News

Topangans Carry the Torch for Children

PHOTO BY DAVID TOTHEROH

Back in Topanga, Eric Welch poses with the torch he carried running as part of 2002 Olympic Winter Games cross-country relay.

VOL.26 NO. 2
January 23 - February 6, 2002

NEWS INDEX:

By Susan Chasen

Two Topangans were among the 11,500 inspiring Americans who were chosen for their courage, leadership and compassion to carry the Olympic torch on its marathon journey to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KIA PECORELLI

Kia Pavloff-Pecorelli ran the Olympic torch in the Detroit area near her hometown.

Kia Pavloff-Pecorelli, whose husband Tom was killed on September 11, made the run in her home state of Michigan and Eric Welch who does creative volunteer work with children ran in San Luis Obispo.

The torch was originally lit by the sun in Greece and then, in a special safety lantern, was flown to Atlanta where on December 4 it began its 65-day journey across 46 states. Ultimately it will arrive in Salt Lake City on February 8 for the Olympics opening ceremony.

Kia ran her .2 mile stretch with the flame on January 6 in the Detroit area near her home town of Ferndale, Michigan. And while she said she has no idea how she was selected, she has many reasons to be carrying a torch.

"It was very emotional for me on a lot of levels," said Kia. In addition to honoring her husband, she said, for her the run also symbolized the cause of protecting children worldwide, especially from the ravages of war.

Kia, 35, is pregnant with her first child--a boy who will never know his father. Tom Pecorelli, a FOX Sports Net cameraman, was on Flight 11, the first to crash into the World Trade Center towers on September 11. He loved children and carried with him an ultrasound image of his unborn child in anticipation of becoming a father.

"I think in my husband's true spirit, this is for all children who are affected by tragedy," said Kia. She said she ran with the torch to promote "hope, peace and prosperity" for all children who suffer losses similar to her baby's.

As she walked along the torch's path, cheered on by supporters on the sidelines, she passed a fire station where a line of firefighters joined in applauding her.

Topangan Eric Welch, carried the Olympic torch on January 16 and was surprised by how compelling the experience was.

"It was like this big wave and I got to jump into it for a while," said Eric. In fact, he was so caught up in the wave he actually handed his torch to his escort briefly and did a back flip. He said he wasn't sure it would be appropriate, but when the time came he knew it was right for the moment. The spectators went crazy, he said.

"It was a great experience."

Like Kia, he was selected from among 200,000 who were nominated to carry the torch. But unlike Kia, he knows who put in the good word for him. It was his mother Helaine Howard of Granada Hills. She wrote a short essay describing the work her son does with inner-city children and young psychiatric patients.

"He is a beautiful human being with a heart of gold," wrote Howard.

Welch, 35, lives with his wife Krissy in the Glenview area of Topanga. He moved here three years ago and has a children's birthday party business called The Party Animals.

Welch said he began his volunteer work with children when he was an actor on the television show "Life Goes On" that starred a child with Down's Syndrome. He has worked with Imagination Workshop at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA and as a counselor for inner-city children with Inside Out Community Arts.

Welch is a runner, but he said a friend who ran the torch in Pittsburgh advised him to walk his .2 miles because it goes by so quickly. But Welch said he couldn't help running because of all the excitement.

"I couldn't go slow," said Eric. During the run, he kept in mind what the organizers told him - that for that brief time he was the one person of the 6 billion on the planet carrying the flame.

Welch said before his run that he was looking forward to meeting the other runners for January 16 who would be getting together to tell how they came to be included.

"There are just some amazing stories," said Welch.

All the runners get their own "really cool" Olympic outfit, said Welch, and their own torch to carry. The runners pass on the flame, not the torch, explained Welch.

"You put the gas on and you take off, wave and kiss!"

Fortunately, said Welch, he has a generous father-in-law who agreed to pay the $350 so he can keep the torch afterward as a souvenir.

The torches, manufactured by The Coleman Company Inc. , weigh 3 pounds 3 ounces, carry only enough fuel to burn during the run and cannot be refilled. They have a conceptual design that incorporates the five rings of the Olympic flag.

Kia said that on her flight back from Michigan, airport security didn't quite know what to do with her torch, but ultimately she was able to get it home where it will soon be packed up for another move.

Kia is preparing to move from Topanga, probably to someplace on the Westside. She said she loves Topanga and the wonderful people who have supported her since September, but that with the baby coming and her tiny, unheated Topanga cottage needing repairs, it's time to move and be closer to her network of friends.

Also, said Kia, who moved with Tom to Topanga in 1998: "There are too many memories. My whole marriage was in Topanga."

But she promises to be back for Topanga Days. And she plans to keep on carrying a torch for children who are the incidental victims of conflicts all around the world.

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Retired Principals Keep Topanga Going While the Search Continues

PHOTOS BY KATIE DALSEMER

Retired principal Gerald Dodge has used up his allowed time filling in at Topanga Elementary School. Now his replacement, retired principal Margaret Thomas, will take over for eight weeks and continue the search for a new principal.

By Dan Mazur

The search for a new principal at Topanga Elementary School continues, with hopes that a new list of candidates provided by the School District will yield the right person for the job.

Interim Principal Gerald R. Dodge ended his brief tour of duty on January 11. He has been replaced by another temporary appointment--retired principal Margaret Thomas, who began on January 14.

Former principals like Dodge and Thomas, who come out of retirement to fill in at schools with a vacancy, are limited in the time they are allowed to serve, otherwise they lose pension benefits. Thomas, Dodge said, will only be able to act as Topanga's principal for eight or nine weeks.

The sudden departure of principal Eileen Goodman shortly after the beginning of the year left the school's Leadership Council in a tough position. The list of qualified candidates acceptable to the Los Angeles Unified School District had been depleted. Since then, the superintendent's office has given the school two extensions on the deadline--originally October 19--for choosing a new principal. If the Leadership Council cannot select a principal, the School District will assign one.

The District is in the process of giving qualifying tests to a new crop of potential principals. This new list, most likely containing 50 names, according to Dodge, is expected to be available sometime this month.

"It's a very hard time to recruit," said Karen Quartz of the Leadership Council. "No one applies for jobs in September. We're hoping that this new year and this new round of applicants will bring in some wonderful people."

A total of five candidates have applied for the job. Rather than choose from such a limited pool, the Leadership Council has held out to be able to choose from the larger list.

Carol Dodd, the superintendent of Local District D, which includes Topanga, and Dr. Roberta Benjamin, director of Elementary School Services, were scheduled to visit the school and meet with the Leadership Council on January 17 to discuss the situation.

Quartz was hopeful that the meeting would jump-start the process.

"Mr. Dodge suggested that they come and see our school and what it's like, and understand the context," she said. "No one in the District really knows about Topanga." She described the meeting as a "pro-active strategy" to enlist the District's support in recruiting the right candidate.

Dodge left the school with encouraging words about the process, but also with some frustration and regret.

"I was sent to help the Leadership Council secure a permanent principal. I feel inadequate, because here I am, ready to leave, and I didn't fulfill my obligation. But it'll happen. Having the superintendent come out here is sort of a prod."

Dodge is concerned about the effects of all this uncertainty on the school. "You need stability at the top," he says, "The teachers, thank goodness, are not new. They know what they're supposed to do, and they're doing it. That part is okay, but when the district starts saying 'this is due, and that's due,' and there's no one at the top, things get lost."

Also, he said, it's hard on the kids. "They know who I am," he says, "and now I'll be gone. That's hard on little people. The kids don't understand it, and we're here for the kids. That's the sad part.

"But I do know that we'll have a real, honest-to-goodness principal in a short period of time, whether they're selected or appointed. They'll have someone here who loves kids. It's going to be a happy ending."

Before leaving, Dodge succeeded in resolving another potentially troublesome situation. The class size in several of the kindergarten and first grade classes exceeded the District's limit of 20 students. Instead of having to combine and reorganize the classes, and losing a teacher in the process, the school will be getting a new teacher to handle the overflow.

Dodge, who said he threatened to quit rather than re-shuffle the classes, requested a waiver for an "off-norm" teaching position for Topanga as part of the School District's Class Size Reduction Program. Superintendent Dodd agreed to the request just before the school break in December, but there hasn't been time to find the new teacher. A substitute may be hired in the meantime, says Dodge, so that the new class can be formed. Dodge's lengthy experience working with the district--he was a personnel specialist as well as a principal--was helpful in solving the problem. "To know people downtown really speeds things up," he explains.

Dodge is also willing to return, without pay, when the permanent principal is hired, to help with the transition. "You owe that to the teachers," he says. "It's going to be chaotic for a couple of weeks."

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Arresting Alien Plants Feb. 9

By Tricia Watts

What non-natives? What alien invaders? What war on weeds? The jargon used to describe plants that are invited, or that hitch-a-ride by "non-native" humans (those of you who were not born in Topanga that is) into our watershed, can be confusing at best.

But Saturday, February 9 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Topanga Elementary School auditorium, residents of Topanga can learn what invasive and non-native plants are and why we should be concerned about them, at a workshop titled, "Home Away from Home: Non-Natives in Topanga." The workshop is sponsored by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and the Santa Monica Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics. The workshop will address the threat to biodiversity posed by invasive plants common in Topanga like the giant reed Arundo and Cape Ivy as well as threats on the horizon such as the Yellow Star Thistle.

This workshop is intended as a platform for our community to come to a consensus on how to best respond to invasive plants.

Registration will open at 8:30 a.m. At 9:15 a.m., after a short welcome, keynote speaker Robert Kremer, a soil microbiologist from the University of Missouri will present "A Vision for Weed Management."

Other scheduled speakers include: Natasha Lohmus from the California Department of Fish and Game who will review permit requirements for removing plants in an aquatic zone. RCD Biologist Rosi Dagit will offer a brief natural history of invasive plants in Topanga and review erosion control and slope stabilization concerns when removing these plants from hillsides and streambanks.

Lunch will be hosted by Pat's Topanga Grill at noon in the auditorium.

After lunch, Rabyn Blake of the Topanga Creekside Homeowners Association will discuss the "precautionary principle"as it relates to using herbicides in the Topanga watershed.

Beginning at 1:15 p.m., a panel of experts will present several removal strategies including herbicides and mechanical methods, cutting, goats, tarping and volunteer team techniques. Discussion will follow from 2:45 to 4 p.m.

Cost of the workshop is $10, which includes lunch and a handbook. To register in advance, send check payable to RCDSMM, 122 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga, CA 90290. For more information call (310) 455-1030.

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

The garbage can adjustment period continues in Topanga with the news that it is possible to exchange the giant 96-gallon containers for 68-gallon ones.

While there will not be a rate reduction for the smaller cans, the change may be helpful for those who don't have room or need for so many big cans.

According to G.I. IndustriesŐ district manager Mike Smith, the large green waste containers may also be exchanged.

Smith said he has gotten assorted calls since the new cans were delivered in December with some people saying the new cans are too big and some saying they're not big enough. Additional containers are available for $5 per month, he said.

He also said the company has devised special procedures for a few customers.

In a related note, Smith reminded residents that recycling does not have to be separated anymore. At this point it is all separated at the recycling center, not on the truck, he said.

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Boulevard Collisions Up Slightly in 2001

By Susan Chasen

With the widespread perception locally that there are traffic accidents almost every day on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, an accident report for 2001 will do little to dispel concern.

According to the California Highway Patrol, there were 111 collisions on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in 2001, including two fatality accidents.

Most recently, a five-year-old child from North Hills was killed when his mother's car went out of control around the curve near Oakwood Trail and was hit by an oncoming vehicle. The boy's mother, Roberta DeSousa is still in critical condition at UCLA Medical Center.

An earlier fatality on April 22 resulted in the death of a motorcyclist who had crossed into the path of another vehicle near Cezanne Avenue, just south of Mulholland Drive, according to CHP Officer Ray Abramian.

Of the 111 collisions, 34 were injury accidents, said Abramian.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard is divided into two patrol areas. The southern section extends from the Pacific Coast Highway about two miles to the Topanga Creek bridge and was the site of 48 collisions. Another 63 accidents were reported from the bridge north, through the center of town to Mulholland Drive.

In 2000, Abramian said there were 92 collisions on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, including 26 injury accidents. There were no fatal accidents.

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Hayward Improving

Severin Hayward, who was severely injured December 15 in an automobile accident on the Ventura Freeway, has regained consciousness after being in a coma since the accident. The 19-year-old Topangan was able to speak with family members, according to his father, Richie Hayward.

"Severin was able to laugh and respond to some questions. We are grateful that he is making progress, but it is going to take a long time for his recovery."

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Eco-talks Planned

By Tricia Watts

Ecoartspace presents Topanga Colloquia, a series of six art and ecology discussions.

Please join us at Topanga Christian Fellowship, 269 Old Topanga Canyon Road, the last Thursday of each month to hear unique perspectives addressing the natural world and our place in it. Discussions will be accompanied by guest performances.

Ecoartspace is a nonprofit operating in New York and Topanga. For more information contact Tricia Watts, founder and curator at tricia@ecoartspace.org.

The first evening, titled "Art as Metaphor: Trail Signage as Art," will be January 31 at 7 p.m. San Diego artist Ruth Wallen will be the featured guest. Wallen, who has a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Swarthmore and a master's in fine arts from UC San Diego, is concerned with exploring the interface between art and science, and with encouraging dialogue about ecological issues. She teaches art at Goddard College in Vermont and UC San Diego.

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Boulevard Closure

Topanga Canyon Boulevard is closing down to one lane along a stretch of road near Tiger Trail for five hours each weekday for three weeks for construction of a new water line, according to a January 18 announcement from Caltrans.

Construction was scheduled to begin January 22 and will be completed, weather permitting, by February 12. The closure will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Los Angeles County Waterworks District project is a 200-foot waterline along the boulevard.

During construction hours, traffic will share one lane and flaggers will provide traffic control for each direction of traffic to take turns using the single lane.

Caltrans is asking motorists to use extra caution driving through the construction zone for the safety of highway workers.

Electronic message signs on Mulholland Drive and at Pacific Coast Highway. The contractor on the project is Doty Bros. of Norwalk.

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