Herbicides: Who Decides?

New Local Group Hosts Meeting on Alternatives to Chemical Agents in Watershed


Goats trained to eat particular plants were among the herbicide-free alternatives for weed management discussed at "Why Poison?" sponsored by the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics.

By Susan Chasen

If goats can roam downtown Denver clearing weeds from public rights of way, surely earth-loving Topanga can find an alternative to potentially harmful herbicides for dealing with invasive plants in the watershed.

VOL.25 NO. 24
November 29 - December 12, 2001


This was the sentiment expressed after a lively presentation titled "Why Poison?" November 8 at Topanga Elementary School on the hazards of chemical pest and plant control agents in our environment.

About 75 local residents turned out to hear three speakers who were invited by the recently formed Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics. Each speaker addressed different aspects of the herbicides issue--concerns about accumulation of these heavily used chemicals in the environment, health risks and practical alternatives for weed management.

Ideas included bringing in goats trained to eat particular plants; scorching unwanted plants and use of a surprisingly simple leverage tool called a weed wrench that can pull up plants several inches in diameter. These suggestions generated enthusiasm for creating a demonstration project in Topanga to prove invasive plants can be controlled without herbicides.

The evening, organized by SCAT founders Rabyn Blake and Steve Hoye, brought some fresh air to a local debate which had reached a stalemate between two local environmentalist factions--those against herbicide use with mixed feelings about extreme goals for eradicating non-native plants, and those who believe herbicides are a lesser evil in the fight against invasive and non-native plants.

In Malibu Canyon, eradication and restoration efforts have already employed herbicides. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was expecting a $180,000 grant to remove the giant reed, Arundo donax and non-natives in Lower Topanga using herbicides, but that effort was postponed until a community consensus can be reached on the project. Arundo is believed to disturb the natural riparian ecosystem, displacing native plants and habitat.

Chemical Mixology

The first speaker of the evening, Susan Kegley, Ph.D., is a staff scientist with the Pesticides Action Network (PAN) in San Francisco. She focused on the massive problem of pesticide use, especially in agricultural and urban areas of California.

"In California, pesticides are the toxics problem, not industry," she said.

According to Kegley, 200 million pounds of chemical pesticides and herbicides are poured into our environment annually and they don't stay put.

Some people don't even know they are using them, she said. For example, she said, common "weed and feed" products used for almost all turf contain herbicides.

While short-term toxicity may vary in character and severity among the 900 active ingredients being used, the impact of the chemical "cocktail" of these agents combined is perhaps the greatest concern, she explained.

"No one has any idea what the effect of this is. Studies don't take into account multiple exposures," she said. Whether we know it or not, she said: "We are being exposed."

Some people were interested primarily in hearing about glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup product contemplated for use in Topanga, but Kegley said there is unfortunately limited information available apart from industry-sponsored studies. While glyphosate is thought to have a relatively low acute toxicity, it is by far the most widely used herbicide, with 4.1 million pounds of it applied in California in 1995.

Kegley did cite some troubling recent findings from Sweden that suggest a link between glyphosate and increases in non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She said data concerning persistence of glyphosate in the environment varies widely depending on numerous factors such as soil type and exposure to light.

Its "half-life," during which half of it will breakdown, is estimated to be between one day and half a year, but that doesn't mean much, she explained, because it is used so continuously.

Generally, she said, water quality studies, as in Topanga, do not measure for pesticides and herbicides or other chemical contaminants. Even when these studies are done, glyphosate is often not included because it requires a more difficult and costly analysis, she said.

"Glyphosate is the highest use pesticide in California, and they don't monitor for it. We are missing a lot of information," she said. "If it's being used, it gets into the watershed."

According to PAN's published data, glyphosate's acute toxicity level is rated as low to moderate for birds and aquatic invertebrates. But Kegley said it is highly soluble in water and is believed to be highly toxic to aquatic plants, raising concerns about secondary impacts up the food chain.

"Better Safe than Sorry"

Dr. Kirk Murphy, with Physicians for Social Responsibility and UCLA School of Medicine, took up where Kegley left off, advocating a "precautionary principle" when it comes to pesticides and herbicides. The "precautionary principle" turns the tables on chemical companies and their safety claims, favoring a "better safe than sorry" approach over "innocent until proven guilty."

Murphy explained that the disruption of life processes that make pesticides and herbicides effective in killing bugs and plants inevitably have a corollary in human biological processes.

"The majority of bio-cidal agents have the capacity to disrupt our own systems as well," he said, because they are designed to block communication from one part of a living system to another.

Glycine, which Murphy said gives "glyphosate" its name, is one of three essential neurotransmitters in the body.

"There's not a cell in your body that doesn't depend on these three chemicals," he said.

He suggested that neurological impacts and inconsistency of brain function--seen in Parkinson's disease and possibly in Attention Deficit Disorder--may be linked to bio-cide exposure. In one case of a single accidental exposure to glyphosate, he said, a man who sprayed himself contracted a Parkinson's-like form of neural degeneration.

Since the 1980s when government funding of academic studies was cut in favor of industry grants, scientists, he said, have become "prostitutes in white coats" who do inadequate research to support industry findings.

"It is so easy to rig a study," said Murphy.

According to the "precautionary principle," moratoriums and prohibitions should be adopted "when an activity raises a threat of serious harm to human health or the environment," even if the causal link hasn't been proven or is weak.

This way, he explained, the unwitting public does not become de facto guinea pigs in chemical experiments with recourse only after serious harm is done.

Weed the People...

In concluding, Murphy took off his sweater to reveal his "EarthFirst!" t-shirt and to drive home the point that, along with public education and battling it out in court, the fight against herbicides may require non-violent protest actions.

He even raised the idea of taking action on Topanga Canyon Boulevard--a heavily traveled two-lane road near the media center of the planet.

"You all could win here," he said. "And I believe you will."

Next, Bill Currie, an independent integrated pest management expert, took the podium. Currie spent 30 years working with several federal agencies and assisted the National Park Service in starting its low-risk, alternative pest management program.

Currie presented the audience with alternatives to herbicides and he did so with great enthusiasm.

"I like goats," said Currie. "They're really an interesting tool in working with exotics....They're really well trained and they have a lot of fun."

According to Currie, goats can be trained to eat almost anything; and, with fencing and herding dogs, they can be kept away from untargeted plants.

They have been trained to eat the variety of Yellow Star Thistle that has become California's most widespread invasive plant, he said. They even climb troublesome Russian Olive trees, killing them by eating the bark.

"They go places where people can't go," said Currie.

Getting their Goats

In downtown Denver, a team of 1,000 Kashmir goats clear weeds from the rights of way, he said, and after three years, the weeds don't come back.

What's more, they can carry bags of native plant seed, dispersing them and implanting them with their hooves as they munch along.

Kegley mentioned later that the manure even acts as a fertilizer for the native plants and would not be a concern to the watershed unless the goats were introduced too close to the rainy season.

Currie said he believes goats can be trained to eat arundo.

Other techniques, he said, include use of a small propane torch inside a can-like device at the end of a rod. Zapping a struggling plant with heat after it has been cut down, when new growth is sprouting, he said, can be effective. The best time, he said, would be spring when fire danger is low.

Another tool is the Weed Wrench. This tool, patented by a Native American tribe, costs about $120 and can pull out plants two- to three-inches in diameter using leverage.

Currie agreed to loan the Weed Wrench to Topanga for a few weeks after one person said he thought it wouldn't work on arundo because the plant is too brittle.

David Totheroh and Rabyn Blake experiment with a "Weed Wrench" to pull out Arundo donax.

Currie, who currently works with the Los Angeles Unified School District to reduce pesticide use, reinforced the other speakers strong opposition to pesticides.

As a long-time investigator of pesticide use with federal food, drug, agriculture and environmental protection agencies, Currie recounted cases of cattle deaths from eating glyphosate-treated grass that killed micro-flora in the animals' specialized stomachs. He believes pesticides are being linked with learning and fertility problems and with aggressiveness.

But most importantly, he told of his experience as witness to a succession of scientific folly--from flea collars that killed thousands of dogs to his study of milk-carrying tanker trucks in Arizona in the 1960s in which every sample was "violated" with DDT. Recognizing that drift of the DDT was the problem, Currie said Arizona was the first to ban DDT.

"Pesticides don't stay where they're placed," he said.

As a one-time employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said the agency is not likely to offer much help against pesticides. "As far as the EPA is concerned, their constituency is the pesticide industry╔.The only people they talk to are scientists from the chemical pesticide industry."

Many Topangans who attended were pleased with the program and left with renewed determination to oppose herbicide use in Topanga, favoring a local demonstration project using alternatives.

Woody Hastings, the newest member of the RCD board, said he supports a community-based solution to the arundo problem.

"I'm open to having a mechanical project. There's so much enthusiasm and energy behind doing a mechanical method, why resist that? Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if Topanga could be first?," said Hastings.

"I'm going to be an advocate on the RCD board for trying this. If we can pull the cars out of the creek, we can pull out the arundo."

Hastings said in his 18 years in Topanga, he has managed without ever buying a can of Raid or weed killer. He said he avoids plastic because of the trail of contamination from the manufacturing to the product itself.

It's better to "err on the side of caution," he said.

"Nobody really knows the cumulative impacts."

Topanga Art Tile's Leslie Doolin said she was pleased to hear the practical information on alternatives.

"Yes I am paranoid," said Doolin. "I don't want to get cancer."

"Anyone here will probably stay with the whole idea," said Doolin. "The biggest problem seems to be the powers that be."

Doolin said the idea knits well with the Topanga spirit.

While officials in county and state government as well as the RCD have voiced support for a demonstration project, the question remains whether these leaders will fight for funding at a time when the funding trend may strongly favor projects using herbicides and when many agency environmental advisors are skeptical of alternatives.

Kegley said after the meeting she was impressed by the pro-active involvement of the community. Usually, she said, it takes a poisoning event to arouse local interest.

"This is an amazing group of community people who have banded together to fight for something they love--their creek as it is."


Toxics Free Clause Debated, Adopted at Watershed Meeting


Panacea? When they're done with the arundo, there are a few other things...

By Dan Mazur

Tempers flared over the issue of herbicides at a contentious meeting of the Topanga Watershed Committee on Thursday, November 15. The arguing was sparked by a proposal by members of the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics (SCAT) that the Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan include a recommendation for a "toxic-free" approach to fighting invasive plants. While support for the anti-toxic recommendation was strong--approximately 75 percent of those present--the Watershed Committee is run on a consensus basis, and a lengthy and often heated debate ensued.

SCAT's concerns grow out of the current controversy regarding the invasive weed Arundo donax. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy planned to use chemical herbicides in Lower Topanga to eradicate it, but put the project on hold because of local controversy.

At Thursday's meeting, Rosi Dagit, coordinator of the Watershed Committee, presented the draft Watershed Management Plan. Included in the document was a resolution to "develop a program to eradicate" several species of invasive plants from the Topanga Watershed. Steve Hoye of SCAT proposed that the words "without the use of herbicides" be added to the recommendation.

The SCAT proposal drew immediate objection from several present, including Phil Rundel, who cautioned against community "waffling" in its battle against invasives. Rundel, an ecology faculty member at UCLA, reminded the committee of the dangers of arundo. "It totally changes the hydrologic flow," said Rundel. "It's like putting up a steel wall," he said, which obstructs the flow of the creek. Rundel also said arundo is extraordinarily flammable. "It promotes fire in a habitat that normally doesn't have fire. There's real risk, including risk of fire to houses, not to mention wildlife."

While Rundel agrees in general that herbicides and pesticides are overused, he said, "Roundup is getting a bad rap. It shouldn't be lumped in with the toxic herbicides." Monsanto Corporation's herbicide called Roundup has been proposed for use in the Topanga Watershed.

Topanga resident ChoQosh Auh-ho-ho disagreed with Rundel. "Roundup is a poison," she stated. "A poison is a poison, and it's not acceptable."

Topanga resident Delmar Lathers agreed that arundo poses a real threat, but he argued against herbicides. "I have canoed down the Colorado River. I have seen what arundo has done to that river."

The bamboo-like stalks of arundo have grown so thickly in places, he said, that animals can't get to the water. Lathers believes that the problem can be controlled by hand-pulling the stalks. "It's not that hard to dig up eight inches of bamboo," he said, "I've done it. We're not chasing milkweed through the air. I don't think we should be using [herbicides] until we've given it a real shot."

Suzanne Goode, ecologist with the State Parks Angeles District, would not rule out use of chemicals. Fighting invasives with alternative methods is "a laudable goal," she said, "but far more danger exists in our ecosystem from these killer plants than from Roundup. The cure is not as bad as the disease."

Goode agreed to allow SCAT to experiment with alternative methods on State Parks' land. She also said her department would notify the community of any intention to use herbicides in the watershed. For the moment, she said, there are no such plans. "But there will be plans for removing arundo in the future," she said. "I can't guarantee that we will not use these chemicals if we feel it is necessary."

The debate at Thursday's Watershed Committee meeting had as much to do with a philosophical stance as any immediate action. "I'm surprised we're even having this discussion now," said SCAT member David Totheroh. "Culturally and historically, this Canyon has already taken a position [against herbicides.] The county has accepted that position." Even those against ruling out the chemicals do not see an immediate crisis posed by arundo and other invasives, said Totheroh. "What's the emergency push?" he asked.

The wording of SCAT's proposal did not call for an absolute ban on herbicide use, only the effort to develop alternative methods. "We're talking about the possibility of alternatives," said SCAT co-founder Rabyn Blake. Blake and other herbicide opponents insisted that the anti-toxic proposal was only "a goal."

"This is all in the context of a recommendation, we're not writing legislation here," said Totheroh. "This doesn't preclude anybody from doing anything."

But those who opposed the recommendation disagreed. "No one objects to alternatives," said Dagit, "but you guys want to make sure that Rodeo isn't one of the alternatives." Monsanto's Rodeo is a similar product to Roundup.

Marti Witter, fire ecologist with the National Parks Service, did not support the SCAT changes to the recommendation, which she saw as ruling out herbicide use. "It says that the only way you're going to get rid of these things is without pesticides."

With consensus on SCAT's proposal clearly elusive, Dagit called for an informal vote on incorporating the SCAT proposal. Those present supported the anti-toxic language by 14 to 5. The poll revealed the lines of division among the group: all five votes against the SCAT recommendation were cast by representatives of government agencies and/or environmental professionals.

Rundel's comment that the opposition to SCAT consisted of "all the biologists who are here," drew some of the evening's angriest responses.

"That's awfully damn patronizing," exclaimed Totheroh.

Rundel claimed that the scientists present were able to distinguish between "good science and bad science." However, the SCAT members countered that most, if not all, of Rundel's "good science" consisted of studies funded by Monsanto and the chemical industry.

"One man's science is another man's bull!" said Hoye.

Ultimately, the philosophical debate boiled down to a disagreement over what will work in the fight against arundo, which was generally accepted as a potential problem. While Goode spoke hopefully of the "eradication of arundo in our lifetime," others saw the goal as one of control, not elimination. "We're not going to get it all," said Hoye, "but we can control it."

Rundel expressed skepticism of alternatives to chemicals. "There's a really large track record out there of people who've tried to deal with arundo [using alternative methods]. There's a very poor success record."

Others, though, were more confident in the energies and abilities of the Topanga community in dealing creatively with its problems, even in the face of conventional wisdom.

"We were also told that it would be ineffective to go against Canyon Oaks," said Totheroh, referring to the community's long, and ultimately successful battle against development in what is now Summit Valley Park

Lathers felt that the arundo could be controlled with the use of volunteers. "It's a lot of work, but if it's managed properly it can be done," he said. "I'm a realist. I know that pulling up arundo is a lot harder than spraying, but I want to give this community a chance."

In the end, consensus proved impossible to reach. The words "without the use of herbicides" will be added to the Management Plan, along with a note indicating that the language was supported by most, but not all, of those present. Even this solution, however, was not approved unanimously.

Afterwards, Hoye expressed disappointment in the attitude of the public agencies. "The whole purpose of the Watershed Committee was to bring the agencies and the community together," he said. "If they're going to stand outside of us and let us fail, we're more likely to fail. We're trying to get them to work with us and they're resisting mightily. They're good people and their hearts are in the right place, but I think they should support us."


Strychnine Confirmed in Dog Deaths

By Tony Morris

With laboratory tests confirming that the Schneider family dogs, Elmo and Gelby, died from strychnine poisoning on Tuna Canyon near Skyhawk Lane, Topangans should be aware of the risk posed by various poisons available to homeowners, landscapers and professional applicators.

All grades of strychnine are poisonous and must be handled with care. Most applications of strychnine bait are used to control pocket gophers. Wilco brand Gopher Getter is used by homeowners and is available at garden supply stores. The active ingredient in this product is 0.5% strychnine alkaloid which causes convulsions and can be fatal if swallowed. The product is deposited in the pocket gophers' natural underground runways or in tunnels made by mechanical burrow builders. It should never be used above ground because it could be ingested by other animals.

Gopher Getter bait is also produced at a strength of 1.8 percent strychnine alkaloid and is available to commercial landscapers and applicators. This product requires a license to dispense. Other brands are Gopher-Go and Milo Bait for Gophers. The latter is 0.5% strychnine alkaloid and inert ingredients consisting of green milo and wheat grain. The Milo bait product matches the stomach contents of the Schneiders' pets.

All strychnine-based poisons are toxic to fish, birds and other wildlife. Rinsing the equipment used to apply the poison can contaminate lakes, streams and ponds. If endangered species are killed during strychnine baiting the user may be fined under the Endangered Species Act.

Pesticide wastes are acutely hazardous. Improper disposal of excess pesticide, spilled bait, or rinsate is a violation of federal law. If these wastes cannot be disposed of according to label instructions contact the nearest EPA Regional office for guidance.

The Strychnine Pesticide Fact Sheet, prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, can be reviewed at


Chili Cook-Off: Make No Beans About it!

By Susan Chasen

Competition was pretty hot among the chili chefs at this year's Swap Meet and Chili Cook-off benefit for the Topanga Community Club.

The top honor among the nine pots of chili along with the $50 prize went to chili-meister Lisa Villaseľor for her meaty concoction, made in the Community House kitchen while juggling the other preparation and serving tasks at the refreshments window.

Villaseñor's chili secret? "No beans!" Lots of different kinds of meat, but no beans.

"I was very surprised, very ecstatic," said Villaseñor. "It was quite an honor."

Like those who have come before her, Villaseñor will take on both the glory and the responsibilities of being the Chili Queen of the Canyon, at least until this time next year.

The pie contest created something of a mystery this year because the judges who unanimously agreed on a winning pie were never able to determine who made it. There was no name attached to it. The identity of the winner remains unknown. However, whoever it is can still claim a $25 prize if he or she can prove they are the genuine baker of the no-name pie, according to Lola Babalon, president of the Topanga Community Club.

She joked that the proof may require a repeat performance.

"It was so delicious," said Babalon. "We all agreed it was the winner. It had a crunchy golden crust and a most delicious fruity filling."

She believes its distinction may have something to do with the fact that it did not seem to have cinnamon in it.

There were 10 pies, she said. "It was fun....They all got sold in 20 minutes.

The final results on the fundraiser are not in yet, but Babalon said, "I think we did good."

According to Babalon, there were 66 booth vendors, more than ever before. She said she may recommend against vendors selling new items or retail-priced items in the future, however, because they don't do very well.

"It's more the social component of getting together," said Babalon. Many vendors go home with more things than they come with, she said, and there are many great deals.


Oh Come All Ye Seniors

All Topanga seniors are invited to join us at the Community House on Sunday, December 2 for the annual Holiday Senior Dinner. We will start at 4 p.m. with appetizers and refreshments. Around 5 p.m. seniors will sit down to a delicious home-made turkey dinner with many favorite trimmings, followed by dessert, coffee and tea. There will also be entertainment to warm your heart and soul.

This is a wonderful time to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. Please join us for this special occasion when seniors are our special guests. This dinner is a complimentary event provided by the Topanga Community Club. Please make your reservation today, by calling (310) 455-1980. If you would like to volunteer and be a part of this beautiful gathering of friends, please call at Lisa at (310) 455-0932.


Prickly Pear Pest Proves Potent Pink

No, it's not spaghetti night. It's wool yarn being dyed with cochineal bugs taken off infected prickly pears.

Sharon Fliegelman happened to be trying out a homemade dye using cochineal bugs when we ran our feature in the Messenger on the prickly pear. Pictured here (from left) are Luca Brown, Gabriel Polsky, Forest Polsky and Elias Brown who helped Fliegelman (center), with the project. Fliegelman used the cochineal scale--the little bugs inside the white cottony stuff dotting many of Topanga's prickly pear stands--to prepare a red dye.

On her first try she scraped the bugs off--very easy, just took about 15 minutes, and then dried them in the oven--very smelly, and now she thinks is not necessary. Then she tied a handful of the dried bugs in cheesecloth, poured boiling water over it, and soaked it for a few days. After treating some wool yarn with alum, a mordant to fix the color, she added the wet wool and left it for a few days. It came out a rosy pink. She said a sample with cotton yarn didn't come out nearly as well.

On a second try still in progress, she didn't dry the bugs in the oven and has boiled the yarn in the dye. She's letting it soak for a few days, but so far it seems to be coming out even darker. She says it looks like it may come out almost a raspberry pink.

Although Fliegelman is an art graduate student, this was a family experiment just for fun with her sons and their friends. She's knitting a blanket to give as a gift using all natural dyes for the yarn--cochineal scale, Eucalyptus leaves, walnut shells, and plum leaves. So far the cochineal has come out best. As for the killed bugs, she said: "Well, I thanked them for bringing joy and color to our lives."


Rocco's Hosts Raffle for Emiliano

A raffle fundraiser to benefit Emiliano Rocco Zapata will be held December 1-21 at Rocco's in the Canyon Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria.

A painting titled "Happy Hour" by Nancy Swenson Williams, valued at $600, has been donated for the raffle and will be on display at the restaurant beginning December 1. Raffle tickets can be purchased at Rocco's for $20 each and the drawing will be held at 9 p.m. on the night of the Winter Solstice, December 21.

Emiliano, 4, is expected to begin chemotherapy in January for a cerebral growth. Eva Rocco, Emiliano's mother and the daughter of restaurant owners Frank and Marlene Rocco is also exploring alternative approaches.

According to Eva's sister, Kristina Rocco Levy, the doctors are very optimistic that Emiliano will fully recover.

Emiliano was released November 2 from UCLA Medical Center where he had surgery to remove a tumor the size of a small lemon from his brain. The type of tumor is called an anaplastic astrocytoma.

He is currently doing well at home in Topanga, but a remaining growth discovered after surgery, will be treated with chemotherapy.

"He's just doing great," said Levy. "His physical therapy is coming along. He's back to his normal four-year-old boy behavior."

Levy said her parents and other relatives and friends are helping with Eva's own restaurant Rocco's Cucina on Sunset Boulevard near Pacific Coast Highway.

"She's staying positive and having fun with her son," said Levy. "We're strong believers that laughter is the best medicine."

With medical co-payments expected to reach $150,000, Levy said the family is very grateful for the community support.

On December 21, she said Rocco's will also donate a portion of the night's proceeds to Emiliano's Recovery Fund.

"So come on down and join us."

The family also still welcomes information from the community that could assist in Emiliano's recovery and appreciates input already received. Send e-mail to:


MAU Corralled

By Tony Morris Stephen Bylin, supervising ranger at Topanga State Park, has announced that the Mounted Assistance Unit (MAU) which patrols Topanga State Park will be suspended temporarily for a review of safety issues. Each horse and rider of the 14 member unit will be reviewed but there are no plans to disband the operation, he said. According to Bylin, the National Park Service is investigating the possible consolidation of all Mounted Assistance Units throughout the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Topanga MAU members patrol Topanga State Park on a regular basis, providing information and assistance for hikers and bikers in the park. They are equipped with radios which permit them to call for assistance when needed.


Calmont Open House December 12


Calmont School at 1717 Old Topanga Canyon Road is hosting an open house December 12 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The 20-acre campus is adjacent to state parkland and features diverse flora and fauna in their natural habitats as well as Native American sites.

Calmont gives special attention to its environmental studies program run by naturalists Jon Earl and Ellen Petty and taking full advantage of the school's unique location.

"We are grateful to Calmont School for backing a weekly 'interdisciplinary' program that involves exploring the environment through art, science, geography, history, hands-on restoration, current events, and community involvement," said Earl.

"We know of no other school that is so dedicated to educating their students about the importance of living in harmony with nature," said Petty.

For more information on Calmont School, please contact Lisa Rosen (310) 455-3725.


If You Build It, They Will Sit


Builder Randy Just and Lola Babalon, president of the Topanga Community Club, sit at the nearly completed ballfield bleachers.

Construction of new bleachers and dugouts at the Community House ballfield is nearly completed thanks to the tireless volunteer efforts of Randy Just and a few others over the summer, according to Lola Babalon, president of the Topanga Community Club.

"Randy Just put in a gazillion man hours over the summer," said Babalon.

The project grew out of some rearranging done around the Bowl Bar for last year's Topanga Days. After Topanga Days, said Babalon, Just and Rick Provisor had the idea for building seating and dugouts. They drew up plans, and with $10,000 from the Community Club for materials and some hired masonry help, they got going.

Babalon said Just gave up his entire summer to the volunteer effort.

In the spring, she said, the Community Club will host a potluck party and picnic to christen the new seating. Beautiful tiles donated by Topanga businesses will make the project something special for the Canyon, said Babalon. Among those contributing are Topanga Lumber, Randy Renner, Sullivan Ceramics and Touchtone Tiles. Also, the Bowl Bar has been rebuilt with volunteer help and donated lumber.


Topanga Fellowship Welcomes Pastor Bob


By Kathie Gibboney

The Topanga Christian Fellowship Church does not currently have a large congregation. When I called Patricia Moore, who's in charge of public relations, about times of service and setting up a meeting, she informed me there would probably only be a small Sunday turnout. I would be able to find her easily among the 20 faithful and she would recognize me because I would be the stranger.

So, on a welcome autumn-esque morning, I went to church in Topanga.

The church has a wonderful small town feeling to it--white clapboard against the falling leaves. Of course I realized, as soon as I entered its doors, that no one is a stranger.

Topanga Christian Fellowship has a new pastor. He is Bob Harris. After some controversy over a Four Square ministry which sought to obtain the deed to the property, the church remains non-denominational and independent. It has operated with several guest pastors and the congregation has at last chosen the best man for the job. Pastor Bob, as he wishes to be known, is that man.

Coming originally from Santa Monica, he is a graduate of Pali High which makes him almost a local. Indeed he has two brothers who lived in Topanga and he has even experienced one of the community rights of passage--gathering fossils in Old Canyon when he was a Boy Scout. Bob feels right at home.

The Sunday gathering begins with songs beautifully presented by Patricia Moore, Ellie Carroll and Karen Moran, long-time Topanga gals. Karen even performs an original and moving piece she wrote in response to September 11 called "Ashes in the Rain/Angels in the Sky." Everyone sings along with the more traditional hymns. The lyrics are projected on the wall giving it an old-fashioned, follow-the-bouncing-ball, friendly feeling. The worshippers may be small in number but they are mighty.

Now that the crowd is warmed up Bob Harris moves to the podium. He brings a youthful exuberance to the fellowship. He is dressed casually in jeans, with long hair, an earring and a gentle manner. He has chosen to speak on "fellowship." We learn about the word koinania which is Greek for fellowship. He speaks about loving all people and adds: "I may meet Christians I don't like, but I gotta love them." Somebody says "Amen."

Pastor Bob talks about the fellowship of sharing and says: "To someone who doesn't have much, giving a small gift is equivalent to a wealthy person's large gift."

This is brought home to me when collection time comes round and I realize I have only small change. Amen.

Bob Harris has had a varied and colorful background of service, including being chaplain of the World Surfing Association. He did more than just pray for surf. Water seems to be a recurring theme in his life. He was also the waterfront chaplain and director of Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina Island. He now has an underwater cleaning and maintenance business called Pro-Tech that services boats out of Marina del Rey. He has managed Christian coffee houses and founded a newspaper called Ichthus. "Ichthus" refers to the Christian sign of the fish, again water.

Bob seems especially proud of being associated with the Vineyard Christian movement, which appealed also to one Bob Dylan.

The Pastor holds degrees in Biblical literature, religion and education and has traveled to Peru and Asia spreading the Word.

These days he does not travel alone. His wife Dru, who is clearly admiring of her husband, is a supportive member of the congregation. A former professional model, she is poised and friendly. Dru chats readily with everyone, and brings a contemporary sense of style to the room, which blends surprisingly well with the traditional atmosphere. It seems the blending of old and new is really what make Dru and Bob unique to the Christian community.

Pastor Bob has lots of ideas to involve the church in the community. He wants to open the doors for evenings of alternative music, including bongos and drums. He hopes to bring in young people for open microphone and poetry nights, and he wants to find ways to help those in Topanga that are in need both spiritually and financially. He speaks passionately of the church being more than a building and of finding ways to be of service and comfort throughout the Canyon.

I asked Bob Harris what started him on his religious path, and he answered after thoughtful deliberation: "It was a way to get out of the house."

He now has a new house. Come meet him at the Topanga Christian Fellowship Church, which is located at 269 Old Topanga Canyon Road. Pastor Bob conducts Bible Study on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. Sunday Worship Service begins at 10:30 a.m. with an early Bible Study meeting at 9 a.m. The church is planning Christmas activities and a Christmas Eve ceremony. All are welcome. For more information call (310) 455-1048.


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