Arson Watch Commander Allen Emerson, who lives
up Deerhill, was one of those who called 911. He was awake at about
2:30 a.m., and heard voices outside his window. "There were people
on the trail in back of my house. I thought, what the hell. It's 2
o'clock in the morning. Who the hell is out there?" But because
the voices were not raised, he didn't become overly alarmed until
"about 20 minutes later" when a series of shots rang out.
He immediately called 911. The calls started coming into the station
at 3:20 a.m., according to Sergeant Jones.
Fired at Arteique and Deerhil
By Michele Johnson
In the early morning hours of Saturday,
July 22, shots were fired on Deerhill Road, breaking the peace
of a normally bucolic Sylvia Park neighborhood. Several neighbors
wakened by the noise called 911, and the Sheriff's station
in Lost Hills dispatched deputies to the scene who "detained
three carloads of people," said Sergeant John Jones of
Lost Hills. "Two were arrested," he continued, charged
with discharge of a firearm in a grossly negligent manner,
carrying a concealed weapon, driving in possession of an open
container, and for the driver, driving with a suspended license.
Charged were 19-year-old Jason Holman and 18-year-old Tyler
Brown from Van Nuys and Reseda. Jones could not say whether
or not they had any gang affiliation.
On Deerhill, the scene played out. "One guy was cursing obscenities,"
continued Emerson, "yelling, 'I want to kill somebody.'"
As he listened, he heard several names shouted out, and one car began
to race away. Emerson called 911 again. "I called and told them
one car was leaving."
According to Sergeant Jones, that car drove
around the sheriff's car already on Deerhill that tried to stop
it, and continued down the road where it was intercepted by another
sheriff's vehicle at the corner of Deerhill and Arteique Road. "The
people didn't want to cooperate," Jones said. The deputies
who made the stop found an expended casing in the car, a gun that
smelled like it had been recently fired and open beer bottles. The
deputies then made "a reasonable cause arrest."
At press time, the suspects were still in custody, being questioned.
Arraignment was scheduled for Tuesday, July 25. According to Emerson,
five bullets and seven shells were found on Deerhill. A Search and
Rescue team arrived later that day to hunt for more shells "and
possible bodies," Emerson added, though apparently nobody was
hurt in the incident.
This is the second Saturday in a row that people were heard on Deerhill
in the early morning hours. On Saturday, July 15, at 2:00 a.m. a
resident heard a group partying up on the trail above Deerhill.
The next day, Emerson said, cigarette butts were found up there,
which, he insists, were a real fire danger.
One neighbor put a terrifying spin on the incident. "Any of
those bullets could have put any of us at risk. It's the closest
thing to a drive-by we've had up here."
here to Mouth off !
Says We're OK
By Rosi Dagit
What do bacteria and the Topanga lagoon have
in common? They are all part of the watershed web that we are trying
so hard to understand. The research efforts that have taken place
over the past year are slowly yielding results that we can use to
help us understand how we fit into the picture, and how we can move
forward to protect both ourselves and the environment we depend
upon. We all live downstream from someone, and here is a clear instance
where the actions of each individual can make a real difference.
BABY BRIDGE BATS!
Thanks to on-going research efforts by Topangans
Haley and Jackie Safanov, we now know a lot about the bats living
in our bridges. A recent night spent catching a few with bat expert
Diana Simmons told us even more. "We knew that the Mexican
Freetail bats were the most numerous species, and that mostly young
bachelor males hang out together in Old Topanga. But we didn't know
that among the many males, the bridges were also nursery roosts
for Big Brown bats, a slightly larger species. This research is
the first to document the year round residency of these bats in
the Santa Monica Mountains," stated Simmons. Public Works has
found a way to incorporate the old timbers into the new bridge,
so the bats home will be restored in the new bridge. Now we know
enough to really take care of the bats when the bridge is replaced.
WATER QUALITY EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS!
The first year of sampling water quality at
five sites weekly and ten sites monthly has ended, and the report
is quite hopeful. Despite some hot spots with regular high bacteria
counts, the overall water quality is quite good. We don't have a
nutrient problem--no excess nitrogen, phosphorus or ammonia. We
don't have a heavy metal problem--no lead, as was suspected by the
Regional Water Quality Control Board. And even the hot spots are
not enough to overwhelm the natural cleansing process that takes
place as the creek leaps and falls over stones along the way to
This doesn't mean that there aren't some problems needing
attention. Clearly the water quality behind Topanga Market
is severely impacted by its use as a bathroom by the guys
who hang out back there regularly. The port-a-potty provided
by the Topanga Town Council is obviously not conveniently
placed, so the creek gets used instead. This is a chronic
problem that could easily be solved by moving the potty to
a better location, as well as by consistent education of the
folks who use the area.
The other place of concern is off Entrado
Road. The sampling location is downstream of everything in
the Glenview neighborhood, so it is not clear where the source(s)
of the problem are, but the fecal coliform bacteria counts
here continually exceed the standards. Fecal coliform comes
from warm-blooded animals, including humans and horses, so
the possible sources are many. It would really help if folks
in that area checked to see that their septic systems are
functioning properly, and that manure from corralled animals
is properly disposed of, away from the drainages leading into
the creek. Despite the high levels here, the creek seems to
cleanse things pretty well before they get to the next sampling
A barbed wire fence was recently installed behind the Center.
Is this the final solution?
We also learned that the natural levels of total bacteria are quite
high in our system. There are thousands of species of bacteria that
live in our soils, many of which are beneficial. It is only when the
fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria numbers get high that health issues
become a concern. While there is no direct link between high levels
of coliform bacteria and illnesses, it is still the cheapest indicator
to use and the standard worldwide. The real culprit in causing diseases
are the viruses, and tests are in the works to allow us to sample
directly for these pathogens rather than to rely on the indirect tests
provided by bacteria counts.
Our lowest sampling point in the watershed is at the bridge with the
stream gauge, two miles up from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). By the
time the water has moved through the system and reaches that point
it is beautiful and of consistently high quality. The only exception
was immediately following the first big rainstorm. Unfortunately,
that good water quality degrades by the time it reaches Topanga Beach,
after passing through the Rodeo Grounds and the commercial zone along
Overall, the water sampling data showed a system that is still able
to support a diverse group of aquatic plants and animals, and naturally
cleanse itself. We have not passed the point of no return, and by
taking care, can prove that onsite septic systems are a viable waste
management program that can be sustained over time. Look for the site
location map and data online by August.
Many thanks to all the volunteers who have helped with data collection
over the past year. Topangans Penny Ward, Julie Rosa, Gerlinda and
Kevin Gautry, Dona Christianson, Shannon Morrison, Heather Rose and
Deborah Low have done a great job. We also want to thank our out-of-Canyon
volunteers, Terry Brady, Chris Van Schackt and Jim Yarlborough, who
come a long way to lend a hand. New volunteers are always welcome.This
project is funded by the State Water Resources Control Board.
TONS OF TADPOLES!
Speaking of water quality, the numbers of Pacific
Tree Frog, California Tree Frog and Western Toad tadpoles was quite
spectacular this year! A survey coordinated by the National Park
Service is revisiting sites that were surveyed in the mid 1980s
to see how the numbers of amphibians has changed over time. Three
locations in Topanga--down in the narrows, along the Backbone Trail
in Old Canyon and from Greenleaf to Highvale along Topanga Canyon
Boulevard--were sampled by volunteers Kevin Gautry, John Mac Neil,
Noel Rhodes, Terry Brady, Dona Christianson, Paul Yamazaki, Heather
Rose and myself. We walked through the creeks measuring each run,
riffle and pool, counting tadpoles, eggs and adults found along
the way. The bacteria that has caused frog deformations worldwide
was not found, and all our frogs looked pretty healthy. The final
count isn't in, but well over half a million tadpoles were noted.
If all of them mature, well, what a vision! A Canyon full of frogs!
Unfortunately this isn't likely, as we also
found tons of mosquito fish in the upper watershed. These carnivorous
devils are given to homeowners for use in ponds and fountains where
they are supposed to control mosquito larvae. They escape into the
creek and wreak havoc among the native species, eating everything
in sight. The numbers of tadpoles dropped to almost nothing in areas
with mosquito fish. We also found a few crayfish--natives of Louisiana
that have been released into the creek by misguided fisherman. These
guys are really ferocious, and can even eat the poisonous adult
California newts. No newts were found in the more disturbed areas
of the upper creek.
TOPANGA LAGOON FEASIBILITY STUDY FUNDED
For years, the idea of restoring the historic
lagoon at the mouth of Topanga Creek has been bantered about. In
April, photos and a USGS geologic map showing the extent of the
former lagoon were found, giving us a glimpse of what used to be.
A large portion of the former lagoon sits under 30+ feet of fill
added by Caltrans over the years on the southwest side of the creek.
The dirt parking lot owned by Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors,
as well as the area now covered with businesses and homes on the
north side of PCH, used to be a large lagoon supporting diverse
species of plants and animals.
But that was in 1915, when the upper watershed had maybe 300 year-round
residents. Now we have almost 12,000 people and 3,000 septic systems
living in the upper watershed, major state highways and critical
utilities along the way. While restoring a portion of the lagoon
could definitely help improve water quality at Topanga Beach and
encourage more steelhead trout to venture upstream, we need a lot
more information about how the system works under present conditions
before we make a design. For now, the focus will be on the publicly
-owned area south of PCH, but this could be expanded if the Los
Angeles Athletic Club property becomes parkland.
The Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project and the Santa
Monica Bay Restoration Project have provided grants to the RCDSMM
(Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains) to
conduct the necessary background studies needed to identify the
constraints that will determine the design of the restored lagoon.
A team of scientists from UCLA, Cal State Northridge, Natural Resources
Conservation Service, and Cal Poly Pomona will work with the Topanga
Watershed Committee, Caltrans, Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors,
and the RCDSMM to provide a comprehensive framework of information
that will allow us to create a self-sustaining, functional lagoon.
Historic aerial photos will be scanned into a GIS computer system
to generate a three-dimensional model of how the creek channel has
changed over time. The sources and sinks of sediments from roadsides,
landslides, upslopes and creek banks will be evaluated to understand
how sediments move through the system to the sea. Validation of
the hydrological model used by the County to develop floodplain
maps will be done using real storm event data. Understanding peak
flows and water movement is critical, not only to a restored lagoon
but to improving flood hazard preparedness throughout the watershed.
Last but definitely not least, there will be a series of town hall
meetings to develop a comprehensive vision of what functions the
community wants the lagoon to serve--for recreation, open space,
ecological and water quality benefits. More details will be available
in the fall.
TOPANGA TOMORROW WORKSHOP ON SEPTEMBER 30
The Mermaid Tavern will host an all-day workshop
where 40 Topanga lovers will gather to envision a future for the
Canyon. Participants will be asked to prepare for the day by reading
the Draft Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan, the Local Coastal
Plan, the Santa Monica Mountains Area North Plan and assorted other
documents that guide planning for Topanga. Together they will identify
which policies help further the goals of keeping Topanga the community
we love, which ones should be trashed, rewritten, etc. The goal
is to develop some guidelines for the future of Topanga which will
then be presented to the community at a town meeting in October.
Anyone who wishes to help out in this process is welcome, although
we are limiting it to the first 40. A tax deductible donation of
$20 is requested to help defray costs. Stop by the RCD to fill out
a registration form, and pick up your summer reading.
here to Mouth off !
By Rosi Dagit
The 19 wrecked cars that have been corroding
away in the steep narrow section of Topanga Creek are finally going
to be removed. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Shah's fourth and fifth
graders at Topanga Elementary School, the Topanga Watershed Committee
and the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains
(RCDSMM), the Urban Streams Restoration Project has provided a grant
of $13,200 to cover the costs of a huge Sikorsky S58 helicopter,
along with a ground crew, to airlift the cars out of the creek.
Richard Sherman of Topanga Underground, along with a crew of willing
volunteers, will use backhoes and flatbed trucks to take the cars
from the helipad near Twin Poles to get recycled. A few of the cars
and assorted debris will be given to local artists for a sculpture
The big event will take place on Saturday, September 9.
In the meantime, we need to get the cars ready to go. They are deep
in the Canyon, overgrown with weeds, buried in gravel or embedded
We need a crew of strong willing volunteers to help prepare them.
Work days are set for Saturday, August 19 and 25, from 9:00 a.m.
until the job is done. Volunteers will need to bring and carry lunch,
water, and hand tools (chain saws, pry bars, shovels, winches, brawn
and brains). We will meet at the RCD office to car pool and sort
tools. Please bring what you can to help. It takes approximately
an hour to hike into the area, through the boulders and pools along
the creek. It will be wet, dirty and oh so satisfying!
We also need trained mechanics who can help remove the fluids from
a few of the cars and transport the remains safely out of the creek.
Call Rosi at (310) 455-1030 to volunteer.
here to Mouth off about this issue!
TYS is Back at Bungalow 22
In the last days before school was dismissed,
I was informed that Topanga Youth Services (TYS) will again be able
to use Bungalow #22 at Topanga Elementary School for their afterschool
club room next school year. We have been meeting there after school
for two years now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 5:45 p.m.,
for homework, play rehearsals, games, and discussions using the talking
staff. We have had a rock'n'roll band rehearsal on some Fridays from
4:00 to 5:45 p.m. with Noel Rhodes, and there is a possibility that
in the upcoming season we may also be open on Mondays and Wednesdays.
In the past, talented adults have taught classes with the group, and
more are coming on board this fall. David Esser from Gym for the Mind
may be teaching chess strategies and Melissa McGray will be teaching
non-competitive games and leading discussions.
Graduating fifth graders visited the club room in June to see what
we do and to have a snack. Many of them are interested in joining
TYS. Their parents/guardians can complete a one-time registration
form this summer. Call (310) 455-3231 to pre-register your graduate
and reserve a space at our pool party, which will take place on Wednesday,
August 23, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
TYS is all about having events and activities for sixth graders through
16-year-olds. We always welcome parents to join us to help plan and
chaperone. Over the years I have found that club members keep up their
friendships, and make new ones, because they have a place in the Canyon
to 'hang.' I hear that several 'alumni' still go to local spots to
meet like we used to do before we had a space at the school.
Teens always need money, and some of them are willing to work for
you this summer. Call me if you have something available!
here to Mouth off about this issue!