Hybrid Vigor on Topanga Roads

By Susan Chasen

Long before state Assemblymember Fran Pavley's historic bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from California cars by 2009 was signed into law, numerous Topanga drivers had already traded in their gas-guzzlers for new fuel- efficient hybrids.

By 2009, they'll be trying out new fuel-cell prototypes.

In the two years since Honda and Toyota's low-emission hybrid vehicles arrived at American dealerships, Topangans have been buying them in surprising numbers. They are quietly--almost silently--proving that hybrids perform perfectly well on our steep, narrow and winding roads. And they are enjoying their role as vanguard consumers, test driving the cars of the future, even enduring a few remaining kinks for the sake of the environment.

VOL.26 NO. 17



What is the plural of Prius? Here are four of them with their owners, from left: Kirsty Iredale, Graham Dodge, David Totheroh and Rebecca Catterall, and at right, Patricia Tackett showing her keen Honda Insight.

The reward, of course, is the gas mileage, which is in the 45-miles-per-gallon range for the Toyota Prius sedan and even higher for the two-seater Honda Insight. These are the two prominent hybrid cars currently on the market. Honda is also beginning to sell a hybrid Civic. The hybrid Civic and the Prius both cost about $20,000, about $2,500 more than a standard similar car would cost. The Insight runs about $18,000. American car companies are planning to follow suit with new hybrid models in the next few years.

Prius owner David Totheroh invented his own license tag slogan.

The hybrid car combines a gasoline engine and an electric motor to dramatically increase fuel-efficiency, while still operating like a standard car.

The only complaint that might be of special concern to Topangans is that, in at least one case, rodents gnawed on the electrical cables, costing $1,486 in repairs.

But otherwise Topanga hybrid drivers are well pleased with their choice.

"I love having this car. It is peppy and sporty--especially after the Pathfinder," said Rebecca Catterall, who purchased her Prius in December.

Under the hood of the Prius is a tidy arrangement of the electric- and gas-powered motors. The battery is behind the back seat.

"If we want stuff like this, we're going to have to support it....It doesn't seem to be at a sacrifice. It's a great car and a dividend for the environment."

Catterall now visits the gas station every two weeks instead of every four days to fill a her smaller, 11.7-gallon gas tank. She said the car has changed the way she drives.

"You back off on speed a little bit," said Catterall, to improve fuel efficiency.

With elaborate dashboard displays providing instantaneous fuel consumption and energy production readings, the ultimate fine-tuning of the hybrid car appears to be on the drivers themselves.

"You get addicted to your little consumption meter," said Graham Dodge, sales manager at Topanga Rug Company in Pine Tree Circle, who bought his Prius in July and commutes to work in Topanga.

"It's like playing a game. I'm always trying to get the best mileage I can get."

The pleasure of watching fuel efficiency gains in real time encourages drivers to reduce speeds slightly to optimize their feedback. Dodge said he used to speed to a stop at red lights and bolt away at green, but that's all changed now.

"It's actually improved my driving," said Dodge. "Now the longer I brake for, the better for charging....Every car owner should have a consumption meter in their car."

The goal in the Prius is to run on the hybrid's electric power as much as possible because it creates no emissions and consumes no fossil fuel. The dashboard meters show whether energy is being generated or consumed and whether the gas engine or electric motor or both are operating. A "regenerative braking" system even re-captures energy as the car slows down.

Dodge said he is averaging 50 miles per gallon, traveling 550 miles on one tank of gas. He's aiming for 600 miles. His old car, a 1993 Mazda MX6 got 27 miles per gallon.

Patricia Tackett got her Honda Insight in January 2001. She gets 57.6 miles per gallon and hasn't had any significant problems. She marvels at how it approaches the idea of perpetual motion--the mechanical equivalent of immortality.

"The fact that you're moving creates the power to keep on moving," said Tackett. "It's wonderful being able to drive and not feel guilty."

A recent trip to Las Vegas and back cost only $14 in gas.

"It's a great car. I love it."

The Prius and Insight hybrid systems share impressive gas mileage ratings in common, but their designs are actually the inverse of each other. The Prius seeks to be an electricity-powered vehicle, relying on a gas engine to keep its specialized battery charged, while the Insight uses electricity to perfect the fuel-efficiency of its gas engine. The result is that the Prius makes its most impressive mileage gains under the stop and go conditions of city traffic and the Honda performs at its best fuel efficiency on the open road.

"In stop and go on the freeway or city, the engine goes off, you're not emitting anything. That's really nice in L.A.," said Dodge.

Kirsty Iredale, who in 2000 was one of the first in the Canyon to buy a Prius, agrees.

"It's the perfect city car," said Iredale.

"I absolutely made the choice, trying to make a difference, doing something positive rather than just consuming. I love it, but it's a little mysterious if things go wrong."

Iredale had the rodent wire-eating problem. The hybrid car has more electrical wiring but she is not sure exactly what attracted the rodents. She has been exploring ways, short of sealing off the garage, to keep them out. She also had to have the valves replaced in the first two weeks and later a new computer "brain" had to be installed.

She has found that Toyota service in Marina del Rey is better equipped to assist Prius owners than the dealership service center in Santa Monica where she purchased the car. Despite her problems she said: "It's still worth it."

One of the pleasures of the car, she noted, was how simple it was to buy.

"There were only two options--a CD player and floor mats. It was great."

With few hybrid competitors on the market at the time there was little room to haggle over price. She paid a little under $18,000 for the car after a $2,000 tax credit.

The Prius comes with an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty. The first five routine maintenance visits are free, though it was private auto insurance that covered the rat damage.

Now, side airbag and cruise control options have been added.

David Totheroh bought his Prius in April .

"This is my first ever new car," said Totheroh, whose other car is a 1990 Dodge Ram.

"It's paying a small price to get to where we need to get to in terms of reducing pollution. It's nice to invest in technology that's moving in the direction that I think is the right way to go."

Perhaps the only downside for Totheroh is that the new technology makes it impossible for him to maintain the car himself.

"I've always bought used cars and maintained them myself," said Totheroh.

"Do-it-yourself tinkering doesn't exist anymore."

With average gas mileage of 46 miles per gallon, he's not complaining. He made it to San Francisco on one tank of gas--about $15 for 11.7 gallons.

Another popular feature of the hybrid car is the way it falls pleasantly silent when idle or cruising on electric power.

"One day I left it on!" said Iredale. She said a blind friend of hers was a little "freaked out" by the quiet ride.

While the quiet may call for a little extra caution around Topanga's curvy neighborhood streets, Catterall said it's a positive. Her main concern was in backing up.

"I think they should have a beeping system," she said.

Totheroh said at first he thought the car was cutting out when it went electric. Now, he said, when he hears noise from other cars he thinks something is going wrong.

Totheroh initially had problems with the audio circuitry in his new Prius, but that's been resolved.

Catterall's problem with tires is perhaps more typical. She found that her tires wore down to the steel and had to be replaced at 8,000 miles. Toyota has recalled the tires over this problem, but there is still some controversy over the proper air pressure for the Prius tires.

"The problems I've had are not a big deal," she said.

While hybrids are not designed to pull trailers, Catterall said she has learned that a bike rack is OK.

Dodge, who commutes to Topanga, bought his Prius in Hollywood. He said he thought the new Honda Civic hybrid now on the market helped drive his price down. He bought his car on sale for $18,000. His biggest complaint is the lack of center armrest, but he is finding numerous after-market upgrade options over the internet.

"That's the first thing I'll order."

Even on sale, the purchase price was more than Dodge wanted to spend, but he's saving $40 a month in gas expenses and he views his decision as a political-environmental statement.

"Buying this car was kind of like voting for Ralph Nader," said Dodge. "I knew it wasn't really going to do anything, but it was sort of like making a point....They're not having an immediate effect right now, but if someone doesn't buy them now, SUV drivers won't buy them later."

Assemblymember Pavley said she's not surprised that Topangans are enthusiastic about hybrids.

"I've heard nothing but positive comments on them," said Pavley. "People like the ease and convenience of being able to go to their regular gas station."

She said she is pursuing an exception to allow state-leased vehicles, normally limited to American car models, to include foreign hybrids since American manufacturers have not yet begun to offer hybrid options.

She said she will also be looking to buy herself a hybrid car.

"I hope to get one in the next year or two."

As more options become available, Pavley predicts that many more families will have hybrids at least for their second car. Ford is planning to introduce a hybrid Escape sport-utility vehicle that will get 40 miles per gallon compared to 26 in the standard version.

"You'll just see the consumer having a larger variety of these kinds of choices."

She is also establishing a task force to create a public information campaign on the hybrid car.

"Some people think it still needs to be plugged in," said Pavley. "I hope in the future to let the public know how easy it is to operate and how economical it is at the gas pump."

Pavley said she has ridden in a bus powered by fuel-cell technology--which is believed to be the next wave of fuel efficient vehicles. She is watching a consortium of auto-makers and oil companies working in Sacramento to adapt the technology for affordable passenger vehicles.

Out of 17 million cars sold in America last year, only 20,000 were hybrids. But that is expected to change. By 2006 surveys predict sales of a half-million.


Horse Dies Despite Extraordinary Rescue


Henry Ridge rescue of horse named Ace.

By Tony Morris

On August 8, firefighters from the city and county of Los Angeles fire departments, helicopters, a county search and rescue team and numerous Topanga residents rushed to 1075 Henry Ridge to rescue a 6-year-old horse who had fallen down a steep hillside. Within minutes of the 911 call firefighters and concerned residents were on the scene.

According to Glory Fioramonti, the Arab gelding named Ace escaped from the corral he shared with his mother, Tiara, and fell down a steep hillside. Randi Johnson, owner of the corral, sounded the alarm and called Fioramonti, a close friend of Ace's owner Ken Carter.

A Los Angeles County inmate crew assisted county and city firefighters and neighbors and friends in clearing an area so the horse could be airlifted out.

Within minutes, five television news helicopters were flying above the accident site. The helicopters concerned many residents who feared there was a wildfire in the Canyon. A number of television stations in Los Angeles provided live coverage of the rescue operation. Topanga neighbor David Japka, an industrial film producer, photographed the dramatic rescue operation which lasted for four hours.

Volunteers and firefighters worked together to stabilize Ace's position on the hillside. Topanga resident Thad Geer cut brush to provide a barrier so the horse would not fall into a ravine. County inmate fire crews cleared an open space for the first of two lifts by the Los Angeles City Fire Department helicopter.

Veterinarian Lauren Palmer tends to Ace back at the corral.

Fioramonti said horse blankets, mattresses and other materials were used to stabilize Ace's position during the rescue. Lauren Palmer, a veterinarian from the Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital treated Ace at the scene.

Los Angeles County Fire Station 125's Captain Terry Harmon said Ace was first lifted by helicopter to an open area so he could be fitted with a safety-lift harness. Harmon said the rescue operation involved battalion chiefs from Los Angeles city and county, Urban Search and Rescue team 103 from Pico Rivera and Assistant Fire Chief Paul Schuster as well as a team of inmate firefighters.

After Ace had been stabilized, a Los Angeles City Fire Department helicopter, outfitted with a special harness for horse rescues, airlifted the horse back to his corral. According to Captain Joe Castro of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, the rescue harness was designed specifically for horse rescue by a group of horse owners in Burbank and Glendale. Castro said that for many years the LAFD was assisted by the Los Angeles Zoo during horse rescues. A make-shift net to lift wildebeest was used for horses, but the design was improvised and there was always a danger that the horse could slip out of the net. The harness now used by the LAFD provides support for the horse and utilizes a large balloon attached to the front to prevent spinning as a result of downdraft from the helicopter's blades.

Veterinarian Palmer observed that Ace was dehydrated, suffering from shock to his system and had sustained internal injuries. Despite the heroic efforts to save him, Ace had to be put to sleep.

Japka, who recently moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey to pursue his dream of directing feature films, documented the drama with his camera. He said the momentous operation was poignant to witness.

"They spent a considerable amount of time and effort to save the animal," said Japka. "That's nice to know."

The Flying Ace


Ace 7/11/96 - 8/8/02

By Randi Johnson

A helicopter's familiar thwuppa-thwuppa began around 11 o'clock that morning--nothing unusual during these hot summer days--but half an hour later there were eight choppers circling the same area above Henry Ridge. By 2:30 I counted 11 in the sky. Anyone who was in the Canyon on Thursday, August 8, couldn't help but hear that worrisome, relentless rumble of engines and whacking blades.

My voice mail filled up quickly with nervous calls from neighbors wondering what was going on and if I could see a fire from my perch on the Ridge. Soon enough, everyone learned it wasn't a fire at all, but rather a horse named Ace who was trapped in the brush. As Fire Captain Terry Harmon of the Woodland Hills fire station told me, "Let's hope this is the only time we have to come up here this year. Let's hope that this is Topanga's version of a fire."

An intricately coordinated effort between the Calabasas and Woodland Hills fire stations, two fire department helicopters, and the Department Air Rescue Team known as DART unfolded for nearly four hours. The rest of the choppers belonged to various news teams who were intent upon getting a good story for the six o'clock news.

Ace's story began up in Canyon Country where he was born to Tiara, a regally speckled Russian Arabian mare. Their devoted owner, Ken Carter, had moved Ace and Tiara to Henry Ridge this past July 20. My corral had been sadly empty ever since Santana and Patty-Lyn, my two elderly horse pals, had passed on last winter. Tiara and Ace more than filled the void. They made friends right away with all the hikers, cyclists and other horses who regularly trot by. At first, it was startling to hear their full range of nickers and neighs which greeted the passersby. Their loud vocalizing was akin to dogs barking except that it has to do with being social rather than protective.

As an energetic, highly spirited 6-year-old, Ace needed some brushing up on his training, which my housemate Robin and my cousin Michael were both eager to do. Two nights before Ace fell into the ravine, Robin and Michael had taken Ace and Tiara on their first long-ish trail ride--all the way up Greenleaf, across Alta and back down Henry Ridge. They passed a rattler in the road and Ace stepped over it with barely a blink. He was already a sturdy, reliable and alert trail horse.

Ace was completely bonded to Tiara. He had no interest in leaving the corral without her or in being left behind--that was to be the next training hurdle. So why he went through the electric fence a short time after eating his breakfast was very puzzling. Dr. Lauren Palmer, the skilled and compassionate vet who was on the front line during Ace's rescue, is quite sure that he was beginning to colic--an umbrella term covering a range of gastrointestinal problems in horses. The symptoms aren't always obvious and he may have had some agonizing stomach cramps which caused him to roll or bust through the fence. Intense colic pain often causes horses to panic and to behave erratically, according to Dr. Palmer.

Around 10 a.m., Tiara alerted me--lots of spinning, leaping and whinnying--that something was amiss, and the three dogs and I went out to find Ace. The dogs discovered him about 200 yards from the barn, off the dirt road which leads down to Greenleaf. He was excited and scrambled towards me. But the slope was too steep and his big, intelligent eyes flickered with alarm as the rubble and sandstone crumbled over his hooves and he slipped farther down the slope. I pulled back the well-meaning but unhelpful barking dogs and ran to the house for help.

A few minutes later, Ken, Glory, Arnufo and Thad roared up from Greenleaf. Ace had fallen deeper into the dense tangle of ceanothus and sumac. They cleared brush with a chainsaw and got some ropes around Ace to keep him from falling more. The more Ace thrashed and tried to climb out of the brush, the more he slid into the ravine and the harder it was to hold onto him.

I dialed 911 and phoned our local Station 69 only to find out that they were on a drill up in Malibu. Calabasas Station 125 arrived within 20 minutes. Our regular horse vet was on vacation and his back-up was dealing with another emergency. It was another frantic 20 minutes before I finally located Dr. Palmer. The Woodland Hills fire station came an hour later as the situation became more dire. The fire departments called in the remarkable DART Unit which is a one-of-a-kind division of the Los Angeles City Department of Animal Services.

By the time the helicopter lowered its ropes, got hooked into the harness and lifted the sleeping Ace into the sky, there were at least 60 people watching on the Ridge. There was a collective gasp as we watched this magnificent vision of a horse swinging across the glorious Topanga landscape. The flying Ace. Hardly any of us had ever seen anything like this. We cried with relief, with the wonder of it all. The Christ statue swooping across Rome at the opening of Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" became an inevitable, strangely ironic, comparison.

The pilot lowered his cargo into the corral with such delicate accuracy. In spite of the blinding dust and ferocious wind generated by the chopper, it felt like he was placing a sleeping baby in a crib. To witness all this human effort, all of these public resources working so effectively and successfully to save this animal's life, made Ace's final outcome all the more heartbreaking.

Ace recovered and woke up about 20 minutes later, as predicted by Dr. Palmer and the DART Unit. We hovered and stroked him and whispered in his ears until he suddenly bolted upright and jumped to his feet. No broken legs! We had to struggle to keep him quiet and calm. He was a bit dazed but mainly rarin' to go. Everyone cheered with relief and congratulated and thanked each other.

By 5 p.m., only the NBC and CBS news trucks were still around. Ace seemed to be doing better and better, but then he took a downturn and began exhibiting severe colic symptoms. He still hadn't pooped or urinated--a bad sign. He was kicking his legs in the air and trying to roll on his back, thrashing more and more. We managed to reach Dr. Palmer as she was headed home and she returned to the Ridge.

The blazing sun finally went down over Big Rock. Ace's symptoms became dramatically worse. It was beyond anguishing to see this noble, brave animal in such pain, so helpless and yet fighting so hard. Dr. Palmer confirmed that he had a badly twisted intestine. An impossible decision had to be made. We could try and get him into a trailer and transport him to the Somis horse hospital where he would undergo surgery and maybe or maybe not survive. His body had already been through so much stress and so much anesthesia that his chances of making it were diminished considerably. When pressed, Dr. Palmer doubted whether he would even survive the one hour trip up to Somis.

Ken, with all of us supporting him, decided that the risks for more wrenching agony were just too great. With great care, Dr. Palmer gave Ace his final injections. The powerful muscles of his body softened as the tension and pain receded. He let out a long snort and then heaved a few sighs of deep release. We held his head and told him for the thousandth time what a brave and magnificent horse he was.

He was buried the next morning at the bottom of my little meadow next to Santana and Patty Lyn in the shade of the black walnut trees.


All of the DART members are regular animal control officers who volunteer especially for this unit because they are either horsepeople or because they just love the unexpected nature of rescuing everything from snakes to mountain lions to stranded horses. They train with Los Angeles County and Los Angeles City fire departments and they have state-of-the-art equipment. They are the unsung heroes of these sorts of rescue efforts.

If you have a horse emergency, call 911 and tell them you need the Los Angeles County Fire Department and have them notify the DART unit, which is part of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services. The DART unit needs to be alerted by another agency as it is the only unit of its kind in Southern California and is in nearly constant demand.

If you have any questions about the DART unit, please call Officer Tranzow at (323) 276-5024.


RCD Discusses Grants, Pierce College

By Susan Chasen

The Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains board of directors voted August 13 to offer its top administrator post to Mary Angle, a Malibu resident who has worked for the Save the Redwoods League as well as the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

Few details were made available regarding the selection pending Angle's response and an official announcement from the RCD. There were 18 applicants for the RCD district manager post being vacated by Margo Murman, who is stepping down for family reasons and to pursue her interest in urban agriculture.

The board voted at the same meeting to offer its new part-time urban agriculture coordinator position to Murman and to formally hire conservation biologist Steve Williams who has been working at the RCD on an interim basis for about a year.

The new district manager is expected to begin in the first week of September.

The board also voted to change its monthly meeting date from the second to the third Tuesday to allow board members more time to review informational materials. The move is intended as an experiment for now. Next month's meeting will be on September 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the RCD building, 122 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

The board heard a report on Pierce College's $166 million renovation and construction plans and discussed the new 62-page "Living Lightly in Our Watersheds" booklet produced by the Malibu Creek Watershed Advisory Council. Board member Dennis Washburn said the booklet has created a "sensation" among many residents of the Santa Monicas who have already received it. It provides a wealth of conservation-related information and resources. It is an expansion of the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee's own "Living Lightly in the Watershed" guide which can be found at the back of Topanga's "455" directory for 2001. Topangans are due to get the new booklets shortly. Topanga graphic designer Phyllis Persechini donated her company's services for the project.

New grants the RCD is seeking include several related to removing non-native, fire-prone trees. Three pre-applications have been submitted for Wildland Urban Interface project grants through the National Parks Service totaling over $1 million. One, "Exotic Tree Removal in High Fire Risk Communities," requests $896,614 to pay homeowner expenses to cut down 1,000 exotic trees like eucalyptus and pines at an average cost of $700 per tree. A second, "Pine Tree Removal at Topanga Elementary, A Community Shelter Site," seeks $139,910 to take out 130 pine trees at Topanga Elementary School and for replanting and erosion control. A third seeks $119,706 for a community chipper program.

A separate grant application seeks $48,000 for a non-herbicide-based project to remove the invasive reed plant Arundo donax from portions of the Topanga watershed. The Topanga Arundo Removal Project, or TARP, will use tarps to discourage Arundo from returning once it is cut out.

The RCD is also awaiting response this month on its requests for proposals for two projects related to the Topanga Creek Watershed and Lagoon Restoration project. One provides $180,000 for conceptual design and preliminary engineering and environmental review for the excavation and restoration of Topanga Lagoon. The other provides $120,000 calls for design analysis for elevating a fifth-mile stretch of Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the narrows, 2.2 miles from Pacific Coast Highway.

Washburn, who is also a Calabasas city councilman, announced that there will be a Pumpkin Festival this year on October 19 and 20 at Paramount Ranch. Anyone interested in having a booth should call the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce at (818) 222-5680.

Washburn also announced that he will be flying to China in October to visit Calabasas' new sister city Anqing, population 6 million, in Anhue Province, 300 miles west of Shanghai. Anqing, he said, is the opera center of China and one of the opera capitals of the world.

"They found us through our website," said Washburn. He is seeking other civic or business leaders who might join him on the trip--he got a round-trip ticket to Shanghai for $657--to explore economic and cultural exchange possibilities.

Pierce College News

Representatives of Pierce College made a presentation on the college's master plan draft environmental impact report covering plans for renovations, expansion and replacement of outdated facilities, as well as for accommodating a projected enrollment increase from 18,118 students last year to 23,000 students by 2010.

From the facilities construction bond measure, Proposition A, passed in 2001, Pierce received an allocation of $166 million for construction projects on its 384-acre San Fernando Valley campus. The master plan would create 500,000 square feet of new building area, nearly double the current 584,000 square feet, but new development would be mostly confined within the existing developed areas, retaining 95 percent of the current agricultural lands.

Public/private partnerships are also being pursued for construction of about 450 student housing units. Currently, Pierce--a two-year community college--has no student housing. A portion of the new housing will be provided for senior citizens who are involved with the college in some way, whether as "life-long learners," retired teachers, docents, members of the campus symphony or other affiliation. Also, private involvement is sought for research facilities and perhaps with a major winemaker for the college's viticulture program.

Another major addition to the campus will be a much-expanded equestrian center with up to six barns and a 2,500-seat event arena.

James Rikel, chairman of Pierce's Life Science's Department, outlined portions of the EIR. He said the goal of the master plan is to re-establish Pierce as a center for urban agricultural education.

The EIR finds three areas of unavoidable significant impact--visual impacts created by the new buildings, possible demolition of two buildings eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources, and air quality impacts from construction and traffic resulting from increased enrollment.

But Rikel defended the college's commitment to genuine mitigation measures to minimize impacts. For example, he said concerns that new construction will create barriers for migrating Canada geese that forage on the campus from November to February each year have been addressed and that designs will take into account the birds' flight path and take-off needs.

The RCD's Murman said she was impressed by the handling of the geese issue in the EIR, but would be discussing it further with Audubon experts.

"It's the only migratory bird that people see," said Murman, so it has a unique educational value.

While the geese can be a problem for the farm, she explained that it's the same problem farmers across the country have. Pierce is an ideal place to work out solutions that don't further restrict grazing options for migratory birds, she said.

"So many farmers in the flyways have to deal with migratory waterfowl," said Murman. "We can work out solutions."

Rikel also said that new construction will employ the latest "green" design formulas to maximize sustainability with respect to energy and water consumption and materials used.

"We hope our buildings will be a teaching tool," said Rikel.

The campus is already installing equipment that, using methane and heat exhaust, is expected to be generating 40 percent of the campus' power by February.

Murman said she will be making an extensive review of the massive Pierce EIR to ensure that promised agriculture education goals and opportunities remain at the forefront despite the extensive new building proposals.

There will be a public workshop on the draft EIR August 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Pierce College cafeteria. Comments will be accepted through September 10. A final EIR is expected to be approved in December with implementation to extend from 2003 to 2010.


Schuster is New Assistant Fire Chief

By Tony Morris

Paul Schuster, a 28-year veteran firefighter, has been appointed an assistant fire chief with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and will be based at county fire station 70 in Malibu. He is replacing Mike Dyer who was recently promoted to deputy fire chief. Schuster will oversee operations at 17 fire stations including Topanga's station 69.

A resident of Hacienda Heights, Schuster said he understands the special needs of residents living in urban wildland interface communities such as Malibu and Topanga. With the burn index for vegetation at dangerously high levels, Schuster stressed that residents have a critical role in preventing wildfires by making certain they have completed adequate brush clearance around their homes. This includes clearance around outbuildings, propane tanks and firewood.

Chief Schuster was the county Fire Department's incident operations chief at the Copper Canyon fire in Santa Clarita this past June. During this major wildfire evacuation, plans were coordinated between the Fire Department and the Sheriff's Department for residents as well as numerous horses in the area. An evacuation plan should be made by all residents living in areas where wildfires occur. Schuster said that if some residents decide to remain in their homes after an evacuation order has been issued by the Fire Department they do so at their own risk. Identifying a survivable space on their property is critical, Schuster said. He is concerned however, that people are prepared and well-educated about the risks before they choose to stay.

Schuster expects to meet with representatives of the Arson Watch, Disaster Response Team, T-CEP and the Firesafe Committee in Topanga.


Old Canyon Begins 65-Day Road Work

Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is scheduled to begin road resurfacing and repair work on Old Topanga Canyon Road on August 19. The 65-day project includes resurfacing and rebuilding roadway pavement and replacement of existing guardrails with weathering steel. The new guardrails will take on a patina over time to blend in better with the environment.

The work will extend from a half mile south of Valdez Road to the intersection with Topanga Canyon Boulevard, beginning at the north end. Two-way traffic may be reduced to one lane controlled by flaggers, for a maximum of 200 feet, during daylight working hours.


New Mural for Fellowship Sunday School


A new mural in the Sunday school room at Topanga Christian Fellowship depicts children at play.

By Susan Chasen

A new mural at the Topanga Christian Fellowship was a collaborative effort of several artists to enliven the children's room for a newly launched Sunday school program at the church.

The mural depicts children at play, from surfing to kite flying and sandcastle building, along with lots of birds and bugs.

Several artists contributed their skills to the project to create the atmosphere the church's new Sunday school director, Suzanne Jensen, wanted for the children, said Pastor Bob Harris.

Topanga artist Valerie Freeman served as sketch artist for the project, first for the backgrounds and then returning to sketch in some of the figures. Church member and artist Karen Moran supplied the paints. Other artists Louisa Dunn, Jeanne Merchant, Uriah Carr and Dru Harris--Pastor Bob's wife--painted in the figures and critters. Even Harris joined in with his paint brush on the project.

In Sunday school, children will be learning the Old Testament Bible stories. The children go to Sunday school for the second half of the church's regular Sunday morning service which begins at 10:30.

Harris said the Sunday school program is returning after a two-year hiatus. Members of the church are also fixing up an outdoor play area and planning landscaping and benches for a sitting area where members can gather.

Gradually the church is regaining membership after a period of controversy over whether to stay independent or become affiliated with another church organization. Harris said there are currently 35 to 40 people coming to Sunday service.

"We're really trying to reconnect with the community," he said.

Another program in the works at the church will be a family movie night. Harris said they have already ordered a curtain and are working to put together a good screening system for the films.

In addition to Sunday service, Topanga Christian Fellowship offers Wednesday night Bible study from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information call (310) 455-1048 or e-mail


College Interns' "Real World" Summer in Topanga


Topanga's visiting Fire Education Corp, from left: Amber Wardwell, Marcie Horsky, Bridget Welch, Sarah Minze, Kris Orheim and team leader Cara Goar.

By Susan Chasen

Most of the seven college students from around the country who joined this summer's Fire Education Corp assigned to Topanga Canyon could not help admitting that fire prevention internships were not exactly their first choice.

But, as one after another of their preferred choices were taken, the beckoning ranks of the several hundred-strong Fire Education Corp began to fill. And so these brave volunteers came knocking on our Topanga--no solicitations please--doors to tell us what many of us already know should be done (but haven't as of yet done) to make our homes safer in a wildfire.

It was gratifying to learn that they were often politely received. Many people actually answered their doors.

For the students, six of whom lived together in a small apartment in Thousand Oaks somewhat stranded because of restrictions on the use of their vehicle, it was like "Real World" meets the "real world." Each had their own special assignment and they had an opportunity to test their skills on a genuine public- education campaign. Several are going home with new ideas for their future career plans.

"Everyone was really nice to us," said Amber Wardwell, a mass communications major at the University of Evansville in Indiana, who was in charge of media relations.

"Even those who didn't want a home evaluation said 'no thank you.' Topanga's been the perfect community to work in."

The Fire Education Corp is part of the Student Conservation Association which provides similar teams in 31 communities across the country, working with local fire departments and parks agencies to reduce the wildland fire threat to homes and property. The National Parks Service sponsors the teams. Before coming to Topanga, they spent two weeks at the Fire Training Center in Boise, Idaho.

For their efforts, the three-month interns will receive $1,180 in college funding and school credits.

Since beginning on June 16, the six team members and team leader Cara Goar have canvassed 200 Topanga homes, offered 54 free home fire-safety evaluations, visited local neighborhood disaster preparedness meetings and set up information tables at several area fairs and events.

Marcie Horsky came to Topanga from Steubenville, Ohio. She will be a junior this year studying conservation biology at Muskingum College. In Ohio, her conservation studies are focused on reversing the devastating effects of strip mining, so Topanga's issues were entirely new to her.

"I'm from Ohio. We don't have wildfires there," said Horsky.

She was particularly interested in the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and the programs at the Resource Conservation District.

"They seem to be doing a lot of things like I'd like to be doing," said Horsky.

As events coordinator, her job was to arrange for fire safety displays at county fairs, farmer's markets and other events. During her two months here, she arranged information booths for about 10 events, she said.

Kris Orheim, from Boulder, needed an internship to graduate from Western State College in Colorado where he is a recreation major.

His job was liaison to numerous agencies including the county Fire Department, State Parks and the National Parks Service. Orheim was the only one with his own car, so he managed to slip away and get some surfing in during his spare time.

"I love the people here. Everyone's really nice and laid back," said Orheim. "We haven't really come across any jerks or anything."

Well, maybe one or two, they acknowledged.

Orheim said he enjoyed his work and may pursue a career working for the National Parks or Forest Service, perhaps even in firefighting, as a result of his experiences this summer.

Sarah Mizne from Memphis just graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. As an anthropology major, her special job was to make contact with Topanga's indigenous homeowner population. She was responsible for scheduling home evaluations and getting leads on neighborhood meetings.

Mizne, who plans to join the Peace Corp next, said her experience in Topanga has been great.

"The people that I've dealt with that are involved are really into it," said Mizne.

In particular, Lynn Dickhoff on Robinson Road was a great help, she said, taking the team members around the neighborhood and introducing them to her neighbors.

One fire hazard Mizne noticed frequently was that people try to grow plants over their propane tanks to hide them when they should be doing the opposite--keeping them clear of plant debris. Propane tanks can withstand high temperatures, but burning debris beneath them can surpass those limits and the tank can become a small bomb.

Also, Mizne pointed out that many people let their plants and landscaping dry out, even die, when they leave for vacation.

The team members were also very grateful to Suji Gelerman who owns the Wildworks property. She read about them in the Messenger and saw them looking bored one morning at Waterlily Cafˇ, so she took them to her house for an evaluation. She already had brush clearance and trimming work underway on the property, so their tips were put right to use and team members were rewarded with an inside view of Wildworks.

"I've never been so close to a mountain lion before," said Wardwell.

Also helpful to the Fire Education Corp this summer were Assistant Fire Chief Paul Schuster, Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness, Ken Smith and John Hollis.

Among other fire hazards commonly found in Topanga were accumulated roof and gutter debris which can catch fire from flying embers during a wildfire and woodpiles too close to houses.

Goar said woodpiles should be 30 feet uphill from a house or 100 feet downhill. If those distances are not possible she suggested using a welder's blanket to cover it.

Bridget Welch of Colorado Springs is transferring to Humboldt State University this fall from Pikes Peak Community College. She will be a junior and plans to major in landscape ecosystems. Her specialty this summer was vegetation, giving advice on fire-prone versus fire-resistant species.

The biggest problem she found was eucalyptus, pines and junipers.

"Everyone has them," she said. "A lot of people want to get rid of their trees, but they can't afford it."

Holsky noted though that the trees need not be cut down and can be made much safer by trimming.

According to Welch, most people stop at brush clearance and don't follow through with smaller projects that can save their houses--like clearing out gutters and under decks. Also, attic vents should be screened to prevent embers being sucked into the house and chimneys should have spark arresters with screening. Another risk, she said, is compost piles, which can be very flammable.

As for planting, she said, "If you're going to have vegetation next to your house, it needs to be green."

Succulents and cactuses are fire resistant as long as they are kept clear of debris. Also, oaks and many native shrubs are fire resistant.

As team leader, Goar, a computer science graduate this year of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, has a longer internship--six months as compared to three for the others. She made the advance arrangements here and in Thousand Oaks and will be staying on through September after the others leave to complete remaining home evaluations and prepare a final report on the Topanga project.

"It was a great experience," said Goar. "It was definitely a challenge. I've never been in this much of a leadership position before."

Goar projects a certain inner peace that comes from being the only team member who had her own apartment for the summer. She sees herself working for a non-profit organization in the future.

Wardwell said the team's "Real World" experience minus the camera, living in a two-bedroom apartment, spending virtually all their work and leisure time together, had its difficulties.

"None of us knew each other before we got out here," said Wardwell. "We're told we're doing very well."

Coming from a small town in Indiana, she said Topanga's small, close-knit feeling reminds her of home.

In addition to Wildworks, the SCA team's experience of Topanga included one evening at Abuelitas drum circle and enjoying madrigal singers from their information table at the Theatricum Botanicum before the opening night performance of The Madwoman of Chaillot, though they didn't get to see the play. They went camping at Morro Bay and visited San Diego, but haven't seen much of Los Angeles, they said.

Chihao Tsui was away on fraternity business when his team-mates visited the Messenger. He was the mapping specialist.

They are hoping the National Parks Service will splurge and give them a trip to Anacapa Island before they leave August 22.

For more information about the program visit


WEB EDITION EDITOR:  Contact Topanga Messenger Web Editor      WEB SITE DESIGNER:  Honeybee Graphics
Topanga Messenger Newspaper
Santa Monica Mountains News and Arts Publication 
HOME - Dateline - Mouth of the Canyon
Classified Advertising - Real Estate - Emergency Response - Evacuating Topanga - Subscribe - About Us - Ad Rates & Specs
Search Messenger - Search Engines - Topanga Views - Fun Sites - Canyon Comix - Breaking News - Archives

  © Phoenix Rising Inc.
Not for reproduction without permission.

Web Site Design by