News

Eviction Notices Hit Lower Topanga

By Susan Chasen

Residents of Lower Topanga have begun receiving 90-day notices of eviction, with the first ones arriving April 1, in time for State Parks to meet its long-standing deadline for residents to be out by July 1.

In one case, the notice was delivered at 8:30 at night on April 1. The residents' attorney, however, said the evictions can be challenged because State Parks cannot provide affordable replacement housing.

Many, perhaps most, of the residents had still not received notices by April 11, indicating that State Parks has itself not been able to meet its July 1 deadline.

The difficulty has been in finding comparable housing, acknowledged to State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns.

VOL.26 NO. 8
April 18 - May 1, 2002

NEWS INDEX:

"It could delay things for some individuals," he said. "I think we have to be fair in finding comparables."

He said he did not know how many eviction notices had been issued.

Scott Dittrich, co-chair of the Lower Topanga Community Association, said he has received an eviction notice, but that he only knew of a handful of others who had. He said the community is anxious and depressed since the notices began arriving.

Dittrich got his on April 1, four days after he received his list of three comparable houses to visit. For some, the two notices arrived on the same day, he said.

"That doesn't give you a lot of time to do anything," said Dittrich. "They've really cranked up the pressure."

Residents who have not received notices are in limbo while State Parks finishes its relocation work.

Dittrich, who received his list of three comparable houses on a Thursday, said two of them were rented by the end of the weekend. The third choice did not have a corral for his horse, he said.

Attorney Craig Dummit said State Parks is making a mistake by circumventing affordable housing issues in its relocation effort. Seeking to "throw money" at residents instead of actually providing housing, is not an option provided by the Relocation Act, he said.

Existing grievance procedures may automatically provide residents an 18-month extension to resolve relocation issues, he said.

"They're not ready to relocate them to comparable housing," said Dummit, because there isn't enough affordable housing available.

"They have admitted that there isn't and that they have resorted to 'last resort' housing benefits for these people."

"Last resort housing" provisions, said Dummit, requires State Parks "to buy affordable relocation housing for them or build it."

Currently, State Parks is using higher-priced housing to calculate rental assistance benefits. This may drive benefits levels up, but the selected "comparable" homes are not realistic housing options for the residents, said Dummit.

"No law allows them to do that," said Dummit. If residents move into higher-priced houses, they won't be able to afford to stay after their 42 months of rental assistance runs out.

Residents of Lower Topanga have been paying between $200 and $1,500 per month rent. Removal of that community will create a demand for 74 affordable homes where the supply is already extremely limited.

While there may be some affordable rentals in the area, said Dummit, "there are 10,000 people that need it and are trying to get it....They failed to take into account competing demand for the affordable housing that is available."

"I think the main thing is seeing that these people are treated fairly, because they have to sacrifice so much for the so-called greater good...and to see that they are offered comparable housing that they can afford."

Dummit also said State Parks' Interim Plan and Environmental Impact Report should have considered alternatives to eliminating the community.

"I think they should address all options that have the potential to be the 'best and highest use' of the property. A mixed use of public and private is such an alternative that has been explored historically."

Dummit, who represented residents in a similar battle in Crystal Cove near Laguna Beach, said the two communities are almost exactly comparable, except that many of the residences there were actually second homes.

In that instance, residents were allowed to stay for 20 years and the property was opened to the public.

"It's worked just fine for 20 years," said Dummit. "There is nothing inherently incompatible with a mixed public and private use."

For Dummit, taking up the residents' cause has some personal connections because he lived on Topanga Beach in the 1970s. When State Parks sought to evict those residents, Dummit, who was just out of law school at the time, took on that case, eventually extending their time by several years.

"So I have some old friends living there," said Dummit. "I care about what's happening out there.

"They are not just losing their houses," said Dummit. "They are losing a way of life. That's what no one seems to realize."

Bernt Capra, the other co-chair of the Lower Topanga Community Association, said he had not yet received an eviction notice, but that when he does he will not know where to go.

"I can't afford $3,000 a month payments," said Capra. "I don't know how this will pan out for me.

"There are lots of people like me that have a very modest income."

He lives with his two college-age sons and a younger daughter. This arrangement allows them to afford to go to college, he said.

State Parks is providing relocation funds averaging $80,000 to residents, and more to those with larger homes like Capra. But in Topanga, Capra notes, there are virtually no houses of any size for under $600,000, and he needs four bedrooms.

Capra would like to buy land and build a home, but that is not possible with the eviction deadline still looming, presumably, sometime this summer.

The Interim Management Plan and EIR for the new Lower Topanga State Park are out for public review and comment through May 3. The plan acknowledges that removing 74 rental households will have a significant impact on the existing community and calls for approval of a Statement of Overriding Considerations to enable the plan to be adopted anyway.

While it allows the businesses to stay during the general planning process, expected to take two years, the plan does not consider any alternative timeframes for the residents or for incorporating portions of the community into the park. It also does not establish "an appropriate public use capacity" for the property--leaving that question to the general planning process. So there is no comparison between the environmental impacts of public use during the interim period and the status quo.

Examination of alternatives is confined to the question of why residential use should be eliminated. Among the five reasons for not retaining the residential use are: "there would be no removal of residential structures" and "there would be no structures available for park operational needs."

State Parks intends to retain eight homes for its own uses.

Among the alternatives residents and others have suggested that are not considered in the plan are creating a model sustainable living community; retaining it as a cultural resource with a means of interfacing with visitors to the park; or gradually phasing out the residents and establishing an artist's or writer's retreat to continue the legacy of its present character.

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Fernwood Man Bitten by Rattlesnake

A Fernwood man who was bitten by a rattlesnake April 13 was airlifted out of the Canyon around 7 p.m. and was listed in stable condition at Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills a half hour later.

Simon Taylor, 38, was bitten on the right thumb by the snake, according to Fire Capt. Larry Robideaux.

"He should be fine," said Robideaux.

Witnesses at the scene said Taylor may have been trying to catch the snake after discovering it while walking his dogs in the creek area below his home on Observation Drive. He apparently brought the snake home with him and called 911. Firefighters killed the snake.

Before paramedics arrived, neighbor Jamie Morse across the street heard him calling for help when she stepped out to call her dog inside.

Jamie, who is a registered nurse, and her husband Chris went right over. Jamie said she tried to help him stay calm until the ambulance arrived. She said she was impressed by how efficiently the paramedics got his intravenous line going.

Firefighters observed that the rattlesnake was very dark, indicating it had recently emerged from hibernation.

Robideaux said snakebite victims should be kept calm and the extremity where the bite occurred should be kept immobile. Measures such as tourniquets or incisions and sucking out blood should not be done, he said.

Anyone who sees a rattlesnake in an area that could pose a risk to people or pets should call Animal Control or 911, Robideaux said. He said Animal Control may be able to relocate snakes. When firefighters are called in, they kill the snakes, he said.

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Herbicides Moratorium Sought in Invasive Plant Removal Effort

By Susan Chasen

Topanga's opponents of herbicide use in the Canyon have called for a five-year moratorium on using chemicals in the fight against non-native plants, to allow time to show that alternative methods can be successful.

Steve Hoye, with the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition Against Toxics (SCAT), offered the proposal at the April 8 meeting of an invasive plants subcommittee of the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee.

The response, however, was inconclusive among county and resource agency representatives who suggested that SCAT's proposal was somehow both redundant and asking too much.

Assurances were offered that there is already consensus to pursue non-chemical alternatives. And yet persistent skepticism of these alternatives meant a moratorium would be going too far.

For SCAT, the quest for a philosophical commitment is critical. Without it, their efforts could be doomed to failure for lack of time or doomed to appear a failure if eradication goals are unrealistic.

About 12 people attended the meeting in the Resource Conservation District trailer and the discussion was dramatically different from what it was just six months ago. SCAT's efforts in recent months to spotlight routine use of chemical herbicides by environmental agencies has clearly had an impact. Now, several competing, non-herbicidal approaches were being proposed for getting rid of Arundo donax, the non-native giant reed that is displacing native vegetation along the streambanks of Topanga's creeks.

Long-time RCD board member David Gottlieb, who is among the open skeptics of alternative approaches, proposed a demonstration project running south from Summit Valley Park along about two miles of private property.

"I like the idea of getting property owners to buy into this," said Gottlieb.

His plan would also provide assistance with stream bank stabilization using willow wattle.

But virtually everyone else agreed that public lands would be a better place to start, setting the example for private landowners.

Edwin Lemus, a community activist who works with Topanga's day laborers, said he was ready to go to work.

"I have the crews to do the eradication," said Lemus.

But RCD conservation biologist Rosi Dagit said mapping the Arundo and creating a plan of action should come first. Ultimately, the committee agreed to call on volunteers for a mapping day on May 18 at Summit Valley Park on both sides of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Numerous opportunities for grant funding were also discussed. In particular, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was expecting a $180,000 grant from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project for a project in Lower Topanga last October. The Topanga community opposed it because it called for using herbicides against a wide array of non-native plants and it was put on hold.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's senior field deputy Susan Nissman pursued the idea of transferring that grant to pay for removal projects not using herbicides, preferably beginning in the upper watershed to stem distribution of invasive plants downstream. A representative of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy suggested it might be possible.

Gottlieb said he didn't think $180,000 would be needed for a demonstration project that he sees as limited in scope and lasting perhaps for one year.

Hoye's presentation, however, called for extensive demonstration projects on public lands, involving volunteers and paid workers, as well as public education efforts for private landowners. If the public is assured that herbicides will not be used, said Hoye, there will be greater interest and cooperation.

"I want a commitment of five years," said Hoye. He predicted that a five-year commitment would be enough time to bring Topanga's Arundo under control.

Nissman said the commitment has already been made in the recently completed Topanga Watershed Management Plan.

"I don't think any agency will go around the community's watershed efforts here," said Nissman.

Rabyn Blake, a SCAT founder, expressed concern about the level of commitment, especially from State Parks which is using chemicals routinely in other areas and has proposed to eradicate non-native plants in its draft of the Lower Topanga Interim Plan.

Nissman said a commitment against herbicides use in Lower Topanga would have to come from State Parks.

State Parks did not have a representative at the meeting to comment.

Dagit suggested writing a comment letter to State Parks on its Lower Topanga Interim Management Plan to oppose use of herbicides on the recently acquired property.

Further confusing matters at the meeting and at the March Topanga Creek Watershed Committee meeting was the rising sentiment that Arundo may not actually be Topanga's number one watershed enemy. Some favor attacking Cape Ivy first because it appears to be spreading more quickly and not just within riparian zones.

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Topanga's New "Country Doctor" Opens Office in Pine Tree Circle

Dr. Celia Brown has opened the Family Health Center at Pine Tree Circle.

By Tony Morris

Topanga has a new doctor in town. Dr. Celia Brown has opened the Family Health Center of Topanga at Pine Tree Circle.

A graduate of Cornell and the UCLA Medical School, Brown also received Emergency Medical training at the University of Massachusetts and practiced emergency medicine in Boston from 1988 to 1997.

Brown grew up in West Los Angeles in a medical family. Her father was the head of the Department of Endocrinology at UCLA. Now she teaches "doctoring" on the clinical faculty at UCLA.

Having gained extensive emergency room experience in facial plastic surgery, Brown offers cosmetic dermatology as well as family medical care.

"My dream was always to be a country doctor," said Brown. "It's the reason I went to medical school."

Brown moved to Topanga three years ago because she loves the Canyon. And her new family practice will even include making house calls.

"The family doctor understands the dynamics of the family," said Brown. "I can go to the house to give shots so that it is not traumatic for young children."

She said she has already been on a house call for her neighbor who recently gave birth.

As medical care has changed with the rise of health maintenance organizations and managed care, many physicians like Brown have discovered that they cannot provide the care they believe is necessary for their patients.

"My goal is to be available, not at the mercy of the insurance companies. I will be available 24/7." According to Brown, medical appointments will be provided at a reasonable cost according to a "sliding scale," with a payment schedule available for patients who request it.

Brown's household includes Zara, a shepherd-borzoi mix, and Kara which Brown, a dog lover, calls her "mixed-breed international dog."

Family Health Center of Topanga offers general medicine, pediatric and women's healthcare services. It is located in Suite 200 at Pine Tree Circle, 120 South Topanga Canyon Boulevard. For more information or to schedule an appointment call (310)455-2211.

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Will Rogers Update

The State Parks and Recreation Department has not granted an extension to the April 5 deadline requiring all horse boarders to vacate. Horse owners have been removing their horses from Will Rogers State Historic Park to alternate stables in compliance with the eviction deadline of April 5 set by Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman who upheld State Parks' plans to eliminate horse boarding while horse-related impacts to the property are reviewed. No appeal was filed by Eric George, the attorney representing horse owners. Kelly Harrison, a horse owner, said she now boards her horse in Sullivan Canyon and plans to observe State Parks' "temporary" removal of horses from the park. If it appears that the removal is going to be permanent, Harrison said horse owners may decide to file suit. An advisory committee composed of the Will Rogers Cooperative Association, members of the public, and State Parks staff is currently discussing the future of horses at Will Rogers and plans to issue a report in May.

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Topanga Radio Help

The creators of the recently inaugurated Topanga Radio website have provided a help section which provides users with important information regarding the minimum recommended systems required to access the site. Also new options allow access to the Topanga Radio playlist for low bandwidth users. Information for PC and Mac users is provided in detail with regard to systems, peripherals, browsers, internet connections and audio players. As there is a difference between PC and Mac systems when accessing the site it is advisable to review platform specific information. The help section also includes "Frequently Asked Questions" which cover specific aspects of the Topanga Radio site. Access help at http://live365.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/live365. For additional information call Topanga Radio at (310) 403-1336.

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Mountain Shuttle Service Planned

The National Park Service is having a public meeting April 23 on a shuttle transportation demonstration project in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The meeting will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Malibu Public Library community room, 23519 Civic Center Way, Malibu.

There will be a 20-minute presentation on the project at the meeting, followed by a public comment period. A draft environmental assessment and initial study report is available for public review and comment through May 22 and can be viewed at the Malibu, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades public libraries or online at www.nps.gov/samo. Comments should be sent to Transportation, National Park Service, 401 West Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360.

The project calls for a recreational shuttle system to serve popular national, state and county mountain and coastal parks and beach sites within the Los Angeles County portion of the Santa Monica Mountains.

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Controlled Burn Planned

The National Park Service is planning a controlled burn of 200 acres in Cheeseboro Canyon, April 16 through 18 beginning at 9 a.m., to restore native perennial grasslands and coastal sage scrub habitat. This is the first of three consecutive years of controlled burns to the same area to test a strategy for eliminating the seed supply of exotic grasses.

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