September 25, 2017

Roadside Committee Creates Mapping Plan

 

The second meeting of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee (TCBRC) moved another step forward in preventing the use of herbicides to clear brush along Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

At the beginning of the Aug. 29 meeting, the committee approved the revised mission statement and agreed to an April 2013 deadline for a definitive plan with Caltrans:

“The mission of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee, an ad hoc advisory group, working collaboratively with related public agencies and community organizations, is to plan and execute sustainable solutions by April 2013 to manage roadside brush clearance along TCB/State Route 27 that promote public safety and best management practices for fire safety, invasive plant management, and protection of the natural environment of the Topanga Creek Watershed, by using methods, other than herbicides, consistent with the goals and policies of the Topanga Creek Watershed Plan of 2002.”

The ad hoc committee consists of community leaders from local organizations, including 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) along with 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.

Prior to its approval, Ben Allanoff of the Watershed Committee voiced an objection to the minutes relating to CalTrans’ verbal statement of their use of the herbicide, ‘Milestone VM,’ for weed abatement that may not have been correct according to its label directions.

Paul Lofthouse, landscape specialist with Caltrans, said he was onsite during the spraying last spring and observed all applications.

“To the best of my knowledge, they did not spray in water,” he said. “Extreme caution was used; if over-spray was done, I did not know it.”

Yet, the question was once again debated whether the herbicide touched or seeped into the Watershed.

“The seepage probably did not go into the creek,” said Rosi Dagit, Sr. Biologist for RCDSMM. “There is no evidence that it did.”

Dan Freeman, Deputy District Director, Maintenance for Caltrans, once again assured the group that he was committed to working together to eliminate herbicide use.

Once again, Allanoff insisted on maintaining the integrity of 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.

MAPPING SUB-COMMITTEE

To further strengthen the abatement plan, Dagit suggested that the group map the northern portion of the Canyon roadside where the sensitive areas are, to determine the best use practice for mechanical brush clearance and weed abatement.

Dagit insisted on the importance of first mapping the area and suggested that the area from downtown Topanga north be mapped with GPS technology.

According to Dagit, the RCD already has a 2005 map with GIS coordinates from PCH to the center of Town that she will submit to Caltrans.

“[The map] is not complete, but it is a great starting point and builds upon this resource plan that we are concerned about, i.e., weeds, invasive plants in the creek, private versus public properties, “Dagit said. “Until we map the areas of concern, we don’t really know what we are dealing with.”

The purpose of the mapping is to identify all the “constituents” within the scope of the defined roadway — types of vegetation; proximity to natural waterways (creeks, streams, and drainage culverts); geographical terrain and conditions (downslope, upslope, wide shoulder, narrow shoulder, no shoulder, straight, curvy, uphill, downhill); distances; locations; utilities; types of infrastructure (guardrails, road signage, hydrants, turnouts, etc.) — that are in the State’s and Caltrans’ right-of-way, as well as within their eight-foot area of responsibility to maintain and keep clear for a variety of safety and environmental reasons.

There is also a Federal Executive Order that includes vegetation management to rid the roadsides of invasive plants in order to support the health of the native environment.

“We are going to have to identify best practices for every section of the roadside,” said Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy to L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “That will lead us to developing a living, sustainable plan to manage the roadside vegetation without the use of herbicides.”

Tim Pershing, Deputy for Sup. Yaroslavsky, will chair the mapping sub-committee and James Grasso of T-CEP will lend his global positioning system expertise to create a mapping system along the corridor. Roger Pugliese of TASC will also join the committee to create the spreadsheets of sensitive areas.

According to Nissman, once the data is collected and mapped, the next step will be to identify the Best Management Practices to address each section of the 11.5 miles along the corridor.

In order to implement the mapping committee’s findings, they created a second sub-committee chaired by Ben Allanoff to determine Best Management Practices for the roadside.

Beth Burnam, co-chair of North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Committee, joined the newly formed sub-committee, to implement the mapping plan.

In relation to the mapping, Pugliese suggested that the recent proliferation of roadside turnouts has perhaps “created a new problem” of brush clearance.

Joseph Rosendo, of the Topanga Chamber of Commerce, suggested that Topanga might perhaps create some community gardens along the roadside in specific areas.

Not to dispute Rosendo’s suggestion, Kevin Johnson, Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and in charge of enforcement and roadside clearance and invasive plant species, said that the minimum distance for roadside clearance is eight feet “from the edge of the pavement” for Caltrans and 10 feet for the fire department.

Furthermore, among the action items, Johnson reported that Southern California Edison has not agreed to eliminate the use of herbicide on utility pole clearance.

“Edison cannot promise to not use herbicides,” Johnson said. “They have deferred the matter to their public information officer.”

The TCBRC then agreed to invite Edison to the committee as a stakeholder to reach consensus.

A DYING WATERSHED

During the open discussion, Irina C. Irvine, Ph.D., Restoration Ecologist, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said that regardless of the herbicide use or brush clearance methods, the entire Watershed is being choked with invasive weeds and could become permanently impaired if there is not more extensive removal of non-native plant species throughout the Canyon.

“The weeds spread from the roadside and infest the entire Watershed,” Irvine said. “You need to map the weeds as well; it is a much more critical problem.”