July 18, 2018

Topanga Forges Landmark Agreement with Caltrans Against Herbicide Use

 

PHOTO BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN MESSENGER

Topanga Forges Landmark Agreement with Caltrans Against Herbicide Use

The Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee members are, front row from left, Fiona Nagle, Caltrans; Lauren Wonder, Caltrans; Susan Nissman, Co-chair and Senior Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Kara Seward, Co-chair and Deputy to State Senator Fran Pavley. Second row, from left, Rebecca Goldfarb, North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council; Rosi Dagit, Resource Conservation District; Beth Burnam, North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council; Joseph Rosendo, Topanga Chamber of Commerce; Patrick Chandler, Caltrans; Carrie Lovelace Carrier, Topanga Creek Watershed Committee; Gus Nuņez, Caltrans; Roger Pugliese, Topanga Association for a Scenic Community; Josh Kurpies, Deputy to AssemblyMember Richard Bloom. Third Row, from left, Kevin Johnson, Los Angeles County Fire Department; James Grasso, T-CEP; Clark Stevens, Resource Conservation District; Ed Aguilar, Caltrans; Jim Fowler, Caltrans; Ben Allanoff, Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and Ed Siribodhi, Caltrans.

While drivers in Topanga may bemoan traffic delays as Caltrans clears brush and weeds along the roadside, they can rest assured that the work is being done completely without herbicides of any kind.

As part of the landmark Topanga Canyon Boulevard Partners Project, Caltrans agreed to use mowers and other mechanical tools exclusively, instead of herbicides, to remove brush and other vegetation along the highway.

To celebrate the agreement, Caltrans and the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee (TCBRC) celebrated with a toast on May 15 at the Topanga Library after implementing the work plan that was signed by Caltrans’ District 7 Deputy Director of Maintenance Dan Freeman on April 24.

Caltrans delivered a statement saying, in part, that “Through a collaborative partnership, the Topanga Canyon Boulevard partners has been working since June 2012 identifying the goals within the Topanga Creek Watershed Plan of 2002 that will promote public safety, fire safety, address and manage invasive plants, and protect the natural environment of the Topanga Creek Watershed along Topanga Canyon Boulevard (SR-27).

“There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to the management of California’s transportation system,” said Caltrans District 7 Director Michael Miles. “Caltrans staff has painstakingly put months of effort into developing and customizing a corridor management plan that addresses the enhancement of public safety, the protection of the environment along the roadside, and the concerns of the community. The corridor management plan includes best management practices for vegetation management that includes active participation from the community and property owners with parcels that abut SR-27; planting non-invasive vegetation; and using mowers and other mechanical tools instead of herbicides to remove brush and other vegetation along the highway. Occasional closures will occur through June as Caltrans maintenance crews clear brush along the roadside.”

Various organizations also issued statements regarding their commitment to the agreement.

TOPANGA TOWN COUNCIL

“The Topanga Town Council is proud to be a part of the Topanga Canyon Blvd. Roadside Committee. We have long been an advocate of preserving Topanga and keeping it safe for all its inhabitants— wildlife, residents, business owners and visitors. We look forward to the effort and success of the TCB Roadside Committee's program and hope it will germinate throughout the community, promoting a non-toxic, living environment on both global and individual levels. We encourage all Topangans to help maintain the delicate balance of our precious mountain environment by applying the best management practices developed by the TCBRC for their own respective properties. We thank the community for its support!”

ELECTED OFFICIALS

Local officials, also committed to a herbicide-free Topanga, weighed in on the historic agreement.

“With the involvement of state and local agencies, members of the community and support from my office and the Office of Supervisor Yaroslavsky, the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Roadside Committee has collaborated to establish a long-term framework for addressing vegetation management, fire safety and maintaining the natural, scenic environment without the use of herbicides that endanger the delicate environmental balance in the Topanga Creek Watershed,” said Senator Fran Pavley. “The aim is to continue the efforts of maintaining a beautiful and safe highway in Topanga through engagement of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Partners to preserve and protect this California resource.”

While new to office, Assembly Member Richard Bloom has adopted Topanga’s eco-friendly ethos, stating his commitment to environmentally friendly policies for now and into the future. “The template of cooperative action created here is a potential model for use in communities across California,” he said.

As Co-chair of the TCBRC, Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy to L.A. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, was extremely effective and influential in getting this agreement to the table on time and under budget. She is a true Topangan who is deeply committed to the environment with the advantage of a thorough knowledge of how government works.

As for Yaroslavsky, he wants this agreement to serve as a legacy for his tenure in office. He terms out in 2014.

“To successfully collaborate, you need to genuinely cooperate; that’s how the best ideas become ‘best practices,’ said the Supervisor. “This extraordinary partnership between our public agencies and the Topanga community has produced a plan to clear roadside brush along State Route 27, without using herbicides, that both meets fire safety requirements and protects and preserves the natural environment.”

As head of the Best Management Practices Committee to determine alternative weed management practices, Ben Allanoff of the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee (TCWC) has been an integral part of the Roadside Committee in implementing the agreement.

“The TCWC is extremely pleased with the commitment shown and promised for the future by Caltrans, by our elected officials, the participating community groups and the community at large. This is a commitment toward a non-toxic, effective and cost-efficient long-term vegetation management program for Topanga Canyon Blvd.,” Allanoff said.

“Once all of the parties became clear on what happened last spring and that the risks that go with the use of chemical herbicides are not acceptable to the people of Topanga, all the players united toward a common goal,” he continued.

“We worked together to come up with and execute a fairly precise methodology for managing the unwanted vegetation, while protecting sensitive species along the roadside, using weed trimmers, mowers, mulch, native plants, and possibly other tools—but absolutely no poison. That we all united behind this purpose is truly thrilling to me.

“Everyone within and beyond Topanga should take a moment to appreciate that Supervisor Yaroslavsky, Senator Pavley and a host of Caltrans staff have embraced our “No More Poison” ethos and clearly demonstrated their support with a huge investment of their valuable time.

“The larger goal of the TCWC is to help create a completely non-toxic Topanga, from Top of Topanga to the ocean. We now have Caltrans, the Agricultural Commissioner, the County Fire Department, the Chamber of Commerce, TASC, and many other local groups, businesses, and residents as partners.

“Caltrans has set an amazing example so far. Let's keep going and implement appropriate non-toxic pest management along the boulevard, in and around our homes, in commercial establishments and on public lands. The day we can say that Topanga is a thoroughly—and voluntarily—non-toxic community and watershed will be a great one for us and for the wider world as well.”

FROM CONTROVERSY TO COLLABORATION

The controversy started last year when Caltrans was discovered to have used herbicides along the side of the Boulevard, drawing criticism from the environmentally aware community.

Roadside Committee members said the 2002 agreement had been breached, while Caltrans said cutbacks made manual maintenance fiscally difficult.

“I really appreciate all the effort from Caltrans to formally institutionalize this agreement,” said Rosi Dagit, Senior Conservation Biologist, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (RCDSMM).

“Although our more informal agreement worked well for more than 10 years, having this plan as part of the Caltrans implementation tools for Topanga will make sure that the information is passed along, whatever staff changes occur.” ­­­­­

“The Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan is an important living document that we can use as our road map to keeping the watershed healthy,” Dagit said. “As a consensus-based document, it outlines a vision of actions we can take; as a living document, it can be modified to adapt to changing conditions. Working together, we can ensure that we protect and preserve the creek and watershed for the future.”

ROADSIDE COMMITTEE

The TCBRC, an ad hoc advisory group, is committed to 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.

It is comprised of community leaders from local organizations, among them the TCWC, the North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council (NTCFSC), Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC), the Topanga Chamber of Commerce (TCoC), the Topanga Canyon Town Council (TCTC), the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) and Arson Watch, as well as the RCDSMM, the Los Angeles County Fire Department/Fire Prevention Division and the State Department of Transportation (Caltrans) that owns and operates State Route 27.

The mission of the TCBRC working collaboratively with related public agencies and community organizations, was to plan and execute sustainable solutions by April 2013 to manage roadside brush clearance along 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.