VOL. 24 NO. 4 Feb. 24 - Mar. 8, 2000

Topanga's Date with the Candidates:
Debate Features Democrats Vying for Kuehl's Seat in March 7 Election


By Michele Johnson

When tall, suave-suited Tony Vasquez, once a liberal member of the Santa Monica City Council, walked through the door at Topanga Elementary Auditorium, the word went out--all the Democratic candidates for the 41st Assembly District had arrived. The debate could begin.

It was Tuesday, February 15, and the first to enter the hall had been Brenda Gottfried--the willowy, cultured, black woman, a three-term member of the Malibu/Santa Monica School Board who is running her campaign on a shoestring and a smile. Then came Fran Pavley--educator, environmentalist and one of the founders of the city of Agoura Hills. Always knowledgeable and poised, Fran has been a favorite of many Topanga leaders--including Susan Nissman, senior aide to Zev Yaroslavsky, and Roger Pugliese of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community)--who see her as the candidate most in step with what matters to the Canyon.

Dave Freeman, manager of the DWP (Department of Water and Power) who went on leave to run his campaign, was third to arrive. With his Tennessee accent and his Texas hat he seemed more like a good ol' boy than a self-proclaimed big city insider.

The event--sponsored by the Topanga Town Council and the newly reforming Topanga Democratic Club--was one of the few forums this primary season to include all four of our viable Democratic candidates. William Wallace, whose name also appears on the ballot, did not attend because he says he did not raise enough money to run a significant race, so he is taking to the sidelines. As one of the last big events before the March 7 primary, this Topanga event even drew a reporter from a Ventura newspaper.

The crowd--an underwhelming 30 or so diehards who had been milling about noshing on refreshments provided by the Town Council--finally took their seats. Faces in the crowd included Pat Mac Neil, Wendy Clarke, Phina McBride, Leigh and Mary Bloom, Barbara Allen, Manfred Schlosser, Vic Richards, and Susan Nissman.

Wendy Forrester, a lawyer and former President of the Topanga Democratic Club, moderated the event, making introductions and laying down the rules--a three-minute opening, two minutes each per question followed by a two-minute closing. Fred Feer served as timekeeper.


Dave Freeman kicked things off, introducing himself as the DWP leader, someone used to "managing a large organization." He touted his past experience (and at age 72 he's had some!) as head of the Tennessee Valley Authority under Jimmy Carter. In that role he says he closed down eight nuclear power plants and instituted a plan for home weatherization. He also claims credit for closing strip mines in Texas and "doing right by the environment" in the Owens Valley. His experience has shown him, he said, how to "persuade bad people to do good things."

Next, Brenda Gottfried introduced herself as a school board member for Malibu and Santa Monica--"the only candidate elected to serve two cities at the same time." She's been a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teacher who supports the Learn reform movement, and is "committed to school-based governance and the current reforms in place. I have served, I think, with a commitment to public education for 30 years." Gottlieb added that she is "also concerned about environmental issues."

Fran Pavley then took the mic, describing her extensive background. As a board member of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), Pavley says she has a special interest in, and knowledge about, Topanga. Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, she eventually became a teacher and earned her Masters degree in Environmental Planning.

After settling in Agoura Hills, Pavley entered politics because of her interest in "land use issues." She pushed for incorporation of Agoura Hills, and served as its first mayor and as a member of its City Council. She then served on the League of California Cities, "learning to work together;" on the Coastal Commission (of which she is still a member), and on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Tony Vasquez introduced himself as "probably the only candidate that's lived in this district all my life--since I was two years old." He says his concerns are hreefold--"teducation, environment and health care. Those are the issues I want to push hard."

Specifically, Vasquez would fight oil drilling off the coast and the threat of development in the Santa Monica Mountains. Toward that end he suggests everyone vote for Proposition 12, the ballot initiative that would provide $2.1 billion for parkland acquisition and maintenance. He supports "restructuring the educational system," and is appalled that "30% of Californians are still uninsured" for health care.


If you were elected to the Assembly what initiatives would you back to improve education?

"I would convene a hearing to ask what it would take to bring California not just up to the middle but up to where it was when I grew up in Tennessee...Teachers are not paid a market value salary." We need to "build schools and break up administration overhead...We need to get angry about the subject, and put money not in prisons, but in schools."

Gottfried: "Our first priority should be more money for schools. Less than 10% of the budget is discretionary"--for music, etcetera. We should "recruit and retrain teachers. In order to do that we need to pay them more money...Raise the average daily attendance statewide...Restructure Proposition 13."

Pavley: "I have 28 years of real-life classroom experience. Education is my highest priority" as is her focus on "attracting, recruiting the 300,000 new teachers needed in California...Yes, teachers need to be paid more, but also need extra time to prepare their curriculum and the money to pay for that time...Schools need to be clean and safe...The biggest component missing is the preschool and early development component...Schools should stay open after school not just for child care, but for enrichment programs."

Vasquez: "Governor Davis calls himself the 'education Governor,' but I think he fell short. We need to keep his feet to the fire...In education we're always backward.We're in the information business, but we're teaching to the industrial world. It doesn't exist anymore. We need to develop a new curriculum" for the information age.


How can you balance environmental concerns with the growing population?

"Promote smart growth," like the "sustainable city" idea in Santa Monica. It depends on a partnership with city officials, architects, etc., "working together to make sure development is controlled...We need to develop a master plan, based on sound ecological planning."

Pavley: "Set up urban limit lines, facilitate density in urban areas while saving agriculture and buffer space around park land." The Santa Monicas must be preserved as an "air shed...We need to look at it as a master plan. The state must be required to look at land in its totality."

Vasquez: "We need better regional approaches. LAX (Los International Airport) keeps expanding. That's what's wrong with the 405 (freeway). Spread out density." Now we're "all drawn to one hub."

Freeman: "The city of Los Angeles faces two new Chicagos coming here in the next 30 years...We need to draw a line to stand up against developers and fight for the remaining open spaces in this state. All the planning in the world won't help where we've already screwed up the land. Otherwise, it's all going to be asphalt."

How can we control development in Topanga while allowing homeowners to fully use their land?

"There are two land-use decisions being made this year," the Ventura Corridor Plan and the Local Coastal Plan. "Get involved in the [planning] process. You live here. What makes sense? Your voice needs to be heard. Educate the decision makers."

Vasquez: "Establish an advisory group. Be part of the planning" to decide "what is livable and what isn't...Don't be fooled by some developers who might want to move in a sewer system instead of septic" to allow "more development."

Freeman: "Some areas should not be further developed...The state should acquire more and more of the land that's left."

Gottfried: "As a trained professional mediator, I know it needs to be a win/win solution. Have all stakeholders involved in the process. Be clear on priorities, so that something positive can happen...Set a moratorium on anything new."


What do you think of the 'three-strikes' law and how would you deal with crime?

On three strikes: "I'm not sure it's actually working...We're still talking about incarcerating a population younger every year. We should spend more money on the front end on education. We need more schools as opposed to more jails."

Freeman: "The three-strikes law is a flat-out mistake. We have two million in jail, more per capita than any civilized nation on earth...We should buy up manufacturers of handguns. Southern California is a hotbed of where they're made. We're complacent on problems that are killing us...We must protect citizens from the ravages of excess law."

Gottfried: "It's a public safety and health issue. I have members of my family in law enforcement that support three strikes. I believe when serious felons are off the street, we're all safer...But there are some glaring problems with police enforcement.We must be sure that the third strike is for a serious felony...I'm a strong advocate of gun control, support safety locks on guns. There is no need for 'Saturday night specials' in a civilized society."

Pavley: "I'm basically in support of the three strikes rule. There may be some flaws in the system, but I'm more interested in equal protection under the law."...Many of today's crime problems began with "funding cuts for the mentally ill...I believe in pro-active preventative kinds of programs. Education is a key component."...Money spent on prisons "should be spent on after school care."


How can we relieve traffic congestion and improve public transportation?

"Tax incentives are needed to encourage working at home one day a week...Serious investments in mass transportation. Invest in the transportation infrastructure."

Gottfried: "I'm proud of Santa Monica's Big Blue bus...Can the Valley support an independent municipal bus system? I think it should be considered...Light rail should be expanded. Monorails have been on the drawing boards for years. We have to get out of the cars and explore other options."

Pavley: "As a community we need to talk about short-term and long-term solutions."...Need more programs like Sheila Kuehl's task force addressing "safety, geological and aesthetic concerns along PCH. We should have a transportation summit--all agencies looking at the 101 freeway, transit hubs and expanding the flyway...Curb urban sprawl, facilitate bus ridership, and look into light rail in the parts of the city that make the most sense."

Vasquez: "Light rail, definitely. We have a right-of-way from Santa Monica to downtown." Santa Monica's bus system is "one of the best in the nation. Use it as a model...Look at the work week." Santa Monica offers a four-day, ten-hour-a-day work week. Encourage "people to work out of the home. Create incentives on a state-wide level."


There are dismal rates of voting today. How do we improve that record, especially among the young?

"In Santa Monica, I'm proud of the work the League of Women Voters in doing" on campuses.

Pavley: "I'm an 8th grade history teacher; I try to make government come alive. How can they make a difference in their community?...Make kids feel like they can relate to the process. Kids are cynical. They must realize that by getting involved they can make a difference.

Vasquez: "I've always really been an advocate for voter registration." Helped register "6,000 new voters in the San Fernando Valley. It was about engaging youngsters. We're doing the same thing in this election."

Freeman: "We need state and federal financing of campaigns. If we really roll up our sleeves and tackle the issue of campaign finance reform, we could spend our time in front of young people instead of dialing for dollars."


Who's contributing to your campaign and what do they expect?

"80-85% comes from people who actually live and work in the 41st district. I am beholden to no one else but the people living in the 41st district."

Vasquez: "80-85% come from within the district, the average donation is $100 to $200. I encourage as broad a base as possible."

Freeman: Called old friends "in various parts of the country, because that's where I lived. They have no interest in California politics, but just admire a guy in his 70's who could be home playing with his grandchildren" running for office.

Gottfried: "...small checks. It takes a lot of small checks to add up. I put money in the campaign myself."


What is your opinion about secession of the Valley?

"How would assets be divvied up?" How about "water rights? We don't have all the answers."

Freeman: "Having worked with L.A. government, I can kind of understand why people are considering seceding...The vote of the people should prevail."

Gottfried: "I am a strong proponent of following the process...strong planning, good information...It will take a lot longer than anyone thinks."

Pavley: "When you think about it, it's sort of a tragedy for a great city. You don't hear about London or Paris thinking about a break-up. I have a lot of concerns." Ultimately, "they have the right to determine their own destiny."


The candidates swung into closing remarks. Freeman touted his ability as a great persuader, Gottfried as a "consensus builder" and "voice of reason."

Pavley pledged she could "hit the ground running," and took a minute to list those who endorse her, including Congressman Brad Sherman, former congressman Tony Beilenson, the Sierra Club, all the major teacher's groups, firefighters and police--all in all, an impressive roster.

Vasquez said he was "endorsed by most of the major players in Sacramento," and that he has "the relationship to get bills passed."

Watchers concurred that these candidates seemed smarter than the average pols. There were some substantive differences, but style was key. There was the home-grown environmentalist, the black education activist, the Latino liberal and the well-spoken insider--a perfect cross-section of Democratic politics in California today.

So don't forget to vote March 7. This should be interesting.


Septics, Slopes and Streambanks

By Rosi Dagit

On Wednesday, February 2, more than 25 people gathered at the Top O' Topanga Mobile Home Estates Library for the Topanga Watershed Committee meeting. Before launching to the meat of the meeting, several important community announcements were shared.

First, Propositions 12 and 13 will be on the March 7 ballot. Be sure to read about them in your election brochure--they need lots of support as they will provide money to purchase land in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Then Tricia Watts gave a short summary of her efforts with ECOARTS, to acquire grant funding to integrate an "art in the natural world" program in the local schools. She feels that teaching about the natural world through aesthetics is a way to have students develop a passion for their environment. Tricia has received funding for a program for the 4th graders at Topanga Elementary for this spring.

The Los Angeles County Wetlands Task Force is soliciting possible project locations to list for purchase and restoration. They are part of the Southern California Wetlands Task Force which is under the Coastal Conservancy. The Los Angeles Athletic Club property at the base of Topanga Creek is being considered, and there is an option currently on the table to buy the property. This deal is being brokered by the American Land Conservancy and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Outcome depends on funding from Prop 12. For more information, visit their web site at www.coastalconservancy.org.


Discussion then focused on the upcoming Streambank and Slope Stabilization Workshop on Saturday, March 4. We did not receive grant funding for the project, however it will go forward anyway thanks to significant support from Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who will provide the buses; the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, who handled printing and mailing costs; staff support from the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM); as well as the Topanga Town Council and Chamber of Commerce who have each made contributions for refreshments. Pat's Grill will provide lunch and Topanga Elementary School has provided their auditorium for the meeting--another success for grassroots efforts!

The only piece missing in this effort is videotaping the workshop so it can be broadcast on cable TV. If anyone has any connections that might help here, please contact Rosi Dagit at (310) 455-1030.

The speakers in the workshop have each been asked to present a case study that will illustrate the hydrologic, engineering and environmental constraints of a problem site either located along a stream or dealing with a slope. They will then describe the solutions considered, how they made their choice, and what the costs would be. The projects spotlighted should each incorporate sound environmental practices that help protect and preserve the ecological value of the site. We hope that a variety of potential solutions will be illustrated so that participants walk away with some ideas for solving their own site problems. All architects, engineers, contractors, geologists and homeowners in the Santa Monica Mountains will find this information useful.

The morning presentations will be followed by visits to several sites in Topanga that illustrate either problems or solutions to streambank and slope stabilization. For more information call the RCDSMM at (310) 455-1030. The registration fee is $10 and includes lunch.


Richard Sherman of Topanga Underground then took the floor and continued his update on the new regulations regarding septic systems that went into effect in January. Most of these regulations have always been in the County Health Code, but were just not enforced in an organized way. Now the County intends to apply existing laws, and have added a few new ones. This is in response to the fact that there have been more premature failures on new septic systems which are not overloaded.

The biggest impact will be on home remodeling or trying to build a new home. The perc test will now be more restrictive, and the level of the groundwater table will have to be verified by a geologist. The hole dug to verify groundwater cannot then be used for the perc test, meaning it will now take at least two holes to meet County standards, adding greatly to the cost. In the past, holes that drained really well into fractured rock were considered wonderful. Now pretreatment will be required if the hole drains too well, to ensure that the nutrient and pathogen levels are acceptable before they go into the groundwater system.

Another requirement will be a better plot plan. No more index cards will be accepted! The old records have been something of a problem, since many times folks have no idea where their septic system is located and County records are no help at all.

Sherman and Steve Braeburn of Biosolutions then discussed what options are available for homes where the septic system is failing. They pointed out that a typical septic system lasts for 20 to 30 years, while homes are built to last for 100! Obviously retrofitting will be needed, since the County can't condemn every home when the septic fails. Alternative systems are available but costly, and the County hasn't really decided how to deal with them yet. It will take several test cases before a pattern of acceptable solutions emerges.

One option may be the use of a "substandard system" which works, but does not meet all County requirements. This will be noted on the property's title and will need to be disclosed when selling the property. Most real estate folks in the area are very septic savvy, and the California Onsite Wastewater Association is seeking a grant to establish a certification program for septic inspectors so homeowners receive a standardized inspection when selling or buying a house.

Composting toilets, gray water systems and other alternatives were then discussed. The biggest problem in these alternatives is getting rid of the water safely, not the wastes themselves. Gray water is still pathogenic, and it is illegal to have surface discharge of sewage. Even with composting toilets, you have the problem of waste water from showers, washing machines, dishwashers, etc. that needs to be handled properly. The water from the washing machine is probably the worst!

The technology for dealing with these problems is advancing quickly, with effluent filters and aerobic systems being most successful. It was decided to have a demonstration of these systems at a meeting on Saturday, May 6 at Topanga Elementary School from 9 a.m. t o noon. More details to come.


The input from the State of the Watershed meeting regarding a vision for the future for Topanga was quite thoughtful. A meeting devoted to just that topic will be organized for the spring. This will require all participants to do some reading ahead of time so they come prepared and aware of the current constraints. The hope is to develop a plan that we can then get incorporated into the ongoing revisions of the Local Coastal Plan and the Santa Monica Mountains Area North Plan. This will give us at least a leg to stand on in defining a future for Topanga that reflects the desires of the community.

More heads are better than one, and together the creative energy of Topanga will surely find a path to follow. Much as we want Topanga to remain the same, change is a constant. It's up to us to direct the changes in ways that are compatible with what we hold dear. Please come and share your ideas!


Toxic Spill at Topanga Elementary

By Rosi Dagit

On Monday, January 31, there was a toxic spill into Topanga Creek at School Road. Alerted by parent Jo Barry, at 7:30 a.m. Principal Eileen Goodman contacted the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Safety Officer Brad Smith. According to Smith, CNM Paving had applied a sealant to the asphalt on the previous Saturday, before it began raining. The sealant did not adhere properly, so CNM brought up three water tanker trucks, starting at 5 a.m. Monday morning, and began to power-hose the sealant off. No effort was made to collect the runoff for proper disposal. It is not clear if sealant was also washed offsite by the rain, or just by the power washing. Approximately 1,000 gallons of sealant was supposed to have been applied. The hosing generated a yucky, black stream of water which ran down the school driveway, through the school pathway connecting the upper and lower levels and into the gutters, down the street and eventually into the creek. The substance, Sure Seal, is petroleum based, and could potentially effect aquatic organisms downstream. Fortunately it does not have toxic effects on children unless it is ingested.

All the appropriate agencies (Fire Department Hazardous Materials, Office of Emergency Services, Fish and Game, etc.) were notified that day. A clean-up team arrived later Monday afternoon and made sure there was no residue left on the campus. They even cleaned the soils along the driveway. The Topanga Stream Team also visited the site in the early afternoon and found no overt problems. Michael McDermott of the California Department of Fish and Game was not able to visit the site until Wednesday. While no obvious stream impacts were noted, he did take water samples to test for pollution. According to McDermott, it is illegal for any petroleum product to enter the waters of the state.

LAUSD wishes to recover the costs of the toxic clean up, and it is possible that this violation will lead to litigation concerning the liability and a fine to be levied on the contractor. We have not yet been able to reach Neil Ludlow of CNM Paving to get their side of the story. We'll keep you posted.

Along the toxic spill line, a Topanga resident witnessed a carpet cleaning truck pumping residue into the creek at Highvale Road on January 26 or 27. It is important we all remind our contractors that they need to dispose of their wastes properly, not in the creek! If you see a violation like this, it should be reported to the Fire Department, or you can call Office of Emergency Services at (800) 962-8179.