Congressman Brad Sherman Speaks Out!

By Michele Johnson

Over the Memorial Day holiday, Congressman Brad Sherman left Washington and marched to the sea. He came home to shore up support for key issues, and while he was here he met with President Bush during that man's first trip to the state.

Clearing time in a tight schedule, the lanky, bookish Congressman agreed to sit down and speak to the Messenger on Tuesday, May 29, at his high-rise office on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills.

VOL.25 NO. 12
June 14 - 27, 2001


Congressman Sherman has had a hard act to follow, succeeding the highly principled Anthony Beilenson to the 24th Congressional seat in 1996. Sherman was re-elected last fall in the district which includes Topanga and runs from Sherman Oaks to Thousand Oaks.

Congressman Brad Sherman in his Woodland Hills office.

Since being elected, he has tackled a wide range of issues, stumping for federal aid to education, a balanced budget, expansion of the National Parks and a push for stronger environmental standards.

In his first year in office he wrote an amendment to a parks bill asking for $700 million in money for land acquisitions, including $6 million to finish the Backbone Trail which will run from Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu. That appropriation was approved, almost intact.

In February, for his efforts, the National Parks Conservancy Association honored Sherman with a Friend of the National Parks award.

The Congressman, a CPA and Harvard-educated lawyer, sometimes flashes a goofy grin that belies his keen intelligence. He settled back comfortably in his chair with a confident air to answer our questions:


MJ: I know that one of your big interests is the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area [SMMNRA]. You were named a Friend of the National Parks, as I understand. . .

BS: [laughing] I've always been a friend of the National Parks.

MJ: I noticed that this year you are only asking for $2 million for acquisitions for funds for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Is that because of the climate in Washington? That's all the traffic will bear?

BS: That is all the traffic will bear. The amount spent nationwide to buy land for our national park system is woefully inadequate, and we do get a piece of the pie that's, uh, reasonable, given all the binds. We tend to average about $2 million a year.

MJ: I know in '97, you were able to get $6 million to finish the Backbone Trail.

BS: Actually, we got that in '98, and that was a once every six years transportation bill. It's a whole different system.

MJ: So you're pretty happy with the $2 million?

BS: Well, if I get the $2 million, I'll be happy...We got it through the committee. But we've got several other steps. It won't be final until September.

MJ: If the $2 million goes through, do you have some specific agenda in mind for using the money?

BS: I find it works better if we go with Art Eck's [Superintendent of the SMMNRA] agenda instead of my agenda. He actually knows more about the park than I do.

MJ: You are sponsoring a bill on daylight saving time. Where is that standing and why are you for that?

BS: What I'm in favor of is allowing Sacramento to adjust our clocks for the next two or three years in order to save energy. We should be able to save one or two percent of our energy usage in a couple of different ways. One proposal is year-round daylight saving time. We did that during the 1970s during that oil crisis.

The other approach and one that I've suggested to meet this particular kind of energy crisis--and again, it's up to Sacramento to decide this, they're in a better position to deal with this than Washington--is double daylight saving time from early May to Labor Day or the Sunday before Labor Day. The reason is, first, those are the months we have the crisis with electricity.

Second, the one criticism that's been given to any kind of expansion of daylight saving time is you often have students on double session where they're starting school very early...

But with double daylight saving time from May to Labor Day, on every school day it's going to be light well before 7:00. So that gives students enough time to get to school in the light. And, frankly, all of the studies show that on a net basis, you reduce accidents and crime with daylight saving time or expanding daylight saving time.

MJ: Now by double daylight saving time, you mean another hour. . .

BS: Another hour, so spring forward in April, spring forward again in May, fall back the day before Labor Day, and fall back again in October. It would mean that from early May to Labor Day the clocks in Los Angeles would be the same as the clocks in Denver...

But energy really means two things here. Energy is the fuel that we burn to create electricity, and it is the capacity to turn a fuel into electricity. In every other energy crisis, the first was the problem. We wanted to burn less oil, and in World War I, less coal, in order to generate electricity.

At this point we do have the fuel. Our fuel here is natural gas, and we are being charged outrageous prices to bring that natural gas from Colorado or Texas to California. The price of the transportation of natural gas has gone up by a factor of 12. It costs more to move the natural gas than it does to buy the natural gas, which is why it sells for more than double here what it sells for there.

What's absurd is that federal law will not allow California to deal with this crisis. This is a small part of the to two percent savings. Keep in mind when we have these blackouts, we black out one to two percent of the state. So one or two percent of savings can be the difference between bad and very bad in terms of our electric supply.

The other area where the federal government ties our a much more significant area, and it's what I talked to the president about yesterday, and that is the need to have cost plus profit price regulation--sometimes called price caps--but really price regulation of the wholesale price of electricity...

California is prohibited from doing it. Federal law preempts us, and of course the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission insists that nothing be done.

MJ: So there is a bill already before the Congress to demand caps?

BS: Oh, yes, that is the big controversy in Washington...That's the number one thing. And the odd thing is that certain conservative Republicans have joined us because they're from San Diego. This energy crisis, as bad as it is for the rest of California, it hit San Diego six months sooner. So the political opinion in San Diego is six months more advanced...

MJ: So when will that come to a vote? Do you have any idea?

BS: The Republicans have it bottled up. They won't allow a vote. We did lose a vote in committee, when every Republican on the committee voted against us. We may not even be allowed to vote on it on the floor of the House...I'm not sure we'd win the vote. We lost in the committee. The White House is very strong against regulating the price. And the president himself, who I talked to yesterday, he believes that very high prices are very good.

MJ: And Governor Davis is meeting with him today--

BS: Twenty minutes! Twenty minutes!

MJ: I saw that. In and out. So as far as the environmental fallout of all this, too, I think that the people of Topanga are feeling this is being used as a ploy in order to allow things that are bad for the environment.

BS: Well, clearly. The worst example of this being used as a ploy is a proposal to drill in ANWAR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge]. Now this crisis is over in 18 months or a little longer. The first oil that could possibly come from ANWAR is over five years away. Second, we don't burn oil to produce electricity. So we could be swimming in oil, we could have oil all the way from the ground floor up here to the 10th floor, and it wouldn't help us generate any electricity.

Finally, there's a world price for oil that ANWAR will not affect. It's a significant amount of oil for the oil companies to go make a profit on, but it's not going to affect the world price of oil...

OPEC's responsible for 15 cents of the outrage down the street. The rest are the oil companies that buy the oil from OPEC, refine it and sell it to you. For some reason, they are now charging double or triple for that service than they were before. I don't know why.

MJ: Davis has actually finally come out and threatened the possibility of takeover of the generators. How do you feel about something like that?

BS: Well, if the federal government won't act and won't let us act the way we want to, then we may have to take extreme action. What's odd is California is deprived by federal law to regulate these plants, but we're allowed to seize them!

MJ: Now, about the budget and the tax bill that was just passed, do you think that that's going to break the budget? Do you think we'll be able to do any of the social programs we want to do down the line?

BS: I think the problem is that the tax bill that was just passed is not a complete tax bill. It's like somebody says they're on a diet, and you say, "Well, try to limit yourself at this meal to 900 calories." And somehow they say I'm going to do 1,350 calories. Or in this case $1.35 trillion. You say, "You know, that's bad. That's not good. That's not good for your health. But you're in control. Go do that." The Republicans have been in control--we don't take control of the Senate till June 5th, so they're in control--but then they go over to the buffet table, and instead of getting a well-balanced, stand-alone meal for the 1,350 calories, they get a collection of desserts and appetizers. And you say, "Hey, wait a minute. That's a bunch of desserts and appetizers. You're going to have a meal here."

"Oh, yes. It's not just going to be 1,350. I'm going back to the buffet to get a big entrée and to get soup and salad. That's all going to be extra!"

This tax bill looks like a collection of appetizers and desserts with no entrée. I'll give you an example. They talk about the estate tax being repealed. They have repealed it only for people who die in 2010.

MJ: It's phased in.

BS: And phased out. They have to die in 2010. I didn't say die after 2010, I said in 2010. You have 365 days to die. Is that a leap year, 2010? I don't think so. So the most important part of your estate planning team is Dr. Kevorkian, because you have to die in that calendar year. Prior to that year they provide relatively modest relief. And after that year they provide no relief whatsoever. So this is how they come in and say, "Well, this tax cut is only $1.3 trillion." The real cost of this thing is $4 trillion, in any logical way--$4 trillion over ten years...

This law was designed to be changed. They wanted $2 1/2 trillion in tax cuts. So they draw up a plan with $2 1/2 trillion, maybe $3 trillion in tax cuts, and they say, "OK, we'll pass paragraphs 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, in this bill, and it won't make any sense. And then we'll have another bill. We'll pass paragraphs 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, and then the whole package will make sense. The problem is Jeffords! They can't pass the second part. So they end up with a bill that doesn't make any sense by itself. They end up with a bill that gives relief in some code provisions, and then that relief is taken away by the other code provisions...

MJ: Well, I think a lot of people in Topanga, too, are worried about will we have the money left over for education, prescription drugs for seniors. . .

BS: The answer to that is that we will have some money for some things, unless there is an overwhelming push to put paragraphs 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 into the bill. This tax bill is more than we, is a bit more than we can afford. But it's so weirdly configured, it cries out for something else to be added. It is the cheese dip without the Doritos...

We bought the cheese dip, which we couldn't afford. And we certainly can't afford the Doritos. And nobody really intended to have us lickin' the stuff off our fingers. To have an estate tax bill that provides lots of relief but only if you die in 2010, not 2011, a bit of relief if you die in 2009, only a slight relief if you die this year or next year, that's crazy.

MJ: Are you for eliminating the estate tax?

BS: I'm for modifying the estate tax, providing some relief. I do not think that...the as-of-yet unborn children of the founder of Microsoft should get the whole company without paying an estate tax. I think they'll do just fine in life if they limit their inheritance to only $1 billion. And you know who agrees with me? Their grandfather who has written several op-eds saying that we should not repeal the estate tax. I do think that we need to exempt 99 percent of all families from the estate tax. We need to exempt families where the husband and wife together have only $4 or 5 million. Even then, if you have 6, so you pay a tax just on the last million. That I think makes some sense. Abolishing the estate tax altogether may change the nature of our society in a few generations. You may end up with a gentry, which was always our purpose not to have.

MJ: the lines of big-ticket items is the missile defense system, how do you stand on that?

BS: Missile defense--doing some research on it, waiting to the point where it really can be done and really can be done at a reasonable price.

MJ: Do you think that's anywhere near feasible at this point?

BS: No. It's not feasible now. The tests--they've rigged the tests to be too easy, and then they've failed the test. The real test is not one missile coming in, it's several. And it's not today's missile coming in, because everybody who has a missile now will add a few simple countermeasures that are designed to make it hard to shoot down the missile. Right now all the missiles that are out there were designed not to worry about being shot down. All you need is some tinfoil released by the missile, and that's low tech. It's one thing to hit a bullet with a bullet in outer space--that's tough. Having your missile discharge some tinfoil balloons is easier. And we've never even tried a test against countermeasures. The other thing to keep in mind. . .

MJ: But do you think there's really a need for it?

BS: Well, look. If it worked, if it was at a reasonable price, it would make us a little safer, but not much...

It is true that several countries are developing ballistic missiles, but all of these countries are also developing the ability to smuggle those weapons into our country. And if rogue states have nuclear weapons, the best missile system in the world is only going to provide a little bit of comfort...

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to smuggle a hundred pounds or a 200-pound 2-foot by 4-foot box into the United States.

MJ: Free trade--now I know you're an advocate of pretty open borders with trade.

BS: Now I'm a bit skeptical on the trade side...We had a huge trade deficit. And that could be the problem of the next decade. Right now it doesn't seem to be a problem. Well, I shouldn't say it isn't a problem-- it's a building problem. It just hasn't exploded yet.

MJ: I think there are some people, too, who worry about labor rights and environmental abuse as we open our borders.

BS: I think that a free trade agreement has got to deal with human rights and labor rights and the environment. We can't decide in advance exactly how those items are going to be dealt with, but it gives me tremendous pause when the administration comes to us, "We don't even want to mention the environment!"


Before he ran off for an omelet at Mo's and a CNN interview, Congressman Sherman spoke briefly of other matters. Of the Ahmanson Ranch development, which he's been fighting, he said, "We're doing everything possible to stop Ahmanson. We're up against tremendous forces. [Developer] Washington Mutual has powerful weapons. Our focus is on the Endangered Species Act and protecting the red-legged frog and the spineflower found there."

Sherman recently saw to it that the city of Calabasas received $500,000 in federal funds for a shuttle service that will run in and around Calabasas and over a canyon road to Pacific Coast Highway. "One could imagine a route that included...we could at least discuss if Calabasas might consider using Topanga" as its route to the coast, he said. But he temporized, saying Calabasas was probably planning to use one of the other canyon routes. When asked if Topanga might seek federal funds for its own shuttle service, Sherman said, because we are not an incorporated city, he would have to work with the County on any such project. "Calabasas is an incorporated city that came to us. I don't dream this stuff up."


Topanga Man Wins $3 Billion Judgment

By Michele Johnson

On June 6, Richard Boeken, from Topanga, was awarded $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in general damages by a Los Angeles County jury against Philip Morris tobacco company. He had charged the company with fraud, negligence and making a defective product. Boeken, 56, who suffers from lung cancer and related cancers, has had a Marlboro habit from the age of 13. Appearing on the "Today" show on June 7, he admitted he "was quite astounded" by the verdict. "I almost fell out of my chair actually."

The Associated Press reported that it was the largest jury award won by an individual against a cigarette maker, and it is the fourth such recent loss for the tobacco industry in California courts, making California what the Los Angeles Times called "a major legal stumbling block" for the industry.

Boeken reported that, although he managed to kick both alcohol and heroin in his lifetime, he couldn't kick the cigarette habit. When asked by Katie Couric on the "Today" show, "What lesson do you hope this will give your nine-year-old boy?" Boeken answered, "That there is justice in the United States and that he should never pick up a cigarette." Philip Morris vows to appeal.


Watershed Workings

By Rosi Dagit

On Thursday, May 24, a group of over 50 concerned residents gathered at the Topanga Watershed Committee meeting to learn more about water quality issues in the watershed. A flyer had been sent to all residents, asking questions to spark interest in this issue, and inviting everyone to learn more about ways our individual actions can make a real difference.

Introductions were led by Patricia Watts, who announced her new position as the Topanga Creek Education Coordinator. She will be working with local schools to develop watershed curricula and internship programs for middle and senior high school students. She will also be working with Rosi Dagit on the organizational logistics of the Watershed Committee. Her position is funded by a grant from the California Department of Conservation.

Steve Williams, Conservation Biologist at the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), then displayed the graphs he had produced using the total fecal coliform bacteria and E. coli data gathered during the two-year water quality study funded by a grant from the State Water Resources Board. From July 1999 to May 2001, Topanga Stream Team volunteers contributed over 1,000 hours to collecting monthly and weekly samples at 15 locations throughout the watershed. Many thanks to Dona Christiansen, Kevin and Gerlinda Gautry, Delmar Lathers, Julie Rosa, Penny Ward, and Steve Williams for their steadfast assistance. The results of their efforts have produced some reassuring, but cautionary facts.

Bacteria levels are of special interest, since high readings of fecal coliform bacteria and E. coli can be associated with increased human health risks. Both of these bacteria come from the waste products of warm-blooded animals, although it is difficult to say precisely which animals without further study. In addition to humans, dogs, horses and bird wastes can also contribute. The high total bacteria counts, of which only a small fraction are the fecal and E. coli, are probably due to the healthy soil microbial community supported by our natural streamside vegetation. Soil bacteria can exist in the millions per teaspoon, and are a key part of the natural decomposing processes. High total coliform counts combined with low subsets of fecal and E. coli appear to indicate that the system taken as a whole is fairly healthy.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that all is completely fine. Several locations in the watershed had fecal and E. coli levels that exceeded safe contact standards on a fairly regular basis. The problem sites are located behind the Topanga Market, at the Highvale Road culvert, at Falls Road and especially at Entrado Road. Nitrate levels were also higher at these locations, although they did not exceed the EPA limit of 10 parts per million (ppm), except at Entrado Rd. The combination of both bacteria and nitrate inputs strongly implicate human related sources, since the natural background levels are rarely both high at the same time.


Sources of contamination were discussed for each area. The ongoing problem with encampments behind Topanga Market, and the distance between where the guys hang out and the port o' potty sponsored by the Topanga Canyon Town Council is a real problem. Even the fencing has not reduced the use of the creek as a latrine. Both the Highvale and Falls Road locations seem to be impacted by nearby greywater lines, and on one occasion, a septic spill. There were several times when flows from pipes leading into the drainage were seen spewing sudsy water directly into the creek.

But the site of greatest concern is located at culvert 0.14 Entrado Road. This location catches all the runoff from the entire community of GlenView, as well as what comes downstream from Summit Valley Park. Because the drainage is so steep, with numerous homes immediately adjacent to the channels, the water flows too fast to allow enough natural filtration to take place. During the study, there were two motor oil spills and a paint spill reported in this location, in addition to the chronically high levels of all bacteria types, nitrates and occasionally phosphates as well. "This place is really gross. Compared to the other locations we visit, it is one of the worst," noted Stream Team Volunteer Julie Rosa. In addition to the obvious septic and greywater system inputs, corralled animal wastes were also discussed, including the major problem with dog feces, especially at Summit Valley Park. Littered like land mines along the trails, these piles do not get recycled into the system before they can cause problems downstream. Susan Nissman suggested that a poop bag dispenser be requested from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to remind lazy dog owners to clean up after their pets. Everyone loves having such a great place for the dogs to run, but the feces problem is really getting out of hand.

As the creek cascades down the slope from Entrado Road and meanders along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, sampling locations indicate that much of the bacteria present at Entrado is absorbed as it moves downstream. While this is encouraging, it does not mean we should ignore the problem. A concerted effort by the residents of GlenView to take a careful look at their systems and to correct any problems is still needed. There is no way to tell how close we are to overwhelming the system until it is too late.

Another interesting pattern found during the study compared the water quality at the bridge two miles upstream from the beach with beach data collected by Heal the Bay, and samples taken directly in the lagoon since November 2000. By the time everything from the upper watershed reaches the bridge, the water quality is quite fine, except following major storm events. This is probably due to the cleansing and filtering that takes place as the creek flows through the steep section of the narrows in Topanga State Park. The pattern at the beach is somewhat less encouraging.


When the lagoon entrance naturally closes during the dry weather, bacteria counts are low and the beach gets A+ ratings. Once the first storm causes the creek to break through the sand berm, and the lagoon water flushes into the ocean, the bacteria ratings soar. As long as the entrance between the lagoon and ocean remains open, the bacteria counts exceed safe contact limits. Sampling of the lagoon directly shows that bacteria levels in four out of six wet weather months exceeded safe contact standards. When you look at the levels at the bridge, they are low during this same time frame, except on two occasions when sampling took place during storm events. So it appears that the upper watershed problems are not directly related to what ends up at the beach. Instead, the problem is somewhere between when the water leaves the bridge and enters the ocean. Funding to continue the sampling at both the lagoon and the bridge through the rest of the water year (until December) has been obtained from the California Coastal Conservancy. By December we should have a better picture of the role played by the lagoon as a source of contaminates.


Shirley Birosik of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board then gave us an update on the regulations that affect septic and greywater systems. Individual residences have not been subject to permitting by the Regional Board, only by the County. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL's) reflect the levels of concentration allowed for any given parameter, like bacteria or nutrients. A lawsuit brought by Heal the Bay has forced the Regional Board to move forward to establish these standards for the Santa Monica Bay, which is in process. Topanga is not high up on the radar, so levels for our watershed are not expected until 2004-2005.

Steve Braeband of Biosolutions then discussed the possible implications of state bill AB885, which outlines refined regulations for individual residences by 2004. He noted that a study done by UC Chico found that every county had a different set of rules. The goal of the law is to provide consistent guidelines so that regular monitoring, waste discharge levels and risk assessment can be better managed.


Susan Nissman noted that the County is participating in a local Septic Task Force, and that data like that from Topanga has helped change the attitude towards septic systems. In fact, it appears that well functioning septic systems are much more environmentally sound than sewer plants with huge pipe discharges. The limitations for installing a functioning system are a real factor in controlling growth in the Santa Monica Mountains, where installation of a sewer system is neither feasible or desirable. The issue of alternative systems was also raised, but they are being reviewed by the County on a case by case basis at present. Composting toilets and other technologies are allowable under the present code, as long as there is also a functioning septic system as well.

The panel of experts then sprang into action, taking questions concerning basic care and feeding of septic and greywater systems. Steve Braeband noted that a common problem is systems that perk too fast, as when the effluent pours through cracks in the bedrock and moves too fast for any filtration. Local contractor and long-time Topanga resident Maurice Bourget then shared stories of problems he has encountered in the Canyon. Old homes often have minimal systems, installed in the 1920s to accommodate weekend cabins. Redwood boxes, unlined holes, pipes flowing directly into the creek have all been found. Today it is necessary to have your septic system inspected before you can sell your house, which makes for some endless sagas of drilling percolation holes, finding ones that work, and connecting the whole thing together. He recommended taking the time to find both the inlet and outlet risers for your tank, as well as the distribution box leading to your leach field or seepage pit, and making them accessible so that you not only know where your system is, but you can maintain it better.


Out of sight, out of mind is typically how we deal with septics. As long as they work, we just keep on flushing. Both Braeband and Bourget stressed that proper care can extend the life of a system, which is usually designed to last for between 20 and 40 years. Many systems in Topanga are much older than that, which is why the problems are becoming more and more common. A major cause of septic failures is leaky toilets or fixtures, which flood the system and destroy it. Another is when too much stuff gets put into the system at once, which can happen if you host a big party and everyone flushes! Kitchen sink debris, oils and hair are also difficult for the septics to digest.

Biological decomposition is the backbone of a septic system, so inputs of bleach and anti-bacterial soaps which kill off all the good guys who are munching away on the stuff in your tank is a big no-no. The old trick of flushing a packet of yeast down the toilet once a month, or using some of the biological enhancers, is not necessary unless you need to jumpstart the bacteria after a die off. Under normal conditions, there should be enough reproduction action without adding more spores. Tricia Watts had a display of septic-friendly cleaning products that work but don't upset the delicate balance in the septic tank. Samples of laundry soap, dishwater detergent, stain removers and lemons were on display.

One recommendation was to spend $40 to install an effluent filter in the outgoing T, between the tank and the drainage field or seepage pit. This device fits right inside and filters out suspended solids, preventing the seepage pit or leach field from clogging up. It is easy to install and requires only once a year backwashing into the tank. For more dire situations, there are filters available that are installed between the tank and the field which filter the effluent through fabric, bringing it almost to drinking water standards. These systems are about the size of a folding table and work really well on properties with restricted space for adding more pits.


With little time remaining, local resident and greywater specialist Andrew Rasmussen gave a brief overview of greywater issues. "The most important thing to remember is that the water should not daylight," noted Rasmussen. Connecting showers and washing machines to greywater systems, some as simple as a hose, is a time-honored Topanga tradition. Given the shortage of potable water, creative use of greywater is probably a good idea. It is possible to install a system legally, but the code basically requires a mini-septic system, complete with tanks, etc. With time running short, we agreed to address this issue more fully at a demonstration workshop, date to be announced. In the meantime, Oasis Greywater Guides are available through Real Goods or by calling Art Ludwig, guru of greywater systems at (800) 967-9956. For those who want local inspiration, check out Eco-Home in Los Feliz, where Julia Russell has a working system on display.

Last but not least, Gerry Haigh wanted to know what to use instead of Roundup to kill his poison oak! Use of herbicides and pesticides has been a long-standing concern in the community. Both Caltrans and Los Angeles County road maintenance crews stopped using these in the watershed years ago in response to community requests. Roundup is marketed heavily as "environmentally safe," but many concerns still remain about its long-term impacts, as well as short-term problems if kids and dogs are exposed. Rabyn Blake made an impassioned plea to encourage everyone to think long and hard before using these substances, either at home or in public spaces. A subcommittee on Invasive Plant management has been formed, and spirited discussions are in progress to devise a strategy for controlling invasive plants in our watershed. The next meeting will be on Monday, June 25 at 12:30 p.m. at the RCD office. All are welcome to participate.

Rabyn is organizing SCAT, the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics, and is hoping to influence any public uses of herbicides. This is in response to a proposal made by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to remove arundo (giant bamboo) from the creek channel in Lower Topanga. They will bring a plan to the subcommittee for discussion in the near future that will incorporate a variety of different strategies for removal.

So what to use instead if you can't live with the poison oak? Gail McTune is trying a product from Safer which she thinks looks promising. The old pull and dig technique is always successful, and some folks have even tried pouring boiling water on the roots to help speed up the process. In the end, there are no simple answers, and solutions will vary from location to location.

The next Watershed Committee meeting will be held on Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Topanga Elementary School Auditorium. The preliminary results of the Topanga Lagoon and Watershed Restoration Feasibility Study will be presented for discussion and the summary of changes to the recommendations of the Draft Watershed Management Plan will also be available for review.


HOPE Seeks Fruit Donations

HOPE (Helping Other People Eat), a community-based nonprofit organization, is working by means of direct action to eradicate hunger on the Westside.

HOPE would like to invite kind-hearted Topangans who have fruit trees (orange, lemon, peach, plum, nectarine, apricot, etc.), to donate a bushel or two of their fruit to feeding the homeless. A local (Topanga) HOPE volunteer is available to harvest the fruit at your convenience, or should you wish to harvest your own fruit, we will be happy to pick it up.

HOPE is sponsored by the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness. HOPE is the largest nonsectarian, nongovernmental food program on the Westside and it has the lowest overhead of all comparable groups. HOPE serves hot nutritious meals to over 200 homeless people every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon (4:00 p.m.) in Palisades Park at the end of Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica.

To make a fruit donation please phone: Paul Grymkowsky at (310) 455-3395 or e-mail: All donations are tax deductible.


Wylie's Bait, Reel Inn May Be Hooked by Parks


By Susan Chasen

It's still early Sunday morning at Wylie's Bait and Tackle when a fisherman pops in, breathless, after being dragged around the bay for an hour-and-a-half by a Thresher shark. Ultimately, the fish cut through and escaped, but the fisherman, just in for more supplies, was still hooked.

And so it is with many customers of Wylie's Bait shop. They are not going to let go easily of this tiny, 55-year-old institution. As they become aware that the anticipated purchase of Lower Topanga for a park could mean the loss of Wylie's, they are going to hang on. And like a great fish story, this little shop may grow much bigger before all is said and done.

"These people would go crazy," says Ginny, the owner of Wylie's for 40 years and the granddaughter of the original founders, Bill and Ruth Wylie.

"I don't see any advantage in them taking these businesses out. We all serve the community and we also serve the greater Los Angeles area. We have customers from all over."

For the time being, the urgency to clear business and residential tenants unusually quickly from Lower Topanga to facilitate an acquisition by the California Department of Parks and Recreation seems to have abated. But there is still no indication from State Parks officials or elected representatives of any positive interest in retaining any of the tenants. Rather, the questions at this point seem to center around timing.

Last year, the private American Land Conservancy announced that it was seeking to acquire the 1,659-acre Lower Topanga property from LAACO Ltd., the parent of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, in order to transfer it to State Parks. State Parks has sought this property for nearly 30 years, but complicating factors, including tenant issues and the escalating price, always got in the way. Now, State Parks has the $43 million purchase price and is expected to buy.

Initially when the prospective deal was announced, there was mention of the commercial strip being used for visitor services. There were also suggestions from State Parks that the fate of the businesses might depend on whether they were adding to water quality problems in the lagoon. However in April, each and every tenant received the same letter announcing the start of a relocation process.

"The whole thing has been so upsetting," said Ginny. "This is my livelihood. It's all of our adult lives that have been spent out here." She's forced to laugh when she thinks how old other people looked to her when she started in the business 40 years ago. "It makes us sound like we should be 80 years old," said Ginny. "But we were all young. I was just a teenager."

Ginny began working in the store as a child, coming out to visit her grandparents during the summer months. They had a large sporting goods store in Los Angeles that created the clientele for the little bait shop they opened in 1946. A tiny building was moved onto the site at that time and, with only minor modifications, has stayed almost the same ever since.

There is the old fisherman's net on the ceiling, the carved coconut heads, the stuffed frog quartet (not among Ginny's favorite items), and the fisherman's "crying towel" over the door. But beyond the comforting oldness of these things and the store's pleasantly singular purpose--the bait freezers, hooks of every size and purpose, lines and sinkers--there is another special quality. Especially in the cozy back room, there's a quality of things not being moved for years--unimportant things like old coffee cans or pens or useful things like storage bins and furniture chipped and splintered and then worn smooth again by time and use.

"It's all the way he left it," says Ginny, of her long-time partner Bob--the man many people called "Wylie," though it is actually her family name. Bob died in December at a time when she had been so involved with her parents' illnesses that she didn't see it coming. Even his old plaid flannel jacket still sits on his chair, Ginny points out. "I have to start yelling at customers," joked Ginny. "He was so crusty."

Ginny bought the business from her grandmother about 40 years ago and she lives in her grandparents' old house nearby on Old Malibu Road South, also on the LAACO property. So she is facing loss of her home and her business as part of the parkland deal.

Running the business has been difficult since Bob died. The hours are long and start early. On weekends she opens at 5:30 a.m. For the first time, she has had to close once a week to care for her ailing parents.

Ginny has not joined with the Lower Topanga Community Association efforts to preserve the businesses and to provide temporary residential leases until realistic plans are created for how the property will be used. However, she says she supports its goals.

"I will fight to stay and to keep my business," said Ginny, who found her lawyer from among her many concerned customers. "I've had a good life here and I expect to have many, many more good years." Ginny said she met with the relocation consultant working on the acquisition, but felt he saw how immovable her business would be, especially since they were constantly interrupted by long-time customers and friends and concerned phone calls.

"What are they going to use this section for?" asks Ginny. "The state will have all the rewards of the rent from these places. We won't cost them any money I don't think."

PHOTO BY Cy Berlenz

The abandoned gas station at Topanga and PCH.

The idea of leaving the property vacant for any period of time causes her great concern. She thinks it will leave it open to gang activity. Already, she says there are problems at night.

She also recalled the fiasco when the state was taking down the beach houses long after acquiring the beach property. Several fires, which Ginny believes were intentionally set, ultimately broke out over a very short period and in at least one instance might have been disastrous because of heavy winds. But crucial to Ginny's "staying power"--a phrase she is contemplating for a sign--are her many and varied customers. "It's like the old-time store," said Ginny. "Our customers, they're like friends."

The place is busy, too. One man comes in with his two young sons. The older one does all the talking for the family, until Ginny engages the father in Spanish. She tells him the Malibu Pier is open now for fishing and no permit is required. The bait goes out--anchovies, mackerel, bags of blood worms, "power bait." Movie composer Steve Gurevich, a Pacific Palisades resident who stops in to get supplies for his daily hour of fishing, says: "Without this bait shop, I don't know what I would do."

The 10 business owners and residents of 49 rental homes on the LAACO property have been asked to provide information for a relocation plan that was being developed for the American Land Conservancy. Now, according to several sources, ALC and State Parks are negotiating a transfer of the relocation contract to State Parks in response to tenant objections to ALC involvement in relocation. They argued the ALC is not directly answerable to the state Relocation Law because it is intended for public agencies.



The Reel Inn's owner, Andy Leonard, sees his restaurant as providing a necessary visitor service for a future park. And the same goes for the other restaurants--Something's Fishy and Cholada Thai restaurant--as well as several of the other businesses. "I can't believe they're going to make a better use of the little piece of property that the Reel Inn is on," said Leonard. Leonard has spent 14 years building up his business. He lives in Topanga with his family and so does his general manager Kim Ruge.

"The average restaurant doesn't last more than two years," said Leonard. "A restaurant is a very, very delicate thing. It's not like a gas station--you put it on the corner and it's fine." A restaurant that lasts for 14 years, says Leonard, is doing something right.

According to Leonard, it costs $500,000 to open a restaurant, far more than the $100,000 estimated compensation from the relocation company. Even if he found a new site that he liked, said Leonard, it probably wouldn't succeed because people are used to coming to the Reel Inn where it is.

"Perception is 70 percent of the game," said Leonard, who recalls customers at his Santa Monica Promenade Reel Inn incensed that it wasn't exactly the same as its predecessor on the Pacific Coast Highway.

The big question, according to Leonard, is why State Parks wants the property to be vacant. "We haven't really had the real discussion yet," said Leonard. "Nobody really has opened their mouth about what they really want. "I'm waiting for somebody to call me and tell me something that makes sense."

Leonard says he would like to see an Environmental Impact Report on the land use changes planned for the park. "I'd like to see the document that says it's OK to throw out 10 businesses and 50 residents in order to dredge out the lagoon."

Leonard says he was told the idea is to dig out under the PCH to restore wetlands, a project he predicts would be enormously expensive with major traffic impacts on the highway and impacts on the public beach. To clear the property in the short term would be "silly," says Leonard, because it would mean six or seven years of bushes, chain-link fence and graffiti instead of the Reel Inn.

"I just don't see the reality of them trying to clear everybody off." Instead, Leonard envisions a project like Old Town Calabasas with boardwalks linking the businesses. "It's sort of like our own tiny city," says Leonard. "This property is really all made out of the same fabric.

"I've built my entire existence on the Reel Inn. It'd be sad to see that come unwound because of something not clearly thought out."

Two other businesses that could be devastated by the park acquisition are the Topanga Ranch Market and Ginger Snips hair salon and spa.

Topanga Ranch Market owner Richard Jo bought the business less than two years ago and has been very shocked by the news of the proposed park deal and relocation plans.

"Everything is being done behind closed doors," said Jo. "The uncertainty itself is very stressful. But you've got to deal with it I guess." Jo's customers tell him they have been coming there for 20 to 30 years. He believes it was established 30 to 40 years ago at least. The arch over the entryway, behind the sign, shows one predecessor--the Rainbow Café.

Jo had plans to upgrade with new equipment and to put in a sandwich shop, but he says he's been marching in place since he learned of the proposed park acquisition.

The Community meeting hosted by California State Parks to discuss the new park has been postponed until mid-July. Check the next Messenger for the exact date.


Hearing Delayed on Wireless Clutter

By Susan Chasen

A hearing on new wireless equipment installations along Topanga Canyon Boulevard has again been postponed and is now scheduled for June 28 before the county Regional Planning Commission. For more information call (213) 974-6443.

Sprint PCS requested a second continuance at a May 9 hearing to allow further discussion of possible project impacts with Topanga community members. However, it is possible that there will still be a community-wide meeting on the project.

The equipment installations along Topanga Canyon Boulevard involve eight new sites currently being reviewed by the county and two sites in the city of Los Angeles.

Each site generally involves large microcell boxes and antennas mounted on telephone poles with adjoining ground-based power cabinets standing on concrete pads ranging in size from 15 to 24 square feet. One new pole is proposed for a site just south of Fernwood. Some of the equipment has already been installed, but additional installations have not been completed pending approvals from the county.


The project has raised concerns about proliferating clutter along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, about environmental impacts and about the wisdom of encouraging people to talk on cellphones while driving through the Canyon.

According to Sprint representatives, the new equipment is an upgrade both for cellphones and for wireless computer users. This raises the prospect that some drivers might even attempt other computer uses over their cellphones and handheld computers while driving.

Several Topanga and Sprint representatives met at the Resource Conservation District on May 7 to discuss the project. Sprint has voluntarily postponed two hearings before the Planning Commission to allow time to work with the community.

However, it is difficult to see room for meaningful compromise.

TASC chair Roger Pugliese said he will probably ask for a community meeting on the project. "I'm going to talk to them and say 'If this is some kind of fait accompli, then we need to have a community meeting,'" said Pugliese. "I myself am not going to make the decision by myself to say this is OK to do."

Pugliese, who was at the May meeting, said he was planning to meet again with Sprint representatives June 5 to visit the string of sites. Also expected to attend were Rosi Dagit of the RCD, Topanga Town Council President Dale Robinette and TASC boardmember David Totheroh.

"We have a lot of questions about this," said Pugliese. "This is a very big issue...I'm trying to discourage cellphone use in the Canyon. It's dangerous to be driving through the Canyon talking on a cellphone."

Pugliese cited examples of communities that have banned at least the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, while allowing headsets and speaker functions.

Pugliese also questions whether there are additional hazards created if a car hits a pole with wireless equipment.


His other key complaint is the precedents set with each successive wireless company's equipment, in turn ensuring approval of the next company's equipment.

"If we've got to get these things, why can't we incorporate them into one box?"

Although the state Public Utilities Commission ruled that wireless communications companies are not "public utilities," there is still debate over their entitlements to use public rights of way.

Currently, the county has land-use authority over the siting of these projects and is developing a Wireless Telecommunications Ordinance to create standards and review requirements. "Co-location" of equipment on the same poles is encouraged in the ordinance. However, wireless companies are still developing their own exclusive technologies to provide competitive services.

In this case, Sprint is seeking approval from the Planning Commission of a conditional use permit and a "negative declaration" establishing that an environmental impact report is not required for the project.

Jeffrey Seymour, a consultant working for Sprint on the project, said he has been pleased with the community's response so far.

"We're just basically trying to work together," said Seymour. "We're going to take a walk and look at each site...and see if we can come together."

Seymour said he has not arranged for a community meeting, but has been working with community leaders.

Pugliese, however, said he thinks a community meeting will be needed. If it can't be arranged before the next hearing June 28, he said he would ask for another continuance.

Sprint has agreed to move one site across the boulevard because of concerns raised by Cathy Bilsky of Angelite Om and Victoria Norwood of Topanga Hauling that the project and its frequent maintenance needs would block access to their businesses.

Seymour said the change will not require digging up the road. It can be done with special equipment that can excavate underneath without disrupting the street, he said.


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