Heat Wave Causes Critical Water Shortage

The water tanks at Topanga Summit were down to 16 percent of capacity during the recent crisis.

By Tony Morris

With this year's Labor Day holiday temperatures reaching triple digits, there was an unusually high demand for water throughout Topanga and several of our water storage tanks were almost depleted as of September 3, creating a water shortage of at least four days that could have been disastrous had there been a fire.

VOL.26 NO. 19
September 19 - October 2, 2002


High water demand, depleted water levels in Fernwood, Saddle Peak and Topanga Summit water storage tanks and a damaged 30-inch water line on Pacific Coast Highway near Big Rock, caused a system alert, according to Mark Carney, Regional Superintendent of the Waterworks Division of the county Public Works Department.

During the water shortage a large mobile sign flashing "Please Conserve Water" was put up along Topanga Canyon Boulevard near the fire station and a fire tanker truck was brought in. The water tanks have been replenished, but water officials say conservation is still needed.

Waterworks engineers monitoring storage tank water levels with a remote computerized system learned that over the Labor Day holiday Topanga's Summit storage tanks, with a capacity of 1.2 million gallons, had been reduced to 200,000 gallons, Carney said. The two Fernwood tanks, with a combined capacity of 100,000 gallons, were nearly empty and the Canyon Oaks pumping station on East Hillside Drive, was not operating due to an electrical malfunction.

With a critical situation fast developing, Carney said his department notified Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's office, placed a notice on Public Works' website and called the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Assistant Fire Chief Paul Schuster said his office at Station 70 in Malibu was notified by Carney while Schuster was incident commander at the Leona fire in Bouquet Canyon. Schuster said he immediately contacted Deputy Fire Chief Mike Dyer at Los Angeles County Fire Department headquarters to request that Fire Department water trucks be deployed to Topanga's Station 69. Also, private water trucks were dispatched to other county fire stations to provide additional water supplies in the event of structure fires.

"We are very concerned when water levels go down," said Schuster. "An emergency occurred and we were ready to respond. We were even prepared to move a strike team into Topanga."

In addition to shortages at Topanga Summit and in Fernwood, tanks at Saddle Peak, normally holding 500,000 gallons, were down to 250,000 gallons and the 50,000 gallon Canyon Oaks tank at Hillside Drive was dry due to the pump malfunction. Carney said his department stationed a large capacity generator on Topanga Canyon Boulevard adjacent to the pump station to provide emergency power.

As for the Fire Department's ability to fight a wildfire with reduced water supplies, Fire Capt. Rick Pfeiffer at Station 69 said the county's Firehawk helicopter, which fills its 1,000-gallon tank at a landing zone adjacent to the Summit tanks, would have been able to refill 200 times with the 200,000 gallons remaining at the Summit tanks. The virtually empty Fernwood tanks, however, would have impacted the Fire Department's ability to respond to wildfires and structure fires, he said. An 8-inch, above-ground waterline is planned from Saddle Peak storage tanks to tie into the Fernwood tank system, he said.

By September 6 all of Topanga's tanks were re-filled.

Carney said, however, that water conservation remains critically important throughout the region.

"The summer is not over. Santa Ana winds will be blowing. It's important to have the cooperation of the public when it comes to water conservation," he said.

Topanga's system of water mains, branch lines and storage facilities is in the process of a major upgrade which may take 10 years to complete. With more than $40 million budgeted for upgrade projects, Topanga's existing water system remains fragile. Next spring a 16-inch main will be installed from the intersection of Fernwood Pacific and Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Old Topanga Road.


Over Local Protest, Coastal Commission Approves Malibu Plan; Topanga is Next


Malibu physician Jeff Harris displays a rose bush in his clemency plea for non-native plants and agriculture in the Santa Monica Mountains.

By Susan Chasen

After a grueling, 10-hour public hearing on September 12, with a few fiery moments and one bizarre personal attack, the California Coastal Commission has voted to adopt a Local Coastal Program for real-estate-crazed Malibu.

The Commission, meeting at the Westin Hotel-LAX, completed its hurried discussions and extensive last-minute changes and adopted the plan on September 13, in time to meet a September 15 deadline set by the state Legislature.

While the plan establishes a wide range of new land-use policies for the city of Malibu, the same policies, many of them highly controversial, are expected to be required in Topanga in the county's LCP now in the drafting stages.

Of everything in the plan--which critics called "insane" micro-management that at one time actually did include the kitchen sink, i.e. no disposals --nothing has been more controversial than the Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area map. In the new map most of the remaining developable area in Malibu is deemed Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, or ESHA.

Reaction to completion of the monumental LCP planning effort was notably tepid after months of strenuous wrangling over its contents, including threats of lawsuits from all quarters.

"There were huge compromises on both sides. But overall it's a good plan," said Commission chairwoman Sara Wan.

"I don't know if we're going to have a major increase in [environmental] protection....Now, it is up to the city. It remains to be seen how they will carry it out."

Malibu Mayor Jeff Jennings said the City Council will decide if the city can live with it, but litigation remains a possibility.

"I still remain convinced that our approach on ESHA is the superior approach," said Jennings. He urged the Commission to adopt a "tiered" system of resource protection that would restrict use according to the degree and type of habitat sensitivity.

"We felt that plan should have been given a more detailed look."

The Commission rejected calls from Malibu City Council, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Assemblymember Fran Pavley and the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation for the alternative "tiered" approach.

Commissioner Mike Reilly said the "tiered" proposal "could have some merit," but that there wasn't time to make such a significant change.

"I'm reluctant to take the plan and kind of pop it in," said Reilly. Instead, he encouraged the city to bring it forward as an amendment to the LCP at a later time.

The Commission went on to approve the highly controversial ESHA map. Both environmentalists and property rights activists believe they have grounds to sue. The conflict lies in the fact that the Coastal Act restricts development in an ESHA to "resource dependent" uses only, such as trails and parkland. But to avoid lawsuits charging that the government is "taking" private property by denying reasonable uses, the Coastal Commission also approved an exception that allows a 10,000-square-foot development area even in an ESHA. That would allow for homes up to 6,000 square feet, according to Commission staff.

Now that the tiered approach is back on the table, however, it raises a question about what force Malibu's new ESHA map will have.

Mary Nichols, Secretary of the state Resources Agency and a non-voting member of the Commission dropped a bombshell when she sided with critics of the ESHA map and suggest it be seen as "illustrative" rather than as "determinative."

"It doesn't make sense," she said, to put the burden on individual property owners and the city to remove properties that might be improperly included as ESHA.

Commission staff said that only 14 percent of the city is mapped ESHA if public parkland and steep slope areas comprising nearly half of the city are discounted. But Nichols said 14 percent is enough, given the restricted use in ESHAs.

"That's a lot of land if that's the land that's left to be developed," said Nichols.

Ultimately, if individual property owners are removed from the ESHA designation, it will promote a piecemeal, fragmented approach to resource protection, she said. Critics of the ESHA map have complained that more site specific analyses are needed to verify their accuracy.

Nichols proposed that the Commission pursue instead a Natural Communities Conservation Plan for the Santa Monica Mountains to create a more defensible, definitive ESHA designation.

But, with a few exceptions, the majority of the commissioners were dead set against such a change.

"Our maps are the definition of ESHA," said Commissioner Wan. "These areas are ESHA and it is an integral part of what we've been doing."

Commissioner Christina Desser agreed. The rewards of living in Malibu are enough to warrant the added burden on property owners, she said. Though she did suggest that owners of properties mistakenly mapped ESHA might be compensated for the expense of proving it.

"If it's a sensitive habitat area, endangered habitat area, you are going to have to prove to us that it isn't," said Desser.

The Commission did, however, vote to remove the disputed ESHA areas in Pt. Dume from the map.

Yaroslavsky's land-use deputy Laura Shell read a letter to the Commission favoring the tiered approach.

To Commissioner Reilly's suggestion that a tiered alternative could still be considered, Shell said, "It's a step in the right direction, but I think we had hoped to see more done here today."

With ESHA designations being determined primarily by habitat, including chaparral and coastal sage scrub, Mayor Jennings said it doesn't look good for the county.

"I think the concerns county residents had have not been allayed by what happened today," said Jennings. "Up in those areas, I'm not sure what's not ESHA."

Environmentalists charge that the LCP devalues the meaning of an ESHA and violates the Coastal Act prohibition against development in an ESHA by guaranteeing a 10,000 square foot development area.

Sierra Club coastal program director Mark Massara praised the LCP effort, but said the 10,000-square-foot exception will create "biological swiss cheese."

"Don't go down that slippery slope."

Property rights activists, on the other hand, see the ESHA map as imprecise in defining truly critical habitat and contend that regulations within ESHAs, as well as in the 100-foot ESHA buffers and protected viewshed areas are unduly restrictive on development. Also, they charge that it's backwards for lands to be deemed ESHA until proven otherwise.

Developer consultant Don Schmitz called the ESHA map a "fatally flawed" approach.

"It's rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic," he said, with two bad results: "True ESHA will not be as reverently protected as it used to be, and equally alarming, it's an unconstitutional taking of private property.

"There will be a facial challenge to this LCP if the ESHA map is left in."

According to Schmitz, a property owner begins with a "full bundle of rights" and, while government can take away some, it can't take them all and then try to give back just the right amount to avoid a lawsuit as is done with the ESHA exception.

Environmental attorney Frank Angel agreed that the ESHA map has legal problems.

He said the 10,000 square-foot-development exception is illegal and unnecessary. An LCP cannot be more lenient in protecting resources than the Coastal Act, which prohibits development in an ESHA, he said. On the other hand, he said the extensive ESHA designation is defensible even if only "resource dependent uses" are allowed and the exception eliminated. He said there are few properties that are entirely within ESHA and that a "transfer of development credits" program could help retire those properties or they can be acquired for fair market value.

The Coastal Commission took over the job of preparing Malibu's LCP, which would normally be prepared by the local government, because the state Legislature believed the City Council, under pressure from developers, would not be able to complete an acceptable coastal land use plan. Two years ago, Assembly Bill 988, was passed requiring the Coastal Commission to complete a plan for Malibu by September 15 this year.

Among the many hot Malibu issues that will be affected by the new plan are 1.25 million square feet of commercial development contemplated for 110 acres of undeveloped land in the Malibu Civic Center; controversy over Malibu Bluffs State Park where ballfields are expected to be eliminated eventually; and public beach access.

While the LCP is aimed at new development, there are also concerns about existing uses falling under its provisions.

There were many last-minute compromises in the LCP as well. A 2-year moratorium on development in the Malibu Civic Center and a requirement for a detailed specific plan was approved. But language with added to allow the city to proceed with environmental review of a proposed development agreement that is expected to go before the voters in June 2003. Commissioner Desser suggested that this compromise merited a change in the definition of "moratorium" in the dictionary.

Also, the 10,000-square-foot development area limit within an ESHA was actually extended to allow for variances if conditions require it. Commissioner William Patrick Kruer, a developer himself, said he thought 10,000 was unrealistic, but Commission staff said it is a standard that is workable and already in use on homes being built in upper Tuna Canyon.

Equestrians responded to a proposed reduction from eight horses or confined animals per acre to three horses per acre.

Ruth Gerson, founder of the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition, said recreational areas should be preserved as a valuable resource too and opposed the reduction to three horses per acre.

"Families of four that want to ride, what do they do?" asked Gerson.

Ultimately, the Commission agreed to up to four horses.

Malibu resident and member of The Eagles, Don Henley, testified in support of the LCP.

"I think what this is about today is the soul of Malibu, the character of Malibu what makes it special and what will destroy it," said Henley. "It's absolutely essential for Malibu to have a strong Coastal Plan."

During the September 12 public hearing, Commissioners were very angry about a full-page ad in the Malibu Times that charged that resource protection efforts in the LCP would prevent adequate clearance for fire safety. They cited support from the Fire Department in recognizing that protecting resources and fire safety can coexist.

Other issues that were raised during the hearing concerned requirements for native plants and limits on agriculture.

"This has a tremendous bias against what has been historic in Malibu," said physician Jeff Harris. "I'd like you to delete all of the prohibitions of non-native plants," he said. "I think there should be freedom of choice."

The most disturbing testimony of the day came from Wade Major, who launched a personal attack against Commission executive director Peter Douglas. He charged that Douglas was a "social engineer" who had "concocted a perpetual state of ecological emergency" and was bent on creating a "paradise for visitors and hell for residents." Then he pit his family's experience during World War II against comments reputedly made by Douglas about how the war had affected his life.

To support this charge of eco-fascism in the LCP, with his arms waving and his voice nearly shouting, Major told how his grandfather had been forced to wear a Nazi pin to protect himself and his family, though he hadn't agreed with the Nazis. He had to wear the pin, Major said, because he was the largest land owner in his community. He also accused Commissioner Wan of using influence to avoid having her property fall within an ESHA, a charge which has been refuted many times. She reportedly sought to be included because she hoped for added protection against future development, but she lives in a developed area that didn't meet the criteria.

Commissioner Desser, the next day, reflected on Major's comments.

"It made me very angry. I've never heard such vitriol rife with such inaccuracies," said Desser. "Wade Major's grandfather is not an issue here....Mr. Major's comments and his cohorts chilled me to the bone."


Taken Tiki Among Recent Thefts

Photo Courtesy of Darrell Hazen

Hidden Treasures' stolen tiki.

By Susan Chasen

There has been a string of thefts of plants and other outdoor ornaments in Topanga this year that raises concern that it is a trend that could threaten the relaxed security Topanga has always enjoyed.

Hidden Treasures has been hit hard with losses of about $3,000 worth of one-of-a-kind items that are loved by the community almost as much as by the man whose eclectic tastes bring them to us, Darrell Hazen, who owns the store.

"It's a shame," said Hazen. "Now I've got to hide all my great pieces....They're just taking the ambiance away from Hidden Treasures. It hurts the heart of the community."

He has lost a 7-foot totem pole, two giant clam shells, a brass deep-sea-diving mask and a big tiki, as well as numerous potted plants--ferns, palms and elephant ears, mostly within the last two or three months. Also, a tiki he carved that was bolted to the ground was broken apart during a theft attempt.

"The totem pole was my favorite. It had all that charm of the 1940s or '50s," said Hazen. "Some funky old guy carved it up and put florescent colors on it." Hazen had replaced one of the wings and some of the wood himself. He estimates he could have sold it for $1,500.

"I've been getting stuff stolen for years," said Hazen, who has lived in the Canyon for 27 years. But lately, it has gotten worse. "They get better and better at it. It's been gradually more and more."

Harry van Bommel, a 28-year Viewridge resident, reports that he had a 20-gallon, 7-foot avocado tree, valued at about $100, stolen in February about a week after he hired two men for $100 to plant it, along with a second tree that was not taken. It required climbing a block wall to get in and out, but he imagines that it might well have happened in broad daylight because what neighbors could see would look like ordinary gardening business.

He suspects the thieves, perhaps the very individuals who planted the tree, knew someone who wanted an avocado tree and said, "Well, we'll get you one."

He discovered the theft when he went to check that the irrigation was working.

"It was, but it wasn't working on that particular tree, because it was missing," said van Bommel.

Van Bommel said the Sheriff's Department at first didn't seem to take his report very seriously.

"I said, 'Maybe it's funny to you guys, but it's still my property.'"

They agreed to take a report, he said. "They realized this can be the beginning of something worse."

Debra Silbar, co-owner of Abuelitas, said two bougainvillaea plants were stolen from the restaurant landscaping just a few days after they were planted a couple months ago. Messenger photographer Katie Dalsemer had a potted orchid stolen from her porch a few months back, and earlier this year, large planters were stolen from Pine Tree Circle. Also, there was a recent report of a brazen daytime theft of power tools from a garden shed up Powderhorn.

Sheriff's deputy Pete Sanzone said the reported stolen items have been filed with the Sheriff's Detective Bureau, but that there are no leads. In fact, he said that a Town Sheriff program that provided additional assistance to unincorporated communities like Topanga has been discontinued.

Hazen said Topanga needs its own security person, someone here in the Canyon to be our sheriff.

"You need a Barney Fife here," suggested Hazen. "It would be amazing if we had just a little security that we all pitch in for."

Hazen said he thinks his thefts are the work of someone here in the Canyon, probably grabbing stuff for someone fixing up their yard or it could be drug related. But he doesn't believe it's to sell.

"It's someone here in the Canyon who's a little 'off,'" said Hazen. "They want a part of the cool."

He asks that people keep their eyes open and call Hidden Treasures if they see any of his things in the Canyon someplace.


T-CEP to Stage Fire Drill Sept. 28

By John Hollis

Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness, T-CEP, will be having a drill on Saturday, September 28.

The drill will be staged around a fire scenario that roughly follows a historical fire that started in 1977 in the Top O' Topanga area and burned south through Arteique and toward Topanga State Park. The drill will not include setting the Canyon on fire.

The scenario will start off in the morning with a hiker staging a call to 911 of a sighting of smoke at about 9 a.m., and the excitement unrolls from there. It's OK. The 911 dispatch is participating in the drill and will be expecting this call.

The drill will last until noon. Then, from noon to 1 p.m. individual teams will meet and, while grazing on pot-luck lunches, tell how things went for them. At 1 p.m. all the teams reassemble for the big gathering of the clan. Team leaders will tell what worked, what didn't and how things could be improved. This is where the light bulbs begin to go off for people, connections are made and valuable things are learned--my favorite part.

The drill will include T-CEP teams such as the Disaster Response Team, Pet Shelter Team, Disaster Mental Health Team, the Hotline Team and the Emergency Operations Team. Also, several affiliated disaster teams will be participating such as the Arson Watch, Topanga Medical Assistance Team, American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles, the Disaster Communications Service and the county Department of Animal Care and Control Equine Response Team. The Sheriff's and Fire departments will also be represented, along with many official observers. All told, it should be quite a large affair. And hopefully a fun one as well.

The drill comes at a good time for a few reasons. One is that the new Emergency Operations Center, EOC, building, although it won't be fully decked out, should be operational! And the drill will be a great way to inaugurate the new space.

Already many generous donations have been made in money, material and valuable time to bring the EOC to this point. But much is still needed to bring it up to full speed. Ramps, sound proof partitions, phone headsets, painting inside and out, 20 stackable chairs, eight matching laptop computers, two desk-top computers, and sound deadening carpet are all still needed.

Perhaps a more important reason that this drill comes at a good time is that the community has changed so much since T-CEP was started about nine years ago and T-CEP is maturing and growing appropriately. New people are taking the opportunity to join and the drill is a great way for them to see how it all works.

In fact, if you would like to help out with the drill, we need people to call in scripted calls to the hotline on the morning of the drill. This is something that you can do from home. And it's fun.

If you would like to help, call (310) 455-3000 and leave your name and number.

In any event, everyone is welcome to come check out the drill.

T-CEP, Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness, is growing. We are looking for volunteers for the following positions:

administrative assistant

public information officer

operations director

EOC director


planning and intelligence

finance & fundraising

human resources

If you think you might want to help, call (310) 455-3000.


Hultgren Returns with "Topanga"


Tim Hultgren, with dog Topanga, plans to return to Topanga after 10 years recovering from severe injuries suffered when he was hit by a car on Pacific Coast Highway.

By Tony Morris

Tim Hultgren is fortunate to be alive. Ten years ago he was struck by a car on Pacific Coast Highway near Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The Highway Patrol estimates the vehicle's speed was 45 mph. Hultgren's head went through the car's windshield and his legs were shattered. He spent two months in the hospital at UCLA, followed by 10 years of operations in which nine titanium plates were implanted to repair skull fractures and, most recently, in which his knees were replaced.

Hultgren estimates that he has spent more than eight of the past 10 years in bed recovering from his injuries.

With 25 years of training in martial arts, Hultgren once worked as a stuntman in feature films. In 1972 he graduated with an MBA from Pepperdine. Now he specializes in tax preparation and car detailing.

"I make sure that I wake up every morning and look for a glass half-full rather than a half-empty cup. I always try to find something to make me laugh about each day to keep me sane," said Hultgren, after surviving major surgery every eight months since 1992.

Hultgren has been seeing Dr. Doug Roy of Topanga Medical through his long recovery. Formerly a Topanga resident, he has been living out of the Canyon and now plans to return. Accompanying him is his constant companion, Topanga, a fearless black dachshund-chihuahua mix.

Tim Hultgren can be reached at Topanga Tax and Accounting and Canyon Car Care at (310) 992-8976 or (818) 342-5236.


Native Plants Events at Theodore Payne

The Theodore Payne Foundation, dedicated to promoting gardening with native plants, is hosting a three-day free event Friday through Sunday, October 11 to 13, that will include talks, demonstrations and activities on uses of native plants, propagation, caring for and planting under oak trees, native plant dyes and seed collecting.

The program titled "Fall Festival: Celebrating Theodore Payne's Centennial" begins with an art opening at 3 p.m. Friday, October 11, featuring "plein-air" paintings, photography and gourd art. Also, there will be a display on native plant gardening in pots and on the Memorial Oaks of Washington Park in Pasadena currently being restored, originally designed by Theodore Payne and Ralph Cornell in 1923.

Saturday, October 12, begins with a native plant propagation demonstration at 9 a.m. followed by presentations on the Pacific Coast native iris, Chumash uses of native plants and the Modjeska Foundation where Theodore Payne got his start.

At 10:30 a.m., Rosi Dagit, Topanga arborist and senior conservation biologist at the Resource Conservation District, will read and sign her children's book "Grandmother Oak" and children will make acorn necklaces.

Workshops on caring for and planting under oaks will follow, beginning at 11:45 a.m.

Sunday, October 13, events begin at 11 a.m. with a native dyes demonstration followed by presentations on seeds and on Ed Peterson, an original member of the foundation.

The Theodore Payne Foundation is located at 10459 Tuxford Street in Sun Valley. For more information, call (818) 768-1802 or visit their website at


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