Squabbling and delays by state bureaucrats have killed plans for an important Topanga Canyon brush-clearing project this year, Los Angeles County officials complained last week.
As a result, hundreds of homes south of Topanga State Park could be in jeopardy this fall if dense and dying canyon chaparral catches fire during Santa Ana winds, they said.
The parkland was designated to be the site of a mile-long firebreak earlier this year by county firefighters, who are alarmed over a buildup of dead brush in the area.
But fire officials' hope of setting a series of small, controlled fires in the park to create a firebreak were delayed in June because of a dispute between state parks and state forestry officials over paper work required for the project.
Forestry officials said parks administrators did not have a proper environmental impact report for the work.
Parks officials refused to sign a waiver releasing forestry administrators from responsibility in case the brush-thinning fire flared out of control
The dispute has infuriated county officials. On July 15, county supervisors took the unusual step of asking state Resources Agency Secretary Gordon Van Vleck to intervene.
Van Vleck, who heads the two departments, ordered parks and forestry department administrators to resolve their differences and expedite the paper work. On July 16, he told county supervisors that a permit would be issued in time to allow the brush-burning to begin in two weeks.
The paper work, however, was not completed until last Friday.
Frank Hubbard, assistant secretary of the resources agency, said the delay was the result of a mix-up in the date on an environmental statement prepared by parks officials and by the fact that the paper work "wasn't processed as expeditiously as possible by the Department of Parks."
"As it now stands, the process is completed. They could burn tomorrow," Hubbard said.
That's too late, said county Fire Department Capt. Scott Franklin, who heads the county's proscribed burn brush-clearance program.
Burn Too Dangerous
Franklin said hot summer weather has begun drying brush and makes a controlled burn too dangerous now in Topanga Canyon.
According to Franklin, the date mix-up came on an environmental report prepared by parks officials. The report said the firebreak-burning was authorized to be conducted between November and June--a schedule that would be dangerous because November is the height of the Santa Ana wind season, Franklin said.
The fire captain said state forestry officials tipped him off that the date was wrong, and parks officials amended the permit to eliminate the November-to-June designation when he protested it.
County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who initiated the board's contact with Van Vleck, was also angered by the delay, a spokesman said.
"He's obviously upset," said Dawson Oppenheimer, an aide to Antonovich. "We thought the state agencies had resolved this. We just hope the coming fire season misses that rich fuel up there."
Oppenheimer and Antonovich had been preparing a resolution thanking Van Vleck for ending the dispute. Instead, the supervisor has requested a "chronological report" on the snafu from fire officials, he said.
"We hope the state takes steps to resolve this kind of bureaucratic mix-up," Oppenheimer said.