News

Lights Out: Brown-Out Or Bronco?

By Penny Taylor, reported with Katie Dalsemer and Tony Morris

About 6:30 p.m., Friday, February 16th, the lights went out. At the Topanga Creek General Store, Fernwood Market and other locations, people froze in the darkness. It crossed many minds that rolling blackouts may have finally affected Topanga.

With power finally shut down, firefighters rescue the trapped dogs.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER

VOL.25 NO. 04
February 22 - March 7, 2001

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What had cut the power was an accident on Topanga Canyon Boulevard about a mile north of Pacific Coast Highway. A Ford Bronco, driven by Topanga resident Robert Fisher, D.V.M., veered off the road striking a utility pole and snapping it. At that point on Topanga the hillside is practically vertical and the utility poles are just outside the white fog lines. The Bronco rolled over on its side and the utility pole landed across the vehicle. A Topanga resident, identified only as Jennifer, was traveling just behind the Bronco. She indicated that she didn't think speed was a factor and the driver had not been driving erratically. "We were just all lined up, and it was almost like something got stuck on his accelerator and he drove into the pole." Dr. Fisher was wearing a seatbelt and was uninjured. Motorists helped him from the vehicle, but live wires prevented the immediate rescue of his three dogs trapped inside. One of the dogs was returning from a cancer treatment. A witness said it was heart-breaking to see the confused dogs in the overturned car, noses pressed against the window fogging up the glass. Los Angeles County Fire Station 70 was the first to respond, followed by Fire Station 69's "B" Shift and Captain Rick Pfeiffer. Officers Scott Parent and Ron Cohan of the California Highway Patrol also responded to the scene. Officer Parent closed down southbound traffic on Topanga at Fernwood Pacific.

In a perfect example of some peoples' skewed priorities in an accident, Jennifer said a limousine driver approached Officer Cohan to complain about the road blockage. Pointing to the limo, the driver was heard to say, "These people must be on a boat in Marina del Rey at 7:30." The power company cut power to the pole and the Fire Department broke out a window to free the dogs. The Doberman, and what one person described as a big, yellow, goofy Lab, were uninjured and remained calm, but the third dog, Bean, was frightened and ran south on Topanga Canyon Boulevard toward PCH. Attempts by the CHP and others to stop the dog were unsuccessful. Traffic was shut down in both directions on the boulevard until shortly after 8 p.m. Power was out along the Canyon as far as the Post Office for over an hour-and-a-half.

People were seen milling around the Center "completely bewildered." In the middle of serving dinner, Abuelita's restaurant resorted to candlelight. At Fernwood Market, essential items were carried to customers at the door while Ernie Calderon made meatballs by flashlight. Flatlanders, who thought Fernwood Pacific was a small loop, were turning around in Fernwood driveways, not knowing how to get out Tuna Canyon to PCH.

The blackout also triggered a fire alarm at 369 South Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Station 69 responded and was then cancelled. Only minutes later they received a rescue call from California Trail Restaurant and Wateringhole where Tracey Smith had fallen ill. He was taken to a Valley hospital to be treated. Happily, Bean, whose description was given as "a little dog"/"a white dog"/"like a greyhound" (and turned out to be a pit bull), was found later in the evening and is now home with his family. Dr. Fisher wants to thank the CHP and Fire Department for their kindness and help.

It's unknown if the people "suffering" in the limousine missed their boat. My personal opinion (not that of the Messenger) is that they missed the boat a long time ago. _

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Astronomers Trapped Overnight in State Park

Saeid Zoonemat, who put out the alarm, hugs his girl Lisa Prato, who was lost overnight in Topanga State Park.

PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS

By Tony Morris

Topanga State Park was the site of a major search and rescue mission on Sunday February 4th. The Trippet Ranch parking lot became the command post for a Los Angeles County Sheriff's search and rescue effort activated on Saturday evening after Topanga resident Saeid Zoonemat notified authorities that his girlfriend and her hiking companion had not returned from a hike. After finding her car still in the park's lot that night, he reported that Lisa Prato and Jennifer Carson were missing and the Sheriff's Department deployed a team with search dogs. Searchers combed the park throughout Saturday night.

At sunrise Los Angeles City Fire Department helicopters flew over the 10,000 acre park attempting to spot the hikers. By mid-morning the Sheriff's command center reported that the hikers were spotted off the trail in an inaccessible brush covered location. Pilot John Gibbs, firefighter/paramedic Greg Sanderson, firefighter/paramedic Jeff Foster and Pilot Crew Chief Scott Bowman rescued hikers Prato and Carson using a body harness to hoist the hikers into a hovering helicopter. Prato and Carson were then transferred by Sheriff's helicopter to the Trippet Ranch rescue command center.

According to Lisa Prato, a post-doctoral astronomer at U.C.L.A. and Jennifer Carson, a graduate student in astronomy at U.C.L.A., the hikers did not realize the length of the trail and the approaching darkness. Late in the afternoon they had hiked to the vicinity of Temescal Ridge Trail and Rodgers Trail near Temescal peak. Prato said their "level of adventurousness" ultimately contributed to their situation. Darkness fell. They were lost and could not find the trail. Prato said they yelled for help repeatedly and could see lights in the distance. Locating Orion's belt in the night sky provided east-west coordinates. Prato and Carson could see the "glow" of Los Angeles as they crawled on their stomachs to avoid the brush. They could hear dogs barking in the distance. Exhausted they spent the night huddled together in the darkness.

At sunrise on Sunday morning Prato and Carson called out for help. They could hear helicopters overhead and mountain bikers on a trail 50 yards above their heads. Again they called out for help. This time the bikers answered back. Prato thought the bikers may have used a cell phone to alert authorities to their location. Although Prato and Carson were covered with minor abrasions and scratches they sustained no serious injuries. Prato said that she and Carson were grateful to the Sheriff's rescue team for all their efforts. Reserve Deputies Kevin Ryan and Roger Lebrun manned the MMRT command post. In charge of L.A. Search Dogs was Reserve Deputy Nick Razum with head dog handler Larry Wiley and his dog Harley.

Sheriff's Department veteran search and rescue team members say that Prato and Carson were fortunate. Even short hikes in areas which are unfamiliar and without the right preparation can prove dangerous. A basic check list for hikers should include: extra food & water; extra clothing; whistle; knife; fire starter or matches; first aid kit; flashlight; map; compass with a mirror; sunglasses; trash bag.

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Tea Anyone?

The Topanga Community Woman's Club is proud to announce its annual friendship tea and luncheon. This year's theme is "Something Old, Something, New, Lace, Gloves, Hats and Tea with You." We will capture your imagination and hearts with an old style Victorian Tea. This is a perfect opportunity to come meet new friends and visit with the old. This event will start at 1:00 p.m. with gathering of friends and a delicious lunch. Next, entertainment and dessert, ending the afternoon with a raffle and a cup of tea. Please come join us and bring a friend. Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 10, and make your reservations now by calling 455-1980.

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New Neighbor in Town

By Penny Taylor

Dr. Scott D. Picker, M.D., and his wife Christine Picker were happy to welcome their second son, Colin James Thomson Picker, into this world on November 4, 2000. Colin weighed in at 6 lbs., 3 oz. Although the Pickers live just slightly into flatlander country (Woodland Hills), Doc isn't one of those commuters who just obviously flies through the community on his way back and forth to the hospital. He frequently stops at the stores to shop and say hello and says both his boys are Topangans at heart. We look forward to seeing all the Pickers at this year's Topanga Days.

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"Slow Down" Gases Up

The "Slow Down" gang cases Topanga Canyon Boulevard. L to R: Rosi Dagit (RCD), Debra Silbar, Deputy Pete Sanzone, Officer John Mueller, Yaroslavsky aide Susan Nissman, Officer Roy Abramian, Margo Murman (RCD), Arlette Parker, Nayna Shah (Caltrans), Kuehl's aide Laurie Newman and Edna Trujillo (Caltrans).

PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS

By Tony Morris

The Topanga Canyon Boulevard Traffic Committee held an organizational meeting at Abuelita's restaurant on January 31st. Composed of representatives from Caltrans, California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, T-CEP, TASC, the Topanga Town Council and Slow Down Thru Town, the Committee is co-chaired by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's Senior Field Deputy Susan Nissman and State Senator Sheila Kuehl's Senior Field Deputy Laurie Newman.

Susan Nissman provided an overview of the committee's work and a draft mission statement:

"The Topanga Canyon Boulevard Traffic Committee is committed to promoting safety and access to the homes, schools and businesses of Topanga for residents and visitors alike, without compromising the rural aesthetics of the Community." Nissman said that the work of the committee will be to consider a broad range of "Community Suggestions and Concerns" which will be addressed by committee members.

Laurie Newman said that information regarding traffic "statistics" for Topanga Canyon Boulevard is available which should "improve safety on the Boulevard. We hope to reach a consensus."

An open discussion was held during which committee members presented their concerns for traffic safety along the Boulevard. Susan Nissman advised those present that a 25-mile-per hour speed limit would not be possible under Caltrans state highway regulations. Nissman identified two major problem times on the Boulevard: peak commuter hours in the morning and evening, as well as access to the Boulevard.

CHP Officer Tim Snyder reported that many Topanga residents routinely "run" stop signs in locations such as Lookout Trial which could result in a "broadside" collision. Snyder also said that 70% of citations issued for seat belt violations and mechanical problems such as missing lights have been to Topanga residents.

Susan Nissman said that Topanga residents who observe dangerous driving along the Boulevard can call the CHP's West Valley number: (818) 888-0980 to report the incident. A letter with the time of day, location, license number and description of the car can be sent to the CHP at 5825 DeSoto Avenue, Woodland Hills, CA 91367.

Regarding the use of a radar trailer for use on the Boulevard, Nissman requested the CHP's cooperation in obtaining a unit.

Dale Robinette, Topanga Town Council, suggested that the shoulder of the Boulevard should be widened at the intersection of Fernwood Pacific Drive so that northbound traffic can safely pass vehicles turning left onto Fernwood. Testuso Kohama, Caltrans Transportation Engineer, reported that Caltrans currently has a road improvement project from PCH to Mulholland Drive. Caltrans is in the preliminary stage of preparing an Environmental Corridor Study on Route 27 (Topanga Canyon Blvd.) from Pacific Coast Highway to the Top of Topanga. This report will examine the environmental effects of the maintenance and construction activities on this road. They have arranged for a Community Meeting to be held at the Topanga Elementary School Auditorium at 141 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga on Tuesday, February 27, 2001, from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to hear comments and concerns. If you cannot attend this meeting, you may send us your written comments until March 15, 2001, to Mr. Ronald, J. Koskinski, Caltrans Office of Environmental Planning, 120 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Or you may e-mail your comments to: Ron_Koskinski@dot.ca.gov.

Signage providing information for motorists entering Topanga from the north and the south was discussed as a priority. The location and wording of signs, together with a review of speed signs from PCH to Mulholland, will be the work of a sub-committee which will report on its findings.

On February 7, members of the Committee met for a field survey along the Boulevard from School Road to Topanga Lumber. TASC's Roger Pugliese said that the committee was on a "fact finding mission" and the survey was necessary before any decisions could be made.

Susan Nissman said "we need simple but effective solutions" in locations such as the intersection of the Boulevard and Old Topanga Canyon Road which is used daily by commuters and parents taking their children to school. TASC's Pugliese observed that the center line of Old Topanga might be moved to permit through traffic to continue when cars are making a left turn onto the Boulevard.

The Post Office parking lot drew the attention of the committee as it is often congested with vehicles entering and exiting onto the Boulevard. Striping the parking lot was suggested as a means of providing drivers with safer use.

Committee members observed traffic conditions along the Boulevard and took notes which will be shared in upcoming meetings. Many members said that they were able to appreciate the task ahead of them by studying actual conditions.

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Study Recommends New Protections for Santa Monicas

By Michele Johnson

The County Regional Planning Commission will hold a series of community meetings to review results of a study that proposes more than doubling Significant Ecological Areas (SEAs) in L.A. County. The environmental consultants who worked on the plan recommend "nearly all" the Santa Monica Mountains range be given an SEA designation, including almost all undeveloped land west of the 405 Freeway. Currently, only Tuna Canyon in the Topanga area is designated an SEA.

Not only the Santa Monicas are affected. Huge acreages from San Dimas to the Antelope Valley will also fall under the SEA umbrella. How much that will mean isn't certain, since the County in the past has allowed many extensive developments within SEAs.

An SEA is defined as an ecologically important or fragile land and water area, valuable as plant and animal communities. The SEA designation was first created in 1980, under a mandate from the state's Open Space Lands Act, to help preserve rare plants and animals in sensitive areas.

The report recommends management practices for undeveloped land that include limiting development densities to one unit per ten acre parcel, clustering development where possible along existing roadways and using special care to maintain habitats and protect wildlife corridors. These recommendations dovetail in most respects with requirements in the newly approved County North Area Plan. According to Daryl Kutnik, senior biologist for Regional Planning, the new SEA designations would be "very compatible with the North Area Plan."

So what's new if the designations go through? Developers would be required to gain a CUP (Conditional Use Permit) before they could build, and the SEA designation would act as "a highlight for the County's planning" and require the County to "look at the impacts the project has on the environment."

SINGLE FAMILY HOMES EXEMPT

Single family homes located in the Coastal Zone or the North Area, which include all areas of Topanga, would be almost certainly exempt from any new scrutiny if the wider SEA designation goes through, says Kutnik. New individual single family residences built on one lot, accessory buildings, additions and modifications to current structures will all be exempt from additional regulations. "As for single family residences, we want to basically maintain the status quo," Kutnik confirms.

In its February newsletter, TASC (Topanga Association For a Scenic Community) points out that the SEA designation is only as powerful as its enforcement. Under the old General Plan, very few protections were given for SEAs, and exemptions were rife. "For example," reads the newsletter, "In 1991 the County approved 550 homes requiring grading of 15 million cubic yards of earth and removal of 1,800 oak trees on the Baldwin property in the Palo Comado SEA."

Those who want to know more can read the report at http://planning.co.la.ca.us/drp_revw.htlml. Regional Planning will hold a series of public meetings to discuss the study. The nearest one to Topanga will take place on March 5th from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Calabasas/Agoura Hills Community Center at 27040 Malibu Hills Road in Calabasas. TASC leaders fear developers and other commercial interests will show up in force to oppose the plan.

TASC has not yet made an official endorsement of the plan, but leaders are leaning toward supporting it. As Roger Pugliese, head of TASC, put it, "If it's going to stop large-scale development, I'm for it 100 percent....On the face of it, it seems wonderful, but the devil is in the details." Toby Keeler agrees that it could mean great things to the mountains. "Our fingernails are on the edge. All we have to do is pull ourselves up."

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A Vision for Mountain Recreation Area

By Susan Chasen

At the first public workshop on the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area's draft general management plan, the reactions centered mostly around the subject of recreation itself and whether private businesses such as camps and stables were being ignored in deference to preservationist and public-sponsored educational goals.

While there was some praise for the plan, the turnout of about 50 at the meeting reflected generally the concerns of the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition, which argued that any loss of private camps, stables, ranches and resorts will just make it more likely that owners of the largest properties left in the mountains will sell to developers.

The February 5 workshop at the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center was the first of five workshops held that week on the National Park Service's draft plan for the 150,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area-the largest National Recreation Area in the United States and probably the largest urban national park in the world. Over 50% of the land in the Recreation Area is still privately owned.

According to SMMNRA Superintendent Arthur Eck, the new plan is intended to be more general and conceptual than the 1982 plan it will be replacing. It includes much more information about resources and the visitors who use the park, said Eck, and it takes into account all the development and other changes in the mountains in the last 20 years.

"We're trying to stitch all these threads together and come up with a tapestry that will serve for the next 20 years," said Eck.

Eck emphasized the importance of getting public reactions and input on the draft plan. Although these were the only public meetings scheduled on the plan, Eck announced that the public comment period would be extended to March 31 and possibly for an additional month or two.

Development of the 467-page plan and environmental impact statement began in 1997 and included public "visioning" workshops in July 1998.

FIVE PROPOSALS

Approximately the first hundred pages of the plan are devoted to five alternative visions for the Santa Monica Mountains. The National Park Service's preferred alternative is intended to integrate portions from three other alternatives which each have a different emphasis: education, preservation and recreation. The fifth is a "no action" alternative that provides a baseline for comparing environmental effects of the other alternatives. Also, there is a section that describes projects and priorities common to all the alternatives.

Despite the broad scope of the draft plan, public comments at the workshop focused narrowly on the fact that private recreation facilities were not included on maps or in discussions of visitor services and access. "There are hundreds of private facilities that contribute tremendously to visitorship," said Grant Gerson, owner of Caligamos Ranch. "There was no mention of them and that disturbs me a lot."

Similarly, Ruth Gerson, president of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council and the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition, said the mountains shouldn't just be for groups and educational tours.

"It's an unacceptable breach of faith with the public," she said of the plan's reductions of more intense uses.

"This is not a National Park. This is a National Recreation Area." The preferred alternative of the Park's Department increases the areas designated for low intensity uses from 30 percent to 80 percent while reducing moderate intensity uses from 60 percent to 15 percent and high intensity from 10 to 5 percent.

The preservation and education alternatives also make the same designation of use levels. The recreation alternative provides for only 25 percent low intensity uses with 65 percent and 10 percent for moderate and high intensity uses.

Gerson also noted a lack of recognition of ranching and farming history among the cultural resources.

"Without those keeping it open, there wouldn't be much of today's parkland."

Stableowner Brian Boudreau said he welcomes the idea of the plan very much and suggested that the stableowners are with the environmentalists when it comes to keeping out residential development.

"The North Area Plan doesn't go far enough," said Boudreau. "We don't want another homeowner voting against our uses."

But at the same time, he said the existing recreational facilities should be identified in the plan.

According to Boudreau, many of the mountains' largest landowners would be happy with just one house, if they could have recreational businesses.

"It just seems like the whole plan is about preservation."

One of the other topics that got some consideration at the workshop was mountain biking. One speaker representing mountain bicyclists praised the plan for generally emphasizing multi-use trails. Another however, suggested that there will need to be stricter enforcement against speeding bikers if the multi-use approach is going to be safe for hikers and equestrians.

Ultimately, however, detailed policies for the Santa Monica Mountains' 500 miles of trails will be worked out in a separate Trail Management Plan that is expected to be ready for public review in nine months to a year.

Other comments regarding the plan included doubts about the feasibility of reducing off-street parking along portions of PCH, about getting people to ride buses to reduce traffic and parking impacts, as well as, concern that goals for eliminating street lighting in certain areas will be dangerous.

Some of the features common to all the alternatives include: Reintroduction of Steelhead Trout at Solstice Canyon, Environmental Education Center at Solstice Canyon, Coastal Education Center at Leo Carillo State Beach, Equestrian Staging Area at Cheeseboro Canyon, Expanded Day Camp at Temescal Canyon, Completion of the Backbone Trail.

Additional projects in the preferred alternative include: Mugu Lagoon Visitor Education Center, Reintroduction of Steelhead Trout in Malibu Creek, Arroyo Creek and possibly Topanga Creek, Paramount Ranch Film History Education Center, Visitor/Education facilities at Malibu Bluffs, Rehabilitation of the Marion Davies home at 415 PCH near the Santa Monica Pier for a visitor/ education center, a concessionaire-run coastal boat tour from the Santa Monica Pier to the Malibu Pier, Interpretive Tour shuttle for scenic loop of Mulholland Highway, PCH and Malibu Canyon Road.

The preferred alternative also calls for boundary adjustment studies for the western end of the SMMNRA to buffer impacts of the CSU Channel Islands campus and northward into the Simi Hills area for preservation of wildlife corridors and habitat. Another proposed boundary adjustment study includes the Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park located just north of Topanga, extending from Mulholland Drive eastward to the Encino Reservoir.

TOPANGA TALK

There are a few changes for Topanga depicted in the different alternatives. For example, focused attention to restoration of wetlands and the lagoon at the mouth of Topanga Creek is in the preferred and preservation alternatives, but not in the recreation, education and no action alternatives. Similarly, the preferred and preservation alternatives designate more of Topanga for "low intensity" uses than the other alternatives.

On the other hand, Topanga Canyon Boulevard would be designated a "scenic corridor" in the recreation and education alternatives. This could mean lower speed limits, added scenic pullouts and picnic areas and, where possible, trails would be developed to connect pullouts and promote pedestrian and bicycle use. It would also mean improvement of the roadside environment, removal of exotic landscaping and, if possible, lighting and overhead power lines.

One mention of Topanga in the Cultural Landscape Inventory that includes 12 sites which could be considered for national registry listing identifies Upper Topanga as part of a "potentially significant" Chumash archaeological and ethnographic district. Also, Topanga Canyon is listed as "potentially eligible" for the National Register of Historic Places.

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WOLF Runs at Wildwood

Wild wolves running loose in Topanga-no; WOLF is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to helping people reach their full potential. WOLF (Wilderness Outdoor Leadership Foundation) operates outdoor education programs for public and private schools, teambuilding programs for families and businesses, and self-esteem and confidence programs for at-risk and adjudicated youth. WOLF moved from Malibu to Topanga last summer and is hoping to find a permanent home here. "We've been greeted with more warmth and friendliness in five months in Topanga than five years in Malibu," says director Michael Reddish.

This summer WOLF will be reopening Camp Wildwood as WOLF Adventures summer day camp. "We believe that summer camp should be a fun and exciting place for kids to learn. This is a huge play for us." Explains Michael, "We've been focusing on improving program quality and reaching more needy kids. Now we're focusing on building a completely new program, integrating education with the traditional fun of summer camp. The only way it will work is with plenty of help from the community."

Some of the summer camp projects include repairing the camp Wildwood swimming pool, building interpretive trails along the creek, clearing downed trees, and building activity areas for archery, primitive skills, arts and crafts, science and computer work.

The camp will serve boys and girls ages 6 - 13 with a variety of in-camp and field trip experiences. WOLF is offering substantial discounts for Topanga residents and scholarships for volunteers and donors to help restore Camp Wildwood.

WOLF was founded in 1992 and incorporated as a non-profit in 1995. The Board of Directors, all schoolteachers, believed that outdoor education and experiential learning was extremely underused and most of the field activities were outdated and disconnected with our rapidly changing society. With these thoughts in mind, WOLF was formed to bridge that gap, reconnect people to the outdoors, and deliver meaningful and exiting programs for all ages.

They were successful. Today WOLF is the third largest program provider in California and quickly closing in on number 2. WOLF teaches a variety of programs including primitive living, which includes primitive fire skills, making beef jerky, brain tanning leather, bow and arrow making, and over 20 authentic Native American crafts.

Their science programs include in-depth microscopic and field science studies. Their Wilderness First Aid for Schools focuses on personal safety as well as wilderness rescue. Students work with sheriff and fire departments to learn the skills needed to keep themselves and others safe.

Please feel free to call WOLF at (310) 455-4157 or visit them on the web @ wolfadventures.org.

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