New Editor

The Messenger is very pleased to welcome Susan Chasen as our new Editor. Susan has been a news reporter for the past four years and has done an outstanding job covering Lower Topanga and many issues concerning the Santa Monica Mountains. Susan has a strong newspaper background as a former staff reporter for The Enterprise, in Simi Valley, covering the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and environmental issues. Susan has been assisting Bonnie McCourt for the past four issues of the Messenger and was responsible for one of our most popular issues: Topanga USA. Susan lives in Topanga with her husband Dan Mazur and daughter Rebecca and continues to be a very valuable member of our reporting staff.

Bonnie McCourt will remain on staff as our Production Manager and Editor of We thank Bonnie for being our interim Editor for the past four issues and are looking forward to the next 25 years of publishing.

--Mary Colvig
--Ian Brodie

VOL.25 NO. 21
October 18 - 31, 2001



Creek Cleanup, Ew, Topanga!

The Offal Truth About Our Watershed


From left, Jessamyn Sheldon, Ed Gutentag, and the Batemans--Chuck, Gracie, Sally Laura and Annie--were among 30 volunteers who pulled everything from human waste to toxic waste from Topanga Creek during a semi-annual creek cleanup day.

By Rosi Dagit

What do you get when you combine 30 enthusiastic volunteers, four pickup trucks, one State Park stakebed truck and piles of crap in the Creek? At least two tons of trash! On Saturday, September 29, these dedicated Topangans spent their morning cleaning up at three locations in the watershed, focusing on areas in the State Park. The good news is that, because of their hard work, the creek is in better shape to receive the coming winter rains. The bad news is that the area behind the Topanga Market was still as bad as ever, and we weren't able to get to all the places where trash has collected.

Because it is hard to keep the lids down on the dumpsters when they are filled to capacity, ravens and other critters have a field day spreading trash all over the creek. But the real problem is with the homeless encampments and other folks who use the creek as an outdoor latrine. "In one spot it was so bad that I wouldn't let my kids near it," lamented Laura Bateman. The Bateman kids however, did do a great job picking up the less toxic junk scattered all around. Sara Coatts, Woody Hastings, Steve Williams, Ken Keitzer, Tricia Watts and Chuck Bateman did their best to pick up the crap, but it was pretty disgusting. "This is completely unacceptable," commented Hastings. "We come back to this spot twice each year because it is always a mess. It's one thing to have to pick up trash blown out of the dumpsters, it's another to pick up human feces. There has to be a solution to this soon. It is a health hazard to us all."

The port-a-potty provided by the Topanga Creek Town Council is obviously not getting enough use in its present location hidden in the bushes by the Post Office. The recently completed Topanga Creek Watershed Water Quality Study found that this location had chronically high levels of fecal bacteria, and feces from the creekside latrine has been cleaned up at each of our eight creek clean-up events. Both property owner Joe Gerson and Dale Robinette of the Town Council have been contacted to try and devise a solution to this serious ongoing problem. In the meantime, the team filled a pickup truck with numerous trash bags full of human waste, used toilet paper, beer bottles, empty gallon jugs of lacquer thinner and assorted mattresses and chairs.

On a mission, this intrepid team then continued on to Old Topanga Canyon to remove the remains of a homeless encampment located near the Backbone Trail. Messy campers left two truckloads of assorted debris behind to be washed into the creek during the winter rains. It took real teamwork to haul all the debris up to the road for disposal.

Another team headed down to an uninhabited house within the new addition in the State Park to Lower Topanga. There were piles of nasty stuff precariously perched on a rickety shed overhanging the creek. Filthy old clothing and bags of beer bottles and cigarette butts were also found. Students Annabel Simer, Cody Wheeland, and Brian and Kevin Gautrey were assisted by John Simons, Marti Witter, Phil Lebovitz and Dennis King in dismantling the least stable parts of the outbuildings so that, when the rain comes this winter, nothing harmful will be carried down to Topanga Beach. Local teacher Marty Langham worked with students Gabriel Seelig, Eli Brown, Ezekiel and Finnian Reed and their parents, Doug Seelig, Justine Lewis and Kevin Reed to pick up all kinds of loose trash, including an old bike that they found in the creek when they went to look for frogs.

Pile after pile of construction debris containing all kinds of hazardous materials have been dumped behind the fence at these unoccupied houses. "This is too big a job for the volunteers," noted Ranger Greg Nelson. "We will be bringing in a skip loader and dump truck to clean this up in the next week or so." But he noted that a long-term solution will be needed to make sure that no further dumping takes place. Trash control is but one part of the management issues facing State Parks as they take over ownership of Lower Topanga.

While it was very heartening to see the truckloads of paint thinner and transmission fluids removed from alongside the creek, the volunteers were frustrated that they had been left there in the first place. "We need to keep careful watch to make sure that this doesn't continue to happen," said Kevin Reed, local Topanga leader of Trout Unlimited, a nationwide trout conservation organization. If you see any trucks unloading along the road, take down the license plate number and call the sheriff or rangers immediately to report it.

Trash control is only one aspect of keeping Topanga Creek clean enough to support all the exploring kids, frogs, newts and fish, but it is a task that can succeed if we each take part. Each spring and fall for the last four years, volunteers have had to pull between two and five tons of trash from the creek at the same locations. Not to mention 20 wrecked cars and 17 loads of debris from the steep narrow section of the creek. It's time to clean up our act!

Be sure that your trash can lids are secured tightly. Tie up those newspapers! Even if you live way up the hill, your trash will eventually make its way to the creek. Put aside your hazardous materials for the roundup that will be held on Saturday, November 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Topanga Elementary School. Dispose of used motor oil and batteries properly. Talk to business owners if you see dumpsters bulging and the lids open. Mark your calendar for the next Creek Clean-Up on Earth Day in April. Together, we can really make a difference.


Firehawks Fly


County's new Firehawk helicopter demonstrates how it takes up water for fighting fires.

By Tony Morris

The Los Angeles County Fire Department unveiled the County's new Firehawk helicopters at a press conference held at the Hansen Dam Recreation area on October 5. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman hailed the two new Sikorsky-built helicopters as significantly expanding the Department's aerial fire protection abilities in the urban/wildland interface areas.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky remarked that Los Angeles County "pioneered firefighting from the air over a half century ago." He said the two new helicopters have taken the County's capability to it highest level. The supervisor observed, "The Fire Department has the capability to fight fires, move people who are injured, carry 13 crew members and three trauma patients," said Zev.

Freeman said the Fire Department has made "a quantum leap, thanks to the Air Operations staff and the cooperation of Sikorsky in designing cutting edge technologies" such as the Firehawk's water tank and 12-foot retractable snorkel which permits loading of 1,000 gallons of water in under a minute. Freeman said the $25 million spent on the two new Firehawks includes parts and training. They will replace three older helicopters.

According to chief pilot Lee Benson the Firehawks are night vision goggle-NVG-compatible. Should a wildfire break out at night in Topanga, County Fire Department Firehawks could be deployed to fight the wildfire.

The Firehawk helicopters acquired by Los Angeles County were developed in response to the disastrous wildfire of 1993. The Los Angeles County Fire Department was looking for a larger helicopter with greater water dropping capacity in order to stop wildfires rapidly. After specific requirements were determined, the Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter was chosen. In 1995 Sikorsky was asked to undertake the design and development of a prototype multi-mission helicopter.

The Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter, in continuous production for 25 years, was used by the County Fire Department in 1998 for testing of a Firehawk prototype. Development of the Firehawk was aided by the Civilian Research and Development Act, passed by Congress, which permits civilian organizations to work with the U.S. military to develop commercial uses for government equipment.


Creating a Vision for Lower Topanga

House at 3914 Topanga Lane in Lower Topanga is boarded up after a resident moved out August 30--the day State Parks acquired the 1,659-acre property for a new park. But most residents haven't found comparable homes to move in to.

By Susan Chasen

The community's first opportunity to make suggestions on future use of the new Lower Topanga state parkland will be on October 20 beginning at noon at Topanga Elementary School.

Currently, there are numerous ideas circulating among public agencies and interest groups and some of them might conflict with each other.

There's Gov. Gray Davis' basis for acquiring the $43 million property--to meet "park-starved" Los Angeles' recreational needs. There's a proposed visitor center fronting on Pacific Coast Highway. And there is a $210,000 study already underway on the feasibility of an expansive lagoon and highway reconstruction project, with another $150,000 going to related studies on erosion problems and steelhead trout habitat.

Meanwhile, Lower Topanga residents report that State Parks' historians are finding interesting material about the community's early prominence as a Hollywood outpost that might support adding historical preservation into the mix. And Parks officials are already considering retaining some of the longtime businesses on the property.

This meeting will piggyback on a previously scheduled 10 a.m. "State of the Watershed" meeting sponsored by the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee. Assemblywoman Fran Pavley will open the watershed meeting and presentations from about 25 community groups and public agencies will follow.

Although State Parks was pleased to be invited to participate and get ideas, the meeting is not intended to satisfy any public meeting requirement of the planning process, according to Brenda McMillan, a resource ecologist with the California Department of Parks and Recreation Southern Service Center in San Diego.

"This is not our public meeting," said McMillan. At this point, she said, State Parks planners are still compiling data for an Interim Management Plan, to be completed in December.

Lower Topanga Canyon--a 1,659-acre property extending from the coast to the existing Topanga State Park boundary in Fernwood--was acquired in August.

Eventually a General Management Plan, providing ample opportunity for public input, will be developed. But that process can take several years. The Interim Management Plan is intended as a stopgap measure and, according to State Parks officials, will avoid irreversible decisions on the use of the property.

According to McMillan, however, it is expected to provide guidance in determining what will be possible and where State Parks is headed in the future.

Since the acquisition, a few Lower Topanga residential tenants have been able to move from the property in anticipation of relocation and rental compensation funds. A few others are preparing to move, once relocation monies become available.

However, according to 21-year Rodeo Grounds resident Bernt Capra, there are about 30 residents who feel the current deadline of July 1 for relocation is unrealistic.

Capra also contends that the lengthy hearing on the acquisition in June was a "sham" because many people testified in support of gradual relocation of residents or even leaving it to the forces of attrition to avoid needless human impacts in pursuit of long-range environmental goals.

But these voices are being ignored, says Capra, as political and agency officials continue to favor a July 1 deadline. He and others who wish to stay are hoping for at least three more years so they can try to buy some land and rebuild a part of the community the park is displacing.

"It is so unnecessary to hasten the demise of this community," said Capra. "We just don't have any political weight. Nobody likes us. Maybe a judge and a jury will be more sympathetic to our position."

According to Capra, the residents will go to court if necessary to assure a fair relocation timeline.

Clearing the houses in Lower Topanga, as well as proposals to remove non-native trees that comprise the majority of the trees in the residential area, said Capra, are irreversible decisions and should be reviewed in an Environmental Impact Report--especially if they are preparations for a larger lagoon expansion project.

In an October 1 letter, Capra and his neighbor Dan Hassid appealed to State Senator Sheila Kuehl to follow through on her promise to find a middle ground between the State Parks' desire to move quickly and the residents need for more time to fine new homes.

But in an interview with the Messenger, Kuehl said she thinks the July 1 deadline represents that compromise.

She said she agreed to "push for sometime at least a year away" at a meeting with residents in May.

"From my point of view, that is what happened," said Kuehl. "I don't believe there's a right time in the minds of the tenants, except for longer."

She said she apologizes if she gave a different impression, but that she and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley worked to assure the tenants would be treated fairly and for a six-month extension on the relocation deadline.

Now, she said she is convinced that some work needs to be done on the property, though she did not specify what the intended project is.

"It's not the kind of work that can be done with the structures in place," she said. "This has got to start sometime."

While she expressed sympathy for the tenants who love living in Lower Topanga, she said: "It's a public park now...I have lots of constituents looking forward to this park too."

Capra, who speaks for the Lower Topanga Community Association, countered that there was no six-month extension because State Parks could not have satisfied state relocation law requirements by the previously proposed deadline of December 2001.

In fact, there still is no relocation plan.

According to Barry McDaniel, vice president of Pacific Relocation Consultants (PRC), the plan will probably be completed in November. Then, there is a 30-day public review period, before it goes to the state General Services Agency for approval.

Also, according to McDaniel, PRC does not yet have a contract for an implementation phase of the relocation. He has explained previously that implementation also involves revisions to the plan because specific housing used for estimates in the plan may no longer be available.

These factors, combined with a 90-day notice requirement for tenants once everything else is completed, suggest the July 1 deadline for relocation may not represent any real extension arising from tenant appeals or hearing testimony.

According to Capra, PRC representatives have said it will not be possible to move everyone by July 1. He said the relocation plan itself is supposed to create a timeline based on availability of genuinely comparable housing. State Parks' old plan for the same acquisition and relocation in 1974, though it didn't go forward, calls for phasing people out over five years, he said.

"Every now and then houses become available and you move people out," said Capra.

Another issue which Lower Topanga tenants anticipated is the problem of vandalism, illegal dumping and encampment on the uninhabited areas of the property.

The recent Topanga Creek cleanup effort sponsored by the Topanga Watershed Committee discovered filthy areas with hazardous waste, debris and human waste in the northern, remote sections of Lower Topanga as well as behind the Topanga Center.

These problems, according to Lower Topanga residents, may only worsen as the residents are relocated and may require fencing of the property.

PRC is also handling management of the property. McDaniel said there will be daily inspection of the property but so far State Parks has not provided funds to clean up what they find.

Already, since the September 23 creek cleanup, another load of debris has reportedly been dumped.


Dog Ranch Update

The Regional Planning Commission has rescheduled the hearing regarding Joe Timko and Randy Neece's request for a zone change from Light Agriculture to Heavy Agriculture and a Conditional Use Permit. The zone change and permit would legalize their dog training and kennel business, Canyon View Ranch, to the chagrin of several of their neighbors who complain about such issues as traffic and environmental degradation. Although the second hearing was to occur on October 10, a 60-day continuance was requested by Neece and Timko.

The Commission office reported that Neece and Timko would like to iron out some issues regarding access to their facility and that the Commission's office is still looking into whether Neece and Timko are complying with the clean hands waiver they are now temporarily operating under. Under this waiver they are only allowed to have 10 dogs overnight, although they admit that for economic reasons they have had to operate with 30. The hearing has been rescheduled to January 16, 2002.


School Raises Cash for NYC Firefighters


Topanga's firefighters display check for NYC firefighters relief fund, flanked by (far left) Mrs. Ann Matsuyama and her kindergartners and interim principal Mr. Gerald Dodge, far right.

Children from Topanga Elementary School donated spare change and their piggy bank savings for firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attack September 11. Students from all classes, along with parents and local businesses, made generous donations totaling $1,794 which were presented to local firefighters on October 5 on behalf of the New York City firefighters.

One first grader, Isobel McHattie, held a sidewalk lemonade and cookie sale and raised $93.

The children clapped and cheered when the firefighters arrived in their red firetruck to accept their giant yellow check. Student council president, fifth-grader Dani Dayani, worked with parent Erica Phillips Chough and teacher Amy Weisberg to organize the event and present the check at the Friday morning assembly.

Students also prepared cards and drawings for the firefighters' cause. One envelope read, "We won't forget."

The teachers and staff are to be thanked for their efforts to amass the hundreds in dollars, pennies, nickels and dimes collected on a daily basis. The entire proceeds will go to the Fire Department of New York Disaster Fund set up by Local 1014 to benefit families and survivors of the tragedy.


Calmont School Turns 25

Continuing its long-held tradition of creativity and educational excellence, Calmont School is having a year-long 25th anniversary celebration. The celebration, continuing through the spring, will serve to reintroduce Calmont's unique learning environment to local communities and will showcase the school's varied accomplishments.

"Remarkably, Calmont is still somewhat of a well-kept secret to local families," said Calmont director Judy Chamberlain. "We hope to remedy that with a series of events, open to the public, that will reintroduce the school, our fine faculty, and the high level of academic and artistic student achievement to the community."

Open houses are scheduled for Tuesday, October 16 from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Thursday, November 8, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and Wednesday, December 12, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Located in the heart of Topanga Canyon, Calmont is a co-ed day program serving pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The campus covers 29 rustic acres and features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, fields, athletic courts, science lab, library, art studio, outdoor performing arts stage, and spectacular hiking trails to natural lakes in an ecologically diverse wonderland.

Calmont stresses independent thinking in its students and an integrated approach to education. For example, students collect clay from the local terrain as part of the school's environmental science program and then use the clay in the school's pottery lab. In June, Calmont Lower School students present original illustrated stories at the annual Young Authors' Fair and, at the Middle School Learning Convention students exhibit group projects researched over three months across the disciplines.

For more information please contact Lisa Rosen at (310) 455-3725.


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