News

Tenants Say Wait! It's Too Soon to Relocate


Land Conservancy Sets Relocation talks with Reluctant Lower Canyon Tenants

By Susan Chasen

The Potters Topanga Trading Post of the '20s became the Malibu Feed Bin.

VOL.25 NO. 09
May 3 - 16, 2001

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Residential and business tenants of Lower Topanga Canyon have been bluntly notified in form letters from a relocation company that in order for the American Land Conservancy (ALC) to acquire the vast property for parkland they will have to go.

Two almost identical letters went out from Pacific Relocation Consultants of Long Beach with the opening paragraphs ending: "The project will unfortunately require the relocation of you and your family" for residential tenants and "The project will unfortunately require the relocation of your business" for business owners.

Targeted for relocation are about 120 residents living in 49 dwellings and 10 business owners. They are tenants of LAACO Ltd., whose subsidiary, the Los Angeles Athletic Club, acquired the Lower Topanga property in the 1920s and leased weekend cottages to its members.

The sudden move toward relocation has shocked and angered tenants who were assured as recently as March by their landlord, LAACO, that relocation decisions would come after a land-use plan for the new park is created.

"The first paragraph is unacceptable to us," said Bernt Capra, a 20-year resident of the portion of Lower Topanga known as the Rodeo Grounds. "A land-use study should be done first. Instead, this is just a plan to get rid of us without any idea of the next land use."

The letters, sent out on behalf of the ALC on April 19, set a tight time-line for the relocation planning process, beginning with informational meetings the following week and a subsequent 10-day period for setting up individual tenant interviews. The relocation plan will cover possible replacement sites as well as assistance and benefits provisioned in the California Relocation Assistance Law.

Harriet Burgess, president of ALC which hired the relocation company a month ago and is brokering the deal to add the 1,659-acre Lower Topanga property to Topanga State Park, said she could not clarify the meaning of the strongly worded letter in light of the previous assurances from LAACO.

She said the ALC has a multi-phase contract with the relocation consultants and that, at this point, what is in the works is a relocation plan to determine "who's out there and what kind of help they need...under any number of scenarios."

"This is a process that needs to be started and I don't have an agenda beyond that," said Burgess. "The people have a right to know what their rights are."

The ALC is a private, non-profit organization based in San Francisco and has long sought to put the Lower Topanga property, which extends from ridgeline to ridgeline 2.5 miles up Topanga Canyon, into public ownership.

STATE WANTS TENANTS GONE

According to Julie Benson, spokeswoman for LAACO, the sale of the property to the ALC is scheduled to close in July and an immediate transfer to a public agency--probably California State Parks--would follow.

"Our goal is to have the relocation completed by the end of the year," Benson said. "The state has made it very clear that they will not take the property as long as it is encumbered."

In addition to the Los Angeles Athletic Club, LAACO's businesses include real estate investment and leasing operations as well as Storage West facilities in several western states.

The majority of the homes and businesses at the mouth of the canyon are on month-to-month rental agreements that require only 90-days notice to vacate, Benson said.

Only those with current rental or lease agreements with LAACO were sent letters and will be eligible for relocation assistance and benefits, according to Benson.

MEETINGS ON SHORT NOTICE

Some residential tenants say they will stay away from the scheduled meetings because their attorney is not able to attend and because the notice was too short. Several business owners had still not received the letter by the weekend before their scheduled meeting.

The relocation meetings were to take place at the Topanga Community House on three consecutive nights beginning less than a week after the letters went out. The first meeting, on April 25, was to be for residents, with an alternate date offered on April 27. The second, on April 26, was for business owners.

"We're not going to accept legal advice from our adversaries," said Scott Dittrich, a 29-year resident of the Rodeo Grounds of Lower Topanga. "All they need to do is sit down with our attorney and start a dialogue."

Dittrich suggested the short notice was intended to throw the tenants off balance. He said the relocation company refused his request to reschedule the meeting.

Both business and residential tenants of Lower Topanga have insisted that there is no comparable site for relocation. Previous statements from parks officials as well as the American Land Conservancy have suggested that businesses on the commercial part of the property along the Pacific Coast Highway might be retained as visitor services.

It is unclear now, however, whether there will ever be an opportunity to consider retaining the businesses or to evaluate the historical and living history values of the property. Also, the current time-frame appears to foreclose tenant ideas like extended leases to accommodate many long-term residents, some of whom are very elderly and have lived on the property for close to 50 years.

"All this time we've thought we were providing a service," said Marty Morehart, whose Malibu Feed Bin was established 35 years ago out of the remnants of old businesses reaching back to at least the 1920s.

Despite the charm of the Feed Bin and its distinction as the gateway into Topanga, Morehart says modestly, "My success, it's not my success. It's my location."

TENANTS WANT PARK PLAN FIRST

Residential and business tenants have many objections to relocation, but always first among them is that a plan for the new parkland should be developed first. They cite instances of properties being acquired and structures vacated only to be left to deteriorate and be vandalized for years while plans are developed and additional funding provided.

There is also a desire among the tenants to have a hand in creating a positive vision for the property that incorporates the living legacy of Southern California coastal culture represented by the enduring businesses and idiosyncratic residences.

"I'd hate to see them knock down the Reel Inn and then in three years decide they'd like to have a restaurant here," said Andy Leonard, a Topanga resident and owner of the Reel Inn Fresh Fish Market and Restaurant.

"I think it's a noble goal to save property for future generations, but I'll be damned if I can find anybody who has thought through what is really going to happen."

Several tenants note that development and use of the property for a park will carry its own set of environmental and other issues that have not been addressed and conflict with the ideal of restoring the lagoon and the mouth of Topanga Creek. Among these are parking, access roads and bridges onto the property, risky left turns and visitor facilities and uses, vagrancy and graffiti.

In 1975 when State Parks was seeking to tear down the houses on Topanga Beach, a judge agreed with tenants that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) should be done first to examine "any negative things that affect the comfort, safety and so forth of human beings."

Benson said that an EIR is not required for this project because buildings are being removed, not constructed.

"The whole goal is to restore it to its natural state," said Benson.

STATE PARKS APPROVES BUYING UNDEVELOPED LAND

Since the announcement in January 2000 that the ALC had optioned the LAACO property for an undisclosed amount, few details of the agreement have been released to the public. Most recently ALC announced in March a $43 million appraisal on the property and an intention to exercise its option to buy pending state approval of the price.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation has $40 million for the project, but the agency's acquisitions chief Warren Westrup said recently that State Parks would initially seek to acquire only the upper, undeveloped portions of the property. He suggested that the ALC and LAACO had not made sufficient progress toward relocation of tenants on the lower portions for a State Parks' acquisition.

Westrup said he has learned from ALC that such a partial acquisition is a "possibility," but he said State Parks has still not made a final decision to move forward on acquiring either part or all of the property. He said the appraisal on the undeveloped portion has been reviewed and approved.

Before a final decision is made, he said public meetings will be held in the community. A report of the meeting then goes to the state Legislature for review and then the project would go to the state Public Works Board for approval. There, he said, the $3 million funding shortfall would be a problem.

With notification and other scheduling requirements, the prospect of a transfer to State Parks in July would be a "very tight timeframe," said Westrup.

ARTS COLONY PROPOSED

Westrup said he has received letters proposing to preserve the community of the Rodeo Grounds as an artists' colony with a conservancy established to administer arts and residency sorts of programs.

According to Westrup, State Parks has been very open to innovative living history parks such as Columbia State Historic Park which integrates homes and businesses of the old gold-mining town into the park. But this instance has more in common with Crystal Cove in Orange County where State Parks was hit with a Cease and Desist order from the Regional Water Quality Control Board over water quality problems attributed to residential septic systems on the property.

"We do living history programs in State Parks all over," said Westrup. "But we don't do them in areas where we pollute the ocean."

If ultimately, higher ground residential and business structures were to be preserved, Westrup suggested it might not be sufficient for a viable arts community.

Aging septic systems on the Lower Topanga property, especially in the lower-lying residential areas, are the suspected culprit in periodic water quality problems along the beach. The residents' attorney Frank Angel, however, denies that such a link has been established.

So far, no studies have been done on the alleged sewage problem in connection with the proposed acquisition. The ALC has completed an environmental assessment that looked for toxic contaminants only and found no problems, according to Benson.

Westrup offered assurances that whether ALC or State Parks is in charge, there will have to be an inventory of historical resources before any structures are removed.

ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL?

Benson did not confirm that a partial acquisition was a likely possibility. She said the option agreement is for the entire property.

She said State Parks is still expected to be the lead agency in the acquisition at the close of sale in July, but that a number of "back-up scenarios" are also being explored.

Benson and Burgess both said they don't know at this point where the additional $3 million for the purchase or relocation monies are going to come from.

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said his agency is supportive of the State Parks acquisition which has been on the Conservancy's priority list for many years. He said the Conservancy is not involved in the project at this point.

"If there is a role for us to play, we are happy to play it," Edmiston said.

"To me it represents an opportunity to do a major restoration of the lagoon system."

Edmiston said this is a "comparatively easy acquisition" even with the complicated relocation issue because there is a willing seller.

Asked if he could support retaining the businesses on the site, Edmiston said, "Classically it would not be what you would consider."

But he acknowledged that there "is certainly a visitor-serving aspect to some of the businesses."

It would depend on how compatible they would be with other plans, such as a visitor center, that could be envisioned for the property.

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Malibu Feed Bin: Going, Going...

By Susan Chasen

PHOTOS BY KATIE DALSEMER

The Feed Bin bunch baa-dly want to show off their goats. (L to R--the humans that is) Sabino Cruz, Abel Perez and Lindsay Zook.

For 35 years, the Malibu Feed Bin has been the cheerful red-and-white cornerstone of the Topanga-Malibu communities and a welcome reminder of the area's rustic heritage.

Unfortunately, the future of the Feed Bin, which has roots going back at least to the 1920s, and nine other nearby businesses, each with their own stories and histories, is threatened by the proposed purchase of Lower Topanga Canyon for a major extension of Topanga State Park.

All the businesses and residents in the area are tenants of LAACO Ltd., formerly known as the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which has agreed to sell its 1,659-acre Lower Topanga holdings for $43 million.

Despite statements from State Parks officials that are encouraging regarding the businesses, recent moves by an intermediary in the purchase--the American Land Conservancy, are not.

Recently, letters went out to all LAACO tenants on the property giving notice that they are to be relocated as part of the anticipated sale. For the businesses, most of which owe their existence to their unique, coastal-crossroads location, the letter sounded a death knell.

"The Malibu Feed Bin can't be replaced. It can't go someplace else," says Marty Morehart, who created the business in 1966. "We're a low-margin business that sells the things that nobody else in their right mind sells.

"We need people with pigs and chickens," says Morehart. "It represents a little part of the lifestyle that people appreciate about Topanga and Malibu. It's a lifestyle that we've chosen and it was something that we were really good at."

A move to Ventura Boulevard, Morehart suggests, would mean losing Malibu customers. A move to Trancas would lose Topanga. And besides, says Morehart, "I don't have the energy anymore to pioneer a new store."

For Morehart, who now lives in Ventura County where he runs cattle, it is not just his business that is at risk, but the lifestyle his business represents. The outdoors-oriented, animal-keeping lifestyle has been important to his family for nine generations in Southern California going back to 1769, and he hopes will continue to be for a tenth generation-his young grandchildren.

"I'm always flabbergasted at how many people don't know what a farm animal looks like," says Morehart, who established a popular little petting zoo behind the shop to address the problem.

"I wish we had as many customers," says Morehart. "It's pretty amazing. If a hen has laid an egg in the cage, kids are startled. They look at the egg as if 'what's the egg doing in there?'

"I wish I could take all the kids and make them hold a fresh egg. I mean a hot one. They've lost that connection."

Perhaps what has helped to maintain the ramshackle charm of the Lower Topanga businesses has been the low rents and a disinterested landlord that has contemplated selling the property since the 1970s. Also, years of operating on 30-day rental agreements have prevented owners from making expensive improvements for fear their tenancy could end at any time.

The other businesses facing an uncertain future are the Topanga Ranch Motel, Wylie's Bait and Tackle, the Reel Inn, Something's Fishy, The Money House, Cholada's Thai restaurant, Ginger Snips Salon and Oasis Furniture.

FINDING AN OASIS

Oasis' owner David Haid says he has built a life for himself over the last 10 years since he opened as a subtenant of the Feed Bin. He doesn't understand why the businesses should go.

David Haid, owner of Oasis, shows off his wares.

"We occupy such a tiny sliver of all the land they're talking about. No one understands why we can't co-exist," says Haid.

"I always thought this would be 'win-win' not 'win-lose.' We lose in a big way."

Since opening up his shop 10 years ago with a basket and a pot, Haid has married, had two children and opened a manufacturing plant in South Central Los Angeles.

"I would have to close down my plant," said Haid. "So everyone loses their jobs. It's 30 families. All of those will have no income."

Haid manufactures 70 percent of what he sells, most of it using old wood.

Oasis' location, says Haid, with 80,000 cars passing daily, has been perfect for his kind of business. People like to shop there just because they want to wander around outside enjoying the sea breeze and music. Much of his business is with Topangans. "This entire canyon is loaded with my furniture."

Haid credits Morehart for his success. They describe their businesses as operating like an accordion that gives and takes to accommodate variable space needs for new hay deliveries and seasonal items like Christmas trees and pumpkins.

"I owe so much to that guy for letting me do this," said Haid. "He's been my mentor....He's always been there for people. It's all about taking care."

BEING NEIGHBORLY

Haid says he has learned from Morehart how to be a caretaker of the Topanga-PCH corner because it plays an important role in the community.

It's a meeting place during fires, slides and road closures. Before cell phones, there would be long lines to use the phone. It's also a school-bus stop and a place where divorced parents exchange their children.

They also keep track of the homeless people. "John the Bum," a homeless Vietnam veteran who was recently killed by a car on PCH had worked for Haid cleaning furniture and setting things up since he started the business. "We are the caretakers of that corner and have been for decades," said Haid. "Marty's been there for 40 years!"

Residential tenants have speculated that the parkland acquisition could eventually result in development of higher-end businesses along the commercial strip so the state can recoup some of the $43 million purchase price through lease agreements with those businesses. But neither State Parks nor the ALC have confirmed such a scenario and have focused more on a vision of restoring the lagoon and the mouth of Topanga Creek.

State Parks acquisitions chief Warren Westrup has said that if the businesses were to be retained as part of the acquisition, any contribution to water quality problems in the sensitive lagoon area would have to be remedied. Another issue, he said, would be the question of the rental rates which might have to be raised to a fair market rate.

THE GOOD OL' DAYS

Although Morehart does have other businesses-a similar store in Ojai and his cattle business, the Feed Bin is still an important living symbol to him. His daughter cut her teeth gnawing on doggie treats sitting on the Feed Bin countertop. It's a business his family built together and it was how he instilled his values into his four daughters and one son. His oldest, Kelly, a critical care nurse, is the horse expert; next is Katie, the manager that's better than her dad ever was; then Kasey, juggling parenthood and work in the stores; Korinne, who's in college, and Patrick who is 6'4" and in the Marine Corps.

"Our children were raised up on the business," said Morehart. "We couldn't do what we have done without our children's involvement."

When they ask about the money, Morehart tells them, "Kids, it's the lifestyle."

Morehart bought the business in 1966. He was 21 and five months married to Patricia when escrow closed. Patricia manages the gifts and seasonal items of the store and soon must decide whether or not to order Christmas trees this year.

For the retail part of his business, Morehart joined together the remains of the old Potter's Topanga Trading Post, dating back at least to the 1920s, with what was believed to be an old fire station, possibly even older, to create the single building that is now the Feed Bin.

Inside the building, Morehart points out the unsolvable leak where the fire pole must have been, descending from sleeping quarters in the cupola above. Outside, there are still traces of an old café called Frenchy's Wee Nook; the still-standing bathroom of an old Shell gas station which remains the Feed Bin's only plumbing; and the site of the old ice machine housed inside a rail car with a conveyor belt for selling block ice.

At the rear of the property, Morehart discovered the site of an old Los Angeles County "comfort station" when the back end of his truck disappeared into the old, abandoned septic pit.

The history of the Feed Bin has its ups and downs. When Morehart's children were small, the family was active in the community, hosting Ugly Mutt and Pumpkin-growing contests and hamster derbies. Those were the good times.

There was also the time Morehart mixed it up with his hippie neighbors. Only later did he learn from references to the Feed Bin in Vince Bugliosi's book, "Helter Skelter" that they were members of the Manson clan.

Now Morehart does handyman-sort of work at the Feed Bin occasionally, but he leaves most of the day-to-day operations to his manager Lindsay Zook, who lives with her mother on the Carlson's property in Topanga. Zook, a recent college graduate, once planned to become a police officer, and she may eventually pursue a career in criminal justice, which she studied in college, but for now, she spends her spare time reading up on raising baby goats to keep a step ahead of her customers.

An old friend of Morehart's, Lisa Roberts, who showed up to buy hay and feed for her animals up in Malibu offered Marty a unique dose of commiseration. Roberts' grandfather Fred Roberts established Roberts Ranch, acquired for parkland in the 1980s and now known as Solstice Canyon. She is among the few who have been inside the sausage factory that produces some of the mountains' most triumphal park acquisitions. Morehart's father, John Morehart, a well-known Los Angeles rancher and developer went through it in Rustic Canyon.

Ironically, Roberts said the National Park Service is now seeking to restore and rebuild historic aspects of her family's property that were taken out or damaged when it was first acquired.

"Marty's been here forever," said Roberts. "I love this place. To me this is a piece of history....It's the smell of it. It's farmland. It's just a teeny touch and it's all we get anymore.

"I shudder to think that this place isn't going to be here."

Although Morehart is occasionally wistful about the Feed Bin, as if preparing for the worst, he says he is still willing to fight if there is sentiment for saving it and its neighbors.

"We've had a good run and I'm really appreciative of the opportunity to be there. My oldest and longest friends I met here," says Morehart.

"It seems like we have a farfetched chance of salvaging anything, but I want to take that chance. I'm not ready to get a lobotomy on that part of my life and business yet....We've still got some daylight, let's keep fighting."

Next issue: Part 2 of Susan Chasen's story on the Lower Canyon businesses.

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Zev Comes Through for Kerry Lane

By Michele Johnson

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has made it official. Due to neighborhood protests, Kerry Lane, the two-mile scenic dirt road up Grand View off Observation, will not be paved, at least for now. In March, after a resident came across a county crew surveying the road in preparation for paving, 50 neighbors quickly formed a group called the Kerry Lane Protection Project to save the road, used for years as a hiking trail. "We're delighted," said Sophie Calisto, a leader of the Kerry Lane group, commenting on the outcome.

The paving was being planned, the County said, to stem erosion that allegedly has been endangering the watershed. The neighbors doubted that the erosion problem is serious or that it was caused by Kerry Lane. They felt that it could have been caused by a landslide that happened several years ago following the El Niño rains. They also believed that more eco-friendly solutions to the erosion problem could be found.

Sophie Calisto sent a letter to Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy for Yaroslavsky, on behalf of the protesters, requesting a meeting with the County. Susan responded, promising that nothing would be done without informing the residents and promising a meeting.

The meeting was never necessary. On April 9, Yaroslavsky sent the following letter to Calisto announcing that he is rescinding the paving order:

"My staff has met with the Department of Public Works to discuss concerns raised in your letter of March 19, 2001 regarding the Kerry Lane Protection Project and the department's response to your letter (copy attached).

"As a result of this meeting, Public Works has agreed to abandon the road paving project and will work towards developing an environmentally sensitive bio-engineered solution to reduce the erosion on Kerry, Vulcan and Shuttle Lanes. The department will continue to collect data and explore solutions to the problems stated in their letter. I have directed Public Works to work with the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and my staff to coordinate with your community in determining which solutions best addresses the concerns of all parties involved."

Susan Nissman, who is also Yaroslavsky's liaison to the Watershed Committee, said that Public Works was urged not to pave because the big picture revealed that it's "not a problem of passage on the road, but a watershed management problem."

That, said Nissman, can best be taken care of with "bio-engineered solutions (soft solutions)." She pointed out that Public Works has recently created a Watershed Division, and that they have been working very hard to use best management practices in all their public works projects in and out of Topanga.

Public Works and our Watershed Committee will work together, she said, "identifying the scope of the problem, investigating soft solutions and developing a strategy to fix the problem."

Roger Pugliese of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) had high praise for Yaroslavsky and the County. "I think it's wonderful. The community and TASC appreciate the swift attention this matter got by Supervisor Yaroslavsky's office."

Though Calisto, too, is delighted, she feels the road is still not out of the woods. She's still hoping to encourage park agencies to buy up the land along the road, so that in the future landowners won't insist the County pave the road as they have the right to do if they build.

But for now, Calisto said, "We're looking forward to working with Public Works and the Watershed Committee...to help solve the erosion problem on Kerry Lane with more ecologically friendly solutions."

"It's a very exciting direction for all of us to be going in," Nissman concurred. "Supervisor Yaroslavsky is dedicated to being sensitive to the environment."

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In Topanga, Accidents Will Happen

PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS

In one of three serious accidents in recent days, a man is airlifted from Encina to UCLA Medical Center.

By Michele Johnson

In an alarming turn, three serious vehicular accidents including a fatality happened in Topanga between Thursday, April 12th and Sunday, April 22.

On Thursday, April 12th at 7:45 p.m. at Encina off Entrada, there was a collision between an SUV and a car. According to CHP liaison Deputy Kevin Pack, one vehicle failed to yield prior to making a left-hand turn at an intersection. Captain Johnson of Fire Station 69 said 21 emergency personnel were called to the scene.

One driver was given advanced life support at the scene and airlifted to UCLA Medical Center with head injuries.

Then on Friday the 13th, at 1:57 p.m. there was a collision between an Explorer and a motorcycle in the 1500 block of North Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The Explorer was apparently turning into a driveway in front of the oncoming motorcycle. The motorcyclist sustained "possible multiple fractures to his lower extremities," said Pack.

Johnson said the man was "in a lot of pain," and had so many fractures that one leg appeared shorter than the other. He was also airlifted to UCLA Medical Center. The next day, someone put flowers at the scene, a practice normally done to mourn a fatality. Concerned, Johnson said he called UCLA to check up on the motorcyclist and was told that the man was OK, though he required further tests.

On Sunday, April 22, another motorcyclist was not so lucky. At 4:00 p.m., he died in an accident on the s-curves when a van went over the double line and struck him. The road was closed down for an hour.

Though Deputy Pack said these accidents were "not speed issues," he acknowledged that Topanga roads are becoming more dangerous than ever. Be careful out there on the mean streets of Topanga.

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Crash Closes Boulevard, Douses Lights

By Michele Johnson

The crash that left the Canyon without power for hours.

At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 28th, it was lights out in Topanga due to a bizarre accident on Topanga Canyon Boulevard just south of Viewridge. The luckiest man alive drove his 1990 red Nissan into a huge utility pole studded with transformers and walked away without a scratch.

How did the driver, going north toward the valley at the time, manage to end up angled into a ditch on the west side of the road with power wires dangling just a few feet above his head?

When asked that same question by the Messenger and the CHP's S.S. Huchins, would-be actor Dave Koffer, had quite a tale to tell. He said that he was driving north under the speed limit when a person in a "gray or blue car" began tailgating him. In order to pull over, "to be a good Samaritan," he said, he crossed the double yellow to the opposite side of the road that had no shoulder, only a three-foot berm, catapulted over the berm and ended up piling into the pole. He didn't pull over to the flat shoulder on his side of the road, he said, because he was afraid the tailgater would "hit me if I didn't get out of the way." There were no witnesses. As for his car, "It's gone. It's totaled."

He managed to get out of the car on his own without striking the lines. Later, a harried Edison worker, before turning off the power, warned bystanders that the wires carried 16,000 volts of electricity and could explode if the precarious pole fell to the street.

The Fire Department arrived just in time to put out a fire in the car, but was not able, one tired firefighter said, to keep the accident from knocking out "half the power in the Canyon."

For an hour and a half, most of the Canyon's power was out, from Pat's Grill to the Video Store, and Fernwood wasn't scheduled to see its power return for five or six hours more. Traffic on Topanga Canyon Boulevard was disrupted for hours for what the CHP called "an all-day fix."

As for Koffer, he's out a car, but he's alive and looking on the bright side. When he agreed to be interviewed for the Messenger, he said enthusiastically, "I'm a struggling actor. Maybe this will help."

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Watershed Committee Earns Water Board Award

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER?

Ready to receive an Award for Creek Cleanup are just some of the 100 plus volunteers. From L to R: Delmar Lathers, Dennis King, Marti Witter, John Simons, Jayni Converse, Scott King, Rosi Dagit, Julie Rosa and Ken Widen.

By Rosi Dagit

A fancy ballroom in Pasadena. Three hundred guests of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in their finest attire. A small table near the entrance filled with photos of the kids, Topanga Creek and the helicopter hauling away the wrecked cars last September. Standing proudly around the table are 20 of Topanga's stalwart volunteers whose hours in the creek made the project work. They were the center of attraction, upstaged only by the bar! The only thing missing were the other 100 volunteers and all the kids, but it was a school night.

This was the first time the L.A. Regional Quality Control Board has given awards to its constituents. Over 50 projects and individuals were nominated, and the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee received one of the eight awards given. Our project was nominated by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in the Waterbody Restoration Category. Other awards were given to the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant for Most Improved Permittee, and Dorothy Green, the founder of Heal the Bay, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Truly we were in great company.

Dinner was an elegant affair, pasta or chicken. Delmar Lathers made sure that all the plates were clean at our table! When they called us up to receive our award, the whole gang came forward. We filled the stage, a vision straight from Topanga with folks dressed in their finest jeans, flannel shirts and hiking boots! I spoke for the group....

"The Wrecked Car Removal Project was a great example of what can happen when children are given the support of their community. Unfortunately, the kids and their teacher, Ritesh Shah, could not be here tonight, since it is a school night! Here on behalf of the community are many of the hard-working volunteers who literally spent days hauling hundreds of pounds of winches, chains, pry bars and assorted other tools down the steep trail and through the creek to release the cars from years of accumulated debris. I would like them all to stand and be recognized.

"Folks like Delmar Lathers, Dennis King, Ken Widen, Noel Rhodes, Jayni Converse, Sara Coatts, Woody Hastings, John Simons, Marti Witter, Gary Meyer, Tricia Watts, and Scott King led the way in creative problem solving to get the cars out of trees, from underneath boulders or out of the muck. Literally hundreds of other volunteers unable to attend tonight also made incredible contributions. Invaluable support was provided by Caltrans, Ron Cohen of the CA Highway Patrol, Captain Johnson and the crew of L.A. County Firestation 69, Allen Emerson of Arson Watch, Brad Davis of CA Emergency Mobil Patrol Volunteer Search and Rescue, the Topanga Canyon Town Council, the Topanga Women's Club, the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness, all the folks at Topanga State Park, the National Park Service, CA Dept. of Fish and Game, Kevin Reed of Trout Unlimited and the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. The helicopter company, Heli-Flite of Corona provided a host of services at reduced cost to help make the project happen. Funding for the project came from the Urban Streams Restoration Project. And of course, we are grateful to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his deputy Susan Nissman for nominating our project for this award.

"When the helicopter came to town on September 9, Richard Sherman of Topanga Underground orchestrated Jim Wiley with his backhoes, Gary Jensen and his watertrucks and the truckers of Topanga who did a masterful job of moving the wrecks from the landing site to be stored. Then Richard managed to have everything hauled off for recycling as the kids originally envisioned.

"Last but not least, Dennis King reclaimed a variety of parts to create a lasting testament to the whole project. His "Creek Man" sculpture stands proudly in the center of town, keeping watch to be sure we don't forget our commitment to preserve our home.

"Landscape restoration on any scale is an act of faith, undertaken with vision, within a framework of love. Last September in Topanga, the vision of our children inspired the community of adults to demonstrate their strong sense of stewardship for all that we hold dear about Topanga, especially the creek.

"There is an old saying that work is love made visible. Removing the wrecked cars from the creek and seeing the steelhead return was indeed a labor of love. Thank you for your recognition of our efforts."

The crowd went wild, and our team was clearly the hit of the evening. Many thanks to all who contributed to that incredible effort. We only wish that you could have joined us that evening to see how much our efforts have made a difference, not only to Topanga, but to the rest of the region as well. As always, the creative energy of Topanga leads the way!

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Take a Walk with Richard

Recent liver transplant recipient Richard Kelly is making a good recovery, and now he's walking about a mile per day on the treadmill. Richard wants to be able to participate in the American Liver Foundation's California Liver Walk on June 2 and he's asking all his friends and neighbors to help support this effort by walking with him, or by becoming his sponsors with a donation.

Kelly is a long-time Topanga resident and former caretaker of 19 years for the Community House. After years of fighting liver disease, his health began a rapid decline in November. Thanks to a donor family who could make that very tough decision after losing a family member, Richard was fortunate enough to receive a donor organ in the nick of time on February 4.

Through the last few years Richard and his wife Lee have learned a great deal about liver disease and would like to share some facts of interest: Currently, more than 17,000 people are awaiting a life-saving liver transplant. There are only about 4,000 donors per year. Many will die due to a shortage of donor livers. Lee saw three people die while Richard was in ICU. "There aren't enough livers to go around. People get too sick to be transplanted. In Spain everyone is a donor and there is no wait for donated organs." She urges everyone to be a donor and adds, "People can be donors, even into their seventies!"

Hepatitis C is an insidious disease. You can go for years and never know you have it. It is contracted through contaminated blood and therefore people who have had transfusions prior to 1992 are at risk. Among them are women who had Caesarean section babies where blood transfusions were a matter of course. Other possible sources of infection are tattoos and body piercing and, very dangerous indeed, needles shared by intravenous drug users. Since liver enzymes are not generally checked when blood is drawn, it is a good idea to request a test for hepatitis C when you have your annual check-up. One in 10 Americans is afflicted with some form of the 100 liver-related diseases. Approximately 500,000 Californians are infected with the hepatitis C virus.

This year's liver walk will take place at Burton Chace Park in nearby Marina del Rey, come rain or shine. There will be live music, a clown, food and beverages, an awards presentation and a raffle drawing. If you would like to join Richard and Lee Kelly for the 5K (just over 3 miles) scenic waterfront liver walk on Saturday, June 2, please call (310) 455-2190 and leave your name and address. Richard will send you an application. The fee for the walk is $25. Or if you prefer to be a sponsor, just make out your tax deductible check for any amount to the American Liver Foundation and mail it to Richard Kelly, P.O. Box 698, Topanga. Proceeds support life-saving research, education and public awareness of liver diseases and organ donation.

Click here for more on Richard Kelly

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Hilarity at the Historical Society

By Michele Johnson

The Topanga Historical Society's meeting on Wednesday, April 18, had us rolling in the aisles. Mary Bloom, the new activities chairperson, decided to invite several long-time Topangans to explain how and why they ended up here. The stories ranged from the romantic to the antic.

Of course the evening started with food-mountains of it. The potluck portion of these events is a real treat. Folks piled plates high with homemade hot and cold casseroles and salads, spiced up with a little Rocco's pizza and topped off with an array of desserts.

Gerry Haigh started off the hilarity with a short stand-up routine. He then introduced Linda Hinrichs who asked everyone to spread the word about the senior luncheons, held the first Friday of every month at the Community House. Tracy Cogbill put in a plug for the Topanga Philharmonic program which benefits the Topanga Co-op Preschool, which he said is now "thriving" due to monumental community and alumni support.

The evening's main event started when moderator Pearl Sloan introduced Ami and Doug Kirby. Ami now runs the Historical Society's library, open at Pine Tree Circle on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.

Doug told the moving and funny story of his introduction to the Canyon. He discovered Topanga Canyon as a boy in 1945 when he took a vacation in Fernwood, just 30 miles but light-years away from his home in East L.A. He and his buddy would hitchhike to surf at the coast and come back up to a bohemian rhapsody lifestyle in Topanga. The peace of that time was abruptly broken by the report of the bombing of Hiroshima, which Doug called "an end of innocence."

Ami hails from "a talkative Irish family." She'd heard about Topanga since her aunt and uncle lived there. After the fire of 1939 scorched the Canyon while they were away and their young children were home alone, they decided to move away. Undaunted, Ami came later to take up where they'd left off.

My husband Gary and I came next. We had arrived on the scene in 1975--two inept ex-hippies from Venice saddled with a charming 50-year-old fixer. We only scratched the surface of our misadventures before we gave ourselves the hook.

Gary Meyer and Patric Hedlund of Topanga Online came next. Patric, a refugee from Arizona, said she "literally and figuratively" found her way to Paradise--Paradise Lane, that is. Gary met Patric on Paradise Lane and aptly described her as "an angel."

Pat and Jack MacNeil of T-CEP fame hiked the Canyon in the '50s and saw their daughter married at the Theatricum before they ever moved here. Jack was assigned here as one of the few surveyors "dumb enough to work in Topanga." They fell in love with the place and built a house while living 17 months with their kid on the property in a tiny trailer. They unwillingly shared the trailer with other occupants-notably a swarm of bees that loved to suck their trailer's caulking. They'd planned to keep the travel trailer, but by the time their house was ready, Pat decided she'd seen enough of it.

Pine Tree Circle's Steve and Leslie Carlson both came from New York and began living in an artist's loft in downtown L.A. After their daughter was born, though, they became a little alarmed when they realized she didn't know a bird's song when she heard it.

They had first come to Topanga in 1980 to eat at the Inn of the Seventh Ray. After winding up and up the Canyon, Steve said he thought, "Where the heck is this place?" But they eventually returned to attend a Children's Fair at what is now Pine Tree Circle. Steve looked off in the distance and decided he wanted to live right there. That's where he and Leslie eventually built their home. He especially loved "the quiet, stars that I could see." So these two New Yorkers decided "to do the back to the earth quality of life kind of thing," as he put it. "If I knew a better place, I'd live there."

Leigh and Mary Bloom discovered the place helping a friend move here. They were impressed by the beauty, the atmosphere and their friend's exorcism ceremony. Their friend encouraged them to come: "You already own a couple of Volvos. You'll fit right in." So they moved here in 1990 and started the Mail & Message. "I've never known so many people, had so many friends or been so comfortable," finished Leigh.

Pearl Sloan couldn't resist telling us about her first vision of Topanga. "It was raining. There was no church, no school, no people...no water, no telephone." She was not impressed. Her second visit, on a beautiful Spring day convinced her to come. But the first 10 years, she said, were miserable.

Aptly, Dr. Doug Roy left us in stitches. Accompanied by his boy Ian, he introduced "audio visual aids in case you are getting a little sleepy." He set up a map of the United States and pointed to all the places he'd lived growing up as an army brat, studying and practicing medicine. In 1980, he said, "OK, that's it. I'm not moving." He found a Topanga place that advertised "Pets welcome." And so, he said, "My beagles picked my location."

That done, Dr. Roy meandered on, spouting hilarious non sequiturs. This is how he heard Topanga Canyon Boulevard was created. "A farmer let his goat loose and chased it with a bulldozer." Then he let us in on "the most important thing on my mind"-that is, a call to join him and his friends at their Wednesday night volleyball game. The meeting ended with a promise to do this again, and often.

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