A New Cat in Town

Residents and ecologists find evidence of a mountain lion's visit to Topanga.

By Tony Morris

VOL.26 NO. 20
October 3 - 16, 2002


Jo Barry has lived in Topanga for 16 years and is accustomed to hearing the sounds of the canyon. At midnight on September 12, however, Barry was horror-struck by what she heard.

It was a "blood-curdling noise" that came in through the windows of her house on Old Topanga Canyon Road near Red Rock. It sounded like a mountain lion, she said.

Around the same time Julie Davis, Barry's neighbor, said she heard coyotes yelping loudly

And then at 4 p.m., at the nearby Bordier home, the family's German shepherd returned with the leg of a freshly killed deer.

According to Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, there has been a lion in the Topanga area in recent weeks. That lion is none other than "Puma 1," "P-1" for short, a male lion, fitted with a radio collar that was being tracked as he moved east from Pt. Mugu State Park.

According to Riley, P-1 was not in that precise location that night, though he was subsequently tracked in Topanga State Park. It might have been another lion, but he speculated that the sound may have actually been the unfamiliar, surprisingly loud screams and bellows of a deer being attacked by dogs. He said it's unlikely that a dog would have managed to get away with a deer leg if it was a lion's kill. Lions also make a horrible screaming when they are mating, he said.

On September 15, a hiker on the Musch Trail reported seeing what he described as "one or maybe two mountain lions" crossing the trail. On September 19, P-1 was tracked near Temescal Canyon by radio and a global positioning system which relays tracking data via satellite.

"He's really using the whole mountain range," said Riley. As of September 25, however, he was back in the Western end of the Santa Monicas, he said.

According to Riley, during the first two months of tracking P-1, he stayed in the western half of the mountains and only recently ventured into Topanga.

"The fact that he uses the entire mountains is not necessarily good," said Riley, because it may indicate he has no competition for territory from other lions.

Since beginning a 3-year study last spring to track up to 10 lions, only one mountain lion has been captured and fitted with a radio collar so far. That was in July. Riley does not know how many they will find. Later this fall, he said, they will be attempting to trap lions in the Topanga area.

He suggested that there might be two or three female lions per male. But even if earlier estimates of six to eight lions in the Santa Monica Mountains are true, it is still likely to be "way too few" to be a self-sustaining population, he said.

"The only way for them to survive is if we have movement," said Riley. That means effective wildlife corridors under the 101 freeway and the 118 freeway.

"Having a corridor and having animals actually using it are two different things."

There is some use of the corridor at Corriganville between the Simi Hills and Rocky Peak in the Santa Susana Mountains. Liberty Canyon is a possible corridor from the Santa Moncias to the Simi Hills, but development around the 101 freeway has eliminated important habitat on either side.

Puma 1 was photographed in July on Castro Peak, west of Malibu, by one of 40 cameras placed throughout the mountain range and was subsequently captured for collaring. He is a 6- to 8-year-old male weighing 147 pounds.

Larry Sitton, ecologist with the California Fish and Game Department, said that state law provides for the regulation of large mammals such as the mountain lion. He said, however, that human and lion interactions are very rare.

Riley agreed.

"They're not much of a threat to humans. Deer are their favorite prey."

To those concerned about an encounter with a mountain lion, Riley said it is important to stand your ground. He said not to run from a lion.

"Their instinct is to chase prey. You should make noise, raise your arms so that you appear larger and even throw a rock," said Riley. The State Fish and Game Department has the following suggestions to reduce the risk of encountering a mountain lion:

„Do not feed wildlife such as deer because they may attract a lion.

„Deer-proof your landscape by using plantings that deer will not eat.

„Install outdoor lighting.

„Remove dense or low-lying vegetation, especially around children's play areas, that could provide a hiding place for lions.

„Keep your pets and livestock secure. Don't feed pets outdoors.

„Keep children safe by observing them as they play outdoors and make sure they are inside after dark. Teach your children what to do if they encounter a lion.

Since 1990 the state has designated the mountain lion as a "special protected mammal." According to Russ Smith, a curator at the Los Angeles zoo, puma concolor, the present day mountain lion, has been a distinct species for 390,000 years. The state's current lion population is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000.

As the state's human population continues to grow, particularly in "urban-wildland interface" communities such as Topanga, encounters with mountain lions remain a possibility. To observe mountain lions up close, contact Mollie Hogan at the Nature of Wildworks in Topanga. Hogan, a mountain lion expert and former keeper-trainer at the Los Angeles zoo, has a male and female lion at the facility. For more information about mountain lions or the Nature of Wildworks, call Mollie Hogan at (310) 455-0550 or visit


Death on Boulevard, Injury in Old Canyon

By Susan Chasen

A 29-year-old Reseda man was fatally injured on Sunday, September 22, in the first of two serious motorcycle accidents in two days in Topanga. Witnesses contend that roadwork in Old Canyon was a contributing factor in the second accident.

In the fatal accident at about 3:10 p.m. on Sunday, Manuel Menjivar lost control of his motorcycle on the dirt shoulder along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, south of Viewridge Road, and was ejected, according to the California Highway Patrol.

He had sustained major head trauma and was in full cardiac arrest when paramedics from Fire Station 69 arrived. A Los Angeles County Firehawk helicopter transported Menjivar to UCLA Medical Center trauma unit. He was pronounced dead at 4 p.m. due to massive head trauma, the CHP said.

Menjivar, who was riding a 1995 Honda Shadow motorcycle, drifted onto the dirt shoulder northbound on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, lost control and collided with a metal guardrail in front of an emergency call box. He was ejected and landed on the dirt shoulder. He was wearing a "half-shell" type helmet, CHP said.

The next day, on Monday, September 23, at about 8:18 a.m. Mark Hunter of Woodland Hills was injured when his southbound motorcycle ran into traffic stopped because of road construction.

Hunter is listed in fair condition with stable vital signs at UCLA Medical Center and was expected to be released soon, as of September 25. He suffered a fractured shin and was scheduled to return to the hospital to have it repaired a week after his release.

Witnesses describe Hunter as being unconscious for several minutes after his Harley Davidson motorcycle rammed into a small car at the end of a quarter-mile backup because of a lane closure, throwing him from his vehicle. He was airlifted from an emergency helicopter landing zone at 2630 Old Topanga Canyon Road and transported to UCLA Medical Center.

Topanga resident Gayle Ellett stopped when he saw the accident and wrapped bandages around Hunter's bleeding head before paramedics arrived. He said the smooth, newly resurfaced road was slippery and the heavy motorcycle skid a long way before crashing into traffic.

He said he later stopped to talk to construction workers about what had happened, but found them disinterested in making changes for the safety of drivers approaching the construction zone.

Neighbors near the accident site blamed it at least partially on inadequate warning of traffic pile-ups created by road construction.

Jackie Safonov, said she and other residents had been complaining for three weeks to county Public Works which is in charge of the road resurfacing work and the California Highway Patrol, warning that traffic management for the construction zone was inadequate.

"It's been a nightmare and we've complained and we've complained," said Safonov. While they are grateful the repaving job is finally being done, she said she and her neighbors believe the accident might not have happened if their complaints about the roadwork contractor had not been ignored.

"Those people are very strange," said Safonov. "They could care less."

Within 45 minutes of the accident, she said, traffic was backed up again to the same dangerous point.

"There are no signs, no warnings to slow down," said Safonov. "They need two more people and they need more signage."

One day, when Calmont School was letting out, she said, the cars were not warned and those heading into Topanga met a pilot car and a column of northbound traffic coming toward them.

The CHP is investigating the accident and a completed report was expected by October 3. Officer Leland Tang said the question of whether there was proper warning signage for the road resurfacing project will be addressed in the report.

While traffic construction signs might create an expectation that driver safety is being considered, he said the signs and road barriers are actually there only to protect workers. Drivers, he said, remain responsible for maintaining appropriate speeds for conditions. He said this is even true for a traffic pile-up caused by a lane closure around a blind curve.

Public Works spokesman Ken Pellman said the county's inspector was on the job site overseeing the private contractor, Security Paving of Sun Valley, at the time of the accident, though he didn't see it happen.

"According to him, the contractor had followed all the proper procedures," said Pellman.

He said Public Works is investigating the accident, but it will largely reflect what the CHP accident investigation finds.

Pellman agreed that the driver is always responsible for adjusting speed to the type of road traveled.

"Traffic could stop for any reason," he said.


Missile Dazzle

Topangan Thomas Breiter captured this picture of the extraordinary light display known as a "twilight phenomenon" created by an unarmed Minuteman III missile launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base near Lompoc on September 19 at 7:31 p.m. Some witnesses said the missile appeared to explode in air, but according to the Air Force the launch was successful and 30 minutes later the missile's two re-entry vehicles hit their targets approximately 4,200 miles away at the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands.

Senior Airman Brian Hill said the three-stage rocket might appear to be exploding as the launch goes into sub-orbit and successive stages are blown off and fall into the ocean.

The impressive light effect he said is created when sunlight hits frozen unburned missile propellant particles and water in the missile's "contrail," short for "condensation trail." The effect happens at a height of several miles where the temperature is minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Hill, and the trail of frozen vapor and propellant is still in the line of sight of the sun. The missile is packed in ice in an underground silo to prevent heat during the launch from destroying the missile. This also adds to the cold vapors that reflect the colors--generally green, blue, white and rose.

While Vandenburg has launched more than 1,700 missiles and booster rockets since 1958, only a few have created the sort of phenomenon witnessed with this launch. Conditions needed for the twilight phenomenon to occur are clear, dark skies and a launch time of 30 minutes to an hour after sunset or before sunrise. Launches are generally scheduled for much later at night, Hill said, so the phenomenon has not been widely experienced. This is the first time in about three years, he said.

According to Hill, many people think the light display, with its corkscrew and pretzel-like shapes indicates that the missile malfunctioned, but the shapes are created by high altitude air currents. A malfunctioning launch is destroyed before it reaches a high enough altitude for the twilight effect.


Library or New RCD? Both? Neither?

By Susan Chasen

The humble digs of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, located on an increasingly coveted piece of central Topanga property behind Pine Tree Circle may be facing some changes as the county contemplates the site for a future Topanga library.

At the September 24 meeting of the RCD board, members discussed concerns that the county, which owns the property, may be thinking of revoking the current rent-free status of the RCD headquarters.

Board member David Gottlieb said that a meeting with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is urgently needed to resolve this question and to impress upon him the consequences of a decision to charge the RCD rent.

"If we have to pay rent on this land, it's going to decrease service to his constituents by an equal amount," said Gottlieb. "We cannot afford to pay rent without cutting back our capacity to serve to the point where it's almost not worth our existing."

The RCD is an independent public entity known as a special district which has its own boundaries and property tax and other funding sources, which come to $229,650 this year. Otherwise it relies on project-related grant dollars. It is not a county agency.

The discussion arose from a request from Cynthia Scott, a founder of the Friends of the Topanga Library which is advocating construction of a county library in Topanga, to make a presentation at the RCD's October meeting. The board agreed to invite her to speak during the public comment period.

Yaroslavsky's senior field deputy Susan Nissman has said that it's too early to discuss the county's possible plans for a library. RCD board member Woody Hastings, however, said the county is already discussing funding sources.

Initially, supporters of a county library were interested in the Community House property, but that site has reportedly been deemed unsuitable.

Part of the county's intent regarding the RCD site, however, may include incorporating a new RCD headquarters in the library facility. That prospect brought a variety of responses from the RCD board members. On the one hand, it may be incompatible with an RCD vision of creating a watershed center employing state-of-the-art, eco-friendly design, as a model for Topanga and beyond. A library would be much larger. Both would provide a much-needed community meeting space.

Board member Glenn Bailey said the two goals might "mesh well." Board member Nancy Helsley expressed interest in the advantages of the county financing a new RCD facility as part of a library project, but concern about parking requirements which she said were four per thousand square feet. Gottlieb said he wants to know how big a building the property can support. Bailey said, if the RCD pit a watershed center against a library, "I'm not sure we would be successful." There was also the question of whether the RCD would be expected to pay rent on the new facility.

In other matters, the board is considering changing its meeting date from the second Tuesday to the fourth Monday Its next meeting was scheduled for Monday, October 21, at which a decision might be made on a permanent meeting day change. The way the board set the special September 24 meeting was determined to have been an error, according to the new RCD executive officer Mary Angle.

Senior conservation biologist Rosi Dagit reported that the same company--Moffat and Nichol--that prepared the first phase study for possible restoration of Topanga Lagoon will be awarded two additional grants totaling $300,000 to prepare preliminary engineering for the restoration project and designs for elevating a fifth-mile segment of Topanga Canyon Boulevard known as the "narrows" two miles up from the coast to prevent the creek from undermining the road and better preserve the natural habitat and flow rate of the creek.

She said 70 requests for proposals were sent out, but Moffat and Nichol were the only company that responded. She said other possible firms felt it would be too costly just to get up to speed on the proposed projects.

Dagit also reported on plans to do DNA sampling of "crazy bacteria" levels in Topanga Creek to determine if they are "meaningful or red herrings." Also, a soil study in Lower Topanga will determine if a half million cubic yards of fill material that would have to be removed to restore the lagoon is suitable for near-shore dumping in the ocean or beach replenishment.


Clothes Encounters at Pine Tree Circle


Michael Anapol will open Topanga Far Outfitters around the end of October.

The space that used to be Elliot Antiques in Pine Tree Circle is undergoing a transformation. An alien in the window is an indication perhaps of just how far Topanga Far Outfitters is reaching for its stock.

Topanga Far Outfitters is being opened by Steve and Leslie Carlson, along with partner Michael Anapol, and will carry assorted surf, sport and skate gear as well as men's clothing. A variety of product lines are being considered in an attempt to secure the very best for Topanga's hip,relaxed style.

Shopping there should be fun amid the odd touches of decorative whimsy ranging from Tiki guy and mermaids to flying saucers, not to mention Steve and Michael.

Look for their opening in late October.


Schlosser is New Town Council Head


Manfred Schlosser is the new president of the Topanga Canyon Town Council.

By Tony Morris

Manfred Schlosser, a longtime resident of Topanga, was elected president of the Topanga Canyon Town Council. Dale Robinette, the outgoing president, served for 12 years.

The Town Council, a non-profit organization incorporated in 1977, produces Topanga stickers to facilitate access when possible for residents and business owners during natural disasters and road closures.

Each year the Council awards "Do-Gooder" grants to deserving groups and individuals. It is involved with the Topanga Citizens Firesafe Committee, Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness.

Other Town Council projects include providing portable toilets for day laborers at the Center, cleaning up the boulevard and a Christmas-tree-chipping program.

Schlosser is a graduate of Southern California Institute of Architecture and a principal, with Mohan Joshi, in M+M, a design, construction and project management firm in Topanga.

"The most important priority," he said, "is the children of the Canyon." He would like to see the Town Council step in to support fine arts programs and after-school programs such as STAR and Topanga Youth Services.

"We need to make certain that our children have the advantages that many of us have had, but now fall outside the budget of the LAUSD and many private schools as well," said Schlosser.

The Town Council board of directors will be expanded to seven members, said Schlosser. He would like to have a board member present at meetings of Topanga Association for a Scenic Community, T-CEP and Topanga's other civic organizations. Town Council has also established a liaison with the Sheriff's Department, Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol.

"We want to make certain that TCTC will help to expedite issues and matters of concern to the community," said Schlosser. "We will be available for that work and will continue to do the work TCTC has done in the past."

To contact the Town Council, call (310) 455-3000. The cost of the phone line is shared with T-CEP. Schlosser said that messages are checked on a regular basis, and he encourages residents to call anytime about any issues.


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