Raining on Our Own Parade
By Susan Chasen
It has finally happened. Year after year, the Topanga Days parade riles the California Highway Patrol with its exuberant, but galling disregard for the CHP's public safety concerns. Now, for the first time, the officer in charge of traffic control for the parade is recommending that the parade not be allowed next year.
Officer Tim Snyder said he is not the final decision-maker on whether a permit is approved, but his report for this year will recommend nixing the parade next year.
"I'm going to express to my supervisor that it's unsafe and that people that participate don't follow the rules," said Snyder.
This year there were reports that water pistols containing bleach or a similar smelling chemical were used, which Snyder said is obviously "unacceptable." As usual, there were out-of-control water fights at several points along the route. But another major problem with the parade this year, according to Snyder, was that parade float drivers illegally drive to the parade already carrying children and other passengers in the backs of their open pickups and even flatbed trucks. These vehicles are driving on the open road at normal speeds.
"Every year that is a problem," said Snyder. "I'm not going to wait around until someone falls out of a truck and cracks their head open.
"If they can't follow the rules...to make it a safe event, then we're not going to allow it."
He said writing citations is not a solution because there's not enough time with his other duties working the parade.
Perhaps, said Snyder, if there's no parade next year, the community will begin to take the rules more seriously and can try again another year.
After working the parade for three years, however, Snyder is skeptical that Topanga will change.
The attitude, he said, is "It's Memorial Day, leave us alone. Let us do what we want to do because the boulevard is closed."
As for the water fights, Snyder said, the adults are as much at fault as the children.
"These are adults doing this, not just eight-year-olds."
He said the CHP has worked to help make the parade safer, even providing free officers last year. If the parade has any future, it will require paying for at least four or five overtime officers, said Snyder.
At a meeting June 6, CHP officers were scheduled to meet with parade and Topanga Days organizers to discuss the parade.
Since the May 27 parade, officially named the Will Geer Memorial Day Parade, rumors of discolored, destroyed clothing have been circulating, but no one has come forward to authorities with knowledge that any particular person was responsible for the potentially dangerous prank. Fortunately, there were no reports of serious injury from the chemical, though there were complaints of burning eyes.
Sheriff's deputy Peter Sanzone said he spoke with two children, ages 9 and 10, who were identified as possibly involved, about two hours after the parade, up at the Community House, but he was unable to confirm that they were involved.
"They said they picked up balloons from others," said Sanzone, "or that they picked up balloons thrown at them."
He said he saw one instance of damaged clothes and could smell the bleach, but with so many water balloons and water pistols it was impossible even for witnesses to determine who or how many were responsible.
"There's no way to prove who did it," said Sanzone. He said he made an incident log entry, but couldn't do anything more without additional information.
According to Sanzone, there also continue to be complaints about small, sturdy water balloons that hit hard before they break, if they do break.
"There's too much participation from the spectators," said Sanzone. He suggested the community might consider organizing a separate water wars-type event.
Topanga Days organizer Lisa Villaseľor said she was informed that at least six people were reportedly affected by the spraying of bleach or something similar.
"It's so sad that we had this happen and people ended up being hurt because of it," said Villaseľor.
There were four main areas of heavy water play, she said, but otherwise she thought the parade actually went fairly smoothly.
"This year we really did outreach to community groups to get them involved....the Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, the Disaster Response Team and Arson Watch. We had more help than we've ever had which was really promising. But we can only go so far. We're not policemen out there," said Villaseľor. "You can ask children to stop throwing balloons, but that doesn't mean that they stop."
As for Topanga Days in general, Villaseľor said more people came than in past years, but she did not have an official count yet.
"I thought the whole fair was great," said Villaseľor. "There was good music. The food was good, we had great arts and crafts vendors."
Some complained that there were not as many local bands as usual on the outside stage. But Villaseľor said that all the indoor bands were local and the outside bands generally had some connection to Topanga. The problem, she said, was that, despite calls for local bands in the Messenger, many never provided all materials, music samples and background information required to be selected.
"You have to let it be known that you want to participate," said Villaseľor.
Topanga Days cost about $51,000 to put on. Villaseľor said the receipts are not all recorded yet to determine how much was money was made. The Topanga Community Club, which operates the Community House and grounds, puts on Topanga Days. There will be a Topanga Days rap-up meeting on Thursday, June 20, at 7 p.m. for constructive comments on this year's event.
According to Villaseľor, while the parade is supposed to be "wild and wacky," some participants have been dropping out because of the water play. For example, there are fewer and fewer vintage vehicles, especially convertibles. Even float decorating may be dropping off, she said.
Cedar chips worked well to keep down dust in the dance area, said Villaseľor, and the new and improved bowl bar, built by Rick Provisor, was another success.
The extraordinary inflatable Titanic slide--120-feet long and 60-feet high--was very popular, she said. Two additional shuttles were added and worked well except for a brief time when traffic backed up because of an accident further down the boulevard.
She said she had a great team of about 300 people who put on the fair.
"It's incredible what a community can achieve," said Villaseľor. "So many people don't understand that this is a fundraiser for the Community House, which is such an important resource....Every penny goes to benefit those grounds."
She said the Community House is host to some type of event approximately 325 days per year.
Projects in the works now include installing handicapped bathrooms, ballfield improvements and erosion control measures.
State Parks Sees No Wrongdoing in Stepdaughter's Benefits
By Susan Chasen
State Parks' inquiries into the family connection between a recipient of relocation money in Lower Topanga and the vice president of the relocation company handling the project found that, despite the failure to inform State Parks of the relationship, there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
Recently, it was revealed that Karen Costello Malave, stepdaughter of Barry McDaniel, vice president of Pacific Relocation Consultants in Long Beach, was among the first to move and receive relocation benefits in Lower Topanga.
McDaniel has said he was unaware of a relocation project in Lower Topanga until May of 2000 when his company was contacted by the property owner, LAACO, Ltd.
Karen Costello Malave and her husband Benjamin Malave moved from Lower Topanga in October to another rental home on Encina Road in Topanga. They have received $25,475 out of a total entitlement of $48,300.
According to State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns, Costello Malave moved to a house on Brookside Drive in Lower Topanga in 1995. Benjamin Malave, her neighbor, had been living there since 1993. When that house was deemed unsafe in 1996, she and Malave moved to the Big Bear area. In 1997, they returned to Lower Topanga and later married.
The claim for relocation benefits was made in Benjamin Malave's name, said Stearns, and there was no mention of Karen Costello Malave. However, Stearns said the connection appears to be essentially a coincidence.
"He was a legitimate resident three years and two months before Barry McDaniel even entered the picture," said Stearns.
According to Stearns, McDaniel notified LAACO and the private American Land Conservancy of the family connection, but State Parks was never told.
"I can't find anyone in Parks that knew or was informed of the connection," said Stearns.
"It would have been better for us to know up front."
While he acknowledged that State Parks had been interested in acquiring Lower Topanga for 20 years, there is no indication that anyone benefited financially from prior knowledge of relocation plans.
"This is not cause for alarm because we see no wrongdoing," said Stearns. "They got what was honestly due them."
In this case, State Parks inherited an agreement for Pacific Relocation Consultants to relocate Lower Topanga from American Land Conservancy which was negotiating the Lower Topanga acquisition long before the sale actually went through. Early on, the ALC reported having a relocation company lined up.
Stearns said he did not know whether, once State Parks acquired the property, other relocation companies were considered or how the decision was made to continue the contract with PRC.
Karen Costello Malave said she and her husband returned to Lower Topanga in 1997 because they loved the area and were tired of commuting from Forest Falls near Big Bear.
She confirmed a report that her husband also worked for PRC during the relocation process, but she did not know how much he was paid. She said after going to two or three public meetings on the project, they asked him to help out.
She insisted that she and her husband had no advance knowledge that a relocation project was anticipated.
"We were contacted at the same time other people were," said Costello Malave.
"There was no inside information we had at any time."
They moved out so early in the process, she said, because the house was in bad shape.
"It was a really, really old building," she said. There were rats in the walls and mold problems. Also, the house, at 3405 South Topanga Canyon Boulevard, is located on a tight curve, she said.
"There were accidents right by our house all the time."
Costello Malave works in advertising and her husband is an independent contractor, she said.
The $48,300 will pay for 42 months of the difference in their rental expenses.
They love Topanga and hope to be able to stay, she said.
New Relocation Deadline Expected in September, Funding Still Available
By Susan Chasen
State Parks is planning for everyone to be out of Lower Topanga by the end of September. Difficulty finding comparable housing for the residents has created delays, but Stearns said everyone should have their relocation eligibility notices and identified comparable housing by the end of June, allowing the minimum 90-day notice of eviction.
Originally, State Parks was pressing to have everyone out by July 1.
Also, according to Stearns, rumors that the agency is running out of relocation money are incorrect.
Despite massive state budget shortfalls, Stearns insists that the money is still available from Proposition 12 to continue relocating Lower Topanga residents. So far, $2.3 million has been spent, he said, with approximately 25 relocation claims processed out of a total of 76.
"We are not running out of money," said Stearns. "The full allocation is there."
If the first 25 households is an average sampling of relocation costs, the total will be close to $7 million, not including the proposed business relocations.
Rodeo Grounds resident John Clemens recently was told the paperwork on his home had been lost and a new inspection had to be done. During this inspection, he said the relocation employee did not include portions of his home--his laundry room and workshop --that were previously included as part of his space and facilities requirements.
"It just really feels like this was a squeeze," said Clemens. "It's unfair to come back and redo something that had been done before."
Many residents are concerned that the standards are shifting because of undisclosed budget constraints.
Stearns said funding will be available to cover whatever residents are entitled to.
"If they're entitled to a certain amount, they're entitled to a certain amount," said Stearns.
Resident Bernt Capra said if there's no money problem, there should be, with all the severe budget cuts the state is facing.
"They should have a money problem," said Capra. "If they don't have a money problem I think it's irresponsible."
In a related matter, residents have recently been assured that State Parks will clear the brush on the property, though it had not been completed by June 1.
Previously, brush clearance was done by LAACO Ltd., the former property owner to create a firebreak around the community.
A 27-year-old worker was seriously injured on May 29 when his aluminum tree-trimming pole came into contact with high voltage lines at 1755 Arteique Road. The victim, Jorge Ramirez, received burn wounds to his right hand and left foot when electrical current passed through his body. He fell approximately 20 feet to the ground. Fire Station 69 responded to the 911 call and paramedics from the Los Angeles County Fire Station 88 transported the conscious victim to the air rescue helicopter landing zone at 1710 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard where he was flown to UCLA Medical Center.
Ramirez was subsequently transferred to several burn centers. According to Capt. Wilson at Fire Station 69, Ramirez is currently at Mid-County Hospital having undergone skin grafts on both hands. He also has a small fracture at the neck, but Wilson said the doctors are optimistic that he will be fine. Four toes were damaged and he will be having additional skin graft surgery on his foot.
This was the second serious accident in the past month involving tree trimming workers. In the first accident a worker fell over 40 feet and suffered major bone fractures to his face and pelvis.
A small brush fire broke out in the vicinity of Lower Encina, 300 yards east of the Dead Horse Trail parking lot along Entrada Road on Wednesday, June 5, in the early afternoon. Los Angeles County Fire Department's Firehawk helicopter, Fire Station 69 personnel and helicopter support from the Los Angeles County Fire Department extinguished the fire within minutes of the 911 emergency call. The size of the fire was described as 20 feet by 20 feet. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Arson investigators.
Malibu Coastal Plan Forum June 20
By Susan Chasen
The controversy over the proposed Local Coastal Program for Malibu with implications for Topanga and all coastal-zone communities in the Santa Monica Mountains will be the subject of a community forum on Thursday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District meeting room, 4232 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas.
The Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation is sponsoring the event which will include Coastal Commission staff members to explain some of the provisions in the proposed plan, especially the vast expansion of designated Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas known as "ESHAs."
Opponents of the LCP on the panel will address the implications for horse ownership in the mountains and the state Legislature's challenge to local control over land-use policy by mandating that the Coastal Commission take charge of the process instead of the city of Malibu.
Also, representatives from the county, which has already weighed in to prevent the Coastal Commission from beginning to apply some of these proposed policies in unincorporated areas like Topanga. The county is preparing its own Local Coastal Program which ultimately would result in transfer of Coastal Commission review authority to the county Regional Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. However, the Coastal Commission has to approve the county's LCP before that transfer can take place and, if the Malibu plan is an example of what the county plan has to look like, then the county is unlikely to come up with an acceptable plan. The county has taken a different approach regarding ESHAs, in which by being far less extensive, the county can actually apply more stringent standards with respect to development.
Don Wallace, a former fire captain, a past supervisorial candidate and delegate to the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, will be a co-moderator of the panel discussion and a question and answer period.
He said he is trying to add representatives from Heal the Bay, but so far has not had any response.
Wallace, who was an original advocate of extending the coastal zone to its present five-mile inland boundary, is now opposed to the Coastal Commission's LCP because of its restrictions on horses and because it will render so many horse-keeping properties non-conforming. This could mean that permits for future improvements will require bringing existing uses into compliance, resulting in loss of those horse facilities.
According to Wallace, the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation which represents 22 homeowner organizations and other community groups including Topanga Association for a Scenic Community, TASC, has not taken a position on the LCP. He said this community forum is an information gathering event and that eventually he expects the federation to take a position.
TASC is currently reviewing the LCP and will be commenting on the plan.