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MINUTES FOR NOVEMBER 14th 2019

Voting Members in Attendance:  David Card, Richard Cohen, Chris Spitz, Joanna Spak, Sue Kohl, David Kaplan, Haldis Toppel, Steve Cron, Rick Mills, Brenda Theveny, Dick Wulliger, Bill Klein, Sarah Knauer

Voting Alternates:  Janet Anderson, Peter Powell, Quentin Fleming, Cathy Russell, Craig Natvig

Non-voting Advisors and Alternates:  Bruce Schwartz, Melanie Bouer, Eric Dugdale, Miriam Schulman

1.    Certification of Quorum.  In the absence of the Chair, Vice-Chair David Card called the meeting to order at 6:01pm and certified that a quorum was present.

2.    Reading of Community Council’s Mission.   Sue Kohl read the Mission Statement.

3.    Introduction of the Board and Audience.  The Board and audience were introduced.

4.    Approval of Minutes & Upcoming Meetings.  1) Approval of Minutes – the minutes of 10/24/19 were deemed approved.  2) Upcoming Meetings–December 12, 2019: Holiday meeting and Awards celebration (the event will take place at the PP Woman’s Club Clubhouse; more details to come).January 9, 2020: topics to be announced.  January 23, 2020: Briefing on proposed Gladstones Redevelopment project; guest speaker City Controller Ron Galperin (postponed from 11/14 due to illness).

5.    Consideration of Agenda.  The Presiding Officer announced that some items may be taken out of order.

6.   Treasurer’s Report.  Treasurer Richard G. Cohen reported that the Council’s bank balance is $39,371.72.  Since the last report, significant transactions included a payment of $400 to the Friends of the Library as PPCC’s contribution toward a new audio system for the Library as well as a $300 deposit for the PP Woman’s Club venue for the holiday party. The Treasurer also advised that federal and state tax filings for September 30, 2019 were completed and PPCC is up to date with compliance.

7.    General Public Comment – None.

7.1.    Daphne Gronich (resident) stated that she attended last weekend’s Fire Town Hall and learned that many people have asked about the possibility of instituting Red Flag Parking Days in non-hillside areas with narrow streets, to alleviate problems with evacuation traffic flow.  The Presiding Officer indicated that this will be appropriate to discuss during Item 11.2 on the agenda.

7.2.    Lou Kamer (resident) reported that he has been working with WAZE regarding the traffic problem with the Chautauqua & Channel Rd. intersection. WAZE has now agreed to change its navigation tool so that it will direct drivers to use only the middle lane in order to turn left (south) on to PCH from Chautauqua. He noted that this is one step toward addressing the problem with the intersection.

7.3.    Ryan Robles (Athens Services Recycling Coordinator) explained that he is working with local business owners on composting of organic materials, as required under a new state law. He will provide information to PPCC Vice-Chair David Card and Chamber of Commerce Representative Sarah Knauer.

8.    Reports, Announcements and Concerns.

8.1.   From the Chair (Presiding Officer).

8.1.1.    Joint PPCC-BCC Message re Thanking Our Firefighting Heroes. See message & list of possible organizations for donations at www.pacpalicc.org(link on home page).

8.1.2.    Calvary Christian School land use application update.  See PPCC position letter: http://pacpalicc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Calvary-Christian-School-Letter.pdf. See also Letter to Editor/message from PPCC officers to the Palisadian Post:
http://pacpalicc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Message-to-the-Editor-of-the-Palisadian-Post.pdf.

8.1.3.    Urban Forestry update.  See PPCC letter re urban forestry resolution:http://pacpalicc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Urban-Forestry-Letter.pdf.

8.2.    From Officers.

8.2.1.    Chris Spitz (Secretary) reported that on Wednesday, November 13, the Transportation Committee took up a motion for a pilot program to allow digital advertising on top of some taxicabs.  With the approval of the Chair and Vice Chair, the Secretary submitted an email message prior to the Committee meeting, expressing PPCC’s opposition to permitting digital advertising on any vehicles (including taxicabs and other vehicles for hire).  See:http://pacpalicc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Message-to-the-City-Council-Transportation-Committee-November-13.pdf.  The Secretary explained that the Transportation Committee, by a vote of 2-1 (Councilmember Bonin opposed), voted on Wednesday in favor of the motion, which will now go to the full Council for a vote.

8.3.    From At-Large and Area Representatives.

8.3.1.   David Kaplan (Area 6 Representative) explained that many residents are complaining about a serious problem with DWP billing practices, which has resulted in exorbitantly high bills. He believes this needs to be addressed with DWP.  The Presiding Officer stated that we can invite our DWP liaison or other representative to come to a future meeting.

8.4.    From Organizational Representatives – None.

8.5.    From Government Offices / Representatives – None.

8.5.1.    LAPD SLO Michael Moore.  Officer Moore reported that crime in the Palisades is down.  However, since we are at the start of the holiday season, residents should begin thinking about taking precautions:  Do not let packages be delivered to your front porch; have the Post Office or other carrier hold packages for you to pick up; arrange to have someone keep an eye on your property while you are away.

8.5.2.    LAPD Beach Patrol Officers John “Rusty” Redican and Jimmy Soliman.  See Item 11.2 below.

8.5.3.    LAFD Battalion 9 Chief Mark Curry and partner Jeff Sorenson, LAFD.  See Item 11.2 below.

8.5.4.    Janet Turner (District Representative, Congressman Ted Lieu).  Ms. Turner reported on a number of bills in Congress which Rep. Lieu supports: the Smoke Planning and Research Act, which would provide funding to help communities plan and respond to wildfire smoke (recently introduced); a bill to expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (recommended in committee for a floor vote); and a bill that allows suits for copyright infringement to be brought via a new copyright claims board (passed).

8.6.    From PPCC Advisors,

8.6.1.    Zennon Ulyate-Crow (Youth Advisor) reported that the Palisades Park Youth Group is active and that Pali High students are gearing up for finals.

9.    Reports from Committees.

9.1.    Awards Selection Committee (ASC; David Kaplan, Chair).  Committee Chair David Kaplan announced the names of the Citizen of the Year, Golden Sparkplug Award and Pride of the Palisades honorees and briefly described each of their achievements.  The honorees are:  Citizen of the Year:  Kevin Niles; Golden Sparkplugs:  Don Camacho, Lisa Glantz and Mike Lanning; and Pride of the Palisades:  George Wolfberg. He noted that a longer summary of the honorees’ accomplishments will be distributed to the PPCC email list shortly. [See: http://pacpalicc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/COMMUNITY-COUNCIL-2019-AWARD-WINNERS.pdf.]  The board and audience indicated praise for the selections and thanked the ASC members.

9.2.    Awards Event Committee (AEC; Mary Mueller, Chair).  In the Committee Chair’s absence, Secretary Chris Spitz reported that the AEC members have met and are actively preparing for the Awards Celebration event, which will take place on December 12 at the Woman’s Club Clubhouse at 6:30pm. The AEC members are:  Mary Mueller, Chair; David Card, Sue Kohl, John Padden, Bruce Schwartz, Chris Spitz and Haldis Toppel. The event will feature a brief business meeting, a buffet dinner, complimentary wine & beer (while supplies last), and the awards presentations.  Invitations will be sent out this weekend.  Tickets will be $60 each. The RSVP deadline is December 8 but seating is limited and we expect to sell out before the deadline.  Please RSVP soon to ensure your seat.

10.    Old Business– None.

11.    New Business.

11.1.    Guest Speaker:  Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin – not in attendance due to illness.  Controller Galperin’s presentation has been postponed to the PPCC meeting on January 23, 2020.

11.2.    Fire Season Recap:  Concerns, lessons learned and what to expect going forward.  Participating: LAFD Battalion 9 Chief Mark Curry; LAPD Beach Patrol Officer John “Rusty” Redican; PPCC Fire Safety Advisor Miriam Schulman; Palisades resident & CERT coordinator K.C. Soll.

The Presiding Officer began by describing the recent Palisades and Getty Fires and his own experience with the fires.  He emphasized what a problem it was for people trying to evacuate during the Getty Fire when PCH was closed southbound from Temescal Canyon Road, which caused a huge traffic jam.  He noted that evacuation protocols did not seem to be working early in the fire.  He also explained that we have fire prevention issues that will be addressed.

LAFD Battalion 9 Chief Mark Curry then described his background and experience. He is one of three Battalion 9 Chiefs who have been working in the Palisades for several years. His uncle, a former fire chief, was instrumental in bringing back Engine 69 to the Palisades.  Chief Curry has himself been working this area since the Skirball Fire. He described the Getty Fire circumstances and explained that it could have been much worse without the tremendous support of air power and the great job done by the firefighters.  LADOT and LAPD were also instrumental in the success. He stated that he would be happy to answer any questions.  Extensive Q&A then ensued on a variety of topics:

Tree branches and brush:  The Getty Fire was caused by a branch which was blown by the wind into wires on a pole.  The wires weren’t down and there were no exploding transformers. LAFD does a good job of clearing the area around wires and has brush clearance crews that come through every year, but they cannot prevent all accidents in wind driven fires.  Chief Curry agrees that dead branches and brush along Palisades Dr. need to be taken care of; this is the responsibility of Recreation and Parks or other property owners.

Power lines, poles:  Electrical fires have been started by power lines for decades but this is only now beginning to get attention.  Ideally all power lines should be undergrounded, but this will take a lot of money.  Lines that are high up on a pole are high tension and those are the most dangerous. People should exercise caution with all downed lines.  To report any old, weak or damaged poles, call in the number on the pole to DWP.

The Highlands “fire road”/Lachman Lane extension and evacuation issues:  During the Palisades Fire some residents were told that this was the only evacuation route and were directed to leave via this road, but the gate was locked, no one had a key, and residents were forced to turn around, causing a huge traffic jam. Clear and up-to-date information about evacuation routes was not provided or available.  Chief Curry agrees that accurate information about evacuation routes needs to get onto the Notify LA system.  He does not personally believe the Lachman Lane extension is actually a “fire road,” nor that it should have been locked, but he could not specifically answer questions as who had or should have had the keys, or whether directions given to Highlands residents as to evacuation routes were appropriate.  Regarding evacuation routes in the Palisades:  He cannot answer as to which specific roads should be used for evacuation because this is situationally-driven.

Palisades Recreation Center:  It was noted that the Center was designated as an evacuation area during the Getty Fire but was located only 100 yards from the mandatory zone and was itself in a warning zone.  Many residents didn’t understand why evacuees were told to go to the Recreation Center. Chief Curry wasn’t aware of the evacuation decisions or the Recreation Center’s evacuation area designation.  He explained that LAFD’s goal was to get people in the hillsides down to Sunset, where they would be safe and out of the canyons.

Communications:  At times there was unclear or conflicting information about fire and evacuation status from different agencies, e.g., LAFD and LA County Fire, especially in Topanga.  There is concern about downed cell towers during wildfires and lack of cell service or ability to access alerts via smartphones.  Chief Curry advised that residents should stay tuned to television and radio news programs which often report real time information during fires. He also noted that there is a great new tool being developed at San Diego State which involves modeling of heat and wind conditions in order to target evacuations.

Mandatory vs. voluntary evacuations:  Voluntary evacuations can occur at any time.  In mandatory evacuations, residents still have plenty of time to leave and get somewhere else.  An order to “shelter in place” is the worst situation possible.  That means the situation is so dangerous that you will be killed in your car while trying to leave your home and evacuate.  These days, homes are much more hardened with tile roofs and vent screens. Chief Curry recommends that everyone have goggles on hand to protect against embers flying into eyes.

Firefighting support:  Chief Curry emphasized that firefighters cannot stop wind driven brush fires but will do everything they can to protect homes and the community.  Firefighters are most concerned with fighting on the outer edges closer to the fire.  We have great air support to go in and stop the fires in a wider area.  The key factors in fighting wildfires are brush clearance, hardened homes, great air support and great firefighters.

LAPD Beach Patrol Officer John “Rusty” Redican then spoke about his experiences with the recent fires, answered questions and listened to comments and concerns from board members and the audience.  He emphasized the importance of communications among the various agencies involved and debriefing by officials on the scene and knowledgeable about the area after fire incidents.

Regarding the fiasco with PCH southbound being closed during the Getty Fire evacuations:  Officer Redican and his partner Officer Jimmy Soliman quickly realized that shutting down southbound PCH was a mistake and a huge problem.  They communicated the severity of the problem with the command post.

There was comment about the fact that Topanga Canyon Blvd. was also closed during evacuations, even though that area wasn’t in danger at the time.  It might have made sense to allow people from 90272 to evacuate on Topanga rather than go all the way to Malibu.  However, it was pointed out that there was concern because of high winds and the possibility of a new fire starting at the top of the canyon, which would have required a large number of people evacuating from the Palisades to turn around.

Regarding the difficulty of getting out accurate information and facilitating communications with a single point of contact to appropriate channels: Officer Redican stated that Deputy Chief Hogan has told him that this might be possible through Public Information Officers on scene.

Regarding a concern about robbers going into homes during the evacuation:  Officer Redican related an example of police work to prevent this from occurring:  On the day of the Getty Fire he observed service-resistant homeless individuals whom he had never seen before in the Palisades near Antioch & Swarthmore, on bikes with empty backpacks.  He successfully encouraged them to leave.

Concerns were also expressed about the lack of communications, as related in a newspaper articles, specifically regarding homeowners who received evacuation notices but did not notify their housekeepers and gardeners. Officer Redican indicated that he shares this concern.  A possible solution might be to add a reminder in the literature on Ready Set Go.

Regarding the possibility of cell service going down in many parts of the Palisades during wildfires, some residents are suggesting the possibility of stationary sirens. Officer Redican indicated that he thinks this is a good idea.  He also indicated that people should trust their instincts and check local TV and radio news sources.

Miriam Schulman, PPCC Wildfire Safety Advisor, next spoke about fire prevention and steps that we can take to make our property and homes fire resistant.  First, she encouraged everyone to visit the PPCC website “Disaster Readiness” page and read everything on the page.  She stressed the importance of individuals being alert to weather conditions, especially when there are high winds, low humidity and high temperatures.  During these conditions everyone should have masks and googles, wet down their property and have Go Bags ready.  Since winds become stronger at night, we should be prepared to receive alerts overnight about conditions during wildfire incidents.

Ms. Schulman also suggested that homeowners should go around their homes looking at landscaping to be sure there are no dead plants, branches or “dead leaf” litter around the house.  A perimeter should be created around the house that can’t burn (e.g., dirt, concrete, gravel or pebbles). Piles of firewood should not be stacked up against the house and branches should not be hanging near or over the roof.  The roof and rain gutters should be cleared of leaves.  Dead pine needles are strong fire tinder.  LAFD.org and CalFire.org are also good websites to visit.  Ms. Schulman and several other residents have taken courses and are certified to examine homes to determine if they are adequately protected from wildfire.  It is also important to protect vents to attics and crawlspaces.  She suggested turning off AC when not at home, as well as getting together with neighbors to find out who can help in an emergency, who is disabled, etc.  As to whether gas should be shut off during wildfires:  Chief Curry indicated that this isn’t a bad idea, although it is more critical during earthquakes.

A question was asked as to why the PPCC Palisades Forestry Committee (PFC) report does not mention fire resistant trees or those with root systems that destroy sidewalks.  The Presiding Officer (also PFC Chair) explained that these factors will be taken into account in selecting street trees.  The list of criteria in the report is from the Task Force in Santa Monica, where they don’t have the same wildfire issues; this will be added to the list of criteria here. Ms. Schulman also explained that certain trees which are high in moisture content and leafy (i.e., healthy, wet tropical trees) can act as protection against embers (as opposed to “needle” trees). The Presiding Officer further advised that branches should be pruned up from the ground; there should be more spacing between trees; and dead pine needles should be removed from yards.

K.C. Soll, resident and CERT team training coordinator, also contributed to the discussion.  Ms. Soll explained that in addition to organizing four CERT training classes in the Palisades in the last year and a half, she is a member of a group of 30-35 local ham radio operators.  She stressed that everyone who graduates from the CERT program has “legs” in the neighborhood, and she advised that the MYN and RLYAN programs are important ways in which to get to know your neighborhood.  She also reported that her local ham radio group has received a $250,000 grant to operate a ham radio program locally, starting in Mandeville Canyon.

The board and audience thanked the participants for their presentations and for answering questions.

12.    Adjournment.  The Presiding Officer adjourned the meeting at 7:47pm.

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