Lagoon Study Almost Complete, Estimated Cost Near $20 Million

By Susan Chasen

If the Topanga lagoon is to be restored to the fullest extent possible--from the existing 2.2 acres to a maximum of eight acres, it will cost an estimated $15 million to $20 million for removal of nearly 1 million cubic yards of fill and to build a 490-foot Pacific Coast Highway bridge across the mouth of Topanga Creek, according to the project consultant's "very rough" calculations.

In addition, several upstream projects, including elevating a quarter-mile stretch of Topanga Canyon Boulevard onto pilings and attaching it to the hillside, are considered key to the ultimate success of the restoration project.

These cost estimates were presented for the first time at the February 13 meeting of an advisory committee to the Topanga Lagoon and Watershed Restoration Feasibility Study led by Rosi Dagit, senior conservation biologist with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.

VOL.26 NO. 4
February 21 - March 6, 2002



With the study nearing completion, Dagit asked the committee members to choose their preferred restoration alternative of the four presented at the meeting and submit them to her by February 28.

Chris Webb, with Moffatt and Nichols Engineers, the Long Beach company that began working on the project in May 2001, recommended the most extensive lagoon restoration as the option providing the greatest improvement in natural wetland processes, water quality and habitat for steelhead trout, tidewater gobies and other plant and animal life.

Initially, Webb's presentation did not include any cost estimates. But when Dagit requested committee members to submit their preferred alternatives, one member, from the state Coastal Conservancy, expressed surprise at being asked to select preferred alternatives without any mention of the projected costs of each alternative, "as if cost was not a factor."

At that point Webb provided what he said were "very rough" estimates.

The four alternatives include: 1) leaving the lagoon at its present size of 2.2 acres at a cost of perhaps $100,000 for removing invasive plants; 2) expansion of the lagoon to 4 acres by adding culverts under the Pacific Coast Highway and removing fill from the beach side of PCH at an estimated cost of $3 million; 3) replacing the existing 82-foot PCH bridge with a 380-foot bridge to allow expansion of the mouth of Topanga Creek, excavation of fill material on both sides of PCH to create a 6-acre lagoon costing $10-$15 million; and 4) the recommended option which calls for a 490-foot bridge, removing all fill to restore the original 8-acre lagoon for an estimated $15 million to $20 million.

Webb explained that his estimates were very preliminary because he was told to focus on other factors and not to consider cost until a preferred option was chosen.

One committee member questioned why the most extensive option, previously reported as providing 15 to 20 acres of restored lagoon area, had been reduced to only eight acres at extreme high water.

Webb responded that previous reports, including the one given at the December Topanga Watershed Committee meeting, referred to the entire restoration project area. The current figures refer to the actual areas with water, he said.

Lagoon size estimates for the other alternatives have been reduced as well, once ranging from an existing lagoon of 2.5 acres to 5 and 10 acres for the more limited projects.

Webb said excavation and disposal costs for nearly a million cubic yards of fill will be almost as high as the cost of the PCH bridge replacement.

However, Dagit said the RCD has a grant to examine the composition of the fill dirt to see if it is sandy enough to be dumped in the ocean for beach replenishment--an option which would be much cheaper than trucking it away.

Both the third and fourth alternatives call for a new PCH bridge. It would be built on the beach side of the existing bridge to minimize traffic impacts during construction. Beach parking would be moved to the inland Lower Topanga State Park side with passages to the beach underneath the bridge.

According to Dagit, Caltrans engineers say tipping the bridge slightly would prevent increased road noise on the beach.

In the 1930s, a 270-foot PCH bridge was replaced with a shorter bridge and much of he existing fill dirt, 800,000 cubic yards from grading for the project was put into the lagoon because it was cheaper than dumping it in the ocean.

At the time, an adjoining property owner unhappy with the project impacts on his property charged that the area was being filled in as a service to the landowners--William Randolph Hearst interests and the Los Angeles Athletic Club, now a subsidiary of LAACO Ltd.

In a survey provided at the December Topanga Watershed Committee meeting, 18 out of 22 favored the maximum restoration alternative, though at that time it was depicted as a 15- to 20-acre lagoon area.

Of the upstream projects needed to reduce erosion impacts, landslides and excessive sedimentation, elevating Topanga Canyon Boulevard north of the two-mile bridge at the area referred to as "the narrows" is seen as most critical and is expected to be the most expensive.

"The narrows" is the creek's narrowest section and, as a result, is its fastest. It is made even narrower because riprap boulders and other road supports occupy three-quarters of the creekbed. During storms, the creek is so accelerated that it is believed to be responsible for the chain of landslides in Lower Topanga which add sediment, further narrowing and speeding the creek waters.

Webb estimated the cost for "the narrows" project to be "several million dollars," but said he was not prepared to be more specific.

Dagit said "the narrows" project is key to the overall restoration project.

"Of all the upstream projects, the narrows is the one I see as being the most critical," said Dagit. She said it becomes a trap for debris and is sure to fail again sooner or later, when the next big storm comes.

According to Dagit, the road has failed there repeatedly over the years. Repairs made in 1995 for $3 million, she said, are already failing, with riprap being so undermined that an RCD employee was able to walk underneath it.

"It's scary," said Dagit.

The current proposal, she said, will be a long-term solution.

Caltrans officials say the department is keeping an open mind on the proposed restoration and that impacts and benefits to public safety will need to be addressed.

"We'll take a look at those costs and see if they're reasonable or just things that we cannot afford," said Ron Kosinski, Caltrans deputy director for environmental planning.

"I'm not sure we've agreed on whose methodology we're following...whose going to be doing what.

"For us this is kind of a first-of-a-kind path," said Kosinski. "It's a serious cost...Our position is we're open to running through this process."

Other problem sites upstream, Webb said, include "Lake Topanga," a landslide across from Robinson Road that needs to be cleared out; Topanga School Road where failing riprap should be replaced with a vertical wall into bedrock; and removal of a levee in the Rodeo Grounds.

The maximum restoration alternative assumes removal of most all of the 49 Lower Topanga houses. It also requires moving the historic Topanga Ranch Motel eastward and leaves open the question of what to do about Wylie's bait shop, the other business deemed to be a historical resource.

Two important goals of the restoration effort are to improve water quality and fish habitat.

In Webb's water quality report, which is based on the disputed assumption that Lower Topanga septic systems are to blame when bacteria counts exceed safe levels, it is unclear whether restoring the lagoon is necessary for water quality purposes at all.

Webb said the bacteria is "probably from septic systems, but I can't prove it."

But, if the source is genuinely Lower Topanga septic tanks, and not other sources such as homeless encampments, houses and businesses on the beach, road run-off and even upper Topanga during rains, then, when State Parks implements its plan to remove the houses, the problem will be eliminated.

Residents of Lower Topanga have challenged the charges against their septic systems, which are for the most part on high ground well away from the creek, as being merely a pretext for hurrying to clear the people out with the added harm of implying the community is unsanitary.

As it stands now, the first phase of the potential restoration of Topanga Lagoon, involving $310,000 in assorted grants including the Topanga Lagoon Feasibility Study, is nearing completion. Next, the RCD has a $298,000 grant to move forward with engineering, environmental review and permitting, especially for the proposed redesign of Topanga Canyon Boulevard at "the narrows."

According to Webb, preparations for the start of construction could be completed in two years and construction could begin in spring 2004. He estimated the project would take six months to a year to complete.

During that same two-year period, State Parks will be completing its general management plan for its new 1,659-acre Lower Topanga State Park. An Interim Plan for the park calls for supporting the restoration process.

Given State Parks' mission of protecting and preserving natural resources, Russ Guiney, State Parks superintendent for the Angeles District, said, "restoration of the lagoon is going to get a very strong hearing."

Guiney said restoration is a "great vision" and there is a strong likelihood that some form of restoration will go forward, but it is difficult to predict the scale until more details are available. State Parks has to strike a balance between protecting the resources and making them available to the public, he said.

"A project is only limited by people's imagination," said Guiney.

Guiney will be involved in planning a general plan amendment for the Lower Topanga extension of Topanga State Park. He said the interim plan, which is handled by State Parks' acquisition and development side, is expected to be approved by April.

As it stands now, however, the future vision of the Lower Topanga State Park is limited by State Parks' transitional plan which has foreclosed prospects for incorporating the unique lifestyle of the Lower Topanga community into its vision and is still pushing for everyone to be out by July 1.


New Ideas Planted at Invasives Conference


Jon Earl of Rhapsody in Green and Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics speak at non-native plant conference in Topanga.

By Dan Mazur

Topanga's environment may be facing a serious threat from invasive, non-native plants, but community sentiment appears to be strongly against chemical herbicides as part of the solution. The nature of the invasive problem, and some of the non-toxic options for dealing with it, were discussed at an all-day conference, "Home Away from Home: Non-Natives in Topanga," held at Topanga Elementary School on February 8. About 50 people were in attendance, including the presenters.

The conference was sponsored by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCD), the Topanga Watershed Committee, and the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition Against Toxics (SCAT).

A wealth of information on invasive plants and the dangers of herbicides was presented, as well as a rousing "call to arms" to Topangans by Jon Earl of Rhapsody in Green, a volunteer group that attacks the problem of invasive plants using non-chemical methods.

Keynote speaker Robert Kremer, a soil microbiologist at the University of Missouri, explained the difference between the philosophies of "weed control" and "weed management." Weed control, he said, is a short-term approach which relies mostly on the "single-solution" provided by chemical herbicides. Weed management, on the other hand, he described as "a system in which all available tools are used to control weeds in both immediate and long-term contexts."

The problems that arise from heavy herbicide use, Kremer said, include the appearance of widely used herbicides in ground and surface water and a loss of biodiversity. "The more 'single solution' you use," he said, "the more you lose."

Sustainable approaches to weed management are complex and offer no easy answers, Kremer warned. Alternative methods to herbicide use, he said, can be demanding and difficult.

Still, Kremer strongly advocated such approaches, which involve looking at an entire ecological system, not just a single species. "The quality of the eco-system goes down when you use non-sustainable, single-technology practices," he said.

Perhaps most relevantly for Topangans, Kremer presented the results of studies he has conducted on the effects on soil of the herbicide Roundup.

Roundup, manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, is the most widely used herbicide in California. Roundup and its aquatic version "Rodeo" are heavily touted for use against Arundo donax, the bamboo-like, fast-growing, water-guzzling weed that is growing heavily in many areas of the Topanga Creek watershed.

Scientific studies--largely sponsored by Monsanto--have claimed that glyphosate, Roundup's main ingredient, does no significant harm to the environment. Kremer's work, however, suggests that such conclusions are premature.

Soil in which Roundup had been used to protect soybean crops from invasive weeds, Kremer found, showed increased growth--as much as five-fold--of a genus of fungi called Fusarium, some species of which can be highly toxic.

While research has not yet been completed on the effects of this increase in these fungi, Kremer is concerned that they can effect subsequent plant growth. Fusaria are known, he said, to cause root rot and a plant disease called "sudden death syndrome."

Even barring such extreme consequences, Kremer has concerns about the effect of Roundup.

"In the perspective of wide-spread use, we need to be very cautious....You cause this huge flush of fungi growth, now what else is it going to do?"

Where Kremer focused on the potential dangers of herbicide use, RCD conservationist Rosi Dagit stressed the dangers of the invasive plants themselves, as well as offering practical advice for dealing with them.

Getting down to basics, Dagit gave the group a definition of what constitutes an invasive plant. "When the wrong plant is in the wrong place and has significant ecological or economic impact, it becomes an invasive," she said.

Invasives are also defined by their survival strategy, she explained. They are fast-spreading and tenacious. Also, they use disturbances in the eco-system as an opportunity to spread. "Every time we grade a trail and disturb the soil we provide an opportunity for these guys to come in. And not only do they crowd everything else out...they change the chemistry of the soil to suit themselves."

Dagit focused her discussion on four species of invasive plants: Arundo, Cape Ivy, Yellow Star Thistle, and Castor Bean.

While not the only non-native invasives in the area, these four, according to Dagit, pose a serious threat to our area's biodiversity, and are within the capability of our community to eliminate or manage. "The distribution of Arundo is still fairly spotty," she said, "still at the point where a management plan has a reasonable chance of success."

As a visual aid to Dagit's presentation, Delmar Lathers displayed some enormous stalks of Arundo he pulled that morning from the creekside, stretching nearly the entire width of the school auditorium.

Dagit gave many tips on how private property owners and other citizens can help in the fight against these unwanted visitors. Beyond learning to identify the invasives and how best to uproot them, however, people have to be careful.

"You don't want to go off willy-nilly, because you can do a little bit of harm," she warned. Castor Bean seed pods, for instance, are poisonous to humans and have to be disposed of with caution.

Also of particular concern is the effects on slope stability of a sudden uprooting of non-native plants. Of equal importance with getting rid of the invasives, is making sure that native plants have a chance to grow back and that creek banks and other slopes don't collapse in the meantime.

"You need to think about what you're going to replace it with. The natives that were displaced aren't there anymore. When you think taking out, you also have to think putting in."

Planting willow stakes was recommended as a replacement for non-natives such as Arundo. Bio-degradable materials that can be used to shore up slopes while native growth comes in were also presented.

Dagit urged Topangans to resist the changes to the eco-system that non-native invasives have brought. "Our vision of our landscape is affected by what these invasives have done," she said. "Form in your mind how much more beautiful it can be if we go back to our natives."

Patty Clary of Californians for Alternative to Toxics warned of the dangers of large-scale herbicide projects. She told of how California began spraying DDT in the 1930s to combat the Russian thistle. And, while DDT is no longer used, Clary says that in 2000 the state was still spraying 37,000 acres for the same problem.

"What happens is you get started on these programs and people get jobs carrying it out and it goes on and on....If you're talking about decades and decades you better get real creative about alternative solutions."

As for industry assurances that herbicides are "safe if used as directed," Clary pointed out that large spraying projects are often carried out by under-paid, poorly trained workers. And in Topanga's difficult terrain, "the potential for accidents increases dramatically."

An alternative method for fighting invasives was offered by Jon Earl of Rhapsody in Green, an organization that has done Arundo eradication work in San Pedro, Palos Verdes, and the LAX area.

Earl wants to organize an army of volunteer Topangans to cut down the Arundo stalks. He made no bones about the hard work.

"We know it takes time, we know it takes years," said Earl. "We're committed to this. It's fun, and we're willing to do it. We think this kind of Arundo removal will work in Topanga Canyon."

Earl proposed an "adopt-a-patch" of Arundo program. He estimated that a group of 50 volunteers, willing to come back every month or so to break off the regrowth in patches that had been cut down, could eliminate the Arundo in two years.

Earl suggests that the work can be its own reward, bringing people together for a common purpose.

"People understand the importance of community involvement in this type of project," he said. "They understand the importance of labor intensiveness.... There's something about our human brains that says we don't want to touch things. We want to spray something on it, from a distance. I say we grab this Arundo by the hand!"

Dagit, while supporting the idea in general, pointed out certain difficulties. Ten to twenty percent of the Arundo in the watershed is in steep parts of the creek, she said, with very difficult access. Earl acknowledged the problem.

"Steep slopes provide a challenge," he said. "There are lots of challenges. This is very complex. But if we all put our heads together and our hearts are in the right place, we can do this. There's a lot to be discussed along the way. We offer our involvement.

Rabyn Blake of the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics (SCAT) gave voice to community sentiments against the use of herbicides, particularly Roundup and Rodeo. Reading a statement from SCAT, Blake assailed the wisdom of accepting industry-sponsored studies claiming the safety of glyphosate.

"Government and corporations are loath to admit causing damage to the citizenry. A slew of risk-assessed disasters we remember well--DDT, nuclear fallout, Thalidomide, Agent Orange, Desert Storm Syndrome--give us pause where glyphosate is concerned.

"There are new studies showing a clear link to non-Hodgkins lymphoma in humans. With this uncertainty, why risk illness of one single person, one child, one single animal?"


LAACO Gets Tax Benefit in Park Deal

By Susan Chasen

The company that sold its Lower Topanga property to State Parks for $43 million in August apparently is taking an additional $7 million charitable tax deduction on the sale despite the fact that State Parks' accounting says it paid full market value for the 1,659-acre property.

LAACO Ltd., a publicly held company which includes the Los Angeles Athletic Club among its subsidiaries, announced in a letter to shareholders in October that the company had sought another, private appraisal after the sale went through and that it intended to take a $7 million charitable deduction on the difference.

In addition, the company announced that it would pay no capital gains tax on its $40.5 million profit on the sale. Because of an Internal Revenue Service approval of an "unusual tax-deferred exchange," the company was able to reinvest its earnings into seven self-storage facilities for its Storage West business and defer tax payments to a time when the new assets are sold.

LAACO officials have not returned calls to discuss the tax arrangements or to confirm that taking the $7 million deduction is still the company's intention.

According to the LAACO letter, the $7 million deduction is allowed because the property was sold to the government.

However, State Parks' spokesperson Roy Stearns said there was "no gift to State Parks" in the transaction.

"Our General Services Agency said the amount was right on at fair market value," said Stearns. "Our balance sheet is zero."

If LAACO takes the $7 million deduction, it would suggest that the Lower Topanga property has different values in the eyes of different government agencies--$43 million and presumably $50 million--in virtually the same transaction.

A third party in the transaction, the private non-profit American Land Conservancy (ALC) in San Francisco, may have played a role in facilitating LAACO's tax benefits, but its representatives have not returned phone calls either.

The LAACO letter, signed by managing partner Karen Hathaway, suggests that the ALC may have received close to $1.5 million in compensation for its involvement in brokering the sale to State Parks. LAACO purchased the property in the 1920s and 1930s, according to the letter, for less than $1 million and the sale in August resulted in a $40.5 million profit.

The tax-deferred exchange, according to the letter, was authorized by a "private letter ruling" from the IRS and was described as "unusual" because the new storage properties were found more than a year before the Topanga property was sold.


Putting Brakes on Fernwood Speeders

By Susan Chasen

Speed problems at a Fernwood intersection may be helped by a surprisingly simple solution arising from a recent traffic study of the site, according to a county traffic engineer.

Residents near the intersection of Grand View Drive and Observation Drive have long complained that cars pouring down from upper Fernwood go much too quickly. For a large section of Fernwood--from Croydon Lane, Sischo Drive, Stites Drive and Montau Drive--Grand View and Observation are the fastest routes to the boulevard. Also, the Grand View approach to the intersection is steep and relatively straight, encouraging speed.

A key problem is that the three-way intersection itself is not doing its job of regulating right of way, said Bassam Albeitawi, a traffic engineer with the county Public Works Department.

Albeitawi said he will propose relocating the "Stop" sign at Observation Drive because its placement actually gives drivers approaching from Observation Drive too great a sight advantage, so they ignore it. By the time the sign is reached, it is easy to see whether a car is coming down Grand View or not, so drivers often don't stop.

"Observation has a huge advantage over the other two lanes," said Albeitawi. "Because they can see, they do not make full stops. They zoom through. We need to make them stop."

Interestingly, explained Albeitawi, intersections need limited sight distances to ensure driver cooperation.

Albeitawi is proposing the sign be moved back on Observation a little way so that drivers will stop before they can see whether there is an oncoming car. Then they can slowly pull forward to assure it is safe to proceed.

According to Albeitawi, speeds on Observation were found to be in the 20 mph to 22 mph range--under the 25 mph limit speed limit allowed in residential areas. The problem is that at the intersection, they should be slowing to a stop.

"People do not stop at the 'Stop' sign," said Albeitawi. "That is where the problem is."

Albeitawi acknowledged that the 25 mph speed limit for residential areas can seem too fast in certain geographical areas, but he said in this case, forcing drivers to stop will slow the traffic.

"By obstructing the view and making them stop further back," he said, "it will not give them the luxury of making a decision prior to making a full stop."

Albeitawi said his supervisor will be reviewing his report soon and that the sign will likely be moved by the end of February or in early March.


Dog's Death Shakes Greenleaf Neighbors

Cheyenne mourns beside the open grave of pal Red Napoleon.

Fatally injured by a neighbor on Greenleaf, our two-year-old dog, Red Napoleon, suffered three broken legs and brain damage before he died. He should not have been chasing and playing on the country lane in front of our home. Had the driver on Greenleaf taken only three seconds of time to adjust speed and direction, our family would have remained intact in their daily celebration of life.

Are we really "that" hurried and self-absorbed not to take the time for each other, no less the innocents and wild?

Please slow down.

--Goldy, Buster, Cheyenne (Red Napoleon's canine family), Glory Fioramonti and Maryanne Glazebrook


County Revisits Tree Ordinance

By Susan Chasen

Since a failed attempt in 2000, the county has been back at the drawing board drafting a new ordinance to protect two additional native tree species--Western Sycamores and California Walnut trees--and to expand existing protections to younger oak trees.

At a meeting at Topanga Elementary School on February 7, county representatives presented the new Protected Tree Ordinance proposal which has dropped the extremely complicated "woodlands" protections included in the previous effort and that involved numerous tree and brush species in favor of simply extending oak tree-type protections to sycamore and walnut trees.

The previous attempt "basically got way out of hand," said Lee Stark, supervising regional planner with the county Ordinance Studies Section. The current draft, he said, should be "less onerous" with exemptions to avoid excessive burdens on ordinary homeowners.

This time the county is moving more slowly and seeking more community input, he said.

However, if the response of the 12 people who turned out for the workshop in Topanga is any indication, there are still many concerns about the new proposal, particularly about restrictions on encroachment within a minimum, 15-foot protected zone around the trunks of protected trees.

The new proposed ordinance requires a county permit for removal or encroachment into the protected zone of oaks, sycamores and walnuts with trunks six inches or greater in diameter or with divided trunks totaling eight inches in diameter. Currently, only oaks are protected and they must be eight inches in diameter to trigger permitting requirements.

Several people suggested that the county's intent to give protected status to sycamores, walnuts and smaller oaks is like declaring open season on them until those new protections are in place. They said the effort risks having the opposite effect of encouraging planting of non-native species to avoid the ordinance's permit requirements.

Stark acknowledged that some property owners may try to act before an ordinance is approved, but he also pointed to the success of oak tree protections in raising awareness of the tree's value as a natural resource. The current effort is an attempt to extend that awareness to these other two tree species, he said.

Stark and senior planning assistant Annie Lin were urged to consider incentive programs such as providing free seedlings and a "banking" system to provide exemptions on future tree removal or encroachment in exchange for voluntary plantings.

"I want to have some leeway on that because of what I'm doing," said John Fallwell, a resident of Old Canyon who said he has planted thousands of oaks on his property from acorns and is establishing a new oak forest.

Fallwell was encouraged by the new county forester, Brad Yokum, to photograph his plantings. The current proposal exempts voluntary plantings, but it does not include a program for "banking" these plantings as mitigation for future construction impacts affecting existing trees. It also suggests a need for a new kind of record keeping.

"I think the carrot works much better than the stick," said Ray Stewart, who was among several at the meeting from the Agoura area.

Stark agreed that incentive ideas would be worth exploring further.

The subject of encroachment proved the most controversial.

The new proposal provides three encroachment exemptions for single family residences. However, these exemptions still require a county forester evaluation showing the encroachment will not harm the trees, so it remains unclear what exactly is provided by the exemption.

Several complained that the protected zone which extends five feet beyond the outer edge of the tree's canopy or 15 feet from the trunk, whichever is greater, is arbitrary and challenged the county to prove that uses like animal grazing, corrals or even paving nearby will necessarily damage the tree.

"Maybe they need a relationship with animals," said Ruth Gerson, founder of the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition and long-time trails activist.

Several referred to anecdotes about tree deaths at Paramount Ranch after the trees were fenced off and protected from grazing.

Gerson also insisted that the ordinance which is said to be aimed at developers can be turned against other smaller projects.

"It does not address just the new development. It's ambiguous," said Gerson. "The fees are out of hand. And you need a consultant to help you do it. I think that's wrong."

Lin said a fee study is underway for the ordinance and will establish, for example, whether a fee will be charged for forester review of exempted encroachment.

Currently, permit review costs for one tree removal for a single-family residence is $502. Larger tree removal projects require a public hearing at a cost of $2,193. The new ordinance is not proposing to change those fees.

David Totheroh, chair of the Topanga Firesafe Committee, challenged several aspects of the ordinance. For example, he noted that it doesn't explicitly exempt encroachment created by tree growth. He also questioned the conceptual basis of the county treating trees on private property as a public resource.

Rabyn Blake, president of the Topanga Creekside Homeowners Association, voiced concern that the ordinance does not protect existing encroachment from future retroactive enforcement.

Lin said the ordinance is only triggered when a property owner is applying to build something new and is not intended to apply to existing circumstances.

Other provisions of the new proposal include greater exemptions for pruning--up to 10 percent of the tree canopy instead of only branches under two inches in diameter. Mitigation requirements on the other hand are increased from two replacement plantings for one tree removal to an inch-for-inch planting ratio. For example, a 24-inch diameter tree could be replaced with 24 one-inch trees or any combination totaling 24 inches.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's deputy, Laura Shell, concluded at the meeting that the problem area appears to be more about the encroachment issue and less about the principle of extending protection against needless removal of the additional tree species. She pointed out that the existing oak tree protections have made it possible to educate developers to design projects taking into account the value of the site's native trees.

Stark said the county was directed by the Regional Planning Commission last year to revisit the protected tree ordinance, but currently has no timetable for presenting it to the county Regional Planning Commission.


Stakes Threaten Oaks Near Summit Valley


A metal stake, originally serving as a support for the young oak tree, is now imbedded.

By Susan Chasen

Viewridge residents Herb and Joan Petermann are on a rescue mission and the lives of about 50 oak trees are at stake, literally.

In their countless hours hiking in the Summit Valley/ Ed Edelman State Park and beyond, the Petermanns noticed that many of the oaks planted as a mitigation for tree losses caused by the Sunny Glen residential development years ago are threatened by the very stakes originally intended to support them.

Some of the young trees were supported by wooden stakes, but about 50 have two-inch steel stakes which, according to Herb Petermann, was ill-advised from the beginning.

Most of the trees planted by the developer are doing very well, said Petermann. The oaks are about 10 to 20 feet tall and six to eight inches in diameter. But, according to Petermann, it is likely that eventually the poles will begin to harm the trees or become permanently imbedded in the trunks, as has already happened in some cases.

"It hasn't killed any trees yet," said Petermann.

The Petermanns, with Viewridge's environmental organization VOICE and the Sierra Club Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, are working together to develop a special tool for extracting the poles.

The Sierra Club bought a jack capable of lifting 3.5-tons and Petermann, a mechanical engineer who designs and builds custom machines for a living, is designing modifications to attach the jack to the poles.

"We need a clean removal," said Petermann, to avoid harming the tree. "The only way to do that is to jack them out."

The trees are located in the designated open space area required as part of the Sunny Glen development--originally a county project, but now incorporated into Calabasas and renamed Mulholland Heights. The open space extends along the Summit Valley ridgeline and is adjacent to the park, west of the two big water tanks visible from Topanga Canyon Boulevard and east of a smaller tank serving Mulholland Heights.

According to Petermann, some of the imbedded poles may have to be left in place. He plans to have his tool completed soon and to return to the site to test it out. A work party to pull out poles will likely be scheduled in early March.


Topanga Colloquia

By Tricia Watts

Last month ecoartspace presented its first Topanga Colloquia with Ruth Wallen, an artist and biologist from San Diego. Wallen discussed, with examples from the Tijuana Estuary and the "Children's Forest Trail" in the San Bernardino National Forests, trail signage as art addressing environmental issues. She recently made a proposal to the head ranger of Ed Edelman/Summit Valley Park to install composting toilets for dog waste. The audience was intrigued and interested in helping implement such a plan. They offered advice on how to incorporate her innovative artwork here in Topanga. Wallen will be contacting the Topanga Watershed Committee to discuss her ideas.

On February 28, Gilah Yelin Hirsch, an internationally known multi-disciplinary artist, will speak and show her work on patterns in nature. Hirsch will show a video titled "Cosmography: The Writing of the Universe," in which she proposes how patterns in nature may have influenced our ability to visualize the alphabet. Following will be a question and answer session, then a short musical performance by a surprise guest.

Please join us at 7 p.m. at 269 Old Topanga Canyon Boulevard, the Topanga Christian Fellowship Church. Ecoartspace programs are scheduled on the last Thursday of each month through June. For more information contact Tricia Watts, ecoartspace founder at


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