Sheriff Villanueva Holds a Virtual Town Hall with Topangans

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin      August 7, 2020

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Sheriff Villanueva Holds a Virtual Town Hall with Topangans
Topangans expressed their concerns at a virtual town hall meeting with L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Captain Salvador Becerra of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. Fires, evacuations, crime, motorcycles and illegal street racing led the conversation as about 100 Canyon residents asked questions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff on July 16. “I want to thank you for dialing in and attending,” said Sheriff Villanueva. “The deputies that work, especially those in Topanga, are dedicated and determined, putting their lives on the line, that’s what speaks volumes.” Captain Becerra said it had been decades since the Sheriff communicated directly with Topanga and asked for questions from the residents. One concerned resident inquired about the resolution of the situation of an armed man on Old Topanga Canyon early that morning that resulted in about a dozen patrol vehicles, two armored trucks and the EMT positioned at Pine Tree Circle. “We served a search warrant on the suspect this morning and filed a criminal complaint; the helicopter was used for surveillance and the suspect is in custody,” Captain Becerra said. As many residents continued to express their concerns during the town hall, the majority of the questions concerned illegal road racing, excessive noise violations, the Wednesday night motorcycle club, and speeding on Old Topanga Canyon Road. “I live and work in Topanga, on Old Canyon; my question is in two parts,” said Karen Dannenbaum. “Traffic on Old Canyon is on the increase and the road racing at night and on the weekends … someone totaled a car on a pole in front of my house. The second part—there are three kids that race mini-bikes from Fernwood to Old Topanga, to the Skyline loop every day, they had a BMW boxed in; I am concerned about the lives of those kids.” Captain Becerra considered Dannenbaum’s questions carefully. “We had an accident on Old Topanga Canyon Road just last week,” he said. “We are trying to get the California Highway Patrol to patrol more up there; we will be looking for the three mini-bikes to see if we can stop that for their own safety.” Tam Taylor of the Canyon Sages said she had two questions regarding evacuations. “We were told to leave your door open unlocked when you evacuate so fire fighters can enter quickly when needed,” she said. “During the Woolsey fire, we left our doors unlocked for seven days with lots of people coming in and out of the Canyon during that time… so how do we best protect ourselves, after the three-four or five days that we left our houses unlocked?”
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
Sheriff Villanueva answered without hesitation. “Lock your house and leave,” he said. “If, there is any reason for firefighters to get in, you have many more problems than that, so lock your doors.”

Taylor continued with concerns about evacuations out of Topanga: “A great many of the houses are on dead-end streets,” she said. “There is only one way in and one way out. The notion of people trying to get out when emergency responders are trying to get in, I don’t know what the protocol is, evacuate early, while at the same time, you can easily get locked in because it won’t take very long for Topanga Canyon Boulevard to get jammed up with traffic. We need to have suggestions of what to do when we can’t get out.

Again, Sheriff Villanueva did not mince words. “When we pull the trigger and decide to evacuate, we will create an uninterrupted flow out of the Canyon,” he said. “That didn’t happen very well during the Woolsey Fire; we learned from that.”

Captain Becerra also addressed the issue of Canyon evacuations. “We need to improve the evacuation situation,” he said. “We need early evacuations of the homeless, homebound seniors, and animals with trailers. We need to have the people who are most vulnerable ready during a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). We will go house to house with door knocks, loudspeakers, facilitate people driving out, and evacuate them in a short matter of time.”

Sheriff Villanueva said more than once that the effectiveness of his Department was a matter of what he considered to be proposed budget cuts by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

“This is a process by which we can have this conversation to provide more public safety to Topanga,” he said. “An almost 50 percent reduction of the County budget is falling on the Sheriff’s Department, especially for the detectives. We have a three-front problem with the budget crises to provide services and we need you to speak with the Board of Supervisors, to reach out to them; they need to hear from you.”

The Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station is comprised of LASD Reserve Deputies and civilian volunteers from all professions, who provide their expertise to aid residents and visitors of the Santa Monica Mountains recreation area (lasd.org). Text your Zip Code to 888777 to receive city-specific alerts. The Sheriff’s Dispatch Non-Emergency number is (818) 878-1808.
Annemarie Donkin
      August 7, 2020

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