VOL.24 NO. 3 Feb. 10 - 23, 2000


Building Bridges:
Community Effort Joins People and Parkland

By Susan Chasen

In a remarkable triumph of volunteer effort, the dream of a 60-foot bridge to continue Viewridge Trail across a 17-foot-deep ravine and onward to Santa Maria Road is now a reality.


And with this important new trail, the public now has its first real access to the eastern, much larger portion of Summit Valley Ed Edelman Park.

On January 31, after an exciting and suspenseful three hours of stopping and starting, the bridge finally made it across the 50-foot break in the trail.

Using almost humorously small-scale equipment--a tiny but versatile Takeuchi excavator, a winch powered by a chainsaw motor, and a couple pulleys--and ultimately a lot of human muscle power to keep the bridge from falling into the ravine, the job was finally completed to the cheers of about 30 helpers and onlookers.

"It was really precarious at one point. Everybody was pulling," said an excited Herb Petermann, who is president of VOICE (Viewridge Owners Involved in the Community and Environment), the Viewridge organization founded in 1988 to help fight the Canyon Oaks development of Summit Valley.

"But it's fabulous. It all came together. And it's a great hike from Viewridge over to Santa Maria Road and to the picnic site."

For those involved, this bridge-building project represents many inspiring successes--from the unique features of the bridge itself, to the volunteers that got the project off the ground, and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) involvement to the final result--a new beautiful gentle trail just over a mile long, with spectacular views, available to hikers of all abilities, as well as equestrians and bicyclists.

And now there is the hope that one day the trail will be extended to reach dirt Mulholland and Topanga State Park.

FINDING THE TRAILHEAD

The trailhead is located about a third-mile from Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the end of Viewridge Road, directly across from the guard stand at Summit Pointe, but not down the concrete steps which are not part of the trail.

The bridge, overlooking a quiet little spring, is between a half- and three-quarters-of-a-mile down the trail. Continuing on for another half-mile, the trail crosses Santa Maria Road to an old fire road and a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy sign.

From that point, about a third of a mile up trail crews have created a pathway to a beautiful picnic site atop a rocky outcropping overlooking Santa Maria Creek with panoramic views of Topanga State Park.

Funding for the bridge was provided by a Proposition A grant from the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District. The $70,000 grant covered $26,500 for the bridge; $13,900 for design, consulting and administrative costs; and $39,600 for site preparation, equipment rentals, signs and work crews from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps.

What was unusual about the grant was that the non-profit Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (SMMTC) was the lead applicant and has taken charge of the project. The co-applicant was the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint powers agency involving the Conservancy and two other park districts.

A TRAILS COUNCIL FIRST

While the Trails Council has built many trails and has received grants before, this project is a first. "This was the largest grant that we've gotten," said Linda Palmer, SMMTC Vice President. "We've never bought a bridge before."

Palmer, along with SMMTC president Ruth Gerson, were both on hand for the exciting bridge pull.

For Gerson, the bridge project is unique for bridging connections between a diverse group of people as well as an impassable break in the trail. "It's the physical getting together," said Gerson. "Everybody's working together." And, said Gerson, "It provides access on a blocked trail for the public."

GROUP EFFORT

On-site were trail builders from the Sierra Club, led by veteran trail designer/builder Ron Webster; bridge contractor, Roger Bell; as well as a few crew members and field manager Mike Waltz , who operated the excavator/tractor for the simultaneous pushing-pulling operation that ultimately drew the 8,000-pound bridge across the 50-foot chasm.

Also present were: 10 crew members from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, which trains at-risk young adults for conservation work; and neighbors including Lew Landau--who lent an all-terrain vehicle, known as a quad, for carrying materials in and out--and C.J. McDonald--who lent an ATV and really joined forces with the contractor to get the bridge built and across the ravine.

"It's totally unique," said Webster of the bridge effort. "It's just not done--all these busy local people helping a contractor do his job." According to Webster, the Conservancy is barely aware of this project and is going to be very surprised to see it completed.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy acquired the 662-acre property, now known as Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park, in 1994 after a 16-year battle--the longest in county history--to protect the area from development.

The developer, Canyon Oaks Estates Partnership, ultimately agreed to sell the property for $19.9 million rather than go forward with plans to build 97 homes and a golf course. The sale included the 257 acres of Summit Valley on the west side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard as well as a larger portion on the east side--405 acres-- which also was intended for eventual development.

TRAIL BUILDER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Webster--a Culver City resident whose legendary trail-building in the Santa Monica Mountains dates back to the 1970s with the Musch Trail at Topanga State Park--recalls locating the trail in 1994 after the property was acquired for parkland.

"I wander around and look at things," said Webster.

Webster had a 1946 map that showed a road where the trail is now, but he was not able to find it. So he made his way up the stream-bed. Finally, when he reached the ravine, he could see the clearing of the old road above him on each side. "There had to be a bridge there," said Webster. "But we have not found the tiniest piece of a bridge. So that surprised the hell out of me."

At one point down from the trail there is a rusty old car that looks like a model from the 1940s or before.
After finding the road and the break in it, Webster said, "I never believed ever that we'd get a bridge in here."
But it didn't keep him from hoping: "I would just talk it up to people," said Webster.

GRANT WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE

In the end, said Webster, it was a former Conservancy employee, Bonnie Kopp, who made it happen--and completely on her own time. "Without Bonnie Kopp there would be no bridge here," said Webster. "Without her, nobody would know how to write the grant."

Kopp, a Woodland Crest resident who describes her home as "Topanga adjacent," said she knew it would be a winning proposal because the applicants had a strong record of working together.

"This is just so great," said Kopp, who visited the site the day the bridge was assembled. "It was just the most fun I've had in a very long time--to see it come to fruition. A year ago it was just an idea."

Kopp, who now works as a land-use and political lobbyist for Afriat Consulting Group, describes the project as a "model of efficiency and ecology" that is inspiring for the harmony among all the participants.

Unlike with lobbying, said Kopp, "Nobody's fighting you. Everybody's working together. It's a very inspiring sort of textbook case of community involvement," said Kopp. "It's what this community is about. It's just fantastic."

The grant came together in November 1998 after Kopp got a call from Roger Pugliese of TASC (Topanga Association for A Scenic Community) about a grant deadline in three weeks. Kopp said that after her work at the Conservancy, three weeks sounded like a great luxury.

PRAISE FOR THE PETERMANNS

But, said Kopp, "It never would have happened without Herb and Joan Petermann." She said it was the Petermanns and VOICE that handled all the production of the grant materials--with photographs, maps and letters of support--and Ron Webster who helped finalize the budget.

"It's just too cool," said Kopp, noting that even the security guards at Summit Pointe helped by keeping an eye on equipment and supplies: "Everybody who was even a little bit involved helped out."

As for the trail, said Kopp, "Most people don't even know that that acquisition spanned both sides of the road. And of course it's a dream of everybody's that that trail will someday go all the way to Corbin Tank on public land."

BRIDGE STATS

The bridge itself was provided by Roger Bell, whose Redlands-based company, Naturetec Trail and Bridge Technologies, is a distributor for this type of composite bridge.

This is Bell's sixth bridge in the Santa Monica Mountains, but it's by far the longest. "We think it's really the cat's meow," said Bell of this type of bridge.

These bridges--manufactured by E.T. Techtonics, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania--are made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic and actually have a greater strength-to-weight ratio than steel. But, because the components are lightweight they can be carried in and assembled quickly almost anywhere, and they don't require massive concrete abutments.

Otherwise, said Bell, to get the bridge delivered, "You would have to cut trees out and you'd be looking at a helicopter coming in."

But most importantly, a wooden or steel bridge project would have cost far more, and would not likely have been funded any time soon.

The Topanga bridge is light olive green with timber decking, six-feet wide, with a weight capacity to easily accommodate horses.

Petermann videotaped as the bridge was pulled across the ravine. Bell said he wants to use the tape to promote this kind of community-led effort at trail conferences. "This is a really neat idea of working cooperatively with volunteer organizations," said Bell. "We'd like to show people how this can be done.

"You couldn't ask for a greater group of people to work with. This is just fantastic. And this is a great improvement. It makes this trail now really usable."

Bell, who is also president of Bellfree Contractors, Inc., has been in the trail-building business for 30 years. In addition to fiberglass bridges, he also distributes and installs Geoweb products which are used in stabilizing hillsides--a type of solution that has been mentioned in Topanga discussions concerning alternatives to the Caltrans wall south of Robinson Road.

"It flat-out works," said Bell. "And it disappears totally."

The bridge project also represented a unique kind of project for the LACC, according to Randal Ridges, who supervised two crews of 10 who worked at different times widening the trail as well as bringing in and assembling the bridge at the site.

"Usually, we're kind of invisible," said Ridges of other LACC conservation work, whether it is trail cutting, tree planting or litter removal.

"There's more community involvement and interest [here] than usual. And when people from the Canyon come in, they get a good understanding of how activism works and how community members participate."

Also, said Ridges, LACC workers are well trained for this sort of work. Other laborers might be paid less, but they would not have the same skills, he said.

AT RISK YOUTHS LEND A HAND

Training of the LACC, Ridges said, centers on environmental awareness and job skills that apply to conservation as well as to other types of projects. One condition of Prop A funding is that 15 percent must be spent on employing at-risk youths and young adults.

Participants, he said, are generally young men and women who, for one reason or another, haven't finished school--they may be single parents or living on the streets--and may not otherwise be seen as employable.
Initially, those accepted into the program spend a week in the mountains where they begin to learn about teamwork and reliance on each other, about leadership and about conservation. Many don't make it through the program, said Ridges--many don't even make it through the first week at camp in the mountains.

But the successes make it worthwhile. According to Ridges, one graduate of the 18-month program has gone on to become a ranger in the Santa Monica Mountains, and six others are doing internships with the Bureau of Land Management.

Ridges, a former Peace Corp member, said everyone on the LACC staff is there to make a difference in people's lives. "None of us are here for the money," said Ridges. "All of us are here because we believe in being present and giving back."

With completion of the bridge, VOICE now has its sights on passage of Proposition 12 in March which could provide funding for additional acquisitions and trails.

In a letter last month to the Conservancy, Petermann, as chair of VOICE, urges protection of the northern ridgeline of Summit Valley and completion of the Santa Maria Canyon Trail to link the eastern portion of Edelman Park and the Viewridge Trail to Topanga State Park.

A dedication for the new bridge is planned for later this month.

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Candidates Town Meeting February 15

By Michele Johnson

If you care about the future of your world come, on Tuesday, February 15, at 7:00 p.m., to Topanga Elementary School to hear and question the candidates vying to become the Democratic nominee for California's 41st Assembly district seat. Assemblyperson Sheila Kuehl must give up her seat due to term limits (she is, however, running for the state Senate), so in our highly Democratic district odds are that her replacement will be one of these Democrats, giving the upcoming primary added importance.

The event, co-sponsored by the Topanga Democratic Club and the Topanga Town Council, will feature all four active candidates--David Freeman, Fran Pavley, Tony Vasquez and Brenda Gottfried.

Pavley, a four-term Mayor and Councilmember from Agoura Hills and member of the California Coastal Commission, comes heavily armed with the endorsements of former Congressman Anthony Beilenson, the Sierra Club and many of Topanga's leaders. As an educator who also holds a Masters degree in Environmental Planning, Pavley says she will fight to save the environment and the educational system in California.

Former Santa Monica City Councilman Tony Vasquez was also once a school teacher and teacher trainer. He describes himself as "a strong advocate for public safety," who helped add members to the Santa Monica Police Department and helped bring earthquake relief to the city after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. He is a strong promoter for raising the minimum wage and providing affordable housing and adequate health care.

Until January 1, David Freeman was the General Manager of Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power when he took a leave of absence to run for the 41st Assembly seat. According to his publicists, the 73-year-old Freeman has worked most of his life in energy conservation and renewable resource development. In the early '60s President John F. Kennedy appointed Freeman Chairman of the Federal Power Commission, and under President Johnson, Freeman helped form the Environmental Protection Agency. Freeman has been named Conservationist of the Year by the National Wildlife Federation, and has the backing of Mayor Richard Riordan.

Come on February 15 to join the Topanga Democratic Club and do battle for election 2000. Hear the candidates, question them, and join with your neighbors in making Topanga's presence known. Come to put in your two cents. Come to show you care.

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