Chamber Celebrates Unity in the Community

Jenni Billings, president of the Topanga Chamber of Commerce opened the festivities of the 68th Annual Awards Dinner on Saturday evening, April 29, to honor its 2016 awardees, Bill Buerge, Citizen of the Year; Stacy Sledge, president of the Topanga Canyon Town Council (TCTC); and Rocco’s Pizzeria as Business of the Year.

“As we work towards helping members realize their goals through the resources of the Chamber,” Billings said, “we ask that, in return, you support our community in those endeavors that improve and protect the land, wildlife and deep-rooted culture of Topanga residents.”

Keynote speaker Stacie Rasmussen of Rise-Up, a group she founded with Wendy Heimann in response to the current political climate.

“There is a deep divide tearing at the fabric of our country,” Rasmussen said. “Rise Up is a portal to activism and bridging that divide. That’s the hard part because there is no road map.”

To remedy that, Rise-Up put together “20 Daily Promises to Protect Democracy” based on Holocaust scholar Timothy Snyder’s 20 lessons. (See for the list)

Presenting commendations and certificates of appreciation were Janet Turner of Representative Ted Lieu’s office; Fiona Nagel, District Director, West Valley/Mountain Communities for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl; and Tim Pershing, Senior Deputy to state Assemblymember Richard Bloom.

Presenting Nora Duenos, who accepted on behalf of Rocco’s owners, Lupe and Rosa TKTK, Turner said, “The American dream is alive and well. Thank you for providing hearty food, fellowship and community in the heart of Topanga.”

Nagel echoed the sentiment, saying, “Thank you for fulfilling the American dream.”

Before calling up Stacy Sledge to receive her awards, Billings called forth the original founders of the Topanga Town Council, Jan Moore and Marti Brastow, as well as former Town Council presidents.

“The Topanga Town Council is meant to be a forum for citizens to voice their opinions,” said Sledge.

“It’s truly amazing,” Pershing said in his tribute, “that you do this because we live in an unincorporated area where the county is our government.” Sledge and the Board members, all volunteers, are the community liaison between Topanga and its government.

“People don’t realize the long hours and hard work you put in to work with the county,” Turner said. “This acknowledges your exemplary work advocating for the community.” With that she presented Sledge, as well as each member past and present, with a commendation.”

In one of many light moments of the evening, Sledge had to brag: “Our youngest member is six-year-old Jack Zook, who, helps us process access cards.”

Billings then presented each awardee with bowls made especially for the occasion by local potter Kirsty Iredale.

Pershing proceeded with the induction of the 2017 Chamber Board of Directors, in what sounds more like a stand-up comedy routine, since some years ago, Zev Yaroslavsky, for some unknown reason did a surprisingly informal swearing in that carries on from year to year in a lighthearted not to end the evening.

Congratulations to the new Board, Jenni Billings, President; Ron Fomalont, Vice President; Ron Kramer, Treasurer; DJ Billings, Corresponding Secretary; Craig Phelps, Membership Chair; Heather Bryant, recording Secretary; and Joseph Rosendo, Community Liaison, who, with his wife, Julie, brought their latest two Emmys with them.

Special thanks to Layne Catering for the scrumptious vegetarian dinner, Canyon Gourmet for the wine, Gail McDonald-Tune for the splendid decorations and coordinating the catering, and to Heather Bryant who was in charge of planning the event, coordinating volunteers and the setup.


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

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