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Community members celebrate Zev Yaroslavsky

Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter
3:19 pm PDT June 23, 2014

Conservationists, activists, area residents and community officials gathered at King Gillette Ranch in the geographical center of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on Saturday, June 21, to celebrate the achievements of Los Angeles County Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who will be term out of office in November. 

The event, hosted by the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, celebrated “a 20-year journey dedicated to preserving and protecting the Santa Monica Mountains.”

Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the cities of Malibu, Agoura Hills and the swath of unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains between the two municipalities, has made conservation and public access a priority. During his 20 years as a supervisor, Yaroslavsky has helped the National Recreation Area grow by 20,000 acres. In Malibu, that includes the acquisition of extensive open space in Corral Canyon, Nicholas Canyon, Latigo Canyon, Upper Solstice Canyon, Decker Canyon, Little Sycamore Canyon and, just last month, 703 acres in Puerco Canyon, formerly owned by filmmaker James Cameron, and slated for a housing development.

Yaroslavsky’s philosophy has been “let the land dictate the use.” He has advocated park acquisition, limiting development on ridgelines and in environmentally sensitive habitats, and has incorporated many of his conservation priorities into the Local Coastal Program for the Santa Monica Mountains that is currently being considered by the California Coastal Commission.

“We are sitting in a landscape by Yaroslavsky,” Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston once quipped. 

“[Yaroslavsky] has spearheaded and upheld conservation like no other in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Las Virgenes Homeowner's Federation President Kim Lamorie said, calling the supervisor “the single most powerful force for good in our mountains. Thanks, Zev. We’re going to miss you,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot from you,” Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak said. “The Santa Monica Mountains are one of the most remarkable resources in California and maybe the world.”

“You’ve done great things for Malibu,” added Malibu Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert. 

Yaroslavsky received a commendation from the City of Malibu. Some of the other tributes presented during the evening were less conventional. Ruskin Hartley, president of Heal the Bay, presented the supervisor with an empty plastic bag.

 “It’s an endangered animal,” he told Yaroslavsky, referring to the supervisor›s successful campaign to ban single-use plastic bags in unincorporated Los Angeles County. Heal the Bay is also naming a moon jellyfish at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in Yaroslavsky›s honor, Hartley said.

Yaroslavsky received “adoption papers” for a western pond turtle, a native species that is recovering from the brink of extinction, from Clark Stevens, executive director of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. “We thought we should get him a reptile,” Stevens said. “This is Topanga Turtle number 179. We call him Zev.”

Other tributes included a watercolor of King Gillette Ranch, one of the supervisor’s major conservation victories; a walking stick and a hiking guide to the Santa Monica Mountains; and a sunset toast from the audience featuring raised glasses of “Zevtini,” a specially concocted cocktail featuring vodka and apple schnapps, garnished with an apple slice marked with the letter Z. Yaroslavsky›s staff members—including Senior Field Deputy Susan Nissman, a familiar face in Malibu; and Planning Deputy Ben Saltsman, who had a trail in Decker Canyon named in his honor—were also recognized from their contributions.

“I’m very blessed,” Yaroslavsky said, at the end of the presentations. “Nothing we’ve done came from the top down, it all came from you. I’ve been your agent. I’ve been in a place where I could do good and we have the ability to do some things still.”