News

Bad Blood Tainted $ 1/2 Million Legacy from Canyon Oaks

By Susan Chasen

While there are surely thousands in Topanga who remember well the historic 16-year battle to save Summit Valley from development, probably few remember or ever knew that $500,000, once promised to the community if the Canyon Oaks development was approved, was ultimately awarded.

Messenger cover, August 1993

VOL.25 NO. 05
March 8- 21, 2001

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Since then, the six-member board of the SMPTA, a private, non-profit corporation established in 1994, has been providing about $30,000 annually in grants to support environmental education programs as well as some trail-building and maintenance work in the Santa Monica Mountains.

PHOTO BY COLIN PENNO

Bob Wilson, president of Canyon Oaks Estates, presents check for "Parks and Trails" in 1993.

Unfortunately, however, this potential funding source here in Topanga which could be supporting Topanga Elementary School and other local projects has remained largely a secret in its own backyard perhaps for no other reason than a legacy of bad blood from the bitter Canyon Oaks development fight.

During the SMPTA's first year, Stern said she sent out approximately 30 letters to different schools and other groups that might be interested in seeking a grant, but got very limited response.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER

Debra Stern, head of Santa Maria Parks & Trails, keeper of the fund.

"It was very interesting," said Stern. "We wanted to give away this money and nobody wanted it."

In particular, Stern said, she followed up with a second letter and several phone calls to a previous principal of Topanga Elementary, but got no response.

"They didn't seem to want our money," said Stern. "I really think the whole community just wanted to forget about us....It was like tainted money and nobody wanted to touch it.

"So we just-went on."

Since that time, the grants have gone mostly to those who Stern or other members of the SMPTA board have personally encouraged to apply. However, Stern said she would welcome new local applicants such as Topanga Elementary.

In fact, in anticipation of an article in the Messenger, the SMPTA, at its meeting February 20, agreed to meet again within two months to consider any additional applicants. Stern said between $5,000 and $10,000 remains to be allocated this year.

Beginning in 1995, according to Stern, the SMPTA has awarded $169,000 in grants to 11 entities with another $70,000 committed through 2004.

Stern said itemized records from 1994 to 1996 were filed away, but she provided some detailed information from 1997. According to these records, the largest recipients over the last four years have been Viewpoint School which has received $44,000, with another $40,000 promised through 2004; UCLA's Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve which has received $20,000 out of a $50,000 grant through 2003; and the Children's Nature Institute, formerly known as Nursery Nature Walks, which received $23,000, with another $10,000 grant anticipated this year.

The SMPTA has also supported the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council with about $21,000 in grants for trail building in Summit Valley/Ed Edelman Park, tools and two motorized wheelbarrows-one which was subsequently donated to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Mountains Restoration Trust Cold Creek Docents received a $10,000 grant in 1998. This year the MRT received $2,060 to create a trail linkage between the Stunt High Trail and the Backbone Trail across a newly acquired 24-acre property adjoining the Cold Creek Preserve. The new trail link will create one of the most outstanding loop hikes in the Santa Monicas, according to MRT.

PHOTO BY HERBERT PETERMANN

A $21,000 grant for trail building in Ed Edelman Park was one of the few Topanga endowments.

The $500,000 endowment itself was originally promised to Topanga as a payment toward a locally selected "community benefit" project. Canyon Oaks Estates offered the money as part of a public relations campaign to win support for its plans to build 97 homes and a golf course in Summit Valley. It was to be awarded if the Canyon Oaks development was approved.

BOYCOTTING THE VOTE

At the time, in 1993, it was widely regarded as an attempt to bribe the community out of opposition to the project without regard to the actual environmental concerns the community had raised.

Out of 3,000 ballots mailed to residents in Topanga and 11,000 to portions of Woodland Hills and Calabasas, only 520 votes were cast in favor of any of the three proposals for the money. Topanga's minimal participation perhaps indicated that the community wasn't interested in hedging its bets and would continue to fight the development. The Santa Maria group's proposal for building and maintaining trails won with 218 votes. The other proposals were a 2,000-seat theater/performing arts complex and a pool and recreation center.

A picture of a giant, 4 by 2-foot replica check from Canyon Oaks to "Parks & Trails" for the Community Benefits Program appeared on the front page of the Messenger in 1993. It was awarded to Debra Stern, a Santa Maria Road resident of about five years who headed the committee developing the trails proposal. The check was symbolic of the grant to come if development was approved.

Ultimately, however, the developer agreed to sell the property to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy before the project was approved or denied. The sale included the 257-acre proposed development site as well as 400 acres on the other side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

WHO BENEFITS?

After the sale, the developer did go on to award the $500,000 to the Santa Maria Parks and Trails Association. Some Topangans who were aware that the money was awarded assumed it was the same "community benefit" grant symbolized by the giant check.

According to a representative of Canyon Oaks Estates, however, the money was donated by Canyon Oaks to the Santa Maria Parks and Trails Association with no strings attached and there has been no contact or involvement with them since.

"It was not given as a community benefit," said Stern. It was given, she said, "because we worked so hard."

And, according to Stern, because Canyon Oaks trusted her to put it back into the community.

"It wasn't a have to," said Stern. "We wanted to."

Generally, Stern said, the SMPTA tries to fund nature programs and other projects that reach the greatest number of people.

For example, said Stern, by funding reconstruction of Stunt Ranch's educational facilities destroyed in the 1993 fire and creation of Chumash history exhibits, the SMPTA is contributing to students from 50 to 100 schools each year who take field trips to the UCLA-owned preserve.

As for the SMPTA's largest recipient, Viewpoint School in Calabasas, Stern, whose children attend the school, sees the funds going to create a prototype for high quality environmental education-one that integrates numerous academic fields and that can be transplanted to other campuses.

So far, the SMPTA has provided $84,000 to Viewpoint from 1997 to 2004, not including grants which Stern said were made in 1995 and 1996 but for which she did not have detailed information.

"What they are doing is something different than any of the other schools have done," said Stern.

Since early efforts to reach out to the community, Stern said most SMPTA recipients have been encouraged to apply by members of the board.

"Nobody really knows about us," said Stern, and the SMPTA can do only a certain amount with $30,000 a year.

"Most people don't ask us," said Stern. "We ask them, or we continue to support them over a long period of time.

"I think we've done a lot of really special things, not necessarily just in Topanga, but in the Santa Monica Mountains community."

Stern said the SMPTA is gradually learning about the needs in the area. They are especially interested in projects that draw on other funding sources as well, she said.

"We're open to listen to anybody's suggestions."

OPEN TO NEW CANDIDATES

Stern agrees that Topanga Elementary School is an obvious candidate to apply for SMPTA funds. She is hopeful that with the Canyon Oaks fight receding into the past, it will be possible for former opponents to work together.

"I think that what we have is fabulous," said Stern of Summit Valley/Ed Edelman Park. She admits she would have enjoyed a golf course, but says she also enjoys riding her horse there.

"As long as it's here and it's done, we should work together."

Eileen Goodman who took over as principal of Topanga Elementary in 1998, well after the Canyon Oaks controversy, said she has no knowledge of the Santa Maria Parks and Trails Association or Stern's earlier outreach effort.

"She's welcome to try again!" said Goodman. "I'm open."

Goodman said she is familiar with the good work that Stunt Ranch has done for LAUSD students visiting from throughout the city. At the same time, she noted that there still could be sensitivity over the Canyon Oaks history.

"It may still carry a strong political charge," said Goodman. "And we need to be sensitive to that."

One project, however, that sprang instantly to Goodman's mind, was reopening Topanga Elementary's nature trail and providing it with needed supervision.

Goodman said she would need to talk to Stern to learn more about potential grants.

NO FUNDS FOR BRIDGE

If there is a remaining vein of bad blood that still flows between opponents and supporters of Canyon Oaks, it relates to trail access issues between the Viewridge and Santa Maria areas.

When trail advocates sought an endorsement from the SMPTA for the Viewridge Trail Bridge grant that was ultimately awarded to the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council by the county, Stern refused.

Although the bridge created the first public trail through the eastern portion of Summit Valley/Ed Edelman Park and was much heralded for being a volunteer-led project to improve access to public parklands, Stern contended that in order to visit the site she was expected to trespass on private property.

"I myself didn't want to step on private property," said Stern. "I didn't want to go over the fence with them."

But Herbert Petermann, chair of Viewridge Homeowners Involved in the Community and Environment, or VOICE, who was among those seeking her support for the bridge project, denied that she was asked to trespass.

The trail which runs for about a mile between Viewridge Road and Santa Maria Road is a public trail. Another trail that runs off the Viewridge trail and would link it to dirt Mulholland has been a source of bitter controversy between hikers who remember when they were allowed to use it and the subsequent property owner who didn't want it to be used.

Stern is a friend of the property owners and objects to the pressure she believes VOICE has used to get access through private property.

Petermann remains baffled over her suggestion that the Viewridge Trail, which is entirely within the Summit Valley park and the bridge that made it passable, required trespassing.

Petermann and his wife Joan both remember when the $500,000 grant was awarded and they have wondered why there has been no publicity about it in Topanga.

"If they are doing anything remotely close to us, it would be nice to know about it," said Joan Petermann.

Similarly, Herbert Petermann said, "It all seems to be done behind the scenes.

"I'm sure she's doing great things. But they certainly haven't invited anybody from the community....Why don't they do more in Topanga? There are a lot of good people here in Topanga."

He said VOICE has no animosity toward Stern or the SMPTA and would welcome help, for example, in an extension of the Viewridge trail that would connect Summit Valley/Ed Edelman Park with Topanga State Park.

"It could be a great trail easement there," said Petermann.

From Stern's point of view, however, Petermann should be aware of the SMPTA's funding of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council trail building in Summit Valley Park which was completed in 1997 with help from Sierra Club volunteers. She complained that the SMPTA was not credited in the VOICE newsletter. But Petermann, who acknowledges seeing her riding her horse during the trail construction, insists that he thought it was a volunteer effort and didn't know.

"If they had told me, I would have put it in my newsletter," said Petermann. "I thought she was just riding the trail."

If the legacy of the fight over the Canyon Oaks development, originally called Montevideo, is reflected in where SMPTA funds have gone, Stern's neighbor Marty Brastow-a fierce opponent in the Summit Valley battle-says she has great respect for Stern even though they disagree.

"I have confidence in Debra as a person and as a financial steward," said Brastow.

According to Brastow, who was named Topanga's Citizen of the Year for her work in the fighting the Montevideo development, the money was given to the SMPTA because the developer couldn't bear to give it to anyone who had fought the project.

"That's how the organization came about," said Brastow. "It was a place to put the money that didn't carry the emotional baggage."

According to Brastow, Stern is a "good citizen" and is sincerely seeking to achieve a "greater good" with SMPTA funding.

Canyon Oaks Estates gave the money to the Santa Maria Parks and Trails Association (SMPTA), whose chairwoman, Debra Stern, was among a small faction in Topanga who strongly supported the proposed development.

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Mail Thief Strikes

By Tony Morris

A Fernwood resident living on Valley View has reported the loss of $871 from her bank account with the use of counterfeit checks. The counterfeit checks were printed after the victim's mail was stolen and were used to purchase merchandise in the Santa Monica area.

Topanga Postmaster Oscar Reynoso said that mail theft here is an ongoing problem and he advised residents to protect against theft.

  • Collect mail from your mailbox every day.
  • If you are not at home, ask your neighbor to collect your mail.
  • Know your mail carrier's regular delivery time and remove mail promptly.
  • When you go on vacation, notify the post office in writing to hold your mail.
  • Purchase a large, lockable mailbox.
  • Do not place outgoing mail in an unlocked mailbox.
  • Immediately report non-receipt of bank checks, credit cards and other valuable items to the senders.
  • If you do not receive mail for a day or two, contact the Post Office.

Sheriff's Deputy Peter Sanzone said that Topanga has had a problem with mail theft but there is an even more serious development which involves "identity theft". Sanzone reports that criminals engaged in identity theft use social security account numbers to open unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. Using information obtained through mail theft, criminal activities can cause major damage to an individual's finances and credit. Individuals suspecting fraud and identity theft can contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Malibu-Lost Hills station: (818) 878-1808 and the following fraud hotline numbers.

  • Equifax: 800-525-6285
  • Experion: 888-397-3742
  • Trans Union: 800-680-7289
  • Social Security Administration
  • Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271

Deputy Sanzone cautioned that leaving outgoing mail in a mailbox with the flag raised can be an open invitation for mail theft. Outgoing mail should be dropped in postal mail boxes or at the post office.

Those reporting mail theft can call the U.S. Postal Inspector: (626) 405-1200.

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T-CEP Mounts Medical Team

By Penny Taylor

Two big items of business were stressed when the monthly Board Meeting for the Topanga Coalition For Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) was held on Saturday, February 24th: 1) T-CEP needs more volunteers and 2) they are in the process of putting together a Topanga Medical Team to provide emergency medical triage and care in the event of a major emergency or disaster, including mass casualty incidents.

On the volunteer side, Alli Acker, who heads the county Equine Team, has her hands full. You might remember the Equine Team moved under the auspices of County Animal Control for liability reasons, and in doing so became a county-wide group to move and help horses in an emergency. Because of this Alli needs help in running the local Equine Team for Topanga. Horse lovers who can help should contact Alli at her home (310) 455-3029. Give her a hand, folks. She's Wonder Woman, but she's spread a little thin right now.

Renee Gander, who works so diligently with the elderly in the canyon can use volunteers for aiding the elderly in a disaster situation. But in addition to this she needs to know who seniors and homebound individuals are ahead of time so T-CEP can better aid them in a crisis.

If you or a friend have no way of leaving your home in an emergency you should contact Renee Gander through the T-CEP Hotline at 455-3000 or at her home (310) 455-2802. Please take a minute to phone T-CEP, leave your name, address, and telephone number so that they may contact you. Renee is "Mother Earth" so give her a call and help her help you.

Logistics is also short of help. Logistics deals with everything from setting up tents for shelter and maintaining batteries for the radios to making sure the generator is up and running. Contractors, electricians, handymen (and women) would be of great help here.

And the new co-PIO's, Gabrielle Lamirand and myself need warm bodies to help distribute information during emergencies, and perform a variety of other duties that come up on the spur of the moment. Leave us a message on the hotline or e-mail me at PennyWrites@netscape.net.

PLAYING DOCTOR

We'll be having a new Doctor in Topanga who will be heading the Topanga Medical Team along with Brad Davis. Celia Brown, M.D., is hoping to open her private family practice in Topanga in July and will need volunteers for the T-CEP Medical Team. Doctors, nurses, Emergency medical technicians and people with training in CPR and multi-media first aid are needed.

Be aware that the Medical Team will not be up and running for a while. The training will be extensive and the team will not activate until it is complete. There will be both Field Response (FR) Personnel and Medical Treatment Personnel (MTP). FR will have to be trained as ham radio operators, have a valid CPR and ARC card, have taken CERT training in the first three months, attended two meetings a month, be physically able to perform the duties, be willing to provide own uniform and take ARC Emergency Response training within their first year. MT's must be certified as EMT (basic), be available to respond in activation, work under direction of a medical team leader, have a CPR card (ACLS preferred) and may receive extra training as needed by the FR Cadre leader.

HOTLINE CLASS

And! Carol Feer and Lynn Sherman will be holding another class to train hotline operators. This is sooo important. Take it from someone who's been there. It's amazing how the brain can shut down or short circuit in an emergency situation when someone calls you for help or information. Being a hotline operator takes practice, practice, practice. If you want to join the team, the training date is March 17th, from 1-3 p.m. at the Topanga Christian Fellowship Church. Call Carol or Lynn on the hotline to sign up. And if you've already taken the class it doesn't hurt to do it again...and again. You may think you know all the answers until the next question is asked.

If you are interested in helping out on any of these teams, please leave your name and number on the T-CEP Hotline.

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Be Chic; Help CHIC

By Michele Johnson

The Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC), a consortium of voices from almost every organization in Topanga, is hard at work, planning and trying to fund huge changes on the Community House grounds with the participation of the Topanga Woman's Club.

A very preliminary plot plan of the property offered by John Mac Neil at the February 17th meeting consisted of two new buildings, parking, a bus/fire turnaround, and a shaded amphitheater with seating.

In the plot plan, one building near the Boulevard would house a permanent EOC (Emergency Operations Center). The other would be a multi-purpose building that could hold a teen center, a senior center, a new caretaker's apartment and/or be used for other purposes identified in a recent survey of Topangans. The bus turnaround could be used for the drop-off and pick-up of public high school students.

While the new buildings are planned and built, CHIC is asking for volunteers to join in the effort to improve the existing structure and grounds.

Volunteers have been hard at work to create the plot plan. Architects Cary Gepner and surveyor Mac Neil are just two of those who have been donating their services as consultants to scope out what's feasible. But a formal feasibility study that explores the permit process, geology, and architectural plans will take some seed money.

CHIC is appealing to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who through Senior Aide Susan Nissman has been very supportive of the committee, for County seed money. Once the feasibility study is done, more funds and volunteer effort will be necessary to finish the job. The CHIC Finance subcommittee is researching grants and plans to ask the state for monies, too.

But CHIC asks all Topangans to reach deep and tap their experience and their wallets to help. Are you a possible donor? Are you a part of a corporation that may contribute to the cause? If you can sign a check, have a funding lead, or if you are a skilled construction professional or grant writer and can offer your services to help, call CHIC, care of the Woman's Club at 455-1980 to contribute or volunteer.

The plan is very flexible at this point-new elements could be added, old ones subtracted. For example, CHIC will host a representative of WOLF, the foundation that is trying to start a day camp and eventually rehabilitate the pool at Camp Wildwood, to see if we can partner with them in some way. Also, at the last meeting, Karen Quartz, a senior educator at UCLA, asked CHIC to consider the possibility of setting up a Charter Middle School at the site. Flexibility at this point is key. Nothing is set in stone, but the possibilities are exciting. Come on board and support this promising community effort.

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"Earth Day Faire at Nature Center

By Woody Hastings

Topanga State Park and the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains are the sponsors of this year's Topanga Earth Day Odyssey with plans underway for a two-day affair, which will include an Environmental Faire on Sunday, April 22 from noon until 6 p.m. at the Nature Center in Topanga State Park at Trippet Ranch. The day before, on Saturday, April 21st from 8am till about noon clean-up actions at several locations along Topanga Creek and trail maintenance work in the State Park are planned. (Yes, coffee & muffins will be available.)

The Topanga Earth Day Organizing Committee, (TEDOC) is meeting every other week between now and Earth Day to plan the Faire and clean-up actions. A ListServ has been established to provide an electronic organizing forum and is easily accessible via TopangaOnline. All Topangans are welcome to join.

In addition to the environmental attractions, local talent will provide live acoustic music, Topanga Raqs Arabe Middle Eastern Dancers will perform, children's activities are being planned, and we hope to have participation from Tongva Tribal members.

Last year, over 30 environmental organizations participated in the event, over 2000 people attended, and over $9000 was raised for the Topanga Watershed Committee. The event this year will be much smaller, and is not planned as a fundraiser, but everyone will be encouraged to contribute to the environmental cause of his or her choice. We hope to see you there!

For information on how to get involved please email whastings@earthlink.net or call 310-455-2497.

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Topangans Give Leggs a Leg Up

By Tony Morris

Tish and Leggs Byrne needed help to fight his deportation.

Topanga once again demonstrated its ability to help out when called upon to assist a friend in need. A fundraiser at Pat's Topanga Grill raised $1,200 for legal expenses for Peter Anthony Byrne, a.k.a., "Leggs," a New Zealander and friend to many Topangans who was arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on January 10th at his home in Winnetka. The circumstances of Byrne's arrest and possible deportation to New Zealand were made known to friends in Topanga by his wife Tish.

Although Leggs has lived in California for more than 20 years and is married to an American, his formal visa petition to become a citizen had not been filed. Under the law Leggs can immigrate through a "family based petition" as long as it is filed before April 30, 2001.

When Leggs Byrne recently applied to purchase a hunting rifle, provisions of the Brady Bill, requiring mandatory background checks and a waiting period before issuance of a permit, prompted the INS to flag Byrne's application. Tish Byrne said that when INS agents first came to her house looking for her husband they "drew their weapons and would not provide a search warrant." Her husband was working out of town that day. Returning a second time, the agents took Leggs into custody and he was taken to the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster.

To complicate the matter Leggs had once been deported to New Zealand and then returned to California. Legislation passed by Congress in 1997 provides for immediate deportation of an illegal alien who has been previously deported. Leggs' status would have required the INS to deport him to New Zealand had the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals not ruled on January 23rd that an order to deport cannot be "automatically reinstated" without a formal hearing. John Ayala, Byrne's attorney, said that a formal hearing for immigration bond will take place at Mira Loma on March 8th.

When Topangan's Danny Tucker and Steve Reiser heard from Tish Byrne, they asked Pat and Kathi Burke if they could use Pat's Topanga Grill for a fundraiser. The Burkes gave thumbs up. Tucker and Reiser called upon Debbie and Ric Ryder, Christi Collins, Eddie Ponder, David Skar and Nick Dias to provide music for a fundraiser on February 8th. Together with "Hat John", Laurie Greco, Jim, Joey Adams, and Chris Adams the event raised more than $1,200. Tish Byrne said, "There are no words to describe how thankful we are to the people of Topanga. We don't even live here." Danny Tucker reported that 100 supporters came out that night "to show what a community we are and the depth of feeling we have for Leggs."

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Turnouts, Guardrails Planned for Boulevard

By Tony Morris

The third meeting of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard (TCB) Traffic Committee was held at Abuelita's Restaurant on February 20th. Co-chairperson Susan Nissman introduced Michael Miles and Wayne Johnson, Caltrans maintenance supervisors who provided committee members with an overview of Caltrans maintenance procedures. Regular maintenance of Topanga Boulevard such as striping of fog lines at the edge of the roadway, re-painting of center lines and replacement of bots dots are completed on an as-needed basis. With only one Caltrans striping contractor serving Ventura and Los Angeles County, striping work along the Boulevard will be completed as part of Caltrans scheduled striping maintenance.

Sheik Moinuddin, Senior Transportation Engineer with Caltrans, said that there will be a major improvement project on the Boulevard which includes new turnouts and additional guardrails. This $1.2 million project is in a funding cycle which may take two to three years. A subcommittee was formed to study and recommend solutions to the committee for signage which would be used to advise motorists to slow down through the center of town. Sheik Moinuddin explained Caltrans' sign standards for use on a state highway.

Wilfred Melton, an engineer with Caltrans Community Based Transportation Planning Unit, described the options available to communities where a state highway is also the town's main street. Melton said that grant funding is available for certain improvements and information can be obtained from other Caltrans departments.

Susan Nissman reviewed the committee's February 7th field trip which provided an opportunity to observe conditions along the Boulevard from School Road to Topanga Lumber. Nissman also reported that a Right Turn Only sign had been installed at the north exit from Pine Tree Circle. Nissman said that work of the traffic subcommittee will focus on specific problem locations along the Boulevard in order to recommend workable solutions.

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Flower Synergy Blooms

By Penny Taylor

Everything's coming up roses for Flower Synergy owner Gina Tassone.

You're standing on the front porch and your knight in shining armor gallops up, reining in his steed (read Porsche 924) at the foot of the stone steps. He dismounts and strides towards you purposefully. As he passionately takes you into his arms, the seductive aromas of lavender, tea tree oil, cinnamon and roses cascade through the air enveloping you both in a wonderland of romance from which you don't return for hours, maybe days.

Okay, yeah, I've been fantasizing again. I'm old-not dead. And in my fantasy it's not a Porsche, it's a pickup truck. This is, after all, Topanga, it's been raining a lot and when my knight shows up (however rusty his armor may be) I darn well want the dude to be able to get up the road to my house.

The scents are very real though. Topanga's newest store is Flower Synergy and it's appearance is pure serendipity. Located at 415 S. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, it's snuggled in between Leigh Bloom's Topanga Mail and Message and Country Natural at the corner of Fernwood Pacific, slightly caddy-corner to Fire Station 69, across the street from (but on the same side as) Mimosa and just down the road a few yards from Topanga Video. (If you can't find it with these points of reference, get a guide dog.)

Yes, there was a flower shop there before, but this one is new and seems to have captured just the right essences it needs to remain here. For starters, owner Gina Tassone did floral design for The Woods in Brentwood for two years. She's an experienced event planner who's ready to do weddings, parties and other special events not only for Topanga, but Malibu and Calabasas as well.

Gina and her husband Sal moved to Topanga three years ago with their children Alexa (7) and T.J. (9). It had been in Gina's mind to open the flower shop for a while. She smiled, recalling when the "For Rent" sign went up. "It was like it was suppose to be mine."

Gina's really into the Topanga spirit of things. "I've felt more a part of the community since I did this," she says of opening Flower Synergy. She's meeting more of her Topanga neighbors as they've started dropping by the shop. Gina wants Flower Synergy to be a place where Topangans can gather and to this end she's going to be having afternoon teas once a week.

The shop is a sunny step into an indoor garden: roses, lilies, tulips, orchids, iris, delphiniums and daisies (the "friendly flower").

Flower Synergy is also a bountiful treasure trove of gifts, party playfuls, yard ornaments and bath supplies.

If you're having a party you can stop in and pick up party favors like birthday balls that you unwrap with small presents inside. Or Gina and her co-worker Cynthia Scott can take care of everything for you, from lighting to the floral decorations. The Valentine heart that's been in the window lately is an example of her artistry with balloons. She has the tanks for filling right there in the shop and can sculpt all sorts of exotic creations.

Bath items will want to make you stay in the tub forever. Scented soaps made right here in Topanga by the Topanga Soap Company and bathtub teas which are like large tea bags filled with bath salts and potpourri can also be found.

Hanging among the tiered flowers, gift boxes, cards and candles are bird feeders made of patinaed brass. The birds visiting your yard will have the sculptured figures of bees, humming birds, and flowers to keep them company.

There are an assortment of gift baskets you can pick up for almost any occasion.

As a special treat, Gina wants flowers to be affordable to people on a regular basis-so you can order a month of flowers for $30. Then each week go in and get a $10 bouquet for 4 weeks. Pick out what you want up to that amount so that you can tailor your choice for your office or any room in your home.

So gentlemen, if you've been looking for something special for someone special you don't have to go far. Gina can come up with something just right for you.

If you have a party or special event there's someone in the canyon who can do it all.

Or just pop in and pamper yourself. I wrote half this article in a tub of lavender. Reporting is a tough job.

In any case Flower Synergy should be a welcome addition to Topanga.

Winter hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Stop in and get acquainted.

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"We Are Still Here" Free at Theatricum

Native American Katherine Siva Saubel, Cahuilla elder, is the subject of the play "We Are Still Here," to be presented in a free performance at the Theatricum Botanicum on Saturday, March 10, 2001 at noon.

"We Are Still Here" is the story of Katherine Siva Saubel and the Cahuilla Indians of Southern California, told through original Cahuilla legends, narratives and scenes from Mrs. Saubel's extraordinary life. Mrs. Saubel, the first Native American female to graduate from Palm Springs High School, is a respected tribal elder and international scholar, who has lectured throughout the world on the Cahuilla language and culture.

The play, written, directed and produced by Leigh Podgorski, features an all-Native American cast.

The work premiered at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Griffith Park, as part of Celebrate Women, an annual all-day free theatre festival that honors Women's National History Month with the gift of live performance. Celebrate Women 2001 will present some twenty live theatre performances throughout the city and county of Los Angeles. All performances are free. Details and locations are available at www.celebratewome.org.

Katherine Siva Saubel was born in 1920 in Los Coyotes Reservation and grew up in poverty. The first female Native American graduate from Palm Springs High, at the age of 42, she received a scholarship from the Kennedy Administration to study anthropology. She has studied and lectured around the world on Cahuilla culture and has collaborated with scholars on numerous books and articles on ethnobotany, Cahuilla grammar, and Cahuilla tales.

For more information on "We Are Still Here," contact Leigh Podgorsky @ 818-881-5100, leighpod@aol.com or go to the web site www.celebratewomen.org.

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