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Topanga's Future Up For Grabs: North Area Plan Goes to Supervisors

Meeting Photo

A somber mood settles in as Susan Nissman speaks and (l to r) Rabyn Blake, Roger Publiese, Phil Chandler and Casey Kelley listen.


By Michele Johnson

"Our goal here is ambitious to say the least." Those were Rosi Dagit's opening words at the Topanga Tomorrow Workshop, a Watershed Committee event held at the historic Mermaid Tavern. The goal was to review all the documents with policies pertaining to Topanga and identify which policies are good for Topanga, terrible for Topanga, are conflicting or are just plain missing. As it turned out, with the North Area Plan looming on our horizon, due for an October 24 vote by the Board of Supervisors, the meeting narrowed its focus. It became a forum to dissect the North Area Plan.

  
 VOL.24 NO. 21
October 19 - November 1 2000

NEWS INDEX:

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THE EVENT

About 30 people attended the all-day workshop, held Saturday, September 30, which was sponsored by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM). The Mermaid Tavern is surrounded by views that brought home to participants just what Topanga has to safeguard. Each person there had to read through inches of documents during the days before the workshop before they could attend. The event had been publicized for months and was open to anyone in the Canyon.

Meeting

Topanga Tomorrow Workshop discusses North Area Plan at Mermaid Tavern.

The plans most affecting Topanga, soon to become law superceding other plans, are the North Area Plan and the Local Coastal Plan. The Topanga Creek Watershed Management Study and the Community Standards District, our bids for self-regulation, were also on the agenda.

THE NORTH AREA PLAN UP FOR A VOTE

After working to revise the Watershed Committee's mission statement and doing initial work on the Watershed Management Study, everyone agreed to jump forward through the agenda to tackle the North Area Plan.

The North Area Plan is a component of the L.A. County General Plan that will dictate land use in the unincorporated areas of the County outside of Coastal. In Topanga it will cover the area from Cheney Road on one side and Old Topanga Road near Skyline on the other to the Calabasas city line.

The new plan will take the place of the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains Interim Area Plan. It affects only new construction on land that has not been previously subdivided. As it states, "Existing legal lots are not affected, and may be developed-following current development requirements-regardless of lot size."

What it does do is regulate development of open land in the unincorporated areas of the County. On the whole, the document is more restrictive than the old Interim plan it replaces. As Laura Shell, aide to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, later insisted, "The plan is much stronger than the Interim, much clearer. It reduces density on the average by 30% over the Interim Plan." For example, in Topanga, a landowner has already applied to build three homes on a site above Ed Edelman Park. Under the new plan, Shell said, the parcel would only have been zoned for one home.

WATERED DOWN

"It's better than the old one," Roger Pugliese of TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) agrees, "but it has some loopholes in it that encourage development." And Pugliese pointed out to the workshop that as it languished in Regional Planning it has been watered down. "In the last year it has been chipped away at by various interests."

Laura Shell agrees. "We do see it as a problem." At a hearing last June, she explained, Regional Planning changed the map allocating the amount of density allowed. Two large areas were affected. "Some properties had an N20, and the Commission changed them to a N10 between Kanan Road and Las Virgenes," said Shell. This means the land, adjacent to Paramount Ranch and Malibu Creek State Park, is now zoned for one house per ten acres. "Zev is asking that that be reversed," Shell said. What are the chances the rest of the Board will go along? "Who can say? I wish I had that crystal ball."

Even more alarming, the Warner Financial Land property near the Calabasas landfill was upzoned to a point even above what it had been in the Interim plan. Areas designated N20 were rezoned N10; those designated N5 were re-designated N1. This area is next to the Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor which is barely holding on by a thread as it is. The corridor at one point narrows to a freeway underpass, and its existence could be threatened by the planned development. Yaroslavsky will also request that the land be downzoned to reflect the earlier version.

Closer to home, says Roger Pugliese, is a 30-acre parcel in Calabasas that backs up to Quest Ranch bordering Topanga on the Valley side. That parcel was designated N10 in the March 1999 version of the Plan. Now it is upzoned to N2. "I am shocked at the amount of properties that have been upzoned," said Pugliese.

IT'S THE TRAFFIC, STUPID

Some might ask that, since no area actually in Topanga has been upzoned in the North Area Plan, why should we worry? Well, as workshop members pointed out, besides our larger concerns for the parks and the environment throughout the area, Topanga is specifically affected in one big way: traffic. An increase in traffic, participants pointed out, could bring more smog to our skies, oil to our waters and a disastrous change in our rural lifestyle.

The Plan suggests little that can help the traffic situation. It describes "a substantial increase in commuter traffic," even at present levels, with no further build-out. As remedies, it suggests expanding public transit and corporate car-pooling, even encourages bicycles to alleviate congestion. It also suggests adding one lane in each direction to the Ventura Freeway. But other than calling for periodic passing and turnout lanes on Kanan Road and Las Virgenes/Malibu Road, there are no suggestions to ease congestion on the north-south arteries, like our own Highway 27.

Susan Nissman, Yaroslavsky's Senior Field Deputy, who attended the workshop "as a private citizen," held out some hope that a park-and-ride plan might be devised for Topanga Canyon. If the land can be nailed down for a parking facility in the valley, there may come a day when commuters can be shuttled into town. Nissman does not see that as a cure-all, though, just as a stop-gap measure. That's why the idea put forth in section VII-134 of the North Area Plan is still our best hope: "Limit the intensity and traffic generation of new residential, commercial, office and business park development projects to that which is consistent with achieving and maintaining roadway performance objectives and protecting the integrity of existing rural communities"

SORTING OUT THE LANGUAGE

The language in the Plan is generally stronger than in the Interim Plan, claimed Shell. Rosi Dagit said she was encouraged by the guiding principle of the plan: "Let the land dictate the type and intensity of use." At one time, she said, that language would never have been seen in a County document. But, workshop participants discovered, the language in this version had been somewhat watered down from earlier versions as well. In one place, members found that the wording "discourage plan amendments" was eliminated. Shell countered that any land use plan must allow amendments. "We can't prohibit people from applying for an amendmentbut we don't have to grant it." Shell believes the language has held up fairly well. "In general, has the plan maintained its integrity?" she was asked. "Yes, definitely," she responded. At the workshop, wording changes were suggested that could strengthen the document, though some warned that the time for new wording changes might be past. Returning to language in an old version of the Plan might be allowed, but new wording would open up the process to review. Shell says Zev hopes the plan, warts and all, will finally be passed before more developments get approvals under the old, less restrictive Interim plan.

Even if strong language is included, the County doesn't have a very good record on follow-through. Shell agreed that under the Interim Plan, a great number of amendments to ease zoning for certain landowners were granted. That suggests one more problem with the plan. Any plan is only as strong as its implementation.

As an example of just how acquiescent the County is on development, the Supervisors just unanimously approved a huge 2,545 home development in the 5th district near Newhall. This was more homes at one fell swoop, Shell pointed out, than the potential build-out of all the unincorporated lands covered by the North Area Plan.

COMMUNITY ACTION ADVISED

As the workshop wound to a close, at the urging of Roger Pugliese, the group decided to draft a letter from the Watershed Committee to the Board of Supervisors calling for downzoning the land that had been upzoned and strengthening the language to reflect the March, 1999 version of the North Area Plan. That letter is posted in the new Community Action forum on TopangaMessenger.com and on TopangaOnline.com/twc/nplan/. You can also find online several sample letters calling for the rollback in zoning that can be downloaded, revised and sent to the County Board of Supervisors. Send your letter to any of the five supervisors--Zev Yaroslavsky, Michael Antonovich, Yvonne Burke, Don Knabe, or Gloria Molina at 500 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Or look on Our Community Action Page for individual e-mail addresses. The sample letters and information online were provided by the Cornell Preservation Organization of Agoura, which has been fighting the downzoning all the way.

Anyone can attend the public meeting to voice objections before the vote by the County Board of Supervisors which will be held downtown at 500 W. Temple Street on Tuesday, October 24. The meeting starts at 9:30, but new business will probably not be on the agenda until about 10:30 a.m., Shell reported.

NEXT FOR TOPANGA TOMORROW

A lot of the usual suspects who have already donated hundreds of volunteer hours to support Topanga attended the workshop, along with some new blood. Bill Buerge, owner of the Mermaid hosted and Rosi Dagit acted as moderator. Among those attending were David Gottlieb of the RCDSMM, Rabyn Blake of the Topanga Watershed Management Committee, Realtor Casey Kelly, Earth Day organizer Woody Hastings, and Town Council boardmember Vic Richards.

Marti Witter and hydrologist Phil Chandler, who both helped write the Watershed Study, offered their expert advice. Along with Nissman, governmental Watershed Committee backers Shirley Birosic of the County Regional Water Quality Board and Larry Charness of L.A. County Beaches and Harbors also attended.

Feeling that its work isn't yet done, the Topanga Tomorrow Workshop will meet again on Saturday, November 18, at the library at Top O' Topanga from 9:00 to 4:00. Everyone willing to do the homework is invited. A small fee is requested to pay for lunch, so call the RCDSMM at 455-1030 if you plan to attend.


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Dayworker Law Overturned

You can now legally hire these dayworkers.

By Michele Johnson

Attention, contractors and homeowners. It is now once again legal to hire day laborers on the streets of Topanga. In a September 12 decision, a federal judge overturned the 1994 county law, covering the unincorporated areas, that made it a misdemeanor for any pedestrian to solicit employment, business or money from people in moving vehicles. It also made it illegal for anyone in a vehicle to hire labor.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge George H. King found the law in violation of the 1st and 14th amendments and permanently enjoined the county from further enforcement of the ordinance. The county has no immediate plans to appeal.

The law had not been vigorously enforced in Topanga because there have been almost no citizen complaints about the hiring practice, police officials confirmed.

The law was challenged by the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and Sindicato de Trabajadores por Dia, using lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "We've been waiting for years for this victory," said Victor Narro of CHIRLA. Similar laws are on the books in 23 cities, he pointed out, and now, he believes, those laws, too, can be challenged.

In his ruling, Judge King said the ordinance was too broadly written, which left it open to misinterpretation. "Because of its broad terms," he stated, "the Ordinance burdens a substantial amount of speech that has not been shown to cause the feared harms to traffic flow and safety."

Narro reported that in the city of Agoura Hills, which enacted a very similar ordinance, he has "documented civil rights violations," including cases of people being ticketed just for being inside the city limits of Agoura Hills waiting for a bus. Narro said Agoura Hills exhibited "everything the judge feared." He said the ordinance was "so vague that law enforcement would look at it in a way that would quell the free speech of anybody."

The Agoura Hills ordinance led, Narro said, to a "hateful environment" in that city. Now that the county law has been overturned, Narro plans to talk to Agoura Hills city officials "to get them to abide by the federal courtsI make the argument that none of these ordinances would survive the ruling."

Tauni Brustin, head of PATCH (People Assisting Topanga Canyon With Helping Hands), which ran a hiring site for the dayworkers in the '90s, was pleased to hear of the decision. "I'm glad to hear of the decision that will give the day laborers a break they really deserve. They have so much adversity they have to deal with. This may give them some confidence to go out and find work." Tauni also said that anyone wishing to hire a dayworker can use her as a go-between. Just call her at 455-2894 for information.


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Your Rental Unit Could Be Made Legal

By Michele Johnson

The Messenger recently discovered, and L.A. County Regional Planning confirmed, that it is possible to apply for a Conditional Use Permit in order to legally rent out a permitted attached or detached unit in Topanga and throughout the unincorporated areas of the county. This has been the law since 1995, but has not been widely advertised by the County. In fact, under direct questioning for a Messenger article (see "Zoned Out in Topanga" March 9, 2000), Rudy Lachner, the since retired Administrator of Land Use Regulation for Regional Planning, denied there were any legal second units allowed in Topanga, except for permitted caretaker and granny units.

But John Callas, Acting Administrator of the Land Use Regulation Division of Regional Planning explained that in 1995 L.A. County Counsel had reported to Regional Planning that the 1992 state government code 65852.2 mandated that the county allow second unit housing in permitted dwellings. According to Callas, the county "immediately thereafter" started implementing the regulation in two ways. First, if a homeowner came in to ask about the possibility of renting out an existing unit, they would be advised of the statute. Second, at a zoning enforcement hearing, a homeowner would be told of the option of a legally permitted rental. The county still has no ordinance of its own on the subject, and said Callas, may not need one. County Counsel recently advised that the state law may continue to be used to govern usage of these second units.

The units are restricted to 1,000 square feet in areas outside of the area governed by the Coastal Commission and 750 square feet inside Coastal. These limits were imposed by the county. The state code allows units up to 1,200 square feet per unit. Unlike the regulations for caretaker and senior citizen units, full kitchens are allowed under the code. There is no restriction on who can rent the units and no restriction on the amount of rent that can be paid. For this reason, said Callas, they are not considered part of the affordable housing plan, though in Topanga many might argue that they represent the most affordable legal housing available.
A Conditional Use Permit would cost $3,979 and the unit must be found to be fully permitted, have adequate sewer services, and meet standards for parking, height, setback, lot coverage and architectural review as set by the county.

When asked about the high cost of the Conditional Use Permit, Callas said, "The fees are based on actual costs." He cited staff reports, the cost of a public hearing, and other costs. The Permit could take over four months to get after the completed application is received. After the application is in, it would be "placed on a hearing officer agenda or a Regional Planning agenda," said Callas.

Mobile homes are not included under the regulations, and non-permitted units would have to be brought up to code and permitted before an application could be made. Even if the unit was permitted under decades-old rules, the original permits would stand.

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Elysium Leaves Robinson Road

By Andrea Shore Koepke

During the last week of September, Elysium Fields vacated its longtime, eight-acre Topanga home at 814 Robinson Road. The removal of the familiar Elysium sign on Topanga Canyon Boulevard was the final farewell of Elysium from its 32-year residence. One of the property owners, Dana Lange, confirmed, "Our tenant has vacated the property. We wish them well." Gary Morton, co-director of Elysium Fields, commenting on how much work the transition was for the organization said, "We had 32 years of stuff to move."

The Lange property at 814 Robinson Road is also in transition. The Messenger previously reported that the property was in escrow with an undisclosed group of physicians who planned to develop a cancer retreat center on the property. Jon Saver of Fred Sands Realty, the sellers' real estate agent, confirmed that that escrow has fallen through. When asked what the current status of the property is, Dana Lange replied, "I have no comment." Mr. Saver would not confirm or deny whether there is an escrow currently pending on the property.

While Elysium's home is changing, Elysium lives on. Morton indicated that Elysium's representatives are currently in escrow on a 20-acre property in the Santa Monica Mountains. Because the sellers want to maintain their privacy and that of their neighbors, the exact address of the property has not been disclosed, Morton said. According to Betty Meltzer, co-director of Elysium Fields, "Elysium is undergoing a delicate transition."

Morton stated that Elysium is very excited about the potential new location and the expanded vision of Elysium's philosophy that the new landscape could provide. The larger acreage, speckled with sycamores and oaks, a seasonal lake and waterfall could provide the perfect backdrop for Elysium's "ecological vision," as Morton described it. "Elysium is committed to maintaining the property in its natural state," said Morton. Morton and Elysium's Board of Directors recognize that Elysium is "at the mercy of the planning committee" and hope that, if the escrow goes through and Elysium acquires the property, it can obtain the required permits.
"Elysium Institute," said Meltzer, "is an educational, recreation and naturist facility. Elysium is about people and people being themselves au natural without the usual mask of 'what kind of car do you have.' It's very idealistic." She reported that the organization attracts "a diversity of people, not just nudists." Morton noted that Elysium is a clothing optional facility, one that is inclusive of people who wish to wear clothing, distinguishing it from most nudist facilities in which nudity is a requirement. Elysium's membership has doubled in the last 18 months and its current membership count is about 725, Morton said
.

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Something Stinks at Top O' Topanga

Homeowners have been holding their noses near this sewage treatment site.

By Susan Chasen

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board has notified Top O' Topanga owner Hometown Topanga that it is in violation of its wastewater treatment permit.

At issue are problems with the system that have created severe sewage odors and health anxieties for Top O' Topanga residents. Also, for nearly two years, the company has failed to report breakdowns and water quality testing results required under its permit.

Water quality officials say they are still gathering data in the case to determine what enforcement measures to take. Fines could be up to $10,000 a day for permit violations, $1,000 a day for late and inadequate monitoring reports, and $10 per gallon for improperly treated wastewater discharge.

Officials at Hometown say they are upset about the violations, but that the fault lies with their contractor, 7-H Technical Services Group Inc.

"If we get fined then I think we'll have to go after our contractor," said Lamont Bawden, Hometown regional manager. "This problem should never have happened if they were doing their job.Hometown, I think, has been diligent in trying to stay on top of the contractor."
Residents, however, charge that Hometown hasn't been properly maintaining the aging water treatment and reclamation system since buying the mobile home park in 1998.

"It's been nearly two years of just thumbing their nose at the law and at the health of the residents here," said Jim Lester, a long-time Top O' Topanga resident who described odors so foul he would gag when he opened his car window to use his security card when he returned home from work at night.

"We're at their mercy. We have to assume they're operating according to the law.According to the report of violations, it's not like they didn't know."

The Water Quality Control Board notified Hometown September 1 of five violations related to off-site odor problems, including an unreported breakdown of a blower that aerates the sewage during processing and prevents odor-causing anaerobic putrefaction.

Also, during inspection in August, a secondary clarifier was reportedly not functioning properly due to heavy scum accumulation that could have compromised the chlorination process and the quality of the reclaimed water released and used for irrigation.

Water officials also noted that required warning signs where reclaimed water was used for irrigation were not posted in some areas. These have since been posted.

"They water the slopes with recycled water," said Virginia Croft (a 16-year resident). "If it's not done right, you don't know what's going out there. I just feel like it could contaminate the whole area."

The water treatment plant and a holding pond for reclaimed water is located behind a fence along the side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard south of the Top O' Topanga entrance.

According to the Water Quality control Board's notice of violation, Hometown's monitoring reports include numerous gaps in water quality data and four failures to report violations of coliform levels dating back to January 1999. In one instance, no quarterly report was filed. The only report that was apparently complete over the entire 19-month period covered showed an "unusual consistency" in flow measurements, according to the violations report.

Hometown will continue to be in violation of reporting requirements until the missing data is received, according to water officials.

"This is one that we're looking at closely for follow-up enforcement," said Dennis Dickerson, executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

When asked why reporting violations apparently went unnoticed for so long, he said it was a matter of priorities and resources of the water board.

"It's unfortunate that many do not get responded to in a timely manner," said Dickerson. "We'd much prefer to act more quickly if we had that ability."

In attempting to answer for the treatment plant problems by a September 29 deadline, 7-H Technical Services manager David Thornburgh's letter noted that it received the notice of violations six days after it was issued.

But in some respects, the reply suggested new questions. For example, there is mention of another unreported breakdown-a chlorine solution feed pump; failures of a laboratory contractor to take proper samples or to report findings; and direct payment for sludge removal that left no documentation.

Hometown has promised to replace the system. But residents, while welcoming the new system, suspect the protracted planning process is responsible for maintenance lapses. The nearly $400,000 cost for the new system will be paid initially by Hometown, but will be repaid out of increased monthly fees for members of the future Top O' Topanga homeowner association. The homeowners' association will be established once Hometown gets state approval of a condo conversion plan that will allow the company to begin selling lots.

For years residents, who own their homes but faced being priced out of the park by annual rental increases, have worked to create an option to purchase the lots under their homes. Hometown is expecting to have approval to begin closing sales in November.

Bawden said he hopes to see 30 sales close before the end of the year.

Plans for the new sewage treatment plant will be submitted for agency approval October 20, according to Pat Corrick, Hometown vice president for development.

If everything goes according to schedule, it should be in operation by early April, Corrick said.
"It hasn't happened as quickly as we would have hoped," Corrick said.

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On PCH: Ready, Set, Slow Down

Construction to replace a segment of the regional Coastal Interceptor Sewer (CIS) located within the Santa Monica City limits on the west side of Pacific Coast Highway resumed on October 2, 2000. The sewer was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Traffic controls will once again be imposed throughout the duration of the construction project, providing a minimum of two northbound and two southbound lanes to commuters at all times. The California Incline and the "Rand" on-ramp to PCH from Ocean Avenue will remain open during construction, and left turns will be permitted onto PCH from the Incline.

The City will continue to coordinate with government and law enforcement agencies including Caltrans, Los Angeles, Malibu, the California Highway Patrol, and the PCH Task Force committee led by Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl's office throughout the project. Other mitigation measures include a 24-hour project hotline for information and complaints (800/200-8340), signage at key highway locations throughout the region, regional news releases advising commuters to select alternate routes, and noise and vibration monitoring and mitigation.

The work between the Santa Monica Pier and the California Incline will be completed by Memorial Day, 2001. Remaining work north of the Incline will be re-bid at a later date.
All sewer work along the busy corridor was originally scheduled for completion by Memorial Day, 2000. However, construction issues, permitting issues, field conditions and design improvements led to delays that could have extended construction into the summer months. In the best interests of the public, Santa Monica environmental and public works officials decided to postpone construction on the busy corridor until after the summer season to minimize construction impacts on residents, commuters and the general public.

Even before the quake's damage, the sewer was too small to handle future wastewater flows. Surface water will be diverted into the new sewer during dry weather to protect coastal waters from urban runoff pollution. Once the sewer work has been completed, it will make a huge difference in the long-term health and vitality of the City and the Santa Monica Bay.

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Docents Spin a Web

By Rebecca Amos

We are pleased to announce the opening of our website: tc-docents.org, the official website of the Topanga Canyon Docents.

In the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, environmental naturalist training and wildlife education programs are made available to the public by the Topanga Canyon Docents. Whether your interest lies in nature photography, California native edible plants, hiking, birding or historic study of the Chumash and Tongva native cultures, the docents provide a comprehensive source of information in the region.

Our fall training session has begun, but we're always willing to accept "late arrivals." Click here and check out the Events section to see what new activities are planned for the docents. We're happy to support local schools and the community by providing docent-led hikes and events for scout groups, classes and the public. As always, there is no charge for these activities. Let us know what we can do for you.



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CHIC Says: "Return Those Surveys"

By the time you read this, you should have received the CHIC (Community House Improvement Committee) Survey as an insert to the Woman's Club newsletter, Topanga Thymes. CHIC, which has formed to apply for grants to improve and enlarge the facilities on the site of the Community House, wants your ideas so they can set priorities and start feasibility studies.

All surveys should be returned by November 1. If you lose yours, you can access a new one. Just click here to go to the Messenger Community Action page to fill out and e-mail back the completed survey, which will go to CHIC volunteers for tabulation. Sign up to help, too, if you can. The process, which will be a long one, is just beginning, so jump on board.



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A Nod For Nader

By Woody Hastings

Topanga Green Party activists are gearing up for the final push for election 2000, with efforts aimed toward a strong showing for Ralph Nader and his running mate, Winona LaDuke, to give the predominant parties a significant progressive challenge. If Mr. Nader receives just 5% of the vote nationwide, the Greens will qualify for public campaign funding for 2004, which will help build the Green Party. Topanga serves as the unofficial capital of the Green Party in Los Angeles County in that it is the community that has the highest percentage of registered Greens in the county-perhaps not a big surprise.

The Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, has been drawing standing-room-only crowds everywhere he goes and is making campaign history by selling out 10,000 plus arenas all across the country. Mr. Nader will next be visiting Southern California on October 20th so stay tuned!

The Green Party is the fastest growing "third" party in the US and is based on ten key values: Grassroots Democracy, Peace & Non-violence, Community-based Economics, Environmental Wisdom, Social Justice, Feminism/Gender Equity, Respect for Diversity, Decentralization, Personal and Global Responsibility, and Future Focus.

To find out more about the Nader 2000 Campaign and what local Topangans are doing to support the effort, please call (310) 455-2497 in the canyon.

The Southern California Campaign Headquarters of the Nader 2000 campaign is located at 215 S. La Cienega Blvd. Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90211 (310) 652-9690 and you can visit the Nader 2000 websites: www.votenader.org or for California info go to cal.votenader.org.

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Community Action Page Activated

The Messenger's website, TopangaMessenger.com, has opened a new Community Action page to allow Topangans not just to tap into vital issues, but to actually do something about them.

The goal of the Messenger is not to advocate, but to educate within our pages, to let you know everything we can about the important issues that face Topanga. Once you know the facts, the Messenger will offer the opportunity for you to go online to protest or to volunteer.

Kicking off this effort, we offer two opportunities. First, you can go to the Community Action page to link up to read the North Area Plan. If you agree with the objections to it outlined in the front-page article in this issue, you can download sample letters of protest to revise and send to the e-mail addresses of the County Board of Supervisors supplied before the October 24th vote of the Board.

The Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC) survey will also be posted on the Community Action page. You can fill it out and return it online before November 1. Use the opportunity to volunteer, if you want. It's your choice. That's what it's all about--more choice for our readers.

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Digging Up The Mermaid's Horticultural Roots

The Mermaid

A beautifully landscaped Mermaid.

By Bill Buerge

She's drop-dead gorgeous. Topanga, that is. With her halcyon hillsides carpeted in grey-green sage and ceonothus. Dragon's breath fog lingering low in canyon crevices. Quality air. Colorful people. Wily critters. The rich history. Indomitable spirit. Balmy autumn weather. Good time for a picnic. Which segues to the task at handannouncing the annual picnic of the Topanga Historical Society on Sunday, October 22. This year they chose The Mermaid.

Since it's an outdoor gig, perhaps its a good chance to check out the Mermaid's landscaping. The grounds are maturing and mellowing. Finally! For ten years it was a matter of accumulating enough plants to create a sense of lushness. Now, the challenge is controlling growth. Pruning. Moving plants. Fine-tuning.

Shortly after closing escrow I consulted with a wise architect who said he thought The Mermaid was more of a landscaping project than a building restoration project. It kind of surprised me to hear him say that. He pointed out that The Mermaid came with such a nice piece of land. Relatively flat. Some views. Enough land to do some things. A generous setting to frame the structure with landscape.

I looked into historical landscaping and learned it was an area with its own experts and college degrees. There were actually historical landscape architects. Should I try to replicate exactly what was here before? Be rigorously historically correct? I had scant historical photos at that time to go from. Did I want to do a botanical garden? I learned there were a zillion kinds of gardens. Some specialized in particular plants. Others focused on a particular part of the world. Some were historically significant gardens. There were rose gardens. Cactus gardens. Whole Aloe estates. Meditation gardens. Bible gardens hosting every plant mentioned in the scriptures. Shakespeare gardens. Blue gardens. Gardens dedicated to study and saving endangered species. And gardens where visual beauty and design were their paramount purpose for being. The last type appealed to the artist in me.

Eventually a landscaping concept evolved that felt aesthetically appropriate and historically consistent with The Mermaid. It was crystallized into a drafted landscaping plan with an itemized plant list. The Mermaid's garden would be a mixed concept as follows: 1.) Most of the existing mature, larger shrubs and trees would be kept. The place had "good bones" (a term landscapers use) to begin with; mature palms, peppers, elms, oaks and a craggy Methuselah of a mulberry. These large specimens were a real asset as they would be the "anchors" around which we would amass groupings of smaller trees, bushes, shrubs, and groundcovers. And, they were part of the historical fabric that I wanted to preserve. 2.) More California natives would be introduced. They would be perfectly compatible with the land and climate, blend in visually with the surrounding countryside and save on water. 3.) Incorporate lots of cactus, succulents, grasses and tropicals They suited the Spanish-Mediterreanean architectural style and offered many visually dazzling varieties to choose from.

The grounds were contoured. Drainage was corrected. Earlier on, misdirected run-off had nearly drowned this land-locked mermaid. Ultimately, every drop of water to fall on or around the structure was accounted for and its path plotted and directed per a plan prescribed by the county drainage department. Sprinklers went in. Then, the first round of small plantings. The rest took a lot of years of scrounging around the countryside for plants, learning what I needed to know, joining organizations, visiting specialty nurseries, planting, fertilizing, mulching, irrigating and paying mortgage-sized water bills. I've met or befriended a plethora of plantsmen and women. The plant world is this huge wonderful world. It's filled with the most serene, robust, giving, dedicated, down-to-earth group of humans I've ever met. I owe so much to them for their generous council, support, and gifts of rare plants.

May I pass along my hottest horticultural tip? You don't necessarily have to buy plants. Get 'em for free. How? It's pretty easy. Put the word out. Contact landscaping contractors and installers. Friends. Run an ad in The Pennysaver. Tell everyone you are interested in adopting plant orphans. Every day in L.A. there are untold truckloads of phenomenal plants being ripped-up and tossed away to make way for new construction or landscaping. Whole estates. Spectacular mature specimens. The plant "don't-wanters" will love to have you take them off their hands. Saves them time and money. Otherwise, much of it will end up in our landfills. You usually do have to go and get them. So, get a truck and some guys and blankets to wrap up the rootball. You're going to lose some. But, many species are easy to transplant. Many of my best specimens were obtained this way. This is a good way to save the environment, save money and save plants.

Gardening found me. It wasn't an intentional thing. It's a bit of an obsession now. Got the bug bad. Must be genetic. Folks had it. The garden was always a big thing. My grandfolks had it. They were farmers. Plants and soil were their life. Mom says she found a lot of it on me. Soil that is. Claims that as a baby all too often she'd find me in the backyard rooting around in the mud covered with ants, eating fistfuls of dirt and grass, worm pieces dangling from the corners of my mouth.

Maybe things haven't changed all that much. Anyhow, everyone is welcome October 22, 12:30 to 4:00. Come check out the garden. I'll talk and show pictures. Bring your own picnic, food and drink and a dessert to share. Coffee and tea will be provided. And, please come through the front gates to park inside rather than parking on the street.

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Historical Library Opens

By Ami Kirby

The task of organizing the massive store of Topanga historical materials into a library is finally finished. It took a year and a half to sort through the collection of documents, community organization records, photographs, newspapers, scrapbooks, newsletters, and audio and video tapes that were donated by community members to assist Louise York in writing The Topanga Story. The materials that filled twenty tightly packed boxes, two file cabinets and a large suitcase are now classified, cataloged and arranged for easy access in archival file folders and storage boxes. The library is located in the Topanga Historical Society's new quarters in the Pine Tree Circle Center and is open by appointment only until further notice.

The library has something for everyone. Of prime importance to all researchers are the back issues of three Topanga newspapers: the Topanga Journal (1942-1967), the Messenger (1977 to present) and the Topanga Lookout (1964-1966). Of equal research importance is the large collection that contains copies of almost every picture included in The Topanga Story plus scores more of early settlers, ranches, community events, businesses, structures, canyon views and more. History buffs will especially appreciate two of the archive's oldest original documents, both about Francisco Trujillo, one of Topanga's earliest homesteaders. These are a 1910 business license petition to sell wine made at his ranch, and a 1916 bill for his funeral expenses. Other old original documents include records of the Topanga Park Mutual Water Company that began in 1926, and a fascinating collection of 1924 receipts for supplies and materials such as mules, harnesses and blacksmith tools used by workers who developed tract #8319 in Fernwood Park.

Researchers who like delving into community controversies will find interesting tales in the thick Elysium Fields file and in the two boxes of documents, clippings, legal briefs, and impassioned election flyers that describe Topanga's decades long and often bitter water conflict. Those liking scandal will find it in the file of Charles Himnan, the Topanga Journal's final editor who was brought to trial in the mid 1960s for allegedly hiring an assassin to murder his wife. Creative writers will find enough information in the Topanga Community Woman's Club files and ledgers (many handwritten) for an entire novel. And those who want to relive good times can browse through the Topanga Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner programs, or the Mermaid Tavern, Theatricum Botanicum, Topanga Symphony and Topanga Players performance programs. And Topanga's many aging hippies can rekindle the spark of those heady times while pursuing the contents of the "Hippies" file.

The Topanga Historical Society urges you to donate your photographs, records and personal writings about Topanga. Especially needed are pictures and flyers of the Topanga Corral, theatrical and musical programs, "Hippie" era and Camp Wildwood photographs, New Canyon Gallery exhibit notices, and information about Topanga's speakeasies and party houses. Everything will be carefully handled and thoughtfully considered. If you have materials to donate, or want to use the library, call archive librarian Ami Kirby at 455-1969.

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High Dollar Burglaries

Captain John O'Brien is asking for the public's help in identifying the suspect or suspects wanted in connection with several high dollar loss burglaries that have occurred in the Malibu/Lost Hills station area between January and August of this year.

Burglaries have occurred in gated and non-gated communities in Hidden Hills, Calabasas, and Westlake Village. Similar crimes have occurred in the North Ranch area of Thousand Oaks.
Only expensive jewelry has been stolen. Less expensive and costume jewelry is left behind.
The suspect or suspects are neat and orderly, very careful about fingerprints, and usually enter the rear of the house which often backs up to open space. The burglaries usually take place during the early evening hours.

The public is asked to be the eyes and ears of the station and call the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station complaint desk to report suspicious activity or suspicious persons. Specific information about incidents or those wishing to maintain confidentiality can call Detective Mark Borges.
All calls for service can be initiated by calling the station at (818) 878-1808.

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Chamber Chat

By Dawn Simmons, TCC President

Upcoming Chamber sponsored events:
Notice all the hootin' and howlin' out there lately? It ain't the owls or coyotes. It's all the local ghosts and ghouls getting ready for the 3rd Annual Topanga Chamber of Commerce (TCC) Halloween Party! Join the fun Saturday, October 28, 7 p.m. at Froggy's, 1105 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. Music by "Topanga Wildlife." And for those clever and innovative minds, we continue our costume contest complete with first-rate prizes! Cost $10/person.

Travel back in time to Ancient Mesopotamia and receive a customary tribal welcome. Come wrapped in your favorite Middle Eastern garb, feast on regional foods, envelop yourself in the atmosphere and let an evening of dancing unfold at "A Night at the Oasis," a TCC Fundraiser, Saturday, November 18, Mermaid Tavern, 7 p.m. $40/person. RSVP: 455-0790.

Ongoing: Monthly Breakfast Mixers 8 a.m., 2nd Wednesday of each month, at Pat's Topanga Grill, 1861 N. Top. Cyn. Blvd. Generate business with fellow members! (Non members welcome, nominal donation suggested.)

Business of the Year/Citizen of the Year-It is time again to select an outstanding Topanga Business and Citizen of the Year to honor at our 2001 Installation Dinner in January. Last year's recipients were the Topanga Gallery and Rosi Dagit respectively. Applications will be sent to all Topanga organizations. If you would like to submit an individual nomination, call the TCC hotline and request an application, 455-0790.

For Prospective Members: The Chamber Hotline (x0790) has been very active! We are constantly making referrals. Become a member so we can refer your business!

Join us at our regular meeting the first Thursday of each month, 7:30 p.m. in the Penny Room. See you there!

Send correspondence to: Topanga Chamber of Commerce, P. O. Box 185, Topanga 90290, or call 455-0790.

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Become a Dancin' Fool for T-CEP

By Dawn Simmons, TCC President

On Saturday evening, November 4th, meet your friends and lovers for a glass of wine, dancing, and conversation at the Topanga Community House.

"Great music too!" says Merlin, T-CEP's (Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness) new mascot, designed by our very own Stuart Moskowitz. "Thank you, Stuart, from all of us!"

"Hey did you know that each species of owl makes a different sound? Here's a little test. Match the sound with the owl. Answers at the dance."

 Barn Owl  Who.o.o.o
 Great Horned Owl  Screech
 Screech Owl  Whoo-whoo


"I am a Screech Owl, maybe my friends the Great Horned Owl and the Barn Owl will be at the dance too. Listen for them."

THE MUSIC MAKERS

We'll start the evening with music by W, yes that's W, the group of four young Irish lads (well, one's really from Oregon) performing music that will move your body, stimulate your mind and sing to your soul. Tribal by nature, song-writing vocalists David and Kevin Connolly, along with Scott Walters on bass and Kim Carroll on guitar and piano, incorporate African percussion into their performances, often breaking into percussive interludes. Their first W album is soon to be released. Wow, sounds like a cool way to start the evening!

Spirit Level

Singer-songwriter Ben Elsesser of Spirit Level. They'll give us an "alternative."

We'll continue the evening's dancing to the music of an eight-piece "Alternative" band Spirit Level led by singer/songwriter Ben Elsesser with a Dave Matthews Band meets Ozomatli meets Bob Marley's lyric style. British-Chilean Elsesser is on vocals, guitar, percussions, along with Johnny Downer on guitar, Myke Coles on bass, Mike Turner vocals and on drums, Cyrus Aliakbari, percussions, Rashid Lanie on keyboards, Andrea Shockley Elsesser vocals and kalimba and Nakeiltha Campbell, percussions, fuses Afro-Cuban beats with folk/rock/funk melodies. We'll have a rockin' good time tonight!

RAFFLE DRAWINGS

Throughout the evening there will be raffle drawings for great stuff donated by our local businesses. We'll post a list at the dance of all the businesses so you can stop by and tell them thanks for caring. I'll bet they'd just smile big.

Now don't forgetThe dance is on Saturday, November 4th from 7:00 to 11:30 at the Topanga Community House. Buy tickets today at Pat's Grill, Fernwood Market and Mimosa's or at the door. Ticket donations are $15. There'll be snacks, beer, wine and sodas for purchase at the dance.

And best of allAfter this night is over you will not only have some more great memories. You'll also have that "feel good feeling" of having donated to the efforts of the 200 plus local volunteers that give so much of their time to learning and teaching everything we need to know and do during an emergency in Topanga. The money raised for the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness tonight will go toward the monthly operations costs, headset phones for the hotline volunteers orwe'll have a list of our needs and wishes posted at the dance. For information on T-CEP activities or how you can get involved, please leave a message on 455-3000 and someone will call you.

P. S. "Come dance with me" Love Merlin

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