News

Community House Grant is in the Can

PHOTO BY SUSAN CHASEN

Restrooms at the Community House will be made wheelchair accessible with a $70,000 county commission grant. The recently revealed fact that the mirror in the men's restroom is far bigger than the women's will perhaps be rectified as well. Also, the men feel exposed by the fact that the urinals are perfectly visible when the door opens and, when the window is open, the giant mirror reflects the view onto the clouds above.

VOL.26 NO. 13
June 27 - July 10, 2002
NEWS INDEX:

By Dan Mazur

Topanga's share of this year's Community Development Block Grant funds may not match the ambitious ideas expressed at last fall's informational meeting with the County's Community Development Commission, but the Canyon still has something substantial to show for the process: a sizeable grant to bring the Community House restrooms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The grant, which will provide up to $70,000 for the project, was announced at a sparsely-attended follow-up meeting held by the Community Development Commission on June 5 at the Community House.

The proposal for the ADA compliance project was put together by Cynthia Scott, finance chairperson for the Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC). Scott was surprised and delighted to learn of her proposal's success at the meeting. Bringing the restrooms up to code is just one part of CHIC's plans for the Community House.

"It's important because we have to modernize the house--we've already brought the kitchen up to code," said Scott. "We've been getting by with porta-cans on the ballpark," explained Scott. "They are handicapped accessible, but if you have an event in the house, who wants to get in the car and drive down to the ballfield?"

The Community Development Block Grant program channels federal money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to local communities. Grants for unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County are awarded by the Board of Supervisors, but funds are allocated based on a formula involving poverty and population density, which doesn't leave a lot for an affluent community like Topanga. The total amount available to all third supervisorial district unincorporated areas was only $172,206.

In the past, the only other Topanga program funded by a CDC grant has been Topanga Youth Services, the teen activity program run by Paulette Messenheimer.

Diann Viox, acting manager of the Community Development Commission, said the $70,000 will be drawn from a combination of next fiscal year's CDBG funds, as well as unspent funds from previous years that are still available for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to allocate. It was unclear how much of the grant will come from current funds and how much from previous year funds.

"This was one of a few opportunities to infuse a large amount of funds into Topanga Canyon," said Viox, "because of the requirements to benefit low income persons. Benefiting people with disabilities falls within the funding criteria."

After last October's meeting, Scott learned that funds for ADA compliance were more likely to be available than for other Topanga projects. She and local architect Cary Gepner worked with local contractors and put together a proposal for $55,000 worth of work, which she submitted to the commission in April.

Viox said the grant was boosted to $70,000 in order to provide a cushion for meeting various federal requirements for awarding construction contracts, such as the federal prevailing wage requirement. In fact, the commission will have intensive involvement in the project from here on in.

"CDC will provide programmatic and construction management technical assistance to the Community Club," Viox explained. The agency will come in and help CHIC set up an accounting system and provide other technical help in running the project according to federal guidelines. The contractor selection process is formal. Contractors must be licensed and bonded, and the work must be properly advertised.

"It's government money, so it's going to be very regulated," says Scott. "There's going to be lots of paperwork. It's not your typical Topanga job, where we ad-hoc everything. It's going to be very by-the-book."

The work will go well beyond simply putting in a handicapped stall, says Scott. There are many height and maneuvering clearance requirements, such as increasing the size of the entrance, adjusting the height of light switches, sinks and urinals, putting in non-skid floor surfaces, adding grab bars and changing the sink fixtures from knobs to levers.

It's possible, says Scott, that the improvements will necessitate expanding into the storeroom/office next to the men's room. This will depend on government requirements for the number of stalls.

Scott says that the next step of the process will be to sit down with the CDC's project manager and discuss all parties administrative responsibilities, the time frame for the project and the general scope of work. She hopes to see the project completed late this year, before the Nutcracker.

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Spathe Oddity

Topangan Keefer Flanner was surprised to find this extraordinary and smelly plant, known as Dragon Arum or Dracunculus vulgaris, blooming in his yard on Koontz Way. But the Huntington Gardens wasn't, because it gets one or two calls daily this time of year seeking information about this plant.

It turns out the plant, native to Mediterranean climates, has been appearing in people's yards for decades, though you won't find it in nurseries, according to Cathy Musial, curator of plant collections at the Huntington. It is not closely related to the gigantic Amorphophallus titanum that bloomed and smelled in 1999 at the Huntington Gardens she said.

The Dragon Arum emits a fetid, carrion-like smell to attract the flies and insects it needs for pollination of the flowers which are actually deep inside its bulbous chamber. The unusual portion of the plant that looks like a giant flower is actually called a spathe and the black appendage or spadix can be 25- to 50-inches long.

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Dagit Honored for Watershed Plan

Rosi Dagit, conservation biologist with the Resource Conservation District, was acknowledged June 8 for her leadership in bringing the Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan to completion after years working with countless others in the community on the project.

The watershed plan is intended to serve as an alternative to draconian flood-control and regulatory measures that once threatened the future of Topanga's many creekside homes.

"It's a pleasure to see how gracious and what an inspiration she has been to so many people," said Mary Sue Maurer, field deputy for Assemblymember Fran Pavley, who presented Dagit with plaques on behalf of Pavley and state Senator Sheila Kuehl.

Senior field deputy Susan Nissman, representing Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, opened the surprise ceremony for Dagit at the start of what was otherwise scheduled to be a workshop on the lofty topic of septic systems.

She described Dagit as "the true, consistent leader in making completion of this process possible." She presented a scroll to Dagit and noted with regret the oversight at the last Topanga Creek Watershed meeting which celebrated the debut of the completed watershed plan. In May, Dagit presented plaques to several other key contributors to the project, but her own role hadn't been sufficiently recognized.

Suzanne Goode, senior resource ecologist with State Parks, said, "I just want you to know how much we appreciate your efforts...and the head start you've given our new [Lower Topanga] property and on taking care of the rest of the park as well."

Also on hand to congratulate Dagit were the RCD's outgoing executive director Margo Murman and RCD board member Dennis Washburn, who presented her with a bag of goodies from Heal the Bay.

Dagit's first response was that it was "really embarrassing" as well as an unexpected way to start a meeting on septic systems.

But she went on to say that she viewed herself as a catalyst in the process.

"I consider this to be a completely collaborative process," said Dagit. It was the "work of many concerned Topangans."

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Arundo Mapping Effort Begins

By Benjamin Allanoff

On June 3, about 15 people--a mix of citizen volunteers and employees of the Resource Conservation District and State Parks--hit the local trails to identify and map Arundo, a key step toward making a consensus-based Arundo control project a reality.

After a brief meeting at RCD headquarters in which everyone got a topographical map and a data sheet and learned how to use them, the group dispersed, with crews heading out to the Santa Maria-Viewridge Trail, Summit Valley, and a half-mile long portion of the Old Canyon creekbed, just north of the intersection with the Backbone Trail. Each crew noted the exact location of each clump of Arundo, as well as the height and width of each clump, its distance from the creek, trail, or road, and the relative moisture of the soil.

No Arundo was sighted at Summit Valley, the Santa Maria drainage had one clump, and there were 18 clumps mapped along the Old Canyon section.

The plan is to map the entire watershed section by section. Portions of the watershed on public land will be mapped first. Owners of private property may then be approached for permission to identify Arundo on their land.

A student at Santa Monica College, Margot Flowers, is preparing computer spreadsheets of the mapped areas.

The RCD will do more training for the project in the future. Mapping is something that can be done as part of an organized group or, potentially, trained mappers could do it on their own, at their convenience.

Anyone interested in volunteering for future mapping days should call Tricia Watts at (310) 455-1030, ext. 213.

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An End to the Tiny Blue Recycling Bins

The new recycling bins are on the way. Number three bin is dark gray, 68 gallons and otherwise exactly like the giant 96-gallon green and blue bins. It is expected to be delivered during the week of July 8, according to Mike Smith, district manager of G.I. Industries.

When the new bins are delivered, old recycling containers may be left out, turned upside-down to be picked up.

Smith said it will be possible to exchange the various bins for smaller or larger sizes if necessary. Smaller green waste and garbage bins are also available.

There will be no rate increase associated with the new bins. Roger Pugliese, chair of Topanga Association for a Scenic Community, said he was contacted by Smith to discuss the new bins and was pleased at his interest in working with the community before delivering the bins. Pugliese's concern was that any fee increase would discourage recycling.

With a few exceptions, Smith said the automated waste pickup in the Canyon is working out. He said it is not taking the driver any longer.

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New Septic Rules in the Pipeline

By Susan Chasen

At a recent workshop on septic systems organized by the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee, several governmental and environmental representatives warned that tighter regulations for septic systems are on the way, as a means of improving water quality in Santa Monica Bay and the watersheds draining into it.

In the future, septic systems may be licensed like cars with registration fees and periodic inspection requirements similar to the smog check system. Another option may be to create a special district similar to city sewer districts that would regulate and maintain operation of thousands of individual sewage disposal systems throughout the Santa Monica Mountains.

In September 2000, the state legislature passed Assembly Bill 885, requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt regulations and standards for septic systems by January 1, 2004. It also calls for the state board to make loans to local agencies to assist private property owners when the cost of compliance exceeds one-half of one percent of the property's assessed value.

"A septic system is a little more like a car than a building and should be permitted more like a car," said Stephen Groner of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project's septic management task force. "It's a working system and it should be treated that way."

The June 8 meeting at Topanga Elementary School was attended by only about 25 Topanga residents. There was some discussion of whether creating a new bureaucracy to administer septic regulations was like trying to kill a mosquito with a tank, when a genuine link implicating septic systems over other known sources of pollution hasn't been established. There are numerous anecdotal accounts of deliberate diversion of wastewater into creeks and, from some beach houses, into the ocean, as well as illegal encampments with no sanitary facilities, that suggest other significant and more tractable sources of pollution.

"Absent any data, high in Fernwood, how can we know it's really a problem?"asked Casey Kelley, one of several realtors from Coast & Canyon who attended to keep abreast of the issue.

"I'm not hearing how you're going to measure a working system."

Kelley expressed concern about blanket regulations being adopted that do not make sense for Topanga and other similar communities. She noted septic systems that have been declared failures that work fine once a gray water system is installed.

Groner presented recommendations from the septic system task force that included developing a data base of septic systems, creating a permitting program and a waste management district.

Kelley said the first recommendation would involve inspectors coming to everyone's house; the second means "that guy is going to come back;" and the waste management district means everyone will be taxed to pay for the first two.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's field deputy Susan Nissman explained that up to now septic systems have been evaluated based on compliance with plumbing codes and proper design and installation, not based on pollution prevention and awareness of the limited functional life of the system.

"This is a regulated clean water issue," said Nissman. "Septic systems are designed to last 20 years. A house is built to last 100 years. There's a little bit of a dichotomy there."

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NY Times Takes up SuperScooper Cause

A Topanga organization dedicated to acquiring SuperScooper firefighting aircraft for Los Angeles County on a permanent basis, Citizens For Aerial Fire Protection, was featured in the National Report of the New York Times on June 15.

Written by reporter James Sterngold of Pacific Palisades, the article characterized some residents of the Topanga/Malibu area as "on almost a war footing against the Los Angeles County Fire Department," but Tony Morris, longtime Topangan, Messenger reporter and member of CFAFP, said the grassroots organization has gone out of its way to meet with L.A. County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman and to stress cooperation and not confrontation.

President of Aerial Fire Protection Associates, Bob Cavage, said "We want the Fire Department to be our partner, not our enemy."

Ground moisture levels are the lowest in decades and there is a major buildup of vegetation that hasn't burned in decades.

The county Fire Department's position is that the SuperScooper's 1,600-gallon water scooping capability is effective in certain areas, but is not worth the $21 million cost for each plane.

The Times reported that concerned residents are considering a $50-million fundraising effort to buy two aircraft, drawing on the area's many wealthy homeowners with multi-million dollar homes to defend who might find investment in the planes attractive.

The article quotes longtime political activist Gordon Murley, a former president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Homeowners whose members live throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, saying that helicopters are "like a squirt gun when your house is on fire."

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's comment in the Times was that the SuperScooper is one tool in the county's firefighting arsenal, but it's not necessarily the best tool. He said the county does not plan to buy the aircraft, which costs $21 million, because it can't afford them and they're not necessary.

The county Fire Department leases two SuperScoopers every year from Quebec, Canada, for $1.7 million from September to December. Fire officials said the SuperScooper has more difficulty maneuvering in canyons than helicopters, are expensive to maintain and would be used infrequently. The county's Firehawk helicopters are used regularly in accident rescues and emergency medical transport.

Cavage, however, countered that other expensive firefighting equipment such as fireboats and fire equipment at the airport are rarely used.

Since the article appeared, Yaroslavsky's press deputy Joel Bellman said, "The county does not have a blank check to purchase SuperScoopers." But he maintained that the county will always meet its obligation to protect lives and property.

According to Cavage, a retired aeronautical engineer, the recent crash of a C-130 tanker in Northern California points out the limitations of using surplus military aircraft for aerial firefighting. Both wings of the C-130 fell off the aircraft as it was dropping retardant. He maintains that the SuperScooper is designed to withstand the stress of repeated water dropping operations.

In a research paper written more than 20 years ago Cavage wrote: "A significant safety feature of the CL-215 (an earlier version of the SuperScooper) is that it can structurally withstand the repeated high wing-stress-reversals implicit in water dropping operations. The current fixed wing fleet is structurally vulnerable to premature failures from this phenomenon: several have already lost their wings during water drop operations."

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Edison to Begin Tree Trimming

Southern California Edison (SCE) will begin conducting its annual required line clearing maintenance trimming within the next few weeks throughout the Topanga Canyon area to meet with the requirements of state laws and regulations. Asplundh Tree Expert Company will complete Southern California Edison's routine safety and reliability trimming. Both SCE and Asplundh have conducted this maintenance in the past for safety and reliability for the citizens of the Canyon area and will continue to do so in the future. Suggestions and concerns of the residents have been reviewed by SCE and Asplundh and will be considered during the maintenance trimming in the area. If there are any questions about the scheduling or trimming in the Canyon contact Asplundh at (909) 672-1270.

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Ride'em Cowboy

The El Dustberry outdoor classroom and therapeutic riding center is back in the saddle again after relocating from Old Canyon to Paradise Lane.

The non-profit El Dustberry Ranch offers therapeutic riding based on animal-assisted therapy, programs for all those with special needs and free services for cancer patients and their families.

The outdoor classroom offers hands-on learning experiences including interaction with horses, integrated with arts and crafts, customized programs to enrich curriculum, and nature walks exploring the history and culture of the indigenous people of Topanga Canyon.

Programs in English and Spanish will run throughout the year.

For information call (818) 789-7824.

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