed division to discuss possible projects, including watershed planning, voluntary demonstration sites for graywater systems (six residents have volunteered their homes), demonstration of on-site drainage retention systems, continued water quality monitoring and additional hydrologic analysis.


Rabyn Blake suggested new ways to get Watershed meeting times out to the public, including a phone tree and announcements in local newsletters. The Committee agreed to set up the next year's schedule of meetings, which will alternate weekday evenings and Saturdays. The Committee also discussed holding a yearly "State of the Watershed" meeting and inviting all community organizations to participate.|

There will be a special meeting to discuss the Draft Watershed Management Study on Saturday, March 3, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Mermaid Tavern. A fee of $10 will be charged to cover lunch from Pat's Grill and copying expenses, and folks are asked to register in advance. Call the RCDSMM at 455-1030 to register. The next regular meeting of the Watershed Committee will be on Thursday, March 15, from 6-8 p.m. at Top O' Topanga Mobile Home Estates Library.

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Lower Canyon Park on Hold

By Susan Chasen

The American Land Conservancy's option to buy Lower Topanga Canyon is due to expire next month, but the parties involved say they are still hoping to close the deal.

"There's still nearly two months to go," said Julie Benson, spokesperson for LAACO, which has owned the property for 75 years. "The owners have faith that it will go through."

The option agreement, originally announced in January, 2000, was later extended for 12 months to March 15, 2001 after voters passed Proposition 12, the $2.1 billion parks bond initiative. Subsequently, $40 million was allocated in the state budget for purchase of the 1,655-acre property that would extend Topanga State Park to the coast.

ALC project manager Jeff Stump said ALC is still pursuing the acquisition, but he did not want to discuss specifics. "There really isn't anything that I can report," said Stump. "We haven't made a ton of progress. We're still plodding through the appraisal process."

In the meantime, residents of Lower Topanga Canyon have endured nearly a year of uncertainty, facing possible relocation as part of the parkland deal, with still no answers in sight.

In an effort to bring the human impacts of the parkland deal into focus, Bernt Capra, a 21-year Lower Topanga resident and director of the acclaimed independent film "Mindwalk," will make a presentation about his community at the March 15 meeting of the Topanga Watershed Committee.

"Any land preservation that has in mind the eco-system has to also deal with the people that are part of the eco-system," says Capra. "I want to make them aware that there are people in the equation. The people should be part of every discussion."

Currently there are 52 households and about 120 people living on the Lower Topanga property on month-to-month leases as well as 12 businesses. Many Lower Topanga residents have been there for two and three decades; some for over 50 years.

According to Capra, the current lack of consideration for the residents contrasts with an attempt in the 1970s by State Parks to acquire the property and tends to support their fears that the ALC is not as sensitive to its obligations to the residents as State Parks was.

His proof is a 40-page, water-logged relocation report from 1977 recently uncovered in a neighbor's old Volkswagen van. At that time, residents received relocation questionnaires early in the negotiations process. From there each case was treated individually and relocation was to be phased in over a five-year period.

"It's a very thorough and fair procedure if they do it by the book," said Capra. "None of these things happen now."

"No one will tell us where the deal stands right now. It's already cruel and unusual punishment to proceed like this," said Capra. "The most fair thing is for State Parks to buy and phase us out slowly."

The prospective purchase of the LAACO property, which extends 2.5 miles inland from Pacific Coast Highway, stands to become a major addition to Topanga State Park in a three-way deal, with ALC acquiring the property in order to transfer it to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

In addition, the acquisition is believed to provide for eventual restoration of wetlands and the lagoon at the mouth of Topanga Creek as well as to eliminate any threat of development on the property.

TASC has been watching the progress of the Lower Topanga acquisition very closely, according to TASC chair Roger Pugliese, but has so far not taken a position regarding relocation of the residents.

"TASC is in favor of the preservation of the land in Lower Topanga and is opposed to any further development on that land," said Pugliese.

For residents, perhaps the most important goal is to establish what the plan for the property is before they are forced to go.

The creation of a public park that would surely be heavily used and restoration of wetlands--"those are really conflicting goals," says Capra.

Capra would like to see consideration of historic preservation of the Lower Topanga community added into the discussion, both because it is an example of California "vernacular" architecture, which is disappearing along the coast, and because of its cultural significance in the history of Topanga and Malibu.

"A city should have pockets like this that enable a lifestyle that's a little different from the norm," says Capra.

Anyone interested in helping to compile a history of Lower Topanga can send an e-mail to or send a FAX to 310-456-1743.

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Crime Report

 The figures for serious crimes in the Topanga area are listed below for the month of December 2000, and include additional details regarding residential, vehicle and business burglaries.

Homicide 0
Rape 0
Armed 0
Strong-Arm 0
Assault 0
Residential 1
Business 0
Garage/Out-Building 0
Vehicle (locked) 0

Grand ($400+) 0
Petty 1
Vehicle (unlocked) 0
Grand Theft Vehicle 0
Arson 0
Domestic Violence
Felony 0
Misdemeanor 0

A residential burglary occurred on Observation Drive resulting in loss of U.S. currency and personal belongings. The suspect(s) entered the location by smashing a window. The investigation is

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