Soka Expansion Blocked

A Los Angeles based panel of three judges of the California Court of Appeals earlier this week unanimously ordered the County of Los Angeles to set aside its approval of Soka University's plan to expand its institutional facilities on a 588.5-acre site in the heart of Malibu Canyon—"an ecologically sensitive coastal area. . .encompass[ing] parts of a major wildlife corridor," as the Court pointed out in its 49-page written opinion.

VOL.25 NO. 16
August 9 - 22, 2001


After more than four years of hard-fought legal proceedings led by Frank Angel, also attorney for the tenants in Lower Canyon, and initiated by the Sierra Club, Save Open Space Santa Monica Mountains and the Monte Nido Valley Community Association, challenging the County Board of Supervisors' approval of Soka's expansion project, the Court of Appeal reversed a trial County judgment dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit. Agreeing with plaintiffs that the County Supervisors' actions violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the State Planning and Zoning Law, the Court of Appeal directed the trial judge to order the Supervisors to vacate the certification of the environmental impact report (EIR) prepared for Soka's project. The appellate court further ordered that all coastal land use plan amendments, zoning changes and discretionary permits for the project be vacated.

The project proposed the first high-density urban development in one of the most scenic rural valleys of the Santa Monica Mountains. "We are delighted with the outcome," said Isabel Snyder, a director of Save Open Space Santa Monica Mountains. "The rule of law and grassroots vision have finally triumphed over Soka's political influence and money."

The Court ordered all future project activities enjoined until the County fully complies with CEQA.


Flood Aid Available

By Susan Chasen

An infrastructure consultant hired by Los Angeles County to help reduce flood hazards for Topanga residents and damage claims spoke at the July 26 Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and bemoaned an almost complete lack of response from Topanga's "repeated-loss property" owners.

Lan Weber, Vice President of Tetra Tech, Inc., explained that her company was hired to help people--especially newer residents and renters who sometimes are not aware of the flood risk on their properties--by offering advice and free engineering with no strings attached.

She said none of the 11 residents or owners of Topanga's properties identified by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as "repeated-loss properties" have attended the three scheduled meetings at the Community House.

Weber learned at the Watershed meeting, however, that the Watershed Committee owes its existence largely to local fears arising from past County floodway management efforts. These efforts threatened, for example, to make it impossible to rebuild after a flood and generally treated many long-standing creekside homes as mistakes.

The Watershed Committee was formed to establish voluntary measures that would reduce flood hazards as well as protect sensitive riparian habitat.

Weber reassured the small group of about 20 at the meeting that her project is also voluntary. She explained that her company will submit its Floodplain Management Plan to the Board of Supervisors in October with recommendations, but that it will not in itself have any regulatory implications. The purpose of the plan, she explained, is to meet County requirements under the National Flood Insurance Program to assist properties which have filed two or more claims since 1980.

"There are people who do not even know the fundamental hazard," said Weber. "Awareness is the most important part. . . .Without knowledge, they can be really in danger."

Of the 11 Topanga properties with two or more flood damage claims since 1980, one had five claims and most had more than two. Going back to the earliest claim date listed, 1969, the breakdown includes two homes with five claims, three with four and one with three.

Specific addresses are kept confidential by Tetra Tech, however Weber said about half the properties are in the upper watershed and half in the Rodeo Grounds area.

Asked if LAACO Ltd., which owns the Rodeo Grounds properties, had participated since the project began in January, she said the company's response was that it was not interested. So far, she said, no one has responded to notification, but two or three residents who were home when site visits were made were interested and willing to talk.

"Sometimes minor modifications or improvements can avoid significant damage," said Weber. Also, she cautioned that some hazards, such as on one property on Cheney Drive, are not obvious and may not have been disclosed to buyers. Tetra Tech looks at sources of inundation from storm drains or creeks or erosion from hillsides and provides engineering service and cost-benefits analysis.

Generally, she said her company begins with the "repeated-loss properties" and these residents in turn bring in neighbors who may not have filed claims but have similar problems. Other concerned residents are also encouraged to contact Tetra Tech at (949) 250-6788 or Geoffrey Owu with the County Public Works Watershed Management Division at (626) 458-4317.

Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, described a situation in Malibou Lake where Tetra Tech has had enthusiastic response in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying 75 percent of the cost to elevate the houses.

Owu with the County Watershed Management Division, who introduced Weber and the program, denied a suggestion that FEMA was contemplating a limitation on the number of repeated claims that will be allowed.

However, he cautioned that the agency may have to draw a line somewhere and said he was disappointed that no one attended the local meetings. "We were disappointed," said Owu. "We want to meet with you." At Nissman's suggestion, Owu and Weber agreed to contact T-CEP for assistance in getting the community's attention.


In other matters at the Watershed meeting, Resource Conservation District Senior Biologist Rosi Dagit announced the release of the two-year Topanga Creek Watershed Water Quality Study final report, available on the committee website or for $5 at the Resource Conservation District. "We haven't crossed the point of no return in our creek," said Dagit. "Overall it was a very pretty picture."

At the same time, she noted there are hotspots for certain contaminants, particularly those harmful to amphibians. However, Topanga currently is still home to "a huge suite of amphibians" and they are well distributed, said Dagit.

Currently, Dagit said additional funding is being sought to further examine sources of high bacteria counts and to further identify the bacteria for human and habitat health impacts.

Dagit also announced that the steelhead trout survey is underway, with five adults found and 111 young. Incidental observations have included several other unexpected species including endangered Tidewater gobies. The survey is provided by a $92,000 grant from the California Department of Fish and Game.

A detailed survey of water-flow conditions from the coast to the Center was also made, Dagit explained, to determine ways to enhance the steelhead habitat. Currently, she said the fish are stranded by various barriers such as landslides and arundo which she said dries out the streambed.


Funding is also anticipated for a Western pond turtle study in the fall which will involve radio-tagging Topanga turtles. Dagit said blinds will be set up for anyone interested in making observations for the study. Observers may help to reveal the nature of the turtles' sleeping habits, which, according to Dagit, are not well understood. They don't seem to sleep much, she said.

Other items discussed included the implications of expanding the Significant Ecological Area designation to cover 95 percent of the Santa Monica Mountains currently being considered by the County, and whether to incorporate these into the revised Topanga Watershed Management Plan.

Dagit said the County's new document on the SEAs, available on the Department of Regional Planning website and in the RCD library, make interesting reading and place Topanga's unique environmental values in the context of the Santa Monica Mountains as a whole.

Also, there will be a Hazardous Waste roundup in Topanga on November 3.

Discussion of controversial road plans for Kerry Lane was dropped from the agenda because several interested parties could not attend.

A special meeting on Wednesday, September 12 at 6 p.m. was set for format brainstorming on the final re-write of the Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan.


A meeting of the Watershed Subcommittee on Invasive Plants will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, August 27 at the Resource Conservation District. The subject has generated a lot of interest, especially among those seeking to block use of herbicides in watershed improvement projects. The newly-formed Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics, like similar organizations throughout the state, is concerned about the role chemical companies like Monsanto are playing in financing eradication efforts in other communities.

Nissman announced the first meeting, on Wednesday, August 1, of the County's newly-established Weed Management Area committee that will also address concerns about invasive plants and issues such as nurseries that sell these plants as ornamentals.

RCD Education Coordinator Tricia Watts announced a Watershed Assistance Grant of $5,000 for a two-day conference in February titled "Home Away from Home--Non-natives in Topanga" to educate the community about invasive plant impacts on native habitats.

Watts has also proposed an adoption-style program for removing invasive plants from the watershed. First, she plans to involve middle and high school students in a program to map areas where plants such as arundo are creating problems.

The next Watershed Committee meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, September 20 in the Top O' Topanga library.


Legion Installs Officers


New Legion officers are sworn in. Left to right are Wally Blaufuss, David (Blackie) Lamoreaux, Norman Karlin, Judy Bell, Bill Rhodes and Commander Jon Swenson. (Not pictured--John Stehelin and John Penner.)

By Tony Morris

Long-time Topangan John Penner is First Vice-Commander.

In July, American Legion Post 796 met at Froggy's Restaurant to install officers for the coming year. Judy Bell served as official "Master of Ceremonies" for the installation. Bell, a WAVE in World War II, welcomed members of the post and a number of visiting members from other posts. She called the meeting to order and presided over the installation of officers for the year 2002. Serving as officers are: Commander, Jon Swenson; First Vice-Commander, John Penner; Second Vice-Commander, Bill Rhodes; Adjutant and Finance Officer, Judy Bell; Chaplain, Harry Yardley; Historian, Norman Karlin; Judge Advocate, Judy Bell; Sergeant-At-Arms, Norman Karlin; Assistant Sergeant-At-Arms, David Lamoreaux; Service Officer, John Stehelin; Executive Board member, Wally Blaufuss. The assembled members celebrated the occasion with Froggy's Fish Restaurant cuisine and had a grand time meeting and sharing stories with one another.

American Legion Post 796 was chartered in 1951 as Topanga Canyon Post 796 and Auxiliary in the 24th District. Post 796 continues to hold its meetings at Froggy's Fish Market Restaurant.


Town Meeting on Traffic

Did you give your views concerning the proposals to avoid traffic gridlock at the Center to the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Traffic Committee before the August 8 deadline?

Well, whether you did or not, you can be part of the process to choose which traffic solutions we'll embrace. Come to a town meeting on the subject sponsored by the Town Council and the Traffic Committee on Wednesday, August 15 at 7 p.m. at the Community House, 1440 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, to discuss the poll results.


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