City, water district pioneer Helsley dies

Hal Helsley

Hal Helsley

Calabasas activist Harold “Hal” Helsley died April 11 and was known for his love of the environment as well as his role in the founding of the City of Calabasas in 1991.

Helsley, a Calabasas resident, died of leukemia at the age of 81, three days before his 56th wedding anniversary.

He served for 20 years on the board of directors of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and lobbied extensively for the use of science-based and cost-effective policies in the treatment and management of the regional water supply.

In 2000 Helsley was appointed to the L.A. County Regional Planning Commission by then-county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, serving on the commission for 13 years.

In 2004 Helsely was named Commissioner of the Year by the California County Planning Commissioners Association.

He sat on many Los Angeles County committees that helped shape the use of the Santa Monica Mountains, including the Scenic Corridor Committee and the North Area Plan, the central planning document for the county.

Helsley proposed the idea of planting acorn seeds by the dozen, rather than single oak trees, as mitigation for new development because, he said, an acorn develops more quickly and sturdily than boxed-up trees.

Born Sept. 9, 1936, Helsley, with his brother Charles, worked as a child on their family’s 17- acre lemon and avocado ranch in Vista, Calif.

Hal Helsley earned a degree in teaching industrial arts from San Diego State College and his master’s degree in education from Cal State Northridge.

He taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 47 years. As a middle school instructor he received numerous educator awards.

Helsley and his wife, Nancy, met as camp counselors and were married in 1962. They built a home in the Santa Monica Mountains with Helsley himself doing the construction over a period of years as cash and time allowed.

The couple became active in protecting the mountains from development and shared a passion for nature and an understanding of the earth’s natural processes.

Helsley spent years working with neighbors and associations to foster the care and stewardship of developing communities.

“He spoke freely and gratefully of having lived a very full life and having been able to have meaningful work, to build a family home, to have loved deeply his wife and kids,” Helsley’s wife said.

In 2009 following retirement, Hal Helsley and his brother worked with a group of physicists to form Fusion Power Corporation, a clean-energy company.

Helsley is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons Thomas, Andrew and Matthew; daughters-in-law Juley and Ishani; grandchildren Jayden and Mackenzie; brother Charles and sister-in-law Barbara; sister-in-law Virginia Coulon; niece Heather; nephews Ryan and Paul; and five cousins and their families.

A celebration of Helsley’s life will take place at 10:30 a.m. Sat., June 9 at Peter Strauss Ranch, 30000 Mulholland Hwy., Agoura Hills, in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Reservations are requested through harold-helsley.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Mountains Restoration Trust, UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Acorn staff report