Dots Before Your Eyes?: DPW Explains
By Michele Johnson
For the first time in almost eight years,
the Department of Public Works (DPW) is planning to trim Topanga's
trees in the public right-of-ways throughout Topanga. In preparation,
a new controversial color-coded dot system has been used to
identify which trees will be cut. The sheer number of dots
have concerned many Topangans, who are worried that Topanga
will never be the same once the trimming is done. All together,
5,112 of Topanga's 6,386 trees will be affected. Of those,
145 are slated to be removed, while the majority of the rest
will be trimmed to clear the roadway. The trimming will begin
January 1 of next year and be completed by March 15 in order
to avoid trimming trees in the hot season and to allow birds
their nesting season.
The requirement to clear the roadway by 17 feet
for most trees and 16 feet for oaks is the big concern of many Topangans.
That height limit, they say, is excessive for a community like ours.
Greenleaf homeowners--led by Gloria Fioramanti, Marilyn Babcock and
Margaret Freeman--are protesting the deep cuts planned for their trees.
Of 248 trees in the right-of-way on Greenleaf, 224 are scheduled for
action, including 10 removals. Of those, 128 are live oaks and many
are large "significant" trees. Marilyn Babcock spoke for
many Greenleaf residents, protesting, "When 90% of the trees
are affected, it's time to worry about the character of the street."
MEETING OF THE MINDS
To calm citizens' fears, the Department of Public
Works called a meeting on Thursday, August 10, at the Topanga Community
House. In Topanga fashion, it didn't start well--the 30 or so people
were stuck in the parking lot because the place was locked and no
one had a key. Just as Susan Nissman, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's
senior aide shouted, "I'm afraid we'll have to have the meeting
outside," someone who really didn't want to stand on asphalt
for two hours climbed in a window and unlocked the place. Everyone
grabbed a chair and the meeting began.
Nissman opened the meeting with introductions and a little background
lesson. She said the trimming plan was "customized for the
mountains," based on conversations with community members and,
she insisted, "The [trimming] standard for DPW is higher than
the standard we are putting homeowners to at this time." In
fact, she claimed, out of 9,000 trees already cut in the County,
there has been only one error--an oak tree was removed before its
DPW SNIPS AWAY AT OBJECTIONS
Dean Lehman, Supervising District Engineer in
charge of road maintenance at DPW, then took over the meeting. He
insisted that the restless crowd hold their questions until he was
done with his presentation. During the course of his talk, he did
explain away many of the objections of the crowd.
For example, if you've been appalled at tree trimmings that have
taken place on your street in the past few years, don't blame DPW,
Lehman said, blame Edison. DPW hasn't cut in Topanga for almost
eight years, but Edison cuts yearly to free its power lines. Caltrans
also wields saws on state highways like Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
It must have been Edison, then, that trimmed only one side of a
pine tree in this reporter's right-of-way a few years ago, leaving
the tree looking ravaged and lopsided. "We don't want people
confusing our work with their work," Lehman insisted.
Knowing Topangans are untrusting environmentalists, the DPW made
a point of trimming all the other areas of the County first to serve
as a testimonial to their work, Lehman said. They suggest concerned
Topangans drive to Cold Creek, off Mulholland, to see how well that
area, similar in terrain to Topanga, was trimmed. Roger Pugliese,
head of Topanga Association for a Scenic Community said he'd heard
the people in Cold Creek "were pleasantly surprised. I understand
they've done a good job in other areas," he reported.
"Anyone using a saw must be an arborist or certified tree trimmer,"
Lehman insisted. Debris from the trimming must be cleaned up and
hauled off the site the same day the tree is cut, except for firewood-sized
logs that will be left for four days for resident pick-up. Also,
says Lehman, the DPW does not top trees, trims outer branches first
for minimum clearance, and will paint over those obnoxious dots
when the job is done to match the tree.
THOSE DARN DOTS
The dots were put there to identify the cuts
required for the contracting company and residents, Lehman said.
"Look at the dots," he suggests. "Look at the tree
and decide, 'Does this make sense?' If you are uncomfortable, we
want to hear from you."
Some in the crowd complained that trees had been earmarked for unnecessary
cutting. Manfred Schlosser from the Town Council complained, for
example, that some Fernwood area trees that should have been marked
weren't, and others were marked that seemed to be too far off the
roadway to make a difference. Lehman refused to discuss specifics
like this example, but offered to meet onsite with any Topangan
who disagrees with the trees marked for trimming or removal. If
after the meeting no agreement is reached, another meeting will
be scheduled with an arborist. Anyone can call Lehman at (323) 776-7552
to arrange a meeting time. Meetings must take place before the work
is open to bid at the end of September. You can obtain a copy of
the tree trimming specs at the Resource Conservation District of
the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM) office on Topanga Canyon Boulevard
near the center.
In the specs, the DPW supplied a key to the color-coding so that
you can check your dots. Orange dots--the majority of them--mean
the tree is slated for a trim to provide adequate clearance for
vehicles. A yellow dot authorizes a trim to shape, thin or remove
dead wood or heavy weight. A purple dot means a drop-crotch trim
will be made. This is a radical trim in which the tree will be trimmed
to reduce tops, sides, underbranches or individual limbs by trimming
back to a strong crotch. Only 40 trees in Topanga are slated for
drop-crotch trimming. Finally, a white arrow indicates a tree will
be completely removed. "Most trees," the report explains
"are being removed because they are dead (most were destroyed
in brush fires.) The rest are either diseased or the main body of
the tree is growing over the roadway and must be removed to provide
THE STICKING POINT: EXCESSIVE CLEARANCE
Private meetings may take care of some of the
specific objections, but people, especially residents of oak tree-rich
Greenleaf, were left in the end with one major general stumbling
point--the height limits for clearance. That, Lehman insisted, could
not be changed this go-around, but he allowed that if a movement
were made to change the limits for the next scheduled tree-trimming,
he would do what he could to help.
That wasn't good enough for many Topangans, who insist the 17-foot
limit--supposedly tied to a 17-foot state road limit--is unnecessary.
And, though Lehman said there is "not a general philosophy
shift" about numbers of trees slated for trimming, one voice
from the crowd insisted, "There are trees impacted that have
never been brought to this standard before."
The city of Los Angeles' trimming standards are much less stringent
than the County's, only 11 feet for residential streets and 13 1/2
feet for major roads, Los Angeles City Street Tree Division confirms.
And though Lehman said he believed the tie to state requirements
was mandatory, Wayne Johnson of Caltrans disagrees: "Their
roads are their jurisdiction," he said of the County. The state
set its limits, he said, based on the fact that semi-trailer trucks
can be 14 1/2 feet high and permits can be given for even higher
loads. Since Topanga's side-street County roads have no semi traffic
and most fire trucks are under 10 feet high, the height limit does
seem excessive. There are exceptional needs--for example, a fire
truck loaded with a bulldozer, or one of the new 13-foot high fire
trucks now being deployed.
The 40-foot clearance requirement from the midpoint of the pavement
also seems excessive since some roads up here are only 10 to 20
feet wide and could never accommodate, for example, two passing
fire trucks, no matter how carefully they were trimmed.
At the meeting, Marilyn Babcock made an emotional plea. "I
grew up in Thousand Oaks," she said. "There are only six
oaks left. That's why I moved here. And, she went on, "My children
are crying at night," they are so worried about losing the
canopy of oak trees. "You'll still have your canopy,"
insisted Lehman. When pressed, Lehman agreed to meet with Greenleaf
residents and bring along an arborist to discuss each tree in question.
"There's always exceptions," to the County guidelines,
he said. "I will vary for specific situations."
Though many in the crowd were reassured, some were not so easily
placated. "I'll chain myself to a tree," said one man.
He also reported that some residents are painting their orange spots
brown to obscure them, and others plan to "spike" the
trees, though these protesters would supposedly leave a note reading
"This tree is spiked. Cut at your own risk" to avoid hurting
the man with the saw.
Hopefully, cooler heads and an accommodating County effort will
prevail. "We will meet with anyone to listen to concerns,"
Lehman said placatingly. "If we agree, we'll change the marking
on the spot."
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North Area Plan Goes to
By Susan Chasen
The County's new land-use plan for regulating
development within the northern portions of the Santa Monica Mountains
is likely to go to the Board of Supervisors after an expected final
vote by the County Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday, August
The Planning Commission, after making minor wording changes, tentatively
approved the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan on August 8
and asked that a final vote be set for August 23, according to Project
Manager Lee Stark with the County Planning Department.
Once the North Area Plan is forwarded to the Board of Supervisors,
Stark said, a 30-day public review period will be announced and
a public hearing scheduled.
Most likely the public hearing will not be set before October 24
or November 28 because of notification requirements, Stark said.
Generally, planning matters are scheduled on the fourth Thursday
of each month.
In the meantime, an updated draft of the plan, which covers 21,000
acres and allows for a maximum of 2,700 potential new homes, may
be viewed online at http://planning.co.la.ca.us.
The North Area Plan has received generally favorable reactions for
improved environmental protections, though a last-minute change
in June that up-zoned numerous parcels raised some concerns. That
move, prompted by Supervisor Don Knabe's commission appointee Cheryl
Vargo, re-designated areas between Las Virgenes Road and Kanan Road
to allow one house per 10 acres instead of one per 20 as had been
previously printed on the plan's draft map. In one instance the
designation went from one house per five acres to one house per
According to Stark, the maximum impact of these changes is an addition
of 167 homes over the 1,600 acres affected by the revision. However
he suggested that, in reality, the number of potential home sites
would likely be significantly less because the changes include areas
of greater than 50 percent slope which the County's Hillside Management
Ordinance limits to one house per 20 acres regardless of the general
designation depicted on the County's land-use map.
Roger Pugliese, chair of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic
Community), says these changes concern him and will be fought when
the plan goes to the Board of Supervisors.
"They're not as harmless as some people might suggest,"
said Pugliese of the last-minute up-zoning, initiated months after
the public hearing period was closed and by a commissioner from
another district. "Developers have been trying to change this
thing so it becomes less damaging to them," said Pugliese.
"I'm beginning to hear about how it's being kind of eroded
and it's starting to concern me."
This new plan, two-and-a-half years in drafting, will eventually
replace the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains Interim Area Plan, originally
approved in 1981 to apply for a one-year period. Later, when other
major planning projects intervened and subsequent deadlines for
completing a new plan were missed, the Interim plan was extended
Some equestrians have expressed concern that the new plan should
do more to specifically facilitate recreational uses in the mountains
and that environmental protections and development controls may
ultimately restrict equestrian uses.
According to Stark, however, this plan is more "equestrian
friendly" than the Interim Area Plan was and is in no way intended
to reduce horse ownership or use.
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Saving a Life
By Gary Harryman
Hero: a person noted or admired for
nobility, courage, or outstanding achievement; regarded as a role
model or ideal as "He was a local hero when he saved the drowning
- Webster's dictionary
|In the early afternoon on Friday, July
14, Jason Holland, one of Topanga's own, was standing in line
to cash his paycheck at a Bank of America in Woodland Hills
when two women charged into the bank screaming for help. Although
the women were clearly distressed over the condition of the
baby one was holding in her arms, everyone in the bank stared
frozen in place. Jason stepped out of line to get a better look
at the baby and found it was frothing at the mouth, sweating
profusely, and breathing raggedly.
Taking charge, Jason shouted "Call 911," grabbed the
baby from its mother's arms and, sitting down cross-legged on
the floor, cradled the baby in his lap and began the "ABC's"
(Airway, Breathing, Circulation) he learned from his training
as a lifeguard. As soon as Jason cleared the baby's airway the
infant began crying--"That was a good sign. Then I looked
for a pulse. It's hard to find on an infant that small, but
I found it on his inner arm just below his armpit."
The baby is doing fine. Jason is 19 years old, single, and drives
a monster orange and white Chevy Blazer-if any girls are interested.
Jason Holland--just an everyday
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Earth Day 2000 Tally Is
By Woody Hastings
It took a while to sort through all of the receipts
and expenses, and some long-awaited checks only recently arrived,
but the final tally is in! In addition to raising ecological awareness,
understanding of the unique Topanga watershed, and the undeniable
spirit of Topanga environmental consciousness, the Earth Day 2000
Experience raised $9,280 for the Topanga Watershed Committee!
A heartfelt congratulations to all of the volunteers involved in
organizing the festival, and an equally hearty thanks to all of
the attendees--Topangans and others--who gave so generously at the
gate, for the raffle, and in supporting the organizations and vendors
at the festival. And we shouldn't forget the volunteers--over 100--who
removed more than two tons of debris from Topanga Creek, State Park,
and Beach. Great work!
Also, special thanks to the Topanga Woman's Club for co-sponsoring
the event, and to the other sponsors and supporters including Zev
Yaroslavsky and Susan Nissman, Environment Now, Whole Foods Market,
Reed's Ginger Brew, Santa Monica Mirror, Topanga Lumber, the Resource
Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Disaster
Response Team (for excellent last minute assistance with the parking),
and Steve and Leslie Carlson of the former Willows, where we held
most of our organizing meetings. And one final special thanks to
Robin Kedric Wolfe, who flew in all the way from Ohio to serve as
The Topanga Earth Day Organizing Committee (TEDOC) has met once
since Earth Day, and the general consensus is that we want to do
it again next April. This is an open invitation to all Topangans
to take part in organizing "2001: A Topanga Earth Day Odyssey,"
tentatively scheduled for Sunday, April 22, 2001.
One last thingif you didn't get an Earth Day 2000 t-shirt, they
are still available at the Resource Conservation District office
at 122 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, phone (310) 455-1030. Funds
from sales still go to the TWC. If you are interested in helping
with the next Earth Day, please call (310) 455-2497 or email email@example.com.
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