VOL.24 NO. 8
April 20 - May 3, 2000

The Changing of the Guard

By Penny Taylor

Summer's almost here, but the winds of change are certainly coming to Topanga. At the Lost Hills Sheriff's station, Captain Bill McSweeney has been promoted and transferred. That's not all--Lieutenant Greg Johnson has been transferred from Lost Hills; and the deputy assigned to Topanga, Sal Becera, has also moved on. On the Fire Department front, Captain Stephen Alexander has also retired.

All these men have served our community well, and will be missed--it makes one wonder just who and what is in store for us now.


Changes are in the works at the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station. Captain John O'Brien, who succeeds Captain Bill McSweeney, is familiar with the Topanga area. O'Brien's first stint at Lost Hills was in 1977 for five years. He came back later as a Sergeant. He subsequently left , and was later re-posted as a Lieutenant. This time he returns as a Captain.

I got a face-to-face with Lieutenant Curtis Jensen first. Katie Dalsemer, our photo hound, had just told me that Jensen and Deputy Peter Sanzone were coming to the office, so I ran out to my car to get a hair brush. (Everyone knows I can make Einstein appear well coiffed!) Jensen pulls up in a Sheriff's SUV next to the general store. I introduce myself and he looks down and grins, "Did I get it in the lines?" I had to shake my head when I pointed out, "This is Topanga, I don't think you have to worry too much about that here." (After all, an inch over is a matter of self expression.)

It only took a brief time to realize that this guy's going to fit right in, and he's "happy" to be here--we're not just a posting out in the sticks to this man.

Lieutenant Curtis Jensen has lived in Southern California all his life. Born in Lynwood, he attended high school there before going into law enforcement. A former Marine, Jensen's been with the Sheriff's Department for 17 1/2 years, working in the Lynwood Station, Men's Central Jail, Hall of Justice and the Advanced Training Bureau with the Officer Survival and Tactics Unit.

When we met he'd been with the Lost Hills Station five days, and it was apparent the Lost Hills posting, covering the Topanga area, was something he truly wanted. He'd known there was a possibility that he'd be posted here for the last eight months, and he said he'd "waited with bated breath" until it actually happened.

Jensen's been attending T-CEP meetings for the past couple of months. He's impressed with "the whole concept of community activism" that he's found in Topanga. He's also watched a few of the T-CEP drills and sees the parallels with what they do at the Sheriff's Department: "It's nice to see people involved," he says. He's especially cognizant of the time people donate: "We're on the clock when we get called out," he points out. The people in this community do it on their own time.

Jensen has already served some time in the area as part of an Area Command Team which is activated every couple of months. He also served in the Malibu area during one of our many floods.

It's apparent he really enjoys being here. "I'm still pinching myself," he says unabashedly.

Aware of the rotations at the Sheriff's Department that have affected Topanga he says, "We need to make sure there's not a breakdown in the relationships with the community."

Our new liaison Deputy for the Topanga area is Deputy Peter Sanzone. Deputy Sanzone came on board a few weeks ago and has had more time to acclimatize himself to Topanga. This has been made easier since he previously served at the Lost Hills Station and has been back at Lost Hills for the past 18 months. All together he's been posted for six years at Lost Hills, and knows both the Topanga and Malibu areas--the fires, the floods, the earthquakes and everything else we can come up with.

Born in Texas, Sanzone grew up on Long Island, New York. He was an "Air Force brat" and his father's career brought them to the Oxnard area.

He's been posted at the Men's Jail ("Everyone serves there") and Altadena, in addition to the Lost Hills duty.

Initially Sanzone decided to focus on any crime problems in the area until he could get a better feel for the community and its needs. So far he's mostly had to deal with property rights issues, but "Not property lines," he's quick to point out, "that's Civil." He's handled calls on trespassing and transient issues. Then there are the everyday issues of neighbor disputes, abandoned vehicles, naked ladies and the like.

Okay, yes, I did say naked ladies. Actually there was only one. I'm crossing the boulevard on Friday and he pulls up and says, "Where's the naked lady?" I admit, I was a bit floored--even though this is Topanga and I've already been witness to two "naked in the street" sightings. One of the relief fire fighters pointed Deputy Sanzone down the boulevard toward the S-curves, and he went off to search. I'd asked him for an update, and he later e-mailed me that it was an adult female who appears to be a transient, and was bathing in the creek. (This was before the Earth Day cleanup.) She had her clothes on when he found her, but he figured it was her because she was carrying her brain in her hand--oh, I misread that--carrying her bra in her hand. Just another day in Topanga.

Deputy Sanzone points out that it's important to be there "when the community requests or needs us."
Both these gentlemen are personable and easy to talk with. Forget those doughnut-eating, head-banging stereotypes. Jensen's a literature major who recognizes a Sarah McLachlan CD in three notes, but is partial to Loreena McKennitt --a recording artist whose material delves into Celtic origins all the way back to Moorish Spain. He mentions that her only mainstream hit was "Mummer's Dance" and he pronounces Celtic "Keltic" in the proper manner, unlike myself who never got past the basketball team. He's really into Southern Gothic literature along the lines of Faulkner, and for poetry it's Pablo Neruda.

Both Jensen and Sanzone are into the outdoors, so they should enjoy Topanga. Jensen likes hiking, and Sanzone likes mountain biking--unfortunately we don't have the water skiing he also enjoys.


Topanga also has a new Acting Assistant Fire Chief--Mike Dyer has been covering the spot vacated by Chief Stephen Alexander when he retired in March.

Mike is a native Californian, born in West Los Angeles. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley, then moved back to the other side of the hills and attended Fairfax High School. After graduating with a B.A. from Cal State Northridge in 1981, he worked as a beach life guard.

Before becoming a fireman, Dyer went back to school and fire science classes. He's not really new to Topanga--he started as a fireman, along with our own Captain Warren Chase in the 71st recruiting class in 1986, and became a patrolman here in Topanga at Fire Station 69.

Mike became a paramedic in 1988 and transferred to South Central for two years. He was at Station 14 until 1990, and was then promoted to Engineer and went to Station 70 in Malibu. In Malibu he served as Fire Inspector for almost two years, inspecting mostly new construction, places of public assembly, and industrial buildings.

Promoted to Captain in 1993, he spent six months in Altadena then came "back home" (his term for Topanga) and worked between Stations 69 and 70.

Does he know the area and its problems? You betcha. He was filling in on Captain Mike Johnson's shift that frightful morning of November 2, 1993 when the fire started at the top end of Old Canyon. He was one of the men to get an intravenous line into fire victim Ron Mass for his transport to the hospital, and he speaks with the voice of experience when recalling the winds and the sight when he looked up, just minutes later, and realized how far and fast the fire had traveled. He speaks of how the fire would "auto-ignite" in areas--that is, the fire would generate heat so intense that the brush ahead of it would ignite spontaneously before the fire itself actually reached there.

Back at Station 69 he was grabbed up by a Fire Chief to drive him around the fire area, and he did that for three days without sleep. Finally he said, "Look, I'm going to drive off a cliff if I don't get some sleep," so they came back to 69 for a short rest. Altogether he was on duty for 10 days.

Mike became a fireman because, "I love helping people and I love meeting people." He's still a certified paramedic and says, "I don't care what my rank is, if you need help at the scene then put me to work."

Most people aren't familiar with the duties of the Assistant Fire Chief. It's more of a political animal in some respects. He is the Fire Chief's direct representative to the community. The job requires a person adept at communication skills, problem solving and facilitating training. Mike explains, "If problems come up, I am here to deal with their (the community's) needs." In this respect he's already been involved in meetings with Fred Feer of T-CEP, Allen Emerson of Arson Watch and David Totheroh of the Citizens Firesafe Committee. It's obvious Mike's familiar with the individuals and the area and, as he says he, "wants to respond to the needs of the community and continue on the great service."

The demands of his position go beyond the 11 stations in Battalion 5, which includes Malibu, Topanga, Westlake Village, Agoura, Calabasas, and Hidden Hills. The Assistant Chief actually is responsible for two battalions--17 fire stations in all.

The post of Acting Assistant Chief usually lasts anywhere from three to six months--but Mike is hoping it might become permanent. He and his wife of 12 years have a 5-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son. They live in Westlake Village and, as he says, "I live out here and have a vested interest in these communities. I believe in everything I do in being prepared--I do what I need to do the job."

It looks like the changes we're facing will be positive ones on all fronts.



Pat, Jack and Blackie to Officiate Topanga Days

By Christina Mills

When it all began it was simply called "Topanga Days," a name borrowed from a Lions Club annual barbecue fundraiser of previous years. Then the name was embellished with "Arts and Crafts Fair." The Arts and Crafts part was dropped from the title in 1976 and another extension--the Country Fair, borrowed from an old Chamber of Commerce annual event--was tacked on to create the new combined name, Topanga Days Country Fair.

That phrase has become the lasting title of Topanga's biggest bash of the year--the three-day Memorial Day weekend celebration held annually at the Community House as a benefit for the building, the Children's Ballfield, and the twelve acres they stand on at 1440 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

In 1976, we had our first Honorary Chairman, Will Geer. Will was an actor of some stature, perhaps most notably as Grandpa Walton in the TV series, "The Waltons." He was also known in Topanga for establishing our famous outdoor theater, The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.
This year we are pleased to announce that the Grand Marshals of our Topanga Days parade are Pat and John (Jack) Mac Neil, who have spent tireless hours of their time and energy on the place we all call home. Look for more about this year's Grand Marshals--and our Honorary Chairman, Blackie--in your Topanga Days Program, to be found in your mailbox soon.

Now that you have a bit of history, you must be saying to yourself, "Wow, what a fantastic and charitable event, what can I do?" Well, the answer is simple. Volunteer. All it takes is two hours of your time, or more if you like. You could help sell t-shirts, park cars, do security, mop floors, serve coffee, slap pancakes, etc. The list goes on, there are more needs than you can imagine.

If you would like to become part of this amazing phenomenon, come to the next Topanga Days Planning meeting on Monday, May 22 at Rocco's in the Canyon at 7:30 p.m. or call Lisa Villasenor at (310) 455-1980, and be sure to leave your name and number. Thank you in advance for helping to make this your community.


Town Council Honors Do-Gooders

By Michele Johnson

On Wednesday, April 19, Rocco's was the place to be, as members of the Topanga Town Council presented cash awards to selected "do-gooders" to allow them to continue their good work. This year's do-gooders included Rosi Dagit of the Watershed Committee, Allen Emerson of Arson Watch and Paulette Messenheimer of Topanga Youth Services and the Topanga Elementary STAR program.

The gifts are generous, $750 that will go to each group the do-gooders represent. "The community gives us the money," said Town Council President Dale Robinette. Each year the Town Council sells emergency access stickers that Topangans put on their cars to help them enter the Canyon during an emergency. Anyone who's faced a roadblock during a fire or flood knows what that little sticker can mean. This year, says Robinette, they collected $6,500 from the community for the stickers. The stickers only cost $1,000 to send out, leaving an excess of $5,500. The Town Council keeps enough to pay for its expenses and spends the rest on the Do-gooder Awards, backing those organizations that serve Topanga best. . .

For the entire story, see the current newsstand edition of the Messenger!


Water and Fire Issues To Be Discussed May 13

The Topanga Watershed Committee and the Topanga Citizen's Firesafe Committee are co-sponsoring a community meeting on Saturday, May 13 at the Elementary School Auditorium, to share the latest information on two of the issues which are foremost in the minds of all Topangans. Septic issues will be dealt with from 9 to 10:15 a.m, and fire safety issues are scheduled to be discussed from 10:15 a.m. to noon.


Since January 2000, the regulations guiding septic system installation and maintenance have been tightened. Local experts Steve Braband of Biosolutions and Richard Sherman of Topanga Underground will be on hand to demonstrate the latest technology available to meet the new regulatory standards. They will also have updates on how regulations are being implemented and their impacts on local homeowners. The results of the Topanga Stream Team Water Quality surveys will also be available for review.


Brush clearance--Firesafe landscaping--Weed abatement--Vegetation management--Administrative assessment--Declared parcel--410-B--410-T. . . ever wonder what it's all about?

After you've gotten the latest poop on septic systems, be sure to stick round for the second half of the town meeting to get the hot news on brush clearance. Several people from the County of Los Angeles Fire Department's Division of Forestry will spell out spring clean-up responsibilities and answer your questions.

Scott Gardner, from the County Division of Forestry and helpful advisor to the Topanga Citizen's Firesafe Committee, is organizing the presentations. Joining him will be Keith Deagon, Deputy Forester in charge of the Brush Clearance Unit; Mike Takeshita of the Vegetation Management Program (they're the ones who are in charge of prescribed burns and the 'brush crusher' you may have read about in the last issue of the Messenger), and Frank Vidales, Fire Plan Unit, the group responsible for defining regional 'fire risk assessments' throughout the county.

Also available will be sign-ups for the 410-T Program, which the Firesafe Committee and Fire Department introduced last year as a means of giving residents more involvement in the planning and design of fire safety strategies for their own properties.

We all know fire season is coming soon. Here's your chance to get the most up-to-date information on Fire Risk Reduction, and have your questions answered by the folks most directly involved. See you there!


Park Service Internships Offered

Multicultural Undergraduate Summer Internships with the National Park Service at Santa Mountains National Recreation Area in Thousand Oaks are now available. The internships--sponsored by The Getty Grant Program for College Students--include two opportunities: Cultural Resources and Interpretation/Education. Candidates must be able to make a 10-week commitment between June and August, and meet all requirements of the grant to be considered. Rewards include job-related experience and $3,000 (gross) for a 10-week commitment. Housing may also be included at no cost to the interns.

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, three references and transcripts, by May 15, to: Summer Internships, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, 401 West Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360.

The Multicultural Undergraduate Summer Internships are intended specifically for outstanding students who are members of groups currently under-represented in museum professions and fields related to the visual arts and humanities. Eligible applicants for summer 2000 must be currently enrolled as undergraduates, must either reside in or attend college in the Los Angeles area, have completed at least one semester of college by June 2000 and have not graduated before December 2000. Candidates are sought from all areas of undergraduate study and are not required to have demonstrated a previous commitment to the visual arts.


T-CEP Meeting News

By Michele Johnson


As usual, the April T-CEP board meeting was quick, breezy and newsy. As the big bowl of candy--a T-CEP staple--was passed around, each team leader gave his or her report.

T-CEP has a $16,190.83 balance in its account, but that can quickly be eaten up with ongoing bills to maintain the EOC (Emergency Operations Center), not to mention its other ambitious plans. To stoke the furnace, a fundraiser for T-CEP will be held at the Theatricum on Friday, October 13. Everyone should be sure to keep posted, because T-CEP is negotiating for some big-name talent. It should be a don't-miss event.

Fred Feer, head of the Disaster Response Team (DRT) announced that he is stepping down from that position though, happily for T-CEP, he will stay on as head of operations. He is seeking a replacement who does not necessarily have to be a current active member of T-CEP. He reported that the evacuation study the DRT is in the process of preparing is being restructured, and has been given an extension until July 1 though the final results of the study will probably be published in late May or early June. The six-page book will be mailed to everyone in Topanga, and parts will be translated into Spanish.

T-CEP Chair Pat Mac Neil reported that T-CEP has contracted with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM) to hire Debra Lowe to work with T-CEP to prepare a curriculum for the schools "on the science of wildfires, focusing on prevention." Early plans are to prepare a CD with games, quizzes, graphics and a photo album of fire-fighting equipment for grades 8 through 12. T-CEP is working with the Red Cross and Los Angeles Unified School District on the project, which they hope to have completed in August. Once the curriculum is finished, they plan to get a grant to set up a website and find a publisher for the material. Pat said there is currently "nothing for wildland fire" being taught in the schools.

Manfred Schlosser, of the Architects and Engineers team, said they need five more volunteers prepared to take Red Cross Damage Assessment Training. Pat Mac Neil wants to remind the community that T-CEP is always in need of volunteers, and that a new hotline operator's class will be held soon. Contact T-CEP at (310) 455-3000 to volunteer.

School Coordinator Carol Feer announced that she is helping the school inventory and organize their emergency supplies. "They haven't had a drill for two years," she reported. "We're working to try to get back on an even keel."

The two-year report of the Topanga Citizen's Firesafe Committee is due soon, reported Vic Richards, and the Committee will soon find out whether their mandate will be extended.

Equine Response Team's Alli Acker reported that 35-40 members of the team are in the process of being trained. They've taken a fire safety course and even a nine-hour horse psychology course. "Now," said Acker, "We can deal better with two-legged types, too."

Our new Sheriff's Lieutenant Curtis Jensen and new Deputy Pete Sanzone were then introduced (see "The Changing Of the Guard" at left). Jensen had been to the March 19 T-CEP drill. "To say I was impressed is an understatement. I'm excited to be out here. It's a heck of an operation."