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VALLEY BUSINESS | Valley@Work

Returning to the Nudists, and Other Loose Ends

March 06, 2001|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS

It's not quite spring yet. The vernal equinox doesn't arrive until March 20.

Still, I feel the need to do some spring cleaning, to tidy up and tie up some loose ends from stories we covered in seasons past.

Reporters often are accused (among other things) of leaving the readers hanging: whetting their appetites for information about a topic, then dropping the story like a hot potato to move on to the next big thing.

Without admitting guilt, I offer these postscripts on a couple of my favorite Valley@Work columns:

Nudes With a View: Late last year, the Elysium Institute, a storied clothing-optional retreat, was pushed off its longtime perch when the organization's home of 32 years--a spartan compound in the hills near Topanga State Park--was sold.

Committed to continuing the cause launched by the organization's charismatic founder, the late Ed Lange, board member Betty Meltzer and her husband, Sanford, have purchased a 20-acre tract in the hills above Malibu. The two, along with other institute members, hope to someday turn that land into a new home for Elysium.

"We are currently engaged in renovating this property and making improvements which would make it suitable to be the new home of Elysium," said Betty Meltzer.

Concurrently, the Elysium Institute is beginning anew the process of getting a conditional use permit from Los Angeles County that would allow it to reopen.

"We're starting all over again," she said of the process. "It's basically to keep a 32-year-old nonprofit going on into the future."

Meltzer was hesitant to talk about the permitting process (which could take more than a year to complete), or anything else associated with the attempted rebirth, for fear of launching the kind of firestorm of protest that nearly undid the first Elysium.

Almost from the beginning, during the Flower Power days of the late 1960s, Ed Lange had to fight to keep his compound going. Opponents, including neighbors, packed meetings of the county Regional Planning Commission to complain about traffic and fire concerns, while they fretted quietly about nudes cavorting next door.

In 1993, after a lengthy and costly legal skirmish, Elysium won the right to exist--provided it adhered to the stipulations of a conditional use permit.

But late last year, the daughters of Ed Lange, who died in 1995, put the property up for sale at a price beyond the reach of the group, which has several hundred members.

So that the institute won't face a similar fate down the road, Meltzer said she and her husband have put the property into a trust that will transfer ownership to Elysium after they die.

"It will be our legacy," she said.

An Open-and-Shut Case: In February 1999, we told you about the local inventor of an automated curtain-pulling device who was involved in a lengthy (and costly) patent infringement lawsuit with Hunter Douglas, one of the biggest names in the window-treatment industry.

Harmonic Design, now based in Valencia, charged that some of the mammoth window-ware maker's motorized shade openers were using technology patented by Harmonic Design.

Without admitting guilt, Hunter Douglas settled the case late last year, a few months before the matter was set to go to trial.

Under the terms of the settlement, most of which is confidential, Hunter Douglas will license the technology from Harmonic, paying a royalty fee of $2-$3 per unit sold, according to Eric Hauck, Harmonic's new president.

Thomas Hill, senior vice president of legal affairs for New Jersey-based Hunter Douglas, said the company opted to settle because of "the enormous cost of litigation to take something like this to trial.

"It's just a huge expense and we wanted not to go down that road," he said.

Even without the actual trial, the case set Harmonic Design back more than $1.5 million, Hauck said--a princely sum for a small firm like his.

For the nine months ending Sept. 30, 2000, Hunter Douglas pulled in profits of nearly $86 million. For the same period, 8-year-old Harmonic Design was in the red.

"We had an operating loss last year," said Hauck. "Up until the settlement, we had to fund the money out of our own pockets, which is very common with young start-up companies that have to defend their patents."

Still, Hauck said the company was determined to press forward with the case.

"We were very confident in our position, and because of that we all pulled together," Hauck said. "And we're very happy with the outcome."

*

Spring is a good time for new beginnings. The grass thinks so. So do the leaves.

In the Disney classic "Bambi," my daughter's favorite scene is the spring fling enjoyed by all of the animals, who are shaking off the winter doldrums.

But spring can also be a time for endings. And so it is with me.

After two-plus years, and 105 entries, the Valley@Work column ends today, and Valley business news will be covered in the main Business section.

Since I have yet to pick the winning Lotto numbers, I will continue to report--covering stories throughout the region.

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