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 Horse Owners Say "Neigh" To New Zoning Proposal

By Susan Chasen

Responding to widespread protest from equestrians over proposed restrictions on horse facilities, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has recommended abandoning the controversial "Light Resort and Recreation" zoning proposal, which he agrees strayed far from its original purpose of safeguarding against commercial over-development in portions of the Santa Monica Mountains.

"The R-R-L proposal, as drafted by staff at the Planning Commission’s direction, restricts uses far beyond what was originally intended," wrote Yaroslavsky in a June 6 letter delivered to the County Regional Planning Commission at its June 7 meeting.

  
 VOL.24 NO. 12
June 15 - 28, 2000
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PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER

"Can't I be your neigh-bor?"

 

 "While I had suggested that the [Resort and Recreation] zone be reviewed to increase control over unregulated commercial uses, the restrictions will unnecessarily impact residential horse properties. It was never the desire of the Board of Supervisors to enact such restrictions."

Instead, Yaroslavsky directed the commission to create a Community Standards District which would focus narrowly on Triunfo Canyon, which has access problems and a history of conflict between commercial and residential owners, and along nearby commercially zoned portions of Mulholland Highway.

The R-R-L zoning proposal became highly controversial because of several unprecedented restrictions on the number of horses allowed on properties, and costly new permit requirements it would have imposed on existing horse facilities such as stables, riding academies and relatively minor grading projects such as a small horse arena.

While only properties zoned R-R might have eventually been rezoned to R-R-L, equestrians were united in support of those property owners as well as in opposition to the precedent of the new horse restrictions in any zone.

 

Several stable owners who happened to be at the Planning Commission meeting to hear discussion on the County’s draft North Area Plan were pleased at the unexpected announcement.

"We feel very good about it and very happy," said Ruth Gerson, a long-time trails advocate and president of the newly formed Recreation and Equestrian Coalition based in Agoura Hills. "Mobilizing the equestrian community absolutely made a difference. Horse people from Lancaster, Palos Verdes, and Tujunga to Malibu made a difference to help defeat this proposed zoning."

The sudden reversal on the proposed ordinance, which has been more than a year-and-a-half in drafting, met with remarkably fast acceptance among the commissioners. They agreed to formally drop the ordinance at their June 14 meeting.

"I completely concur," said Ester Feldman, Yaroslavsky’s commission appointee who had proposed some of the specific restrictions regarding horse-keeping. "It makes sense to focus the fix on the particular areas where there have been problems."

The key objections to the R-R-L were provisions that limited horse raising to two per "usable net acre" rather than per "gross acre," and that limited horse grazing to seven per "usable net acre" with a five-acre minimum. The unprecedented "usable net acre" designation excluded land of greater than 25 percent slope, along with residences, other structures and any other areas not accessible to the horses. Horse grazing previously had no limit.

Also, it required costly conditional use permits (CUPs) for stables and riding academies which are currently not required in the R-R zone.

In addition to the expense for these CUPs, which begin with a $3,979 fee and usually progress to many thousands of dollars more for specialized data for County review and then to meet County-imposed conditions, there is increasing distrust among horse facility owners that the lengthy CUP process will ultimately result in approval of a viable business. County planners, however, say that neighbors support the CUP process because it allows for public hearings and community input.

Yaroslavsky’s suggestion of creating a Community Standards District–such as Topanga already has–for protecting mountain resources and balancing competing interests in the Triunfo area’s concentrated R-R zones and unrestricted C-3 commercial zones, will provide for community input. But it will also tend to put the greatest burden on new businesses while offering lenient grandfathering provisions for existing operations, according to Laura Shell, Yaroslavsky’s planning deputy.

Existing horse facilities and other businesses in those areas would have a minimum of 20 years, perhaps more, before having to obtain a CUP, said Shell.

"We’re trying to be sensitive to the concerns that have been raised," said Shell. "We really regret the situation that it created. It went off on a tangent that wasn’t the original intent."

Although there was merit in many provisions of the R-R-L, said Shell--such as eliminating intense uses like golf courses or universities, and setting development standards--it went too far and lost needed support in the community.

"It failed, as I think anyone who was at the hearing saw," said Shell of the May 17 hearing of the Regional Planning Commission in Calabasas.

At that hearing, an overflowing crowd of about 200 concerned equestrians urged the Planning Commission to drop the proposed R-R-L ordinance. They carried signs that read: "Keep our horses in our mountains," "R-R-L Restricts Rural Lifestyles," and "Zev, Why?"

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

They called for an Environmental Impact Report on the ordinance, charging that alleged water quality impacts from horse facilities are based on guesswork and that negative impacts from a loss of horse facilities--such as increased trailering of horses into the mountains and increased residential development from sold-off horse properties--should be factored in.

As if stepping in to answer equestrians’ charge that the R-R-L was a "solution searching for a problem," representatives of state and national parks, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and Heal the Bay testified that water quality problems are an issue that will have to be addressed sooner or later.

They testified that horse manure is suspected of being a significant source of harmful excess nutrients in the Malibu watershed--the second largest watershed flowing into Santa Monica Bay.

According to Melinda Merryfield-Becker, standards unit chief for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, "total maximum daily load" standards for bacteria and nutrients in the Malibu Watershed have to be completed by next summer to comply with a 1999 consent decree resulting from a Heal the Bay and Santa Monica BayKeeper lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The impact of horse corrals remains largely unquantified," acknowledged Merryfield-Becker, but she also said they are a likely contributor to elevated phosphate and nitrogen levels--or nutrients that stimulate algae growth,--creating matting and reducing dissolved oxygen in the water that supports riparian and marine life.

Equestrian advocates countered that it would be wrong to use water quality arguments to justify the R-R-L’s horse restrictions when no hard data has been gathered to quantify horse-related impacts as compared with other suspected sources such as septic systems, run-off from lawn fertilizer and other development-related impacts.

"Nobody in here really knows what they're talking about," said Don Schmitz, a Malibu development consultant and spokesman for the Recreation and Equestrian Coalition.

He pointedly asked the commissioners if they knew the number of horses, the number of horse facilities, their proximity to trails, the gross revenues involved and the numbers of tourists and jobs that could be affected by an R-R-L zone change.

"It will in fact price out many equestrian and recreational facilities. It’s disingenuous to say otherwise," said Schmitz.

He also complained that County promises that only certain R-R-zoned properties would likely be rezoned to R-R-L unfairly allows the County to "pick and choose individual properties that can be picked off and will lose their rights."

Others suggested that the loss of horse facilities would ultimately lead to more development, and that eliminating horses to protect the environment would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Several spoke of the impact it would have on young equestrians.

Shell agreed that the water quality issue was an example of how the R-R-L ordinance veered off course from its original purpose of regulating land use.

"The water quality issue, while it’s very important, is not the reason we started this effort," said Shell. "Water quality kind of got wrapped into it.

"Let’s wait until we have some studies," said Shell, noting that the water board is starting to do them.

RIFT BETWEEN HORSE LOVERS & BIOLOVERS CONTINUES

Although, the R-R-L has now been dropped, the issues raised by the proposed zone have revealed a deepening rift between environmentalists seeking to protect natural resources and equestrians seeking to protect a rural way of life.

Equestrians, alarmed by the R-R-L proposal and by numerous recent enforcement actions against boarding stables in agricultural zones which the County says are required to have CUPs, are now worried that the new North Area Plan, which sets land use policy for the inland half of the Santa Monica Mountains, will similarly result in new restrictions on equestrian uses.

According to Gerson, the current draft North Area Plan lumps development of recreational and equestrian facilities in with housing and other development, and will result in the same sorts of increased requirements defeated in the R-R-L.

"We’re talking about development of recreational facilities and equestrian facilities near trailheads so people can get out onto the trails," said Gerson.

Ultimately these restrictions will limit recreational opportunities, accommodations and services for people visiting the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, according to Gerson.

While the R-R zone would have allowed these uses, and are now safe from the R-R-L, those zones are almost all in Triunfo Canyon, said Gerson. Establishing Bed and Breakfasts, equestrian facilities near trailheads, hostels or mountain bike courses is going to be difficult, said Gerson.

The R-R-L was originally a response to Triunfo-Lobo Canyon homeowners who wanted to prevent future nightmares like they experienced with the party venue known as "Fantasy Island." The noise, bright lights, traffic and environmental disregard of Fantasy Island created general despair among its residential neighbors before it was eventually shut down.

At the May hearing, several representatives of these homeowners spoke gratefully in favor of the R-R-L ordinance which prohibits outdoor dance pavilions and outdoor amplified sound and includes development standards for lighting, noise, erosion control and protection of the view from public areas.

While some were opposed to the proposed restrictions on horse facilities, they still expressed concerns that horse-trailers could clog escape routes on the dead-end Triunfo Canyon Road during a fire.

Several Topangans were present at the hearing, but none spoke. Many local equestrians have been generally concerned about changes in County land use approaches that one day might affect horse-keeping in other zones. There is also a fear that informal horse boarding will come under closer scrutiny.

The R-R-L would not have expressly affected existing personal horse-keeping provisions which allow one horse per 5,000 square feet on a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet, or eight horses per acre. However, equestrians throughout the mountains were concerned that the "usable net acre" standard could make its way into the personal horse-keeping provisions and virtually eliminate horse-keeping throughout the many sloped canyons of the Santa Monicas.

Topanga only has two properties--one at the end of Callon Drive and the Camp Wildwood Resort--currently zoned "RR" that theoretically could have faced a change to R-R-L.

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Los Angeles County: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

By Michele Johnson

  On the third Wednesday of November, Topangans may wake up with a post-election hangover--and not just the monster headache of another Bush in the White House. A well-meant initiative on the ballot meant to break up Los Angeles County may leave Topanga Zev-less and politically toothless. A new map of the districts has already been proposed by the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Association, to be put in place if the current five districts are eventually divided into nine. If the supervisors approve that mapping version, Topanga would end up outside of Zev Yaroslavsky’s Third District and be placed in a sprawling new Ninth District that would extend from Agoura Hills to Lancaster with a complete unknown at the helm.

The current districts and their Supervisors: First District Gloria Molina, Second District Yvonne Braithwaite-Burke, Third District Zev Yaroslavsky, Fourth District Don Knabe and Fifth District Mike Antonovich.

 A breakup is due for good reasons, proponents say. Five supervisors now decide the destiny of about 10 million people. That’s two million souls per supervisor, making each constituency larger than the population of 17 individual states.

For that reason, State Senate Majority Leader Richard Polanco is proposing a constitutional amendment to require any county with more than five million residents to have a minimum of nine districts. Opponents say this is dirty pool, because Los Angeles County alone would be affected by the initiative, leaving us in the unique position of having our local political fate decided by millions of Californians who don’t even live here.

 

The proposed realignment is a vastly different landscape!

The bill would also require a 12-year term limit and would cut office budgets. Says Joel Bellman, press liaison for Yaroslavsky, "The Board has been very tepid on the idea of an outside constituency coming in to break up the district." He points out that if the initiative passes, there would be 57 counties in California deciding the fate of Los Angeles County. "Why should voters in other jurisdictions decide how we should be governed?"

Polanco says the County can forestall that eventuality by placing its own breakup proposal on the November ballot: "The state would not go forward if we do ours," Bellman confirmed. He says, faced with those options, "Chances are really good" that the County will come up with its own proposal. "The County has a proposal wending its way through the bureaucracy," he adds, though the County proposal would not include term limits. Bellman argues that if voters are unhappy with any supervisor, they can always vote him out of office. But , he also contends that term limits "guarantee that no one will be around long enough to gain any experience--have no time to learn the ropes and develop a deep commitment to their constituents."

The Board is split on the issue of a breakup. For example, Mike Antonovich is opposed, Gloria Molina is for it, and Zev stands somewhere in the middle. For some time, Yaroslavsky has been pushing a compromise plan to add an elected County executive or mayor who would oversee some functions of the Board and also head up the administrative staff.

Bellman also argues that the state proposal would leave the County strapped for funds and unable to be as responsive to its constituents as it currently is. Polanco’s measure, he says, would take the current budget and split it nine ways. Bellman points out that Yaroslavsky’s office only has about 25 people on its payroll, not counting the pool of 125 or so assistants who serve functions for the supervisors as a group. "The fewer bodies we have, the longer you have to wait." The County proposal would provide more money than the state version to accommodate the breakup.

The proposal must be passed by the supervisors and be ready for the ballot by August. But even then, the proposal on the ballot would not indicate exactly how the district would be redrawn. That would be based on information from the 2000 census, says Bellman. Anyone who would like to register an opinion about the breakup, or how those lines should be drawn, can call the supervisor’s office at (213) 974-3333.

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A Little Piece of Paradise for Sale

By Michele Johnson

The nine acres of gorgeously landscaped property occupied by Elysium Institute--a clothing- optional resort--went on the block a few weeks ago for $2.6 million. But although this site may close, it will still be no clothes for Elysium, as they are actively seeking another location.

  In 1968 the current Elysium property was acquired by set designer and photographer Ed Lange, who hoped to create a dream paradise for naturists there. Lange, a vocal civil libertarian, fought the County and his neighbors for years for the right to keep the resort open. He succeeded so well that in 1995 he was named Topanga’s Citizen of the Year, and by the time of his death shortly thereafter he'd made peace with most Topangans, who now consider Elysium a good neighbor.

Lange left the property to his two daughters, Dana Lange and Lisa Lang. Dana was his hand-picked successor, but retired from the Board of Elysium in December, 1999. Now, Dana and her sister have decided it’s time to sell.


PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER

The idyllic Elysium.

 

"We were advised a couple of months ago that the girls wanted to sell the property," said Betty Leslie Meltzer, Managing Director of the non-profit Elysium Institute. Faced with their decision, the Elysium Board decided to bid on the property. "We gathered together as many advisors as we could find, mostly from our membership," Betty said, "and found a financial manager. We got the money together, based on our Profit and Loss, and made an offer." But, she said, "We were turned down. Our income doesn’t warrant $2.6 million." Also, if they stayed, they would be faced with "major investments" to restore the old buildings used as clubhouses and offices.

"What they are asking is just out of our reach," insists Gary Mussell, Co-Director and Secretary/Treasurer of Elysium Institute. "If they get their money, God bless them," he said. "But after the euphoria of the summer is behind us, maybe we’ll talk again."

ELYSIUM FOREVER

Betty insists that whatever happens, Elysium Institute "will continue, whether on this site or not." As we spoke, Betty was about to leave to view Topanga properties that might fill the bill. "We’d have to have accessibility and no neighbor problems." They would prefer to stay in Topanga: "We love the Canyon," said Mussell, but they will look outside the area if they need to. She’s not worried about finding a place as lush and landscaped as Elysium’s current home. "We would work to beautify it," she says. Many of the members volunteer to do their gardens--recently, they put in grass and rose beds. "We would have the support of those kinds of people. It’s like their home away from home." And, she added, Elysium is "one of the few places that doesn’t get destructed by use. People take care of it."

Unfortunately, this happened just as the fortunes of the struggling Elysium were turning around. Membership had doubled in the last year to about 700, and last May its Conditional Use Permit (CUP) was extended for another 15 years by the County. They’ll lose the permit if they move; it will go with the property. But Betty points out, "We’ve been here for 32 years. That should be helpful in getting a [new] permit."

Plans have also been alive to create a center for educational facilities and healing retreats that could draw clients like the Healing Institute to increase Elysium’s income over its lean winter months. They’ll continue to focus on those changes. "We want to move forward."

WHO WILL BUY?

If Elysium goes, who will come? According to Betty, potential buyers have already been viewing the prime property. One letter writer to the Messenger wondered if the land could be subdivided. Though the attorney for Fred Sands Realty, which lists the property, was unavailable to be interviewed for this article, it is our understanding that Elysium's nine acres are divided into 14 parcels which could be individually built on. Reliable sources say most potential buyers at this point are looking at the property for its CUP, which would open the door for its use as a resort or health spa. Additionally, the property is in coastal, so approvals on individual homes on a property surrounded on three sides by state park land may not be easy to come by.

The CUP itself features building restrictions that allow refurbishing, but no new construction. It also places limits on parking and noise. Only 200 cars are permitted on the grounds at one time, and no amplified music is allowed.

Betty says Elysium has been happy to comply with the CUP restrictions. "We put signs out to slow incoming and outgoing traffic and are careful to monitor sound levels. We really work not to create an 'us and them' atmosphere. We feel interwoven with the Canyon." She says many Topangans are members of the resort, though the majority come from outside the Canyon. Many more Topangans visit Elysium for the classes open to nonmembers that range from swim aerobics to tennis. For July and August, Betty is putting together a schedule of member events that could include an art festival, concerts, and their annual comedians' night, Stand Up Against Domestic Violence. The proceeds go to support shelters for victims of abuse. Last year some of the comedians, Betty said, "had never performed before nudists. They had a ball. Two stripped down and did the whole thing. One just ended up in a cowboy hat." Even if the land is sold, Betty "would hope we’ll be on this site through the season."

The nudist scene is still alive and well in the United States, Betty insists. She recently did a phone interview on the "Roseanne" show, which was doing a special bit on nudist resorts. They had a fact sheet showing that there are 267 resorts in the U.S. with half a million members. When Roseanne asked her, "Are you naked now?" Betty answered, "Yes, and so are you. Under our clothes, we're all naked!"

Baring all, Betty tells us that she still hopes new negotiations will bring a last-minute deal with the Lange daughters: "We want to create a win-win situation for the landowners and us."

Editor's Note: At press time the owners were unavailable for comment.

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Feeling Chipper Again

By Tony Morris

Last year, with the help of several members of the Topanga Citizens’ Firesafe Committee, almost 100 households got together and did something great--they got their brush clearance done, gave work to some very helpful local business people, and did some significant recycling. The Chipper Program proved that with a little work and good old cooperation we Topangans can accomplish minor miracles--brush clearance, erosion control, soil rejuvenation with no landfill impacts, all at the same time!


PHOTO BY ANNE-CHRISTINE VON WETTER
Last year's chipper program accomplished minor miracles.
 Rosi Dagit drafted a few brush-clearing and chipper guidelines; Anne-Christine von Wetter and David Totheroh scheduled the chippers, negotiated fees, organized and mapped the routes; and Burt Rashby, Vic Richards, Ken Smith and Manfred Schlosser helped with traffic control as the chippers moved through the Canyon chipping various sized piles of brush that participants left at the bottoms of driveways, in turnouts, or alongside the road.

There is no reason why what we did last year throughout the Canyon can’t be done this year in every neighborhood. All it takes is to get together with a few of your neighbors, call and schedule a time with one of the local chipper services and you're on your way.

For information packets, or for pointers on how to set up your own neighborhood chipper program, call Anne-Christine von Wetter at (310) 455-2600 or David Totheroh at (310) 455-1219; or you can contact our local brush clearance services directly: Thad Geer (310) 455-4336, Richard Brown (310) 455-9611 or Vicki and Peter Norwood (310) 455-3027.

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Fernwood Crash

By Tony Morris

 On Saturday, May 28, at 1:30 p.m., a Topanga resident ,driving a Jeep Cherokee west in the 800 block of Fernwood Pacific Drive, lost control of her vehicle, drove off the roadway and struck a steel post. The fire hydrant protection post impaled the undercarriage of the vehicle and shattered the engine block, causing the Cherokee to overturn in the driveway at 835 Fernwood Pacific. According to Topanga resident Jonas Hardy, who was driving east on Fernwood, flames could be seen coming from the engine compartment. Hardy stopped his vehicle, was able to locate a fire extinguisher from a neighbor, and succeeded in putting out the fire. A motorist who had been following behind the Cherokee helped the driver exit the heavily damaged vehicle.

 
PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS

A close call on Fernwood Pacific.

Units from the California Highway Patrol (CHP), Los Angeles County Sheriff’s, and paramedics from Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Station 69 responded to a 911 call reporting the accident.

CHP officers stated that the 44-year-old female driver was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test, and after a second request and refusal the driver was placed under arrest and taken to West Hills Medical Center for treatment of injuries. The driver was then transferred to the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station and released on $2,500 bail. No formal charges have been filed.

Fernwood residents report that drivers regularly exceed safe speed limits on Fernwood Pacific Drive. With the increase in traffic, the CHP cautioned drivers that they should observe the 15-mile-per-hour courtesy speed signs on blind curves even though the posted speed limit may be higher. The courtesy speed signs were installed to advise drivers to reduce speed at all such locations on Fernwood Pacific and throughout Topanga.

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County Crews on the Road Again

A project will soon be underway to repave Red Rock Road near Old Topanga Canyon Road and Arteique Road, from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to where it ends.

The repaving project is expected to cost between $400,000 and $500,000, and to take 35 working days for completion, beginning in July and ending in September.

Once work begins, Red Rock Road may be reduced to one lane for both directions, and controlled by flag operators during daylight working hours.

The County also intends to slurry-seal approximately seven miles of pavement in Topanga, Calabasas and unincorporated areas of West Hills. Slurry-seal is a mixture of asphalt and sand applied to existing pavement to seal minor cracks and extend the life of the roadway. This project calls for a type of slurry that uses recycled automobile tires as one of its components.

The project is expected to start in July and take 15 working days to complete, ending in August. Once work begins, Viewridge Road, Coastline Drive, and Vanowen Street may be reduced to one traffic lane for both directions controlled by flag operators during daylight working hours. Other project streets may be closed to through traffic while they are being slurry-sealed. While paving and sealing, local access will be maintained at all times.

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