Roger Pugliese, Kara Seward, Susan Nissman, Ben Allanoff, Joseph Rosendo and Dan Freeman at the Roadside Committee meeting on July 11.
The tenor of the July 11 meeting of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Ad Hoc Committee on the issue of herbicide use on the Boulevard (State Route 27) was one of civil discussion and a commitment to finding solutions by April 2013, in time to prepare for next years fire season.
The committee consists of community leaders of local organizations, such as the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee (TCWC), the Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC), Topanga Chamber of Commerce (TCOC), Topanga Canyon Town Council (TCTC), and the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP), in tandem with resource agencies, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM), the Los Angeles County Fire Department/Fire Prevention Division, and the State Department of Transportation (Caltrans) that owns and operates State Route 27. Observers were invited to attend but not participate in the meeting.
This is a transparent process, said Susan Nissman, Senior Field Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and co-chair of the meeting with Kara Seward representing State Sen. Fran Pavley.
We want to commend the community in their action on this, said Seward. Fran is confident we will find solutions for everyone.
Following introductions, TCWC Chair Ben Allanoff gave an informative presentation documenting the herbicide spraying and its effects.
Our work is to minimize the impacts on the world of this watershed, he began. Together with TASC and the Chamber, he continued, we represent the interests of the residents and businesses of Topanga Canyon.
Using a PowerPoint slide show, Allanoff demonstrated the ecological diversity that thrives along the roadside from wet habitat, wildlife trails, native plants and a spring that runs alongside the Boulevard and supports stream orchids. It was a source of water before water was plumbed into the Canyon. There are also culverts and swales that lead into the creek and then to the ocean, he said, adding that closer to town, there are native blackberry bush, Humboldt lilies and rare California buckeye growing along SR 27 that were sprayed.
Rosi Dagit, Sr. Biologist for RCDSMM, noted that the area between two-mile bridge and town is most sensitive. Topanga Canyon is the only place that has 21 of 28 native species because our canyon has protected them.
Allanoff continued: The roadside between Topanga Elementary and the library was sprayed and the entrance to Theatricum Botanicum, where 20,000 people visit every year, among them 9,000 school kids who have nowhere to walk except where its been sprayed, he said.
Based on our first meeting, all signs are that our elected officials are supporting the community, and that Caltrans will stop using herbicide here, said Allanoff. Im optimistic that everyones commitment will remain strong as we work together to create a program that everyone can embrace.
Dan Freeman, Deputy District Director, Maintenance for Caltrans assured the group that We want to find ways to reduce or eliminate the use of spraying, but our main concern is fire, a common roadside occurrence.
SR27 is 11 miles of a mountainous, two-lane road with typical vegetation that we have a mandate to control, he continued. Our landscape policy is to eliminate invasive plants that negatively impact native habitats."
Budget cuts have taken a toll since 2001, when Caltrans had 1,185 employees, to 2012 with 922 and more cuts expected in 2013. We have seven employees to cover PCH and SR27. We have gone from 17,000 to 32,000 acres of landscape to maintain and added new highways, Freeman said. We dont have a big window. For Caltrans to do handcutting, we wont be able to do it within the time constraints.
Everyone understands this is a complex issue, said Clark Stevens, Director of RCDSMM. To maintain yearly control, we need to review each year and combine gardening sensibilities with clearing sensibilities. He suggested reducing hardscape and maintaining a natural regime to accommodate runoff and permeability.
Traffic flow is a quality-of-life-and-commerce issue; it hurts when there are road closures. We have a very active community and a volunteer base that sees what the opportunities are to doing things. Stevens agreed on the necessity of mapping the area and suggested an iPhone app that would get us to micro scale from macro scale.
Id like to see us work on the need to provide Caltrans with the ability to obtain their goals but to provide it in a sustainable pattern, said Dagit, who revealed that a draft document that was meticulously prepared in 2003 was still available and could be updated with the intent of codifying it.
Nissman, who adroitly facilitated the two-hour meeting that remained tenaciously focused, informational and forward thinking, noted that establishing long-term sustainable options is our goal with Caltrans budgeting for and, working with the community, to have something in place by April 2013.
By meetings end, everyone seemed happy with the revised TCWC mission statement, as well as the meeting itself.
Beth Burnam, co-chair of North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Committee said she had a new awareness of the roadsides as she drove along some of Caltrans 1,200 miles of highway on her way to Santa Barbara.
The next meeting on August 29, will begin with 45 minutes of open discussion that was missed in the first meeting, and then address action Items, including: Fire Department obtaining a written agreement from Southern California Edison that they would not use herbicides to clear around their [telephone]poles; the RCDSMM making available the 2003 Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan and uploading it so all members can access; and Caltrans looking into the status of a Corridor Plan that was supposedly in development stages a few years back.
We have a lot of solid input and available resources, said Nissman, wrapping up. Its not an either-or situation. You can protect public safety and environment as well.