The recent Palisades Fire brought together City, County and State officials, because it spread through those jurisdictions that included City (the Highlands), the County (Topanga) and State parks (Will Rogers and Topanga).
LAPD Captain Jonathan Tom, commanding officer of the West Los Angeles Area, was at the command post at that fire and realized how valuable it would be if officials from various jurisdictions could work more effectively as a team.
“These fires don’t impact just your jurisdiction,” Tom told Circling the News. “You can’t operate in a silo. When we have relationships and professional contacts, we make it safer for the public. It makes the facilitation that much easier if you know the right person to call.”
Yesterday (June 1), Tom arranged for a task force to meet at 7 a.m. at the Will Rogers State Beach parking lot in order to address the fire hazards associated with those who might be camping illegally in the Very High Fire Severity Zone (VHFSZ) that surrounds Pacific Palisades.
In addition to Tom, attendees included LAFD Battalion 9 Chief Captain Joseph Everett, L.A. City Recreation and Parks Chief Ranger Joe Losorelli, California State Park Ranger Jim Valdez, MRCA/Temescal Gateway Park Ranger Joyce Whitehead, Captain Salvador Becerra Jr. (Sheriff’s Department Malibu/Lost Hills Station) and the LAPD Valley Motor Off-Road officers (a unit responsible for patrolling the hillsides and the mountains that encompass the City of Los Angeles.)
Also in attendance were members of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, led by Sharon Kilbride, and Tyler Yi and Adam Margin who are members of the LAPD beach patrol.
The two social workers hired by the PPTFH, Glanda Sherman and Jessi Cortez, were also on site, in case someone required services when the task force members began canvassing the area.
At the briefing, Tom praised the PPTFH for its effectiveness in helping the homeless. Prior to the gathering, these members helped identify known encampments and were paired with LAPD West LA Officers and L.A. City Rangers.
The Off-Road unit went to Los Leones Gateway Park and rode through fire/service roads. The State Park rangers and MRCA also patrolled their areas.
The groups scouted four areas: (1) the Via de las Olas bluffs—from Entrada to Temescal; (2) the area along Temescal Canyon Road into Temescal Gateway Park; (3) the area along Palisades Drive; and (4) Los Leones Canyon and Park.
The value of sharing information was obvious even before groups deployed to the different areas. An MRCA ranger asked a PPTFH member if they recognized the individual in a photo he shared.
They had and were able to give a name. That homeless individual had been caught on camera in Temescal Gateway Park starting fires – unrelated to the two most recent fires.
In Area 1, there was evidence of three camps in the brush. At one camp an individual was cited for camping in the VHFSZ. The individual, who had been warned before, was once again given information about available services.
The three campsites were cleaned out to discourage future transients from settling in. Directly below where the fire started on the Via bluffs on June 7, cigarette butts were found stuck in a candle—and sharps were found.
In Area 2, two camps were found plus evidence that a fire had been started at one of the sites. Two new individuals, unknown to PPTFH, were found and offered assistance.
In Area 4, one camp was found on private property and the owner was alerted.
“I take the risk of fire seriously,” said Tom, who noted that this would not be a one-time meeting. “My intent is to do the task force twice a year, to share information and to continue to develop professional relationships.”
He added, “Part of my job is to reassure the public we are here for them.”