"Significant" Finding for the Santa Monica Mountains:

Goal is to protect rare plants and wildlife

The Santa Monicas as seen through Jonnie's window, in watercolor by Nancy Swenson, featured artist at Arts on the Park.

VOL.25 NO. 07
April 5 - 18, 2001



By Michele Johnson

On Monday, March 5, L.A. County Regional Planning held a public meeting at the Calabasas-Agoura Hills Community Center to discuss a study proposing that almost all of the Santa Monica Mountains be deemed a Significant Ecological Area. This would include an area bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Oxnard Plain to the west, the L.A. Basin to the east, and the San Fernando Valley and Simi Hills to the north.

Under the proposal, almost all of Topanga would be a SEA. Now only portions of Tuna Canyon have a SEA designation.

The study, prepared over two years by a private consulting firm, also recommends that large portions of L.A. County, including a huge chunk of the Antelope Valley, the Santa Suzanna Mountains, Puente Hills, San Gabriel Canyon and Santa Catalina Island become SEAs. The SEA designation was originally adopted in the General Plan of 1980 to encourage the protection of threatened plants and wildlife. The scope of the recommendations, tripling SEA acreage, took both activists and developers by surprise.


Under the SEA designation, single family residences and additions to them would be exempt from any further regulation. There is only one exception to that exception. Anyone seeking a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for any reason-for example, to apply to build a legal rental, which would transform a single family residence into a multiple family residence- would have to pass an SEA environmental review by Regional Planning.

Previously subdivided or approved parcels are also exempt. "All legally existing lots are not affected and are not subject to further reviews," said George Malone, the county's Supervising Regional Planner in charge of the study.

Also, if a house is lost to fire or flood, said Malone, "We always honor a rebuild." Though he later temporized that statement. The property owner would have to submit a plot plan of the rebuild, and no new regulation would be required if it is built on the same footprint as the original home.

Also, It would not apply to areas covered by the Coastal Commission, because the existing Coastal Plan process, being stronger, overrides the SEA designation protections.

Its direct impact would be on the unincorporated areas of the county, because though the designations would straddle many cities, including Malibu, Calabasas and Agoura Hills, those cities have primary jurisdiction over building and can use the designation "for information purposes only," said Malone. "Over the years, many cities have endorsed our recommendations; others have not." Encouragingly, Agoura Hills does endorse SEAs, and a Calabasas city official, Steve Craig, stated at the meeting that he was "interested in supporting" the new designations.

Existing agricultural land would not be affected unless the owners came in for a CUP, asking to change their zoning designation. For example, if a farmer wanted to subdivide his land, or open a day camp or public stables on his property, he would be subject to an environmental review.


With all these exemptions, the question is, then, what impact will the SEA designation really have? Well, Darryl Kutnik, senior biologist with Regional Planning explained that owners of open land who want to subdivide will have to obtain a Conditional Use Permit. To gain the permit, they would have to work with the county to identify protected resources and ensure that they build with the least environmental impact possible.

In reality, the Board of Supervisors can, and in the past, has often chosen to waive many of the requirements for big developers, and the Regional Planning director, according to its current regulations, can also waive requirements at his discretion. At the meeting, one audience member decried the past lack of enforcement. "In the old SEA program, the actual implementation was mush." "There is no enforcement," claimed another. Malone said that each application has to be reviewed on a "case by case basis."

The proposal's biggest impact may be on zoning density. Significantly, the study will recommend that zoning in SEAs be only one house per 10 acres. This could make a huge difference in areas like Antelope Valley, which are now zoned for one house per 2 acres, and where massive development is projected. In the eastern Antelope Valley, said Malone, there are "literally thousands of potential lots and landowners." Also, he added, in Puente Hills, a "major landowner," an oil company, is poised for development there.


The goal of the study, said Frank Hovore, the consultant who prepared the plan, was to look at and update the criteria established in the 1970s for an SEA to "incorporate more modern thinking." All the smallest old SEAs, he said, "are no longer there. They were overrun by kids and cats and dogs and weedwhackers." These small SEAs were "biological islands," he said, insufficient in size to support viable populations of the things living in them. The new designations would give plant species the room to grow and animals the room to move through protected wildlife corridors. The goal is not to protect the species, but to provide a "zoning overlay" to encourage best management practices on the land.

The land "may be developed, said Hovore, "but developed in a more sensitive way. At the end of the process there will be wildlife corridors and free flowing creeks." But meanwhile, he insisted, "No person will be denied their rights."

And, he reiterated, "Single family residences on single lots are exempt from this process." Though new regulations will not be written until after the Board of Supervisors adopts the proposal, the planners insist there will be no surprises.

This is borne out by the zoning regulations now on the books for SEAs that already exist. According to the Planning and Zoning code, Title 22/56.215, exemptions from additional regulation in SEAs include:

"Accessory buildings....Additions or modifications to existing residences; provided, however that such additions or modifications do not increase the number of families that can be housed in said residences" and "Individual single-family residences where not more than one such residence is proposed to be built by the same person on contiguous lots or parcels of land."

There is one hitch, though. In order to prove that you are building a single family home or simple addition, you must pay a fee of $535 ($707 for hillside property) and submit your plans for an additional review by Regional Planning. Permit processor Terry Valente points out, though, that in this district, even though the law doesn't require it yet, for some time Building and Safety has insisted that every building permit must go to Regional Planning for a separate plan check anyway. So for the harried individual home builder, the SEA designation probably won't make things better or worse, but will just mean business as usual. Malone pointed out that Regional Planning may even simplify things by rewriting rules to ensure that builders don't get bounced back and forth between Building and Safety and Regional Planning as sometimes happens now.

The new SEA designations are only proposals, and after a public review process, must go to the Board of Supervisors for a vote before they could be adopted into the General Plan. That will take months and may be an uphill battle, with big development interests lined up to fight it for all they're worth. Though the County enforcement has been lax at best, identifying expanded SEAs would give them a bully club to insist that sensitive biological resources be protected. Also, other agencies-for example, those that buy up land for parkland-use the SEA designation to help identify the lands they want to protect.

Anyone who wants to comment on the SEA proposal can log on to, write to the Department of Regional Planning, General Plan Development Section, Los Angeles, CA 90012 or call (213) 974-6417.


Half a Park Better Than None?

By Susan Chasen

A key State Parks official reviewing the proposed 1,659-acre Lower Topanga Canyon acquisition for parkland said that at this time the agency is only interested in acquiring the undeveloped portion of the property.

After seeing appraisal figures for separate sections of the property, Warren Westrup, State Parks Acquisitions and Real Property Services chief, said, "Our interest right now is focused on the undeveloped portion.

"We feel the undeveloped lands would be a good addition to the park whether or not the rest of it ever came through."

He said it might be possible to purchase the rest of the property sometime in the future, but for now there are several factors-including the $43 million appraisal and tenant relocation issues-which stand in the way of purchasing the entire property.

Last week the property owner, LAACO Ltd., announced that the American Land Conservancy was exercising its option to buy the property pending state review and approval of a $43 million appraisal. Upon completion of the sale, the San Francisco-based American Land Conservancy would transfer the property to State Parks for a major addition to Topanga State Park.

The $43 million appraisal is $3 million more than the state's $40 million appropriation for the purchase and doesn't include relocation expenses for residents of 50 homes on the property, 12 business tenants or other expenses associated with the acquisition.

Westrup said he has asked the ALC if it will be possible to purchase only the undeveloped portion which he said comes to more than 1,400 acres.

While he would not disclose the separate appraisal value provided by the ALC for the commercial and residential area, Westrup said it was "much higher" than for the undeveloped portions. Westrup said that LAACO and the ALC need to find some resolution that will "make the residents whole."

"That's a responsibility they've had for a long time."

If the ALC agrees to break up the acquisition, then State Parks will request the General Services department to review the appraisal of the undeveloped portion to satisfy state prohibitions against paying more than fair market value, Westrup said. At this point, he said, no such review is contemplated for the developed area.

The ALC could not be reached to comment on Westrup's request, but a representative for State Senator Sheila Kuehl said he saw no reason why there would be an objection.

"To do what's easy first, to do it in steps is fine," said Kuehl's chief consultant Syrus Devers. "Her only concern is that under no circumstances would we want to end up with just the upper portion of the canyon. You need more than just that to make a world class park." A two-step process would allow more latitude to structure an agreement on the lower portion, he said. LAACO spokesperson Julie Benson said there are still so many variables that it is premature to predict how the sale will ultimately be structured.

Breaking up the sale, she said "is one of numerous possibilities."

Some residents of Lower Topanga have discussed the possibility of purchasing the residential portion themselves, but at this point only the ALC has purchasing rights.


More Road Woes!

By Tony Morris

Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 29 , Malibu, has scheduled a water main replacement project which will tie up traffic for months on the Boulevard. The work consists of constructing approximately 3,800 linear feet of 16-inch diameter water main to replace an undersized and aged 6-inch main along Topanga Canyon Boulevard between the Topanga Forks Pump Station (Old Topanga Canyon Road adjacent to the Inn of the Seventh Ray) and Fernwood Pacific Drive.

Supervising Civil Engineer Ali Dana said that the construction project is expected to start in December 2001 and will be completed by June 2002. The new water main will be installed on the east side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard at a depth of four feet and will not require the relocation of other systems under the roadway.

Construction hours will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with alternating one-way traffic controlled by flagmen. Should weekend or holiday work be necessary, permits will be submitted to Caltrans for approval. Dana said that all businesses located along the Boulevard will receive official notification regarding project details. A jobsite trailer will be on location at the start of construction and emergency contact numbers will be provided.


Neighbors Protest Paving of Kerry Lane

By Michele Johnson

A storm is brewing in Topanga. Last week, the residents at the top of Grand View were dismayed to learn that L.A. County Public Works plans to pave Kerry Lane, a two-mile scenic county road loop used as a local trail for decades by folks in the surrounding neighborhoods. Almost overnight 50 neighbors formed the Kerry Lane Protection Project to stop the paving.

The neighbors fear if the road is paved, rainwater may be channeled down, accelerating as it runs, and could flood their properties. They also fear that a natural spring and important species dependent on it may be disturbed by the paving. Finally, they're concerned that paving may literally pave the way for development of the 14 or so lots along Kerry Lane before land conservancies have a chance to consider buying the lots. There is currently no development along Kerry Lane.

Kerry Lane abuts state parkland. In fact, three lots along the road have already been bought up by Mountain Restoration Trust, says Sophie Calisto, who lives on Stites off Observation below Kerry Lane. Kerry Lane adjoins Terry's trail, a registered trail connecting to other trails that run to Tuna and all the way to the beach. If the lower canyon parkland sale of L.A. Athletic Club land goes through, that parkland, too, would border the road.

Calisto and John McLaughlin are co-chairmen of the newly formed Kerry Lane Protection Project. The alarm was raised and the group formed when a neighbor, taking her daily walk on the trail, questioned men surveying the road. "We're surveying; we're going to be paving," they told her. After hearing about the proposed paving, Calisto dashed off a letter to Zev Yaroslavsky's Senior Field Deputy Susan Nissman, a Topanga resident, requesting a meeting to discuss the paving.


Meanwhile, 13 members of the group set up a meeting on Saturday, March 24, to plan their strategy. At the morning meeting at the home of John McLaughlin and Susan Lovell McLaughlin, you could stand on their porch and see the trees above that shroud Kerry Lane and the state park lands below it in the distance.

The McLaughlins' home and many of their neighbors' homes are fairly new, but they insist the protest isn't simply a matter of selfishly hoarding the leftovers now that they have their piece of the pie. The group insists there are flooding dangers inherent in paving two miles of steep road that loom above the neighborhood, and the paving should be stopped for that reason alone.

But they also believe the road traverses land that is a natural for more buyout by the parks, so nothing should be done to disturb the area until disposition of the land is settled. As Calisto put it, "I'm concerned they're using county funds to open Pandora's box."

Sophie opened the meeting by saying, "We found out about the surveying seven days ago, and here we are." Then she described her conversation with Susan Nissman. Nissman said that the paving was ordered because of fears of erosion and silt buildup. Calisto reported that Nissman also insisted that the dirt road requires expensive maintenance, that 50 truckloads of dirt are delivered up to the road each year.

Neighbors at the meeting who walk the road daily say they've only noticed a few truckloads of dirt dumped in the last year, and long-time resident Max Penner said he's heard some of that was only dumped as a convenience for road crews. They've seen little evidence of county maintenance and question that the cost of paving and maintaining the 2-mile road could offset the cost of maintaining the existing dirt road. It was also pointed out that Assembly Bill 2928 recently freed up state funds for road building that the county wants to tap into, and that could be why the pressure is on to pave now so they don't have to pay later.

Calisto said that after hearing the neighborhood's objections, Nissman was open to meeting and said she would gather information on her end and schedule a time. Nissman warned her not to get her hopes up, since owners of the properties adjacent to Kerry Lane have the right to demand the county pave the road at some point in the development process anyway. "The permanent solution," Calisto said, is to put "the land in hands that won't develop it."


The group decided upon several plans of action. They want to access county records to show how much maintenance the road really has required. They will also investigate whether there is a silt problem and, if there is, if it is due to the road's erosion or a natural slide in the area that happened after the El Ni–o rains.

They plan to hire their own engineer to do studies to find out if paving the road could be as dangerous to the neighborhood as they fear. They also want to insist the county prove the paving would not endanger the natural spring and any species of animals dependent on it.

Meanwhile, they want to look into buying a lot on Kerry Lane scheduled to be sold at auction on March 31. They've also started to liaison with owners of some of the land along Kerry Lane. One long-time landowner has expressed interest in their efforts. They plan to circulate a petition throughout the Grand View area to gain new support and send a message to the county. They will research possible alternatives to paving, including spraying non-toxic cellulose, mulching or graveling the road if necessary.

The group will work with Nissman to schedule a meeting sometime in the next month, and hopes to have a presentation ready at that time. Sophie Calisto told the group that Susan Nissman assured her that nothing will be done without first notifying the community.


Low-Rent Haven on the Block

By Susan Chasen

After agreeing to make certain improvements, owners of the Crocker Trailer Court at 1548 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, one of Topanga's few remaining low income rental options, have received a permit to continue operating for five years.

However, the property is currently for sale, so there is still uncertainty about the future of this nearly 50-year-old pocket of Topanga.

Long-time owners Hakse and Ok Ran Kim were seeking a 10-year permit, but it was limited to five years to assure that cleanup of the property is completed, inoperable cars removed and parking kept out of the fire lane.

"The hearing officer didn't want to give more," said county regional planning assistant Maria Massis, "because there were still some violations on the property."

Massis said that during an unannounced visit, cars were found parked in the fire lane and there was still a problem with junk on the site. A condition of the permit, approved in February, includes inspections twice a year instead of just once, which is usually required.

"They just need to keep it clean and neat, get rid of all the junk on the site and make it a more neat trailer park," said Massis.

Kim was not available to comment on the renewed permit or his plans to sell the property. It is currently listed for sale with Fred Sands for $799,000.

Crocker Trailer Court was established in the 1950s. In 1974 the zoning for the property was changed to an unlimited commercial designation, C-3, which does not allow for a trailer court. Since that time, it has required periodic review as a non-conforming use.

Currently, there are 13 trailers and one house in the trailer court located just north of Cheney Drive. In all, 25 to 30 people live there, according to manager Lynn Childs.

Childs said complying with the county's requirements will take cooperation among the residents and it may not be easy. "Basically, we have to start evicting people that don't comply with the rules and regulations," said Childs. She said a county official told her it was lucky no one objected to renewal of the trailer court permit on grounds that it had become an eyesore.

Although the park has gotten run down over the years, Childs said a former drug dealing problem was eliminated years ago when a dealer was evicted for not paying rent.

Now, there are several long-time residents, including several single parents and their children who are not receiving child support payments, said Childs, who has lived there for 17 years. "As of right now, we've got a pretty good group of people," said Childs. "There are a lot of hard workers here.

"This is really a good place for Topanga people with low income....Yeah we're all close together, but this is like a community."

Rents range from $350 to $700, Childs said. "It's awesome. We have a two-bedroom mobile home," said Childs, noting that Topanga's cheapest guest houses rent for $1,900. "God knows our children go to some of the best schools in the Western Hemisphere here," said Childs. "We're in a slice of heaven here."

For Childs, whose husband's grandparents Loyce and Zee Crocker created the place, the Crocker Trailer Court has special significance. Her husband David spent a lot of his childhood there and now her own children can find traces of their family history carved into the concrete in the park even though it was sold out of the family.

Now, it's for sale again. "I cried the day I came home and saw the Fred Sands sign," said Childs. "If he does sell it, we just hope that whoever buys it keeps it as a trailer park."

Childs said the one prospective buyer she is aware of owns another mobile home park on the Pacific Coast Highway. In the meantime, she said no one has long-term rental agreements. "We're all in limbo here."

She credits Kim with keeping rents low and with being flexible with his tenants. "He's very good," said Childs. "He understands life's little bumps."


Swapping Stories

By Susan Chasen

Have you ever wondered what brought people like T-CEP's Pat and Jack MacNeil, the Messenger's Michele Johnson or Pine Tree Circle's Steve and Leslie Carlson to Topanga? How about Topanga Online's Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer or Topanga Mail & Message's Leigh Bloom? Well, you'll have a chance to find out when these folks and others present their own personal Topanga stories at the Topanga Historical Society's upcoming potluck and program entitled "Topanga Odysseys" scheduled for Wednesday, April 18 at the Community House. The potluck portion of the program will begin at 7:00 p.m. with the program following at 8:00 p.m. All in the community, newcomers and old-timers alike, are invited to participate. Come tell your story. Be sure to bring a dish to share along with your own plates and utensils. For more information, call program coordinator Mary Bloom at 310-455-3326.

Keep in mind also that the Topanga Historical Center, located in Pine Tree Circle at 120 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Suite 206, is now open to the public on Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and other days by prior appointment. The Center contains an archival library of Topanga materials including historical documents, community organization records, historical photographs, back issues of three Topanga newspapers, scrapbooks, newsletters and audio and videotapes.

The Topanga Historical Society urges residents to donate photographs, records and personal writings about Topanga to add to the library. They will be handled with the utmost care and concern. For more information, contact our archive librarian, Ami Kirby, at 310-455-1969.


Chamber Corner

Networking is the key focus for the Chamber in 2001 with monthly Breakfast and Cocktail Mixers. We want to hear member priorities and concerns for Topanga's unique community, and these informal gatherings are an ideal way to focus our collective energy on the key issues. We had our first monthly cocktail Mixer at Abuelita's on March 21st with 29 attending to share personal and business news. We had presentations by Yoga Desa owner Emily Portman and Yoga instructor Michelle Broussard that were informative and relaxing.

The setting was warm and inviting as we nibbled on complimentary taquitos and salsa that were fabulous. We have great speakers coming up: Architect Cary Gepner & Associates in April, Topanga Canyon Gallery in May and Ronald Carona, Environmental Sculpturing, in June. Make it a habit to join us the second Wednesday morning of each month and the third Wednesday evening of each month to enjoy the company of neighbors, and fellow businesses and make new friends in a friendly setting. We have fun and together we can make a difference!


S-Curve Accident

By Tony Morris

Many heard sirens wail on Saturday, March 24, or got caught in the tie-up on the S-curves. The cause is another cautionary tale. Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 69 firefighters and paramedics responded to a 911 call at 3:15 p.m. that Saturday and were dispatched to a location on the "S" curves. Station personnel provided emergency assistance to a 28-year-old critically injured motorcyclist who had been traveling northbound at a high rate of speed when he crossed over the center line, striking a southbound minivan.

The male victim, suffering from a fractured arm and major abrasions, was taken by AMR ambulance to a helicopter landing zone on Pacific Coast Highway where he was airlifted by LACFD Helicopter 15 to the UCLA trauma unit. Authorities report that the victim had borrowed his employer's European import motorcycle. A spokesperson at UCLA Medical Center said the accident victim remains hospitalized in stable condition.


A T-CEP Cry for Help!

By Penny Taylor

"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" Chicken Little cried. And no one paid attention. Calamity strikes just when and where you least expect it. Take, for instance, the state of Washington. Earthquake. BIG earthquake. A month later Topanga Resident, EMT, T-CEP volunteer and Red Cross worker, Brad Davis is still in Washington working on disaster problems.

After hearing at the monthly T-CEP Board meeting that there had been little to no response to team leaders' requests for help I feel a bit like Chicken Little. No one is listening. Is it, horror of horrors, that you're not reading what I write?... Or do you just think it's not going to happen here. Paleeezze. This is Topanga. We've got it all. FIRES! FLOODS! EARTHQUAKES! HURRICANES! TORNADOS!...oh, well, not hurricanes or tornadoes...but you just wait.

Statistically T-CEP and Arson Watch get more volunteers AFTER a major disaster. Instead of waiting for a disaster of our own, do you think that maybe this time we can use Washington as an example?

Ah, suddenly it occurs to you that even though you're busy with five kids, a husband or wife, a tyrannical boss (I have 4), that maybe you could at least train to work on one of the T-CEP teams? Alli Acker still needs horsy people for Equine. Gabrielle Lamirand still needs help with Public Information. John Stevens still needs backup for Logistics. Only two new people have trained to be Hotline Operators. If you're an animal lover, Susan Alice Clark needs Small Pet Team volunteers AND she's desperate for a storage shed! Renee Gander still needs to locate elderly and handicapped individuals who may need assistance when trouble strikes.

Someone read me the statistical demographics for Topanga recently. The average income of Topanga residents is about $100,000 per year. If you take out me and the creekers, it's probably way above that. So I've got to wonder if all that money is going to do any of you any good if disaster strikes and you don't even know how to get water and food for your home, can't find your pets and can't find out if your home is threatened because you're stuck out of the canyon and there's no one to answer the hotline. While on the other end of the canyon, residents who didn't train sit around watching TV to find out the status and direction of the fire, but get the wrong information, because the Public Information Officer (PIO) officer is so inundated with incoming information that she hasn't been able to monitor news broadcasts, correct reporters' errors and distribute helpful and correct information that you may actually need.

I probably sound miffed. I probably am.


Okay, Washington doesn't scare you? Later in the meeting Allen Emerson, head of Arson Watch, pointed out that with all the rain, what he calls "the wick" is going to be "extremely high." Don't even bother whining. You're going to end up weed whacking twice this year. I agree, the fool who imported foxtails from Spain should be summarily executed...even if he has already been dead 200 years. But, nonetheless, the foxtail and other weeds are already knee high, need to be cut and then cut again.

And as a reminder to you newcomers, you want to be able to get in if the canyon is open to "residents only," so make sure you have ordered your access stickers for your cars from the Topanga Town Council. And update your driver's license so it has a Topanga address. Like, maybe you worked a lot in Illinois and still have an Illinois driver's license, but you've recently moved your family to Topanga. You want to be able to get in from work and help them? Get a license with a Topanga address.

SO. The number for T-CEP (AGAIN) is (310) 455-3000. Pick an area you'd like to help in and leave a message to that effect. Someone will get back to you. You are needed.

And if you still can't find a way to volunteer? Send bucks. Money. Dinero. They can use it. T-CEP, P.O. Box 1708, Topanga, CA 90290.

Please don't use my article to replace your Charmin again. I've got too much to do to be spending time thinking of 10 ways to say the same thing over again. And this one's not so squeezably soft. With love, Penny.

Oh, and the T-CEP PIO needs a newer model laptop computer (MAC?) Carrying a Power Mac to work out of the tailgate of a pickup truck is a bit of a problem. So if you have replaced your laptop with a newer model, maybe you could send the older/newer model to T-CEP? Thanks.


Vandalism on Hillside

Do you know this graffiti?

An investigation into a major incident of vandalism in Topanga, with extensive graffiti and damage to a vehicle, is ongoing according to Detective Manwell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lost Hills Station. The incident, which occurred on East Hillside Drive in October of last year, remains under investigation. Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should contact Detective Manwell: (818) 878-1808 Extension 3015.


Watershed Committee Hears Lower Canyon Tenants

By Susan Chasen

Two residents of the Lower Topanga Canyon watershed facing possible relocation as part of a parkland purchase appealed for support at the March 15 meeting of the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and found some sympathy among the group.

Rental residents of Lower Topanga are seen by some as standing in the way of a 1,659-acre parkland acquisition that would extend Topanga State Park to the coast and provide an opportunity for restoration of Topanga Lagoon. But several Topangans at the Watershed meeting agreed that the Lower Canyon community has a unique character and that there need not be a rush to clear the property.

About 20 people turned out for the evening meeting led by conservation biologist Rosi Dagit. Other matters discussed included the problem of invasive non-native plants such as Arundo donax; voluntary strategies for reducing effluent contamination of the creek; and possible designation of Topanga Canyon Boulevard as a scenic corridor.

Filmmakers and Lower Topanga residents Dan Hassid and Bernt Capra made a brief presentation about their community. They defended the low-impact simplicity of their 50-home community served only by dirt roads, and they offered historic photographs that showed houses coexisting with a much larger Topanga Lagoon.

"I absolutely feel privileged to have lived there so far," said Hassid, a 10-year Lower Topanga resident and producer of Mi Vida Loca, Grace of My Heart and several other well-known independent films.

"It would be amazing if we could continue. The worst case would be to see it developed into something that didn't preserve the nature and the environment. "The support or opposition of groups such as yourself is important."

Steve Williams, a National Park Service ecologist and Topanga resident, expressed mixed feelings over the conflict between environmental concerns and preservation of local cultural heritage. "These sorts of outposts, these sorts of communities are endangered as well," said Williams. "I think that's a vanishing thing."

Earth Day organizer Woody Hastings agreed. "I'm extremely interested in improving the ecological health of the watershed," said Hastings after the meeting. At the same time, he added, "They've been there so long. What would be the point of any kind of rush to force them to leave? Why not allow them time to come up with some kind of win-win solution?"

Supervisor Yaroslavsky's field deputy Susan Nissman initially challenged Capra and Hassid, saying, "I'm not sure why this has come to this group." She suggested they should buy the property themselves. But later, she noted her own connection to the community which was home to her family's babysitter.

Also on hand for the discussion was Fred Zepeda, vice president of LAACO Ltd., which owns the entire Lower Topanga property. Just two days before, LAACO announced an agreement to sell the property for $43 million to the American Land Conservancy pending approval by California State Parks as the ultimate recipient in the transaction. (See related story "Half a Park.")

"I don't disagree with almost everything they have said," Zepeda said of the residents' presentation. "They are very much into ecology down there."

However, he did point out that at least some of the older septic systems are "very rudimentary" and that some make-shift efforts to maintain the place may not be the best for the environment.

State Parks officials say they don't want the property with tenants on it, but Zepeda said he does not believe it is a legal requirement that it be vacant as has been suggested. After the meeting, Zepeda said the question of relocation is "not our issue."

Zepeda expressed some sympathy for the residents.

"I'm not their friend, but I do know them and I know their struggles and how they live," said Zepeda. "I want them to be treated fairly and I think they will be."

Responding later, Dagit said the Watershed Committee has no power with respect to potential relocation of residents and businesses. She said the Watershed Committee does support the lagoon restoration research, but that the Resource Conservation District is doing the studies.

Residents have questioned assumptions made both about prospects for restoring wetlands long since filled in for the Pacific Coast Highway and about alleged contamination from their septic systems. If there is a septic problem, said Hassid, "We want to fix it."

Capra said he was pleased with the response.

"This time I really felt welcome and that they were really interested in our story," said Capra. "I think everybody can agree that it would be wrong to evict everybody and bulldoze the houses before there is a coherent plan.

"I regret that our little community has lost touch with the community of Topanga. The concerns of Topanga are our concerns. We are an enclave of old Topanga culture."


Other business of the watershed meeting included formation of a subcommittee to create a plan for dealing with Arundo and other invasive, non-native plants. Its first meeting will be at 1 p.m. April 23 at the Resource Conservation District office. Other invasive plants include Cape Ivy, Castor Bean and Pampas and Fountain grasses.

Arundo, the giant reed plant that is sometimes confused with bamboo, tends to take over in riparian habitats, creating mono-cultures that can doom native plant and animal species. However, concerns were raised that enthusiasm for eradicating Arundo is leading to heavy use of herbicides.

Rabyn Blake, of the Creekside Homeowners Association, said a current trend by public agencies to use herbicides may be a cure worse than the disease with broader impacts on the natural ecology and human health than on the resilient invasive plants themselves.

Blake also noted a self-serving role chemical companies play in providing weed-eradication grants or in some cases free herbicides to homeowners. She urged the Watershed Committee not to fall prey to these incentives. According to Blake, scientific analyses show toxic effects from Rodeo and Roundup despite claims to the contrary.

Another aspect of the Arundo issue is that it provides effective soil stabilization which would be hard to replace over a short period of time. Dagit acknowledged that stretches of Topanga Canyon Boulevard would be undermined if not for the Arundo.

"We're nowhere near doing anything yet," said Dagit.

Nissman said the county already has a "Weed Management Area" committee working on the invasive plants problem. Some are still sold as ornamentals in nurseries, she said.

According to Dagit, a 5-year eradication project underway in Malibu Creek State Park now in its second year has involved use of herbicides.

Arundo is a singular source of reeds for woodwind instruments and has been used in construction, for making paper and particle board and for fuel.


A review of water quality data for a rainy February showed elevated bacteria levels at 15 of the 16 test sites from Summit Valley to Topanga Lagoon. Areas with several months of elevated levels include Falls Drive above the culvert in Fernwood; below the culvert at Entrado Road; Highvale Road culvert pool, and the Topanga Lagoon.

The Watershed Committee is drafting a letter to go to all Topanga residences to promote responsible care-taking of septic and gray-water systems. Williams suggested that some kind of financial assistance be explored to make septic system repairs a realistic option. The May 24th meeting of the Watershed Committee will be devoted to septic systems.

As for a proposed "scenic corridor" designation for Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Dagit said, "I think it's something that needs to be explored."

The National Park Service has released a draft general management plan for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Included in the draft are five alternative visions for the future. Two of the five alternatives-one that emphasizes educational and one recreational goals, propose designating Topanga Canyon Boulevard a "scenic corridor." The NPS "preferred" alternative does not include the designation.

Such a designation would encourage use of lower speed limits, development of scenic pullouts and road-side trails, improvements to the road-side environment, and removal of overhead power lines and exotic landscaping.


Give Us a Sign

By Tony Morris

The Topanga Canyon Boulevard Traffic Subcommittee met at Abuelita's restaurant on March 22nd to review the subcommittee's latest findings. Sheik Moinuddin, Senior Traffic Engineer with Caltrans, informed those present that Caltrans could not approve the wording for signage which had been discussed at a previous meeting. The elimination of the word "our" in "Slow Down Thru Our Town" would make the sign acceptable. In addition, any sign with a "logo" included on the sign could not remain in place for more than three years.

Dale Robinette, president of the Topanga Canyon Town Council, said that estimates for sign fabrication had been obtained which were considerably lower than Caltrans figures. Subcommittee members discussed the feasibility of having signage fabricated by an outside source.

Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, reiterated the goal of the subcommittee: "We're here to make the boulevard safer for residents and business. Let's identify the problems, weigh the pros and cons of remedies. It's not something mandated by Caltrans."

Regarding a request to Caltrans to re-paint the Boulevard's yellow center lines and fog lines, Susan Nissman said Caltrans should be commended for their quick response since the work has already been completed.

Subcommittee members also discussed crosswalk locations along the Boulevard and the installation of a traffic light at the south entrance to Pine Tree Circle and the entrance to Topanga Center. Safety issues were raised as a number of members felt it was dangerous for pedestrians attempting to cross the Boulevard at that location without a crosswalk and signal. The need for an additional signal remains a "hot topic" for the community. Many residents believe that a signal is not called for. Still others say that it is only a matter of time before a pedestrian will be involved in a serious accident attempting to run across the roadway.

Of particular concern to those present was the lack of parking spaces at the Topanga Post Office which often results in cars parking on the Boulevard shoulder, obstructing the view of oncoming traffic for those entering the roadway. Officer Tim Snyder of the CHP said this is a safety hazard for all. "There is the potential for a vehicle and pedestrian accident." Members suggested that striping of parking spaces at the Post Office could help the situation but what was needed was more space.

The next meeting of the Traffic Committee will be April 4th at Abuelita's.


Sprint Adds Hardware

By Susan Chasen

A hearing on new Sprint PCS equipment installations in Topanga was held on April 4 before the county Regional Planning Commission.

Sprint PCS plans to install new wireless communications equipment at 10 sites along Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Two of the 10 sites are actually in Los Angeles city jurisdiction and are being reviewed separately.

Several wireless communications companies, including Sprint PCS, already have equipment in Topanga. According to spokesperson Stephanie Walsh, Sprint is upgrading and replacing its old equipment. The new system provides battery backup for power outages as well as added capacity for cellphone users driving through the canyon and wireless computer users, she said.

"We'll be able to provide faster connectivity and faster access," said Walsh. "It will be a tremendous amount of capacity compared to what we have now."

County planning staff has recommended approval of the project, finding that there are no significant environmental or aesthetic impacts.

Some of the equipment-antennas and "microcell" boxes have already been installed on 10 telephone poles. The project was stopped, however, when Sprint learned that permission from Caltrans was not enough, that a conditional use permit would be required from the county as well.

In addition to the equipment already attached to the telephone poles, the project involves construction of adjoining concrete pads, generally 15 square feet in size with 46-inch-high power distribution cabinets at each site. At one site the concrete pad will be 24 square feet to accommodate a 48-inch-high "microhut" and a power cabinet.

Susan Nissman, field deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, said at the March Watershed Committee meeting that the project will provide important emergency communications for the canyon.

Conservation biologist Rosi Dagit, however, expressed concern about environmental impacts from fire clearance requirements for the power cabinets as well as about cumulative clutter along the boulevard.

Walsh also said Sprint will follow strict landscape requirements for replacing any plants affected by the project and that the metal power boxes will be painted with a specially formulated grayish paint that blends in with its surroundings. There are no vegetation-clearance requirements that will cause aesthetic or environmental impacts, she said.


Arson Watch Appeal

By Tony Morris

The Board of Directors of the Arson Watch and Disaster Services-F.A.W.D.S. have issued an urgent appeal to the residents and businesses of Topanga for assistance in funding the purchase of a four-wheel drive vehicle to be used as an Arson Watch Command Vehicle. The new vehicle would replace "Old Betsy", Arson Watch Coordinator Allen Emerson's command van.

Last year, the Sheriff's department gave Arson Watch a used Ford Expedition that uses natural gas. For many reasons, says Allen, that proved to be impractical. The gas guzzler could only be filled at stations in West L.A. and Moorpark and it had to be moored at station 69. After a trial period, Emerson returned it to the Sheriff's department for reassignment.

From 1982 to 1995, Emerson has paid for all maintenance and repairs to "Old Betsy" and has logged more than 200,000 miles. Since 1995, F.A.W.D.S has paid for all repairs. For the past two years repairs have been all too frequent and "Old Betsy" is on her last legs. The Board of Directors of F.A.W.D.S. decided that it was time to purchase a new or late model vehicle.

A tax deductible check, payable to the F.A.W.D.S., Inc. should be mailed to P.O. Box 197, Topanga, CA 90290.


Stop the Car! It's Radar!


By Penny Taylor

In response to community concerns over flagrant speeding and reckless driving in Topanga, the California Highway Patrol has been maintaining a higher profile in the canyon over the last two months. In an attempt to get people to wake up to just how fast they are going, a radar trailer has been brought to Topanga. A portable radar that displays how fast you are traveling will be positioned at various locations around the canyon.

Some residents have expressed the concern that Topanga residents would be targeted more than commuters, stating that if the highway was patrolled between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 or 6 p.m., then it would be primarily residents on the Topanga stretch of road. But in discussing placement of the radar trailer, Officer Snyder pointed out that the trailer could be in place anywhere from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

CHP Officers will also be in the area to warn and ticket speeders. Since the numbers are lighted, colored, and big enough to be read by Stevie Wonder it probably won't be a good idea to plead ignorance of how fast you were going if you do get stopped.

I have noticed an interesting trend over the course of the heightened emphasis on problems with commuters, speeding, pedestrian safety, residents rights, and the state highway vs. main street issue. In the beginning I was hearing, "Why can't they do something to slow people down?" "They need to patrol this area more."

Now it's "More police involvement will mean more traffic lights and stop signs and everything is going to hell." "They're only out to get the residents." (Some quotes are paraphrased. I can't print the others.)

So it's obvious the real enemy in all this isn't the guy who won't stop for people in the crosswalk because he's going too fast. It's not the Porsche dealer who blows the corner in front of the Post Office, wiping out three cars and using his cell phone to call daddy and tell him he's had another wreck, leaving a day-worker without transportation to get to jobs. It's not the driver who passes two cars in a no passing lane on a corner and into head-on traffic going 60mph in a 45 or 35mph zone. The real enemy has become the CHP. Either way they jump, they're in the fire. Maybe burn ointment should be supplied at the next meeting. In the meantime, the radar trailer will be out there paying attention to how fast everyone's going. The question remains, are the drivers paying attention and who really cares?


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