Where Are County Services for Topanga?

Above, the March 2019 celebration for the newly opened Sages Classroom addition to the Topanga Community House. (l-r) Janet Turner representing Congressman Ted Lieu; building designer Franka Diehnelt; TCC President Kelly Rockwell; former Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Canyon Sages President Michele Johnson; Susan Nissman, former Senior Deputy to Yaroslavsky; project expediter Shelley Coulson; and Supv. Kuehl’s District Director Tessa Charnofsky give a “thumbs up” to the new building. Photo by Bonnie Morgan

Older adults, caregivers, community organizations, and other stakeholders will inform the county on how to strengthen services to Topanga.

Sages Hosts Hearing by County Department on Aging, October 29

The County’s Workforce Development on Aging and Community Services (WDACS) Department is holding a public hearing in Topanga on October 29 at 9 a.m. at the Topanga Library. The hearing is to let people speak to the need for social services in the canyon.

The feedback from older adults, caregivers, community organizations, and other stakeholders will inform the county on how to strengthen services to older adults and guide the development of their 2020-2024 Strategic Plan for Aging Services. Members of the Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults will serve as hearing officers.

County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and his successor, Sheila Kuehl, were generous in helping to fund the new Sages senior room at the Community Center. Yaroslavsky, before he left office in 2014, used discretionary funds to kickstart what would be a five-year project that started as a remodel of a storage shed and became the elegantly designed annex that was dedicated in March. Supervisor Kuehl expedited funding as the project developed and private donors also gave generously to see the project to completion.


When the Senior Room was dedicated, Sages president Michele Johnson declared, “This is a huge vision of leadership. It is the happy ending of a five-year journey….”

But the journey doesn’t end there. Now that seniors have a room of their own for classes, lectures and meetings, there is one more task in the Sages mission: “to reach out to those seniors isolated or in need.”

As with other volunteer organizations such as TCEP, the Town Council, and the Community Center, the Canyon Sages has become essential to the community, linking seniors with the county and the resources and services it provides.

According to the Sages website, “Topanga is a community of more than 10,000 residents, about one-third of whom are seniors. Of the approximately 500 members, 30 or more don’t have e-mail.

Seeing the need to address the gaps in social services for seniors in Topanga Canyon, Johnson and Sages VP Tam Taylor recently met with Tessa Charnofsky, District Director, West Valley/Mountain Communities Field Office for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, and Genethia Hudley-Hayes, Kuehl’s Deputy for Education and Social Services.

According to Hudley-Hayes, WDACS will first do a study of Topanga, based on what the demographics show on next year’s Census, to see if it is underserved. Given the community’s population of seniors with no county facilities, Topanga might be eligible for a senior center in the future.

“If they identify us for senior facilities, I think other services might be on the table, too,” Johnson said.


When Johnson and Taylor learned that certain programs covered unincorporated areas of four Supervisorial Districts, but not Topanga’s District 3, they presented specific proposals in a follow-up communication to Charnofsky and Hudley-Hayes:

  • Extend the Single-Family Home Improvement (SFHI) program to District 3. Agueda Corvarrubias, with Area Agency on Aging, investigated this program for the Sages, finding it provides no-interest home loans and home repairs to low-income people but only to Districts 1,2,4 and 5, not District 3.
  • The Handyman Program, offers repairs up to $20,000 for low-income residents, but is only offered in Districts 4 and 5.

Sages has recently been working with Topanga seniors who could have benefitted from such programs and formally requests that SFHI be extended to District 3.

  • Provide an Emergency Fund for Senior renters at risk of becoming homeless.

Neither of the following individuals would have been helped by SFHI programs, even if they had covered our district, because they are only available to homeowners.

Out of its small bank account, supplemented by private donors, the Sages recently paid to repair the plumbing for a low-income senior who owns a mobile home on a rented property. That person had been living for four years with no running water. Sages asked both [Kuehl’s] office and the Area Agency on Aging if there were funds available for such a need. The answer was No.

Another senior recently lost her rental, and only through the effort of a team of volunteers, did she find another living situation.

Sages believes there should be an emergency fund that low-income seniors can apply to in order to pay rent on an interim basis, or pay for needed repairs, in order to stay in their homes. Immediate: Does any such money now exist? How does someone apply? Long-term: If not, can such an emergency fund be set up?

  • Provide access to funding for a paid Activities Director to assist Topanga seniors.

We understand that discretionary funds cannot pay salaries and were told that salaries cannot currently be funded for anyone not working in a county facility. Since we are an all-volunteer organization, run primarily by senior volunteers, we find ourselves unable to continue our programs without assistance. We formally request that money be set aside for the purpose of assisting non-profits in unincorporated communities that have no county facilities available for the basic needs of a community.

Over the years, greater demands are made of Topanga’s volunteers who have taken on the leadership of what have become essential organizations. Their commitment to maintain a level of professionalism, often on their own dime, is almost a full-time job.



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 editor@messengermountainnews.com

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