New Park, But At What Cost?
By Susan Chasen
It has happened at least twice before
that a proposal to acquire lower Topanga Canyon for parkland
has fallen through. And it could happen again if relocation
remains the only option for the "artist colony"
community that has been quietly thriving at the mouth of the
canyon for decades.
Currently, the American Land Conservancy,
a private, non-profit organization based in San Francisco,
is negotiating with LAACCO, corporate parent of the Los Angeles
Athletic Club Corporation, to purchase virtually all of lower
Topanga Canyon, which encompasses1,655 acres and extends three
miles up Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
Such an acquisition would add an historic
15 percent to Topanga State Park and could make it possible
to restore the Topanga estuary.
However, at this point, relocation of
residents and removal of the 49 remaining homes is believed
to be essential to the deal, and the residents dont
want to move. And they disagree with assumptions that suggest
relocation shoul be required.
PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER
These folks are some of those who could lose their homes
at the mouth of the Canyon--left to right: Scotty Dittrich,
Michael Greene, Coliene Rentmeester, Bernt Capra, Diana Mathers,
John Clemons, Norma Boehmer, Scott Dittrich and Sharon Dittrich.
"This is a viable community that is being
wiped out," said Bernt Capra, director of the critically acclaimed
film Mindwalk and a 21-year resident of the Rodeo Grounds
located across Topanga Creek at the bottom of the Canyon.
"I would love them to buy it. I just dont
want them to tear down the houses
. They should not be in the
business of destroying old neighborhoods."
According to Capra, the houses--which are all
rented month to month from LAACCO--are indeed an affordable housing
option for a community of filmmakers, painters, sculptors, writers
and actors, many of whom struggle to make ends meet.
Previously, the American Land Conservancys
project manager Jeff Stump said the rental rates were at the full
market value. But seeing the sprawling idyllic properties, just
a short walk from the beach, suggests that some features of the
site, along with unofficial maintenance and improvements by residents
themselves, are perhaps not being factored in.
Capra said he pays $1,000 a month for a four-
to five-bedroom house on an acre of property where he lives with
his three children.
According to Capra, this unusual artists
community of mostly long-time residents also deserves a share of
preservationist sentiment, as a culturally significant landmark
of recognized artists and their families who are preserving a lifestyle
that is dying out just as much as the area's frog inhabitants are.
Perhaps it could become some kind of living
museum itself, proposed Capra.
"To me this is as unspoiled as it will
ever be," said Capra, who notes that years of little change
has allowed nature to flourish. "Most of it is just natural
The impact would be greater, according to Capra,
if the property was made accessible as a public park.
"I would love it if the American Land Conservancy
would take over the land to be stewards of the natural ecology and
work with us to keep it that way."
WETLANDS RESTORATION: IS IT FEASIBLE?
For several residents, their greatest anger
is over what they believe is a false assumption that their houses
stand in the way of a wetlands restoration project--a false assumption
they believe could be easily put right by visiting the area. In
the meantime they face the threat of being forced out before a realistic
assessment of the property is even made.
"This can never be returned to an estuary
because the highway is in the way," says actor Mike Greene.
"Why isnt someone from the Conservancy
here looking it over?" asks Greene. "Come walk the property
with us rather than looking at it on a map in San Francisco. Walk
the property and talk to us."
So far, the residents say they have not been
approached or notified by any party involved in the prospective
According to residents, Topanga Creek could
not naturally flood their homes, many of which have withstood seasonal
rains year after year--with the exception of the 100-year flood
of 1980--because they are built on higher ground. And similarly,
they argue that the water table is not as high as has been suggested
and that their septic systems are therefore not a significant source
of contamination--certainly not more of a problem than the commercial
users along PCH who have not been targeted for relocation.
However, even if a long-term wetlands restoration plan was to entail
changes that could affect their homes, the residents dont
see the value of making these changes before changes are made to
the PCH. Currently the creek has to be narrow enough to fit through
the existing culvert under the highway or it could undermine a wall
of fill dirt supporting the highway and a string of businesses located
The inconsistencies in targeting the residents
for relocation and not the businesses, along with the lack of communication
with residents early in the process, has led some residents to speculate
about ulterior motives.
However, Stump says hes still gathering
information to put a deal together and just hasnt been ready
to talk yet.
"We want to sit down with them," Stump
said. "Theyre not being bypassed."
According to Stump, a relocation plan is still
a likely requirement both to eliminate septic systems in the flood
plain and to avoid putting a public parks agency in the position
of becoming a landlord.
However, Stump did not have details of what
such a plan might involve or what kind of flexibility might be allowed
with regard to when relocation would be required. He suggested that
the American Land Conservancy will create a relocation plan as part
of the deal, but will not dictate what is done with the property
once it is transferred to a Parks' agency.
"Were merely trying to get it into
public hands," said Stump. "Folks in the area have been
trying to make sure this land is preserved."
Residents contend that the land cant be
developed anyway, and the presumption that they will be facing changes
whether or not the parkland deal goes through is unfounded.
"Theres no threat of development
here," says Scott Dittrich, who makes surfing films and has
lived on the Rodeo Grounds since 1974. He was married there in 1982,
and he and his wife have two teen-aged sons.
"Why wipe out a community if theres
no threat to anybody?" asks Dittrich.
According to Dittrich, the work they do together,
partly thanks to their landlords disinterest--like rebuilding
the footbridge from Topanga Canyon Boulevard after it washed away
in a flood or maintaining the roads--have made them a close-knit
community that could never be replicated. During the rainy season
when the creek is high, they all walk in from Topanga Canyon Boulevard,
helping each other out with parcels if needed.
"Weve worked together because weve
had to," said Dittrich. "We cope with all that kind of
stuff. Its made us a community."
But Stump insists that development to some extent
is feasible and is a real threat.
"There are hurdles to any development,"
said Stump. "But they do have rights
. Development will
happen if we dont purchase it."
THE COUNTY WEIGHS IN
A possible further indication of LAACCOs
development interest is the companys active involvement in
the Countys drafting of a new Local Coastal Program that will
set land-use for the area, according to Laura Shell, land use deputy
for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Shell says LAACCO has been fighting County efforts
to lower allowable housing densities on the property.
"We completely understand where the tenants
are coming from and we want to make sure that what LAACCO and the
American Land Conservancy propose is fair," said Shell.
Shell said she was surprised when she learned
that the residents had not received any notice that negotiations
were underway for a possible sale. "I think that needs to start
soon," she said regarding opening channels of communication.
"Were trying to do something good
here, not something bad," said Shell. "We think the potential
to become parkland in public ownership would be fantastic
I think its something that can be resolved in a way that is
very fair to the tenants."
Capra suggested a compromise that would allow
tenants to negotiate final leases of 5 to 20 years before moving
is required. After all, the parkland is forever and the restoration
of the estuary is likely to take time.
Rosi Dagit, a conservation biologist for the
Santa Monica Mountains Resource Conservation District, agrees that
an alternative to relocation might be acceptable.
"Im not of the mind that in order
to achieve everything we want to achieve that we have to lose everything
we have there," said Dagit. "I dont think that necessarily
everything in the flood plain has to go."
At the same time Dagit points out that it would
be a shame if this opportunity were lost and the tenants ended up
out eventually anyway.
"They are renters and they need to come
up with a strategy that doesnt mean blocking a very valuable
opportunity for the 17 million residents of Los Angeles and for
the whole nation."
TOPANGA LAGOON FEASIBILITY STUDY
Currently, Dagit is pursuing a grant of over
$200,000 to do a feasibility study on restoration of the Topanga
Lagoon which is the domain of Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors
and would not necessarily depend on the proposed parkland acquisition.
"It is a working lagoon," said Dagit.
"But its not a working wetland."
She says the problem is that there are no fish:
"Thats not a good thing."
Dagit said her goal is to provide good information
that will prevent the problems Malibu Lagoon has run into by restoring
the area before gathering important scientific data.
Topanga Lagoon was reportedly once larger than
Restoring wetlands and lagoons have the potential
of both providing habitat for wildlife and for improving water quality.
About 10 years ago, according to Rodeo Grounds
residents, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was close to purchasing
lower Topanga Canyon for $25 million. At that time, the residents
sought to buy the parcel that includes their houses, but they were
unsuccessful and the deal fell apart.
A similar problem arose about 30 years ago when
the State Park was trying to buy lower Topanga.
"A LONG-HELD DREAM"
Roger Pugliese, chair of TASC, says protecting
lower Topanga has been "a long-held dream for the majority
of Topangans. No one wanted the Los Angeles Athletic Club to carry
out its original plan to build out the area.
The American Land Conservancys involvement
in negotiating for purchase is a positive step, says Pugliese. "However,
as an organization representative of the community we are concerned
that there is a compassionate stance taken towards the people who
So far the American Land Conservancy, which
has hired consultants to prepare a relocation plan, has promised
to be "very fair," but residents dont believe a
"fair" relocation is possible.
"To say theres another equal housing
situation anywhere near the beach is ludicrous," said Dittrich,
who argues that the California Coastal Act mandates affordable housing
near the beach. "If you destroy these houses here, you are
destroying the last affordable housing near the beach."
However, it seems as if these homes are a kind
of accidental affordable housing arising from the propertys
peculiar, prolonged limbo state, with LAACCO not focused on the
current residential use or on making expensive improvements, and
well-matched residents whose sensibilities wouldnt want or
need those improvements.
The Rodeo Grounds area is like a distillate
of Topanga itself, an intimate little enclave bound together by
fire and floods, with a high concentration of artists, artists
children and a preference for un-neatness and minor hardships like
parking and walking in, or staying home, during rains.
Stump says the ALC has completed successful
relocations before with Limekiln Canyon State Park in Big Sur, though
it involved fewer residents. Also, he said ALC founder and the inspiration
for the lower Topanga purchase, Harriet Burgess, was involved in
numerous relocations around Lake Tahoe when she was with the Trust
for Public Land.
Other resident criticism of the purchase concerns
details of the "mountain to the sea" trail idea, linking
Trippet Ranch to the ocean. They believe such a trail would either
be too long--going up through Fernwood--or too steep--connecting
up to Parker Mesa Overlook. They see this as further evidence that
the decision-makers are too far away.
However, according to Stump, the trail idea
came from Topangans.
"Im not an expert on that property,"
acknowledged Stump. "My job is not to build trails."
Those details, he said, will be considered when
the property is parkland and a master plan is created.
According to Stump, Governor Gray Davis
budget includes $40 million for completion of this purchase and
related costs. However, he said he still does not have a state appraisal
of the property and so the question of the price is still to be
here to Mouth off about this issue!
And a little further up the coast. . .
Malibu Coastal Land Fight
By Tony Morris
Each year more than 20 million visitors from
this country and around the world visit the Santa Monica Mountains
and explore the marvels of the largest urban park system in this
The City of Malibu stretches for 27 miles along the steep slopes
of the Santa Monica Mountains. Once a home to Chumash Indians who
lived there, Malibu gets its name from the Chumash word Humaliwo--"the
surf sounds loudly."
Located on a flood plain, the civic center and the last major parcels
of undeveloped land in Malibu lie adjacent to Malibu Creek which
empties into the Pacific at Surfrider Beach, a mecca for surfers
from all over the world.
The future use of this undeveloped land and the fate of the threatened
wetlands at Malibu Lagoon could soon be decided by a development
agreement entered into by the city of Malibu and the Malibu Bay
Company, whose assets were recently purchased by billionaire Jerry
Perenchio, owner of Univision, the global Spanish language network.
The citizens of Malibu have the last word in the fate of their city.
As it now stands, pro-growth forces on the City Council and the
Malibu Bay Company are on a collision course with the Malibu Coastal
Land Conservancy (MCLC), which seeks to preserve the city's last
open space for a wetlands restoration project that would halt wholesale
development and allow natural wetlands systems to cleanse the millions
of gallons of water flowing out of the Santa Monica Mountains--water
that brings pesticides, poisons, septic overflow, animal waste and
a host of other contaminated materials to the ocean.
PHOTO BY PACIFIC WESTERN
Will this potentially cleansing wetland be lost to development?
A coalition composed of 30 groups,
the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy seeks to purchase the
largest parcels of undeveloped land adjacent to Malibu's center
in order to create a major wetlands restoration park instead
of the usual commercial office buildings, stores, fast food
restaurants, gas stations and movie multiplexes. The Malibu
Coastal Land Conservancy hopes to reverse the process of growth
and the destruction of a vital portion of California's wetlands.
With more than 93% of its historic wetlands lost in the past
100 years, most of Southern California's flood plain and wetlands
were obliterated when farms and roads--chiefly Pacific Coast
Highway--stores, housing developments, offices and shopping
centers were constructed.
According to the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy:
"California has rediscovered the function of wetlands
for treating and cleansing water in an attractive natural
setting that enhances wildlife." Before any of the wetlands
restoration can even be considered, the MCLC must address
political developments in Malibu. Without the cooperation
of Jerry Perenchio, owner of the largest undeveloped parcels
in the city, the MCLC cannot expect to reverse the current
course of overdevelopment in Malibu. A basic development agreement
drafted by current Mayor Tom Hasse and Councilmember Joan
House, and signed by the Malibu Bay Company, allows the Company
to develop key parcels in the city center within the next
MCLC member David Gottlieb, a long-time Topanga resident and a director
of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains,
says that the agreement entered into between Malibu and the Malibu
Bay Company "opens the floodgates for sprawling overdevelopment
in a style that is more befitting Newport Beach than the Malibu coastline.
If this type of development gets through, Malibu will be burdened
with a 100 percent increase in the existing commercial space from
the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway
(PCH) all the way to the Ventura County line."
In actual fact, the total square footage of commercial and retail
space existing from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the Ventura County
line is 769,000, and planned development projects would add an additional
one million square feet. Development on this scale will tax the already
overburdened capacity of PCH, not to mention the water and waste systems
of a city which has scant financial resources.
Gottlieb views the development plan as having been entered into without
professional "legal arbitration or real estate experience on
behalf of the City of Malibu." The House-Hasse Agreement--negotiated
by Councilmember House and Mayor Hasse--is seen as a "fait
accompli, take-it-or-leave-it" agreement, without an opportunity
for the City to require further amendments. Gottlieb also says that
City Council members are attempting to convince Malibu residents that
there is no public funding available to purchase the major undeveloped
parcels, when State government is routinely allocating funding to
purchase property even in the absence of willing sellers.
Although the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy plans to purchase the
Malibu Bay Company/Perenchio parcels and will initiate a major campaign
to secure funding, at the present time Perenchio has demonstrated
no intention of selling his holdings to any group. It appears that
the fate of Malibu's last remaining open space is far from decided.
One can only surmise that the spirit of Malibu's legendary former
landholder, Rhoda May Rindge, is smiling down on the proceedings as
the drama continues to unfold with no certain end in sight.
here to Mouth off about this issue!
Summing Up Topanga
By Michele Johnson
In the aftermath of what might be another record-breaking
Topanga Days, the question has been swirling around the community:
How much did we make? Well, according to an exhausted Linda Hinrichs,
president of the Topanga Woman's Club that sponsors the event as
a fundraiser to maintain the Community House and grounds, "The
figures aren't all in and won't be in for a while." Speaking
just 2 1/2 weeks after the event, she said, "Believe it or
not, the workers are still in recovery. They had to give up a lot
of time in their lives."
But speaking in round figures, approximately $70,000+ was grossed
by the event, and expenses are expected to be about half that amount.
So, after expenses the profit will be somewhere in the range of
$30-$40 thousand. The Woman's Club tries to follow the non-profit
organization rule of thumb that no more than half the gross be spent
By the next meeting, on September 14, the figures should be finalized,
and anyone who would like to attend that meeting can see the final
figures, says Hinrichs. "It's a volunteer organization, folks.
If you want more information, we'd be thrilled for you to get involved."
Generally speaking, each year the Community House needs about $50,000
for operating expenses. This does not included capital improvements
like the updated handicapped toilets that were recently installed.
Regular expenses include insurance; ball field and grounds repairs
and maintenance, which include the cost of a full-time caretaker;
Disaster Committee donations to the community; equipment purchases;
licenses and permits; rental expenses, including a rental agent
and maintenance; property and sales tax; utilities; accounting and
legal services and a host of smaller charges.
Each year, the Woman's Club counts on Topanga Days to bring in about
$30,000 of that total. The Club relies on rental income, the Tough
Topanga 10-K and the Swap Meet in November to raise the rest of
the $50,000 needed to maintain the Community House.
Hinrichs feels that Topanga Days is "not all about a buck."
This year, in fact, the Club cut down on advertising and radio spots
to keep the event from exploding beyond its borders. The shuttle
service this year was a trial investment. Next year, Hinrichs says,
they hope to expand the service and advertise it early and hard.
They are also discussing opening up at least part of the ball field
to ease overcrowding. If you want to become part of the planning
process for next year, Hinrichs urges you to get involved. For example,
even though "everyone was invited," to a wrap-up meeting
held on June 18, only seven people showed up--"the same names,
same faces," Hinrichs said. So, the message seems to be "Put
up, or shut up."
here to Mouth off about this issue!
Burglary on Cheney
By Tony Morris
On Thursday, June 8, a daytime burglary was
reported at a residence on Cheney Drive. After returning to her
home, at noon on the day of the burglary, the owner did not notice
she had been burglarized until she went into her bedroom where her
mother-in-law's jewelry was kept. Living at a remote location, the
owner had trusted the family's two barking dogs to protect the house.
The burglar seemed to know that the family's dogs bark but don't
Two witnesses who happened to be in the vicinity observed a 1970s
convertible with a new metallic blue paint job parked in the victim's
driveway at 10:30 that morning. The vehicle had a new white leather
or naugahyde interior. A running light on the right front fender
had been removed and the turn indicator on the left fender was also
missing. According to two witnesses, a tall, well-built African-American
male dressed in a white t-shirt, white shorts and tennis shoes and
wearing two fanny packs, was observed walking toward a newly constructed
back entrance to the house which had been installed last October.
The burglar made off with a laptop computer used by the victim's
son to complete his junior year in high school. Jewelry--belonging
to the victim's mother-in-law who died last December, and her daughter--was
also taken from the house. Although the jewelry was of little monetary
value, most of the items meant a lot to the family as they were
keepsakes from family members now deceased.
The family would like the authorities to find the burglar but "we'd
be satisfied if we could just have the jewelry and keepsakes back.
If we got those things back and knew the burglar would never come
around again, we'd be satisfied." Detective Kimball of Lost
Hills Sheriff's Station would only say that "if there is any
workable information, we will follow up on it." But, he added,
"There are no leads at this point."
If anyone has any information regarding the burglary they are asked
to call the Lost Hills Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department at (818) 878-1808 and refer to File Number 400-03569-1033-065
or mail a note to : Burglary c/o TCTC, P. O. Box 1085, Topanga,
here to Mouth off about this issue!
Beach Bus: Use
it or Lose it!
By Michele Johnson
The summer beach bus is back, but due to low
ridership last year, this second chance may be its last.
The Beach Bus is scheduled to run Monday through Friday from June
19 through September 4. Due to popular demand, service has been
expanded to run from Woodland Park Estates at the bottom of Topanga
Canyon Boulevard on the county/city line about 1/4 mile from Mulholland,
to Santa Monica Beach by the pier, with a new extra stop at Topanga
State Beach. In Topanga. Pickup points will be at the General Store,
Topanga Elementary School, and Viewridge. (See ad in the current
newsstand Messenger issue for a detailed schedule.)
Bus fare is '60s cheap--just 50 cents a ride, or 25 cents for seniors
and the disabled. The Beach Bus was a Canyon fixture in Supervisor
Ed Edelman's day, and kids especially enjoyed being able to plan
their summertime activities around it. About 10 years ago the service
was discontinued, only to be brought back last year through the
efforts of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The $27,000 cost of the Beach
Bus is being paid for out of Prop A transportation funds, which
go for "special projects," according to Senior Field Deputy
Susan Nissman, and not for regular MTA programs.
"We never expected that ridership will make up the cost, but
our justification for the expenditure is ridership. There must be
a great enough need to basically give away funds." The Beach
Bus was given a second chance because last year, Nissman says, "Our
public information came out late. Though used, it was not used to
the degree that would show it was filling a great need." With
more exposure and expanded routes, she hopes this year ridership
Also, Nissman says, Supervisor Yaroslavsky is trying to get a partnership
going with Los Angeles City's 11th district councilperson Cindy
Miscikowski so that the line can be extended--possibly even this
summer--to Ventura Boulevard. "Historically, we did have joint
participation," Nissman pointed out, when the 11th district
was under former councilperson Marvin Braude. "She [Miscikowski]
has expressed interest and she is trying to find the funds."
If the Beach Bus runs to Ventura Boulevard, it could encourage a
whole new group of riders who want to go from the Valley to the
beaches. "We want to make this as much of a benefit as we can,"
said Nissman. And, adds Supervisor Yaroslavsky, "I would urge
all Topanga residents to take advantage of our Beach Bus service.
It's one of the best summer bargains around, and for those living
in the Canyon, this is the most hassle-free way to enjoy the beach
Is next year contingent on ridership this year? "Yes, definitely,"
said Nissman. So use it or lose it.
here to Mouth off about this issue!