Lower Canyon Park: Kuehl to the Rescue

By Susan Chasen

After a meeting on May 18 with several tenants of Lower Topanga, State Senator Sheila Kuehl agreed that relocating tenants by the end of the year is too fast. She said she will seek a "more realistic timeframe."

The tenants, who have been cast as standing in the way of the Lower Topanga parkland acquisition, were pleased at the opportunity to meet with Kuehl and were encouraged by her response.

VOL.25 NO. 11
May 31 - June 13, 2001


This move, along with the recent announcement that Governor Gray Davis included $8 million in his May budget revision to cover additional funding for State Parks to buy Lower Topanga, may mark a turning point in this complicated parkland acquisition.

Also, State Parks acquisitions chief Warren Westrup said the agency will schedule a community meeting on the proposed 1,659-acre Lower Topanga purchase possibly as soon as the third week in June, a required step in the acquisitions process.

Currently, the California Department of Parks and Recreation has $40 million to purchase the property. The additional $8 million, if approved in the final budget, covers a $3 million shortfall on the purchase price of $43 million and $5 million for relocating tenants and other expenses.


A key controversy in this acquisition is its expected large-scale displacement of residential tenants and the likely demise of numerous business tenants. The way these impacts are being handled and the basis for timing decisions, which previously had tenants out by the end of the year, have created an uproar in the Lower Topanga community.

After her meeting with tenants, Kuehl said she will meet with the many parties in the deal and "at least get this timing piece a little more realistic."

She said tenants should not be rushed into relocating when there are not yet plans or funding for the future park or a proposed lagoon restoration. "I have a very simple goal," Kuehl said. "I don't want them to have to be out until they have to be out because work needs to go on."

She said the relocation company, recently hired in connection with the park purchase, scared everyone with statements that the process would be completed by the end of the year.

"I want the amount of time that is 'just right,'" said Kuehl, citing "The Three Bears" nursery story as a model. "I'd like to try to be the person who finds the middle ground.

"From my point of view, there is not a need to relocate these tenants by the end of the year."

Bernt Capra, a Lower Topanga resident for 21 years, was at the meeting with Kuehl. He said he left feeling optimistic.

"I think it went well," said Capra. "We seem to be making progress. I think we're inching toward the other side accepting that we're going to be here for a bit."

Capra, and other residents who have joined together as the Lower Topanga Community Association, would like to negotiate legally binding leases that would phase out the residents over an agreed-upon length of time. They say State Parks could make money and prevent vandalism by continuing to lease the property at least during the planning phase. The State might even use their rent money to pay relocation compensation costs.

What residents fear is that they will be rushed off the property only to have their homes boarded up and fenced off, perhaps for several years, before plans are completed and funded. "It saves a lot of taxpayer money and it saves us a lot of hardship," said Capra.

State Parks acquisitions chief Warren Westrup said the anticipated additional funding has clarified the agency's position somewhat. "We are only just now getting into a scenario where we're in a position to buy the property," said Westrup. "We've got a lot of work to do."


Now, he said, State Parks will begin to involve itself in the relocation issue. "We are stepping up to the plate," said Westrup. "We're looking very closely at the relocation issue."

At the meeting State Parks is planning on the project in late June, Westrup said all sides will have a chance to have their say: "We're going to listen to comments from everybody."

Up to now State Parks has stayed in the background on the parkland deal, preferring to leave the sensitive relocation concerns affecting 49 residential households and 10 business tenants in the hands of a private third party, the American Land Conservancy (ALC). The American Land Conservancy acquired an option on the property last year from the property owner LAACO, Ltd, parent of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The ALC does not have money to purchase the property, but is acting as an agent in the transaction to get the property into State Parks' hands.


So far the relocation process has not been going well. The ALC has hired an experienced company, Pacific Relocation Consultants, to create a relocation plan. But the tenants and their attorney have questioned whether a private entity such as the ALC should be managing even the planning phase of the State Park's relocation obligation under State law.

At this point Kuehl said she would like the tenants to be able to cooperate with the relocation planning process, but she seemed to understand the confusion. "There's no one quite in charge yet of the relocation," acknowledged Kuehl. "We need to stop playing telephone and start nailing down who said what."

The relocation planning process involves collecting detailed personal and financial information which many tenants are reluctant to give out until an authority with public accountability such as State Parks is in charge. On the other hand, they are being made to fear that by not cooperating they may be jeopardizing their future relocation assistance benefits.

At this point the tenants and their attorney are considering possible legal action to resolve this question. "If they don't have power and authority to direct relocation planning efforts, then they have no right to be scheduling interviews," said Frank Angel, attorney for the tenant association.

While it is common for public agencies to hire relocation companies, in this case State Parks does not have a contract with the relocation consultants. That contract is between the ALC and Pacific Relocation Consultants.

"I think the thinking has changed from last year. They know they can't use this intermediary to avoid the relocation law," said Angel. "But they still believe it's legitimate for them to prepare this relocation plan."

Malibu Feed Bin owner Marty Morehart suggested that the ALC's involvement in relocation is a conflict of interest. "If you just follow the logic of this thing, aren't we talking to the wrong people? Aren't we talking to people who are going to get more if we get less?" asked Morehart.

Morehart is fighting to preserve his business at its present location, but so far relocation has been treated as a foregone conclusion. There has been no forum for Morehart or any of the tenants to make a case for being retained or for being phased out gradually.

"It seems to me the Athletic Club [LAACO] now has a public project on their hands. We need to be talking to somebody from the State."

Eventually, if State Parks acquires the property, a general plan will be created for the site. That process will encourage public input and will take a minimum of one to two years depending on whether it is treated as a part of Topanga State Park or a separate park, according to Russ Guiney, Superintendent of State Parks for the Los Angeles District.

ALC president Harriet Burgess has said its deadline to close the sale is July 14. Westrup said he thinks that timeline will be too tight for State Parks. After the public community meeting in June, the State Public Works Board will also have to meet to consider the purchase.


Teens Take Governor's Scholarships


Four of Topanga's 13 Governor's scholars are, l to r, Sean Morris, Cody Wheeland, Dylan Forrester and Josh Siegel.

By Michele Johnson

Thirteen Topanga teens were among the 165 students at Palisades Charter High honored as that school's first Governor's Scholars. The $1,000 prize, based solely on April 2000 Stanford 9 test scores, is being given to the top 10 percent at each public high school and the top five percent in the State overall. The winners can apply the award to any college of their choice.

The 13 Topanga teens, who were invited with their proud parents to a special awards assembly, include 10th graders Jordan Wright, Dylan Forrester, Ali Franzen, David Greenberger, Bridget Klappert, Gillian McGraw, David Rose, Josh Siegel, and Cody Wheeland; 11th graders Anine Booth, Ashraf El Naga and Sean Morris; and 12th grader Jevon Berger.

If the recent electricity crisis doesn't sap too much power from the State budget, these will be recurring awards, Hosford explained. In fact, each student could win the award a total of three years--as a freshman, a sophomore and a junior--each year they take the test. On top of that, top math and science scholars can win an additional $2,500. That means that top students can bag $5,500 in scholarship money from this program over the course of their high school careers, which could go a long way toward make college a reality for deserving kids.

Eleventh grader Anine Booth said of the award, "It's pretty cool. I didn't think much about it when I took it. And now here it is."

Congratulations to Topanga's top scholars.


What Makes CHIC Tick?

By Michele Johnson

The Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC) of the Topanga Woman's Club is still vigorously pursuing its exciting dream: a full-service Topanga Community Center. Within the next two weeks, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's office will announce whether or not CHIC will receive seed money from his discretionary funds to begin work on the project.

CHIC organizers represent every interested Topanga organization from T-CEP to the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), and professionals from architect Cary Gepner to surveyor Jack Mac Neil. In the last few months, CHIC has tentatively backed a preliminary building plan on Community House grounds, proposing two buildings and extra parking to make the community’s wish list a reality. One building would house an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), identified as the number one priority in a survey taken of Topangans last year.

A swimming pool ranked second in the survey, but because it requires a huge initial outlay to build and mammoth operating expenses to keep it going, organizers have put that idea on the back burner.

Listed third and fourth are a Senior Center and a Teen Center. The CHIC vision is that a multi-use second building could accommodate not only these centers, but possibly other options on the survey, like an ecoartspace or even a County library branch. That would leave the existing Community House available for the rentals that provide money for maintenance and special programs like Topanga Youth Services.

Meanwhile, CHIC hopes money can be raised to refurbish the existing building and stages, outdoors and in. They would also like to phase in extra outdoor facilities like picnic grounds, a shade structure and a basketball court. A lot of these projects, organizers feel, can be completed before the new structures are up and running, using mostly volunteer help. When the surveys were returned, 35 or so responders offered their services. CHIC wants them to know that they aren't forgotten. A short-term project will be identified and started soon and then any and all volunteers will be welcome.


The latest meeting of CHIC was held at the Community House on Saturday, May 17. Having been involved in many Topanga organizations over the years, I've got to say that I'm impressed by the organization and level of commitment of this group. Under Chair Pat Mac Neil, members grind through a packed agenda each meeting.

The Finance Committee under Cynthia Scott is forging ahead, identifying grants and preparing to apply for them. They also keep track of the pro bono time supplied by the professionals who volunteer their services. That time can be used later to qualify CHIC for matching grants. Meanwhile, "I wish some individuals would just come forward and write us a check," says Scott.

T-CEP's Fred Feer chairs the Planning Committee. Last month, proponents of specific goals, like a teen center, were asked to come up with their ultimate wish lists. The wish lists would identify specific facilities and materials that they need to set up an optimum program. CHIC is looking for a senior to represent all Topanga seniors on CHIC and compose their wish list. Planning will review the lists and pass them on to architect Cary Gepner who will use them as a basis for his designs.

As head of the Building Committee, surveyor Jack Mac Neil is one of the volunteers donating his time to help scope out the expansion. Bids have already been made for some of the improvements. Dick Sherman of Topanga Underground estimates it would cost $13,000 to design, test for and get approvals for a septic system. That doesn't include the system itself. He estimates that a fire hydrant would cost $158,000 installed. That price is so high because the hydrant's water pressure would have to be controlled with a $75,000 reducer. Geologist Mark Triebold estimates that soil testing and backhoe fees would cost $7,000. A Los Angeles Unified School District bus inspector who looked at the driveway said it could eventually work as a drop-off, pick-up point for Topanga teens.

Nancy Crater, a lawyer who leads the Legal team, has donated hours of her services to get to the bottom of three small pesky trust deeds still lodged, probably in error, against the land. Topanga is loaded with pros like Nancy who donate real services, just as those many volunteers did who framed the windows for the Community House in the '50s and leveled the ball field in the '80s.


Hop on the Bus, Gus

By Michele Johnson

Thanks to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, the Topanga Canyon Beach Bus Service is a reality again this year. It will run from June 25 to September 3, from Ventura Boulevard at Reseda to Santa Monica Beach, with several stops along the way.

In Topanga, two morning buses will make pick ups at Viewridge, Topanga Elementary School and Topanga General Store, and two afternoon buses will depart from Santa Monica Beach, Will Rogers Beach and Topanga State Beach headed to Topanga and the Valley. Click here for the complete schedule.

Surfers, students, seniors--all are welcome. The fare is only 50 cents one way, 25 cents for seniors and the disabled. Kids under 12 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Yaroslavsky's Senior Field Deputy Susan Nissman said it is a small miracle that the bus is back, because ridership last year was pretty pitiful. If we want to see this service continue, Topangans should come on board and coordinate groups to ride the bus. It should help that this year the buses will have three stops along Ventura Boulevard at Reseda, Winnetka and Topanga Canyon Boulevard to pull in beach-bound riders from the smoldering Valley. If you have any questions or suggestions about the service, call (888) 769-1122.


Pali High Students Shot

By Tony Morris

Palisades Charter High School officials reported that an 18-year-old student was murdered in a drive-by shooting, and a 17-year-old senior was critically wounded in a separate drive-by shooting on May 11.

In the first incident, an 18-year-old senior, a regular student at Palisades and popular with his friends, had been involved in an altercation at school. Later in the day he was walking to a store with a young woman and his brother in the Athens section of Inglewood--at the intersection of Imperial Highway and Saint Andrews--when a black sport utility vehicle drove by. The student was shot and fell into the street. The perpetrators then ran over the victim.

On Friday, May 11 in Hawthorne, a 17-year-old senior, returning from a party at 8:30 p.m., was at a bus stop where he was the victim of a drive-by shooting. The victim was taken to County-USC Medical Center and placed on life-support systems in the Intensive Care Unit. He is reported to be improving.

Grief-stricken students were offered counseling as word of the shootings spread on campus, and parents were notified by a special letter from the principal of the shootings.

Palisades Charter High School Principal Don Savarese said that the week after the shootings, which were reported by the media, the school honored 25 students for outstanding work as students of the month. "No one covered their accomplishments," said Savarese.


UPS Marc Makes His Mark

After 26 years UPS deliver man Marc Abogado is leaving us.

By Penny Taylor

He's been in the Canyon for 26 years, longer than most residents. He doesn't live here, but he knows every road, driveway and path to everyone's door as well or better than they do. Marc Abogado, our United Parcel Service driver, is retiring on June 8 and his leaving marks another historic change in a Canyon that's seen native Indians, horses and wagons, model T's, hippies, Beemers and yuppies. And Marc's been here for a big part of it (well not the Indians and model T's, but he's been around).

"I don't know how we ended up in Topanga. I look back 30 years ago on the things that have transpired and wonder if any one of a series of events had been different, would I have ended up in this Canyon? Probably not."

Marc was going to go to college and take English as his major to be a teacher, but he went into the Army in 1967. When he got out in 1969 he went back to school. UPS was recruiting, and he began working for them. He delivered in Bel-Air for eight years before he was transferred to Topanga in 1975. I mean, can you imagine? Bel-Air to Topanga? Any one of a zillion things could have gone differently in his life and we never would have been blessed with knowing him, but he ended up here.

His first impression?

"What a wild bunch!...A lot of people were content and happy and they had smiles and they wanted to get away from the city and enjoy life."

He remembers the accidents and the fires. "I've seen people change....There's still people with beautiful hearts and purpose in life and they've shown me that tranquility and peace are what matters and that money isn't everything."

He's touched many lives in this Canyon, and everyone's got a Marc story. As he drives along he always honks the horn and waves as he passes. (Although I don't know why he honks. Like, you can't see that huge, brown monster of a truck coming?) Of course everyone waves back. Jayni Converse mentioned that she's so well trained that she was honking and waving at a UPS truck one day when she realized she was in another town and the UPS driver couldn't possibly be Marc.

Janet Mayhall was on her way to church one morning and got a flat tire going down the steep road from her home. Standing by the side of the road she recalls saying, "Okay, God, what am I going to do? If you don't send me some help I'm never going to get there this morning."

And around the curve came Marc. He stopped and got out smiling (Marc's always smiling). "I'll change it for you," he said, and set to jacking the car up and changing her flat. With Marc it's no problem, he's right at it.

When he was finished she thanked him and told him how she'd been telling God that she needed him to send her some help. Marc got a strange look on his face and then reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a worn, crumpled scrap of paper and handed it to her. It was a note of a dream he'd had that God had come to him and said, "You're not doing enough to make a difference, you need to do more." And he wrote it down and kept it in his pocket to remind himself that he needed to do more.

Janet says she's always thought of Marc as her angel ever since that day. "I see him with everyone from the homeless to the hoity-toity. Marc comes to everybody from the level they're at. He has this saintliness to his core." She went on to say, "I wouldn't have told this story, but we must honor him. I've seen him bring apples to someone laid up with a broken leg, or if someone had the blues, he always had something to say to cheer them up. There was this deep spiritual place he was coming from."

He does more than most, this joyful man in the UPS uniform. He's been a lay-minister working with his church in the prison ministry for the past five years. He does counseling at juvenile hall, Los Angeles County jail and the jail ward at the hospital.

"We talk to prisoners and go back a little bit to their roots and try to help them out about feeling good about themselves and that there is a purpose in life and a better vision in life. We've seen great results." One young man only had two or three days left to live, but before he passed away he overcame his pain and helped his brother, who was a drug dealer, to straighten out and change his life.

Marc will be going into the ministry full time when he leaves UPS, working with the New Beginning Baptist Church in Reseda.

Church is where he met his wife Reina. They have three children. Beautiful Michelle is married and has a little boy, Anthony, and Marc's other two children, Christopher (22) and Cindy (24) are both in school.

Countless events led Marc to Topanga. In speaking he said, "People in this Canyon have shown me that there is good in this world, and that has really enchanted my life and it just rubs off."

So when you see his UPS truck pass, honk, smile and wave, because after June 8 he's off to touch other people's lives. He will be sorely missed in Topanga. Topanga loves you, Marc.


Keystone Kops on Topanga Skyline

By Michele Johnson

It was just an average Thursday afternoon in May--May 24th to be exact. Eric Pierpont and his renter/buddy Joel Polis were hanging out in Eric's kitchen when "we heard what sounded like a screech of tires and a car backing up," says Eric. This passes for really weird on Skyline, though it might sound like business as usual on Wilshire Boulevard. Joel kidded with Eric: "Check and see if my car is there."

It was no joke to see that his 10-year-old Acura Legend wasn't in the driveway, but was being driven in tandem down Skyline side-by-side another decade old, dusty, beige Acura Legend with a damaged front end. At that point, Eric said, "We went into motion like an ant colony."

They got in Eric's car and steamed down the hill after the culprits. You see, Eric and Joel are both actors--"I've played cops," said Eric, "and he's played lawyers." That may explain, he thought, "this whole Starsky and Hutch reaction we had."

As they chased them down, though, the bad guys turned around and started back up. Eric told Joel to run up to the house and call 911 while he chased them. At that point, the guy who'd stolen Joel's car left the car running in the middle of the road and ran, pulling out what looked like a knife as he did.

Eric chased the running man and dusty Acura up the hill back toward his house, but then decided to pull over, taking his keys, and jump into Joel's running car. He took another detour to his house to grab a couple of baseball bats. Then he and Joel went back to the chase, each taking a car and trying to barricade the crooks on the Skyline loop by closing off the road at Old Topanga by Skyline and Valley.

The cops finally arrived. But, sad to say, though there were five squad cars and an undercover van searching, the thieves gave them the slip, probably disappearing before they arrived and while Eric was scrounging up baseball bats.

So if you see a 30-year-old stocky, heavy-set bald Caucasian in what would be by now a very dirty white t-shirt and khaki pants; or another guy, 28-35, darker hair and complexion, husky, watch out. Especially if you own an Acura.

Why did they pick Eric's house? Well, it's right down on the road, and seems to have a welcome sign out. "I'm the one everyone stops to ask directions from...I've had Tracy Ullman drop by and ask directions."


Circumcision: The Wound and the Healing

A day-long retreat

The practice of male infant circumcision is a painful surgery performed without the patient's consent, which cuts off the sensitive foreskin, producing a raw wound that takes weeks to physically heal altering emotional and sexual nerve pathways. It has been widespread in American culture for many decades, though it has recently been identified by the American Academy of Pediatrics as medically unnecessary and is not practiced in most of the world. Scholars and activists are gathering in international conferences to uphold the concept of "genital integrity" and stop the practice of male and female circumcision. Even those who have deeply religious traditions of circumcision are questioning the humanity of such a ritual, which literally wounds a newborn.

Exploring the reality of circumcision's primal impact on male newborn development, men's sexual/psychological well-being, and communication between genders, we will join with several leading-edge educators on a contempletive journey into this pivotal topic. Our retreat will culminate in a focus on healing: restoration of body and soul, peacemaking between the sexes, and community connections.

It will be held Sunday, June 3 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at The Hollywood Birth Center, 1445 Gardner Street (by Sunset). Call 323-436-7425 for information.


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