HEAL THE BAY Annual Beach Report Card 2011-2012

"The Top 10 Beach Bummers"

1. Avalon Harbor Beach on Catalina Island (Los Angeles County)
2. Cowell Beach (Santa Cruz County)
3. Puerco Beach at the Marie Canyon storm drain (Los Angeles County)
4. Surfrider Beach (Los Angeles County)
5. Solstice Canyon Beach (Los Angeles County)
6. Cabrillo Beach harborside (Los Angeles County)
7. Doheny State Beach at San Juan Creek outlet (Orange County)
8. Poche Beach (Orange County)
9. Escondido State Beach (Los Angeles County)
10. Topanga Beach (Los Angeles County) :(

HEAL THE BAY Annual Beach Report Card 2010-2011

"The Top 10 Beach Bummers"

1. Cowell Beach – at the wharf (Santa Cruz County)
2. Avalon Harbor Beach on Catalina Island (L.A. County)
3. Cabrillo Beach harborside (Los Angeles County)
4. Topanga State Beach at creek mouth (L.A. County) :(
5. Poche Beach (Orange County)
6. North Beach/Doheny (Orange County)
7. Arroyo Burro Beach (Santa Barbara County)
8. Baker Beach at Lobos Creek (San Francisco County)
9. Colorado Lagoon (Los Angeles County)
10. Capitola Beach — west of the jetty (Santa Cruz County)

MALIBU TIMES 5-16-12

"Sixth Grade Reading List Raises Eyebrows"

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Parents say profanity, graphic descriptions inappropriate for middle school.

When Rebecca Witjas’ daughter, a sixth-grader at Malibu Middle School, was assigned a book report that had to do with survival, she figured her daughter would pick a familiar title like “Swiss Family Robinson” from the list assigned by teacher Brigette Leonard.

But after reading 17 pages of the book her daughter selected, Norman Ollestad’s “Crazy for the Storm, A Memoir of Survival,” Witjas said she was shocked.

“It was absolutely inappropriate for children,” Witjas said. “I couldn’t believe that this book was being suggested to eleven-year-old children from a public school teacher.”

The book, a New York Times best seller, is the harrowing true story of Topanga Canyon local Ollestad and his complicated relationship with his charismatic father. In 1979, when Ollestad was 11 years old, the plane he and his father were taking to a skiing competition crashed in the mountains at 8,000 feet. The pilot and his father were killed, his father’s girlfriend died shortly thereafter, and the boy had to negotiate descending the mountain by himself.

Filled with surf culture lore and riveting detail, the book has received many honors since publication, including “Top 10 Best Books of the Year” by Amazon. But parents say its frankly sexual scenes and pervasive use of adult language should preclude it from a reading list for children barely past “My Little Pony.”

“When the teacher gave out the list of suggested books, she said she had read this book and recommended it,” Witjas said.

Audrey Ruth, another parent at Malibu High, echoed Witjas’ shock. “This book might be OK for college kids, but certainly not for 11-year-olds,” Ruth said, whose son is in 7th grade. “I never thought I’d have to vet a book list suggested by my child’s teacher, but I will have to now.”

Dr. Annie Thiel, a clinic al psychologist practicing in Malibu for nearly 40 years, said she was dumbfounded when she read the book and heard it was being assigned to sixth graders.

“It is well known that until children can think abstractly, they just can’t handle certain information properly,” Thiel said. “That’s why they don’t teach algebra until 8th grade. This book has very abstract viewpoints of a complicated bond between an extraordinary father and his extraordinary son. And the plane crash, watching the dad’s girlfriend die, the sex scenes… these can be very damaging verbal imagery for children of this age.”

Witjas said she spoke with Principal Mark Kelly at the school, who read passages from the book and agreed with Witjas that it was inappropriate for the grade level.

“But he never said that any other steps would be taken and I never received any kind of email communication that the book would be removed from the reading list,” Witjas said.

Dr. Kelly acknowledged that the book was inappropriate for the grade level, but said that the teacher had not actually read the book at the time it was put on the list.

“This was an outside reading assignment and the students weren’t required to choose specifically from this list,” Kelly said. “Other students had read and described the book to Ms. Leonard so she added it to the list.”

Kelly said that, in general, teachers try and put together reading lists of books approved by the state Board of Education and that they try to update the lists annually for summer reading assignments.

He also said there was no plan to send out any further communication to parents about the book since he believed “the number of readers to be very low.”

Ms. Leonard was unavailable for comment.

“At this point, we will have to work carefully with our librarian and the state board for future lists,” Kelly said. “The teacher felt really bad about it.”

The author himself, however, feels differently about the book’s effect. In an email to The Malibu Times, Ollestad wrote, “My son has not read the book, but not because I don’t think it’s appropriate—he knows the whole story and says he’ll read it some day.

“Several of his 10-, 11- and 12-year-old-friends have read it and none have suffered any psychological damage or been traumatized by the language or the crash imagery.

“What your child is exposed to is, of course, a personal choice but if the assignment was to explore survival, in all its facets… then a true account of an 11-year-old boy’s survival, written from his young point of view, seems like an appropriate choice.”

Peggy Harris, the director of curriculum and instruction with SMMUSD, said that there is a rigorous process of checks and balances in submitting titles to be considered for school reading lists. Proposed submissions are entered as information items for discussion on school board agendas. If the title is deemed appropriate, it is then listed as an action item, to be voted on in a future meeting.

“There are many steps in deciding if a book conforms to proper usage, including age appropriateness, themes, messages and images,” Harris said. “Normally, the teacher must read the book, share it with the principal and they submit a request to the district. We read it and decide if it is something to be placed on a board agenda. We are extremely conscientious on vetting reading lists.”


MALIBU TIMES 5-5-94



"Flashback"

Article and photos by Pam Linn

It was definitely a reunion, but not the usual sort where no one recognizes the chubby ex-cheerleader or the flabby former football hero.

Everyone seemed instantly recognizable Sunday at the Old Topanga Beach reunion of artists, writers, musicians and surfers who inhabited the unique enclave three decades ago. The mix of ages (from four to eightysomething) was broad as ever.

"I was as old as the sphinx back then," said Carroll Pratt, now of Mendocino, whose son Scott, 31, is a still photographer for a production company. "These reformed wild kids are all grown up."

Indeed, much of the talk centered on just how wild they were in the '60s; "Woodstock on the beach," according to one. A home video of the times played all afternoon in a black tent, and photos and tall tales circulated among fairly sober celebrants.

Jim Oppliger, now Chief of Homicide at the Fresno District Attorney's office, said, "I lived here in '68 and '69, the wildest years here. Rock star Jim Morrison of the Doors was here and Canned Heat."

Filmmaker Walter Littenberg allowed that they were doing a lot of drugs in those days. "Everyone seemed to be able to hold jobs. Monday to Friday they had regular lives, then on the weekend, the whole beach was blitzed," he said. "I was a real estate broker then, made just enough money so I could enjoy the scene."

His wife, Gaylord Burke Littenberg, called it the "quintessential beach scene. When the state tried to take over the beach, Lloyd turned a one-minute take-over into a 10-year battle. There were seven 'last' summers, and we gave one bureaucrat a heart attack."

"We had parties and charged money so we could pay our rent," said Bob Hawley. "It was quite a lifestyle. A lot of us are still looking for that. Some moved to Hawaii."

John Marrow and Cynthia Ho live on the Kona side of Hawaii, where he says surfing is great for him. Craig E. Halley, called the "real spirit of Topanga Beach" by friend Lloyd Ahern, said, "Time has stood still for us. I live on the same kind of beach in Maui, continued the same lifestyle as here. The only difference is now people are naturally high instead of on chemicals."

Ahern, who only got as far as Pacific Palisades, called it "the Camelot of the west coast. You couldn't have been able to make this up."

George Van Nay was in UCLA Law School. A good surfer and swimmer, he held the world record for 50-meter butterfly in 1959. "To me the world was 100 yards wide. I used to run down the beach to the point every morning at six and swim back," he said. "I wrote Haiku on my final exam; I knew I was leaving to write an epic poem. Drugs diminish your perception of the moment; studying Zen teaches you to live in the moment. I gave up drugs."

They all remembered Beer Can Larry, the mayor of Malibu. He had the thinnest personality and the fattest body," Van Nay said. "Nobody condemned him or tried to do anything about him. They just let him be who he was."

The private beach was famous (or infamous) for its dogs; every house had at least two. "There were spies at each end of the street, and when they saw the dog catcher's truck they rang the air raid siren and the dogs all ran home," Scott Pratt said. "It made the dog catcher crazy."

Ken Helms knew there would never be anyplace like it, so he moved to Park City, Utah. "I changed from a beach bum to a ski bum."

Artist Jimmy Ganzer, who founded Jimmy G's clothing, didn't get any farther than Topanga. "Imagine renting a house here for $135 a month. Fitzpatrick's was the first house on the beach; Victor Mature had lived there. We had a hot shower right on the beach. It was a wild creative bunch of people," he reminisced. "Almost all have been in the arts."

And there were lots of musicians; the neighborhood had its own rock band, Blue Juice, led by singer, writer and guitar player John (Murf the Surf) Murphy, with drummer Jeffery Ort, bassist Don MacVicor, guitarist Ken Helms and George Trafton playing rhythm guitar.

Ort, an art major with six years experience working in an art gallery, said, "I had just graduated from UCLA when I came here. It changed my life. Now I live on Point Dume, surf all day and work at night (as a waiter at Tradenoi). It's something you can't stop. You'll die if you stop."

Sarah Dixon said, "Peter and I were the first to go. We were able to find a lot on Sealevel Drive with a beautiful beach," she said. "But what I missed was the ghetto life we had here. Everyone knew everyone. I don't think you could ever find the diversity, the unpretentious, funky lifestyle."

Historian Paul Lovas tries to keep in contact with everyone. "I lived here from '64 to '74; I moved just across the street."

Marge Bernstein, whose house on Tuna Beach is about as close to the old neighborhood as she could get, organized the 24th anniversary bash. "The land had been owned by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, but we all owned our houses," she explained. "When the state annexed the beach, we were told we had to move the houses off or they would be demolished."

Vicki Andersen moved across the street to a "fixer upper," from which she evacuated during two fires. After her son Christian, now a studio prop master, had left school, she moved back to the Valley to take care of her mother. "This is very emotional for me. I didn't want to leave," she said.

"She was the first female surfer I ever met," said Scott Pratt, who grew up with Christian. "She was my dream mom."

Annette Smith, whose father, Dr. Russell Smith, was one of the original residents in the 1950s, moved about the farthest – to Anchorage. "I grew up here, and I used to baby sit Norman Ollestad and Scott Pratt." She gave up the beach to fly the Alaska Pipeline for Alaska Airlines.

Actually, it was Dough and Reva Meredith who moved the farthest, to New Zealand. They didn't make it to the party, but Bernstein put out a notebook so everyone could write letters to them. "They were devoted to everyone here," she said. "So it will mean a lot to get the letters."

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