January 23, 2019

Topanga Meeting Turns Into a Shouting Match

 

PHOTO BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN MESSENGER © 2013

Topanga Meeting Turns Into a   Shouting Match

Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy for L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky,moderated a “volatile” meeting at the Topanga Community House on Sept. 18.

Emotions ran high in the audience of about 75 during a presentation by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works at the Topanga Community House on Wednesday, Sept. 18, as it outlined a project to underground overhead utilities on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the center of town at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Old Topanga Canyon Road.

The project is designed to improve public fire safety by replacing utility poles with underground utility lines in Topanga’s central business hub. For the Topanga Chamber of Commerce, who is seeking Scenic Highway designation for Topanga Canyon Boulevard, it will vastly improve the aesthetic look of the area.

Yet several members of the Topanga business community questioned the timing and overall need for the project so soon after the disruption during construction of the Library.

Environmental activist Elizabeth Barris, who has been seeking to ban smart meters and cell towers, claiming electro-magnetic waves cause cancer and have other negative effects, disrupted the meeting several times, angrily charging that the plan to co-locate the wireless utilities on a single, 70-foot “tree” would cause cancer.

According to County Project Manager Steve Dunn, under the mandate of a County Ordinance, the County of Los Angeles, Southern California Edison, cable television and the telecommunications companies serving the area will work together to place all existing overhead utility lines underground on Topanga Canyon Boulevard from approximately 300 feet north of the Verizon Building south to Cuesta Cala Road, at Hidden Treasures, primarily along the west side of the Boulevard.

The underground utilities would also extend along Old Topanga Canyon Road from Topanga Canyon Blvd. approximately 250 feet west to SCE’s Topanga substation near Inn of the Seventh Ray.

Additionally, the project will co-locate three existing wireless equipment facilities, currently attached to utility poles that will be removed, to one constructed mono-pine “tree” on private property adjacent to the Topanga Post Office.

The project is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2014 with construction projected to last for about 18 months.

According to Project Manager David Seeley of Southern California Edison, project financing will come primarily from a fund allocated for County use through an SCE program approved by State utility regulators. Cable television and telecommunications companies involved in the project will pay their share of the project's cost.

According to Seeley, such projects are done in high-traffic areas where the project benefits of relocating utility facilities, i.e., improving aesthetics and public safety, are expected to produce the best results.

“The work will be carried out 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, per Caltrans rules,” Seeley said. “Also, representatives of the Native American community and an archeologist will work with the project to determine whether any sacred objects may be found.”

Seeley said the Boulevard would always remain open, with one lane remaining for traffic through town and all work would be suspended between Thanksgiving and the New Year holidays.

Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, moderated the meeting and at times had to call for order after certain members of the audience berated the County officials and telecommunications representatives.

Nissman said the County through Yaroslavsky’s office would sponsor a Topanga Small Business Consortium to address the concerns of the Topanga community and help them better market their businesses.

Clearly the business community was divided, with some small businesses located along the Boulevard worried about the noise and construction disrupting their businesses.

“Why do we need the project now, so soon after the Library and water main projects,” asked Larry Cohn of the Canyon Bistro, who expressed the sentiments of many businesses located in Pine Tree Circle. “Why not wait five years to allow our businesses and the economy to improve?”

Yet, some organizations, among them, the Topanga Chamber of Commerce and the Topanga Canyon Town Council, expressed support for the project.

“I like the project, it works for me,” said Vicky Norwood of Topanga Hauling, who has businesses located on the west side of the Boulevard across from the Library. She welcomes relocating the wireless utility poles currently looming only 25 feet over the top of her business.

“Cell towers cause cancer,” shouted environmental activist Elizabeth Barris, founder of the People’s Initiative, who began the “Opt Out” campaign in Topanga against smart meters that have been installed in the Canyon by Southern California Edison. “We need to get away from the cell phone towers, the people at the Post Office are crapping their pants.”

As other audience members joined in Barris’ rant, the meeting only got back on track after several members of the audience shouted them down.

“This is the most volatile group I have ever seen,” said Seeley of SCE, who makes these utility undergrounding presentations to hundreds of cities and communities throughout Southern California. “Usually communities jump at the chance to have their utilities buried.”

If you have any questions regarding this project, please contact Steve Dunn, Project Manager, at (626) 458-3168 or sdunn@dpw.lacounty.gov between the hours of 6:45 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

Additionally, more information on the project is available at http://ladpw.org/cons/topanga/.