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Madame Gandhi 

Wildfires are out of control in other parts of California and COVID-19 numbers are skyrocketing again, but it’s been a picture-perfect August in Topanga so far: No fire scares so far this month, fog at the coast, hot summer sun on the mountain tops, and clear starry skies at night. 

The annual Perseid meteor shower peaked in the pre-dawn hours of August 14, but there is still a chance to catch a shooting star this weekend from any dark sky corner of the Santa Monica Mountains that offers an unobstructed view of looking north. Keep an eye out for Jupiter and Saturn shining brightly as they rise in the southeast after the sun sets, and a brilliant Venus setting in the west at twilight. 

Commenters on local social media have raised concerns that the dark skies that are one of the pleasures of life in Topanga are being impacted by unshielded landscape and home lighting. Dark Sky restrictions are part of the Local Coastal Plan for unincorporated Los Angeles County, including much of Topanga. All exterior lights must be shielded and downward facing. 

Complying isn’t difficult and ensures that everyone can continue to enjoy a night sky full of stars. The International Dark Skies Association is a great resource for tips on reducing light pollution. The nonprofit’s website offers tips for assessing one’s own lighting, and advice on how to approach neighbors and community leaders. 

New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County continue to rise. Last week, the county health department reported the highest number since February, with 3.930 new COVID-19 infections on August 6. The City of Malibu announced on August 6, that several staff members working at City Hall had contracted COVID-19 and were isolating at home. 

Fallout from the Delta variant is throwing school reopening plans into confusion. The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District announced that it has invested in rapid test equipment to help limit the spread of the virus, but the coronavirus is increasingly adding an undercurrent of anxiety to the usual stress of back-to-school.

Topanga Elementary School students heading back to the classroom on August 16, and all  staff, and visitors will have to wear masks. Other districtwide LAUSD safety measures include, “maximizing physical distancing as much as possible; continuing comprehensive sanitizing efforts, including frequent hand washing; upgraded air filtration systems; regular, ongoing COVID testing and community engagement; and collaborating with health partners and agencies to support free COVID vaccination.” 

 The 3,930 new cases on Friday brought the county’s cumulative total to 1,319,216, meaning more than a tenth of the total population is known to have had the virus at this point, and the numbers only include officially diagnosed cases of the illness.  

The Dixie Fire in Plumas County, Northern California, is now the largest fire in state history. The conflagration that ignited on July 14 has burned nearly 500,000 acres, and has completely destroyed the town of Greenville, a community of 1,129. It’s a sobering reminder of the risk shared by all residents in the Wildland Urban Interface—WUI. Wildfire danger isn’t limited to just the American West this season. Thousands of tourists and residents have been evacuated from towns north of the Greek capital, Athens, as out of control wildfires spread across that country. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated that the crisis in his country “shows the reality of climate change”.

A recent beach advisory at Topanga State Beach was not related to the 17-million-gallon-and-growing sewage spill at the Hyperion water treatment plant in Los Angeles, but it highlights local water quality issues. Learn more on page 18.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, in this issue of TNT we’re introducing a fun and thought provoking new feature called Sign Language (page 15). We also meet musician and activist Kirin Gandhi and learn about her work with incarcerated youth; and explore the amazing and inspirational life of Judge Peter Ney, a holocaust survivor who became a U.S. court of appeals judge (page 13).

This year’s perfect August is fragile—fire risk remains high; so does the risk of contracting COVID-19—but perhaps that makes it even more beautiful, something to enjoy and cherish. Don’t take chances with either coronavirus or fire, but do take time to wish on a star (or a planet) this month. Happy August!

Be well, stay safe.

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