VOL.24 NO. 7
April 6 - 19, 2000

Steel Rises at Pine Tree Circle

Text and photos by Tony Morris

Construction activity at the site of Topanga's largest remaining commercial site has increased dramatically with the erection of structural steel at the Pine Tree Circle.

Originally known as the "Barn Project" when first introduced to the community by Steve and Leslie Carlson in 1993, the two-story project with 28 units is expected to be completed in July.

Situated in the heart of Topanga, Pine Tree Circle is named after the former site of American Legion Post 579's Honor Roll to the men and women who served in World War II. With a total of 19,000 square feet, the project's commercial enterprises will include a sandwich/coffee shop, bakery, the Canyon Gallery, another fine arts gallery, a real estate office, a children's toy and bookstore, hair salon, interior decorating shop and the new Topanga Homegrown. The Topanga Historical Society will have an office, and discussions are currently underway to provide ATM services. Approximately 70% of the available units have been leased with one to five-year lease options.

As one of the last remaining commercial sites to be developed in Topanga, Pine Tree Circle's construction signals a new phase in the community's development. When the project was first presented by the Carlsons, a vocal minority sought to oppose the development and preserve the site. Concerns were voiced about the possibility that a Native American burial ground would be destroyed. Archeologists studied the site and found this was not the case. Opponents of the project called for the Carlsons to offer the property for sale, but no credible offers were received.

With over 100 parking spaces, Pine Tree Center will provide more than the required number of spaces for the project's professional offices and retail stores. What concerns community residents is the ongoing problem of traffic and congestion along Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Traffic on the Boulevard continues to increase as rush hour commuters seek alternate routes from the Valley to the Westside. Daily vehicular totals have been recorded as high as 22,000. During morning and evening commuter traffic, Topanga residents find it increasingly difficult to merge with traffic moving through the community.

With no turn lane for vehicles entering or exiting Pine Tree Circle from Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the blind curve by Bouboulina, traffic safety is a major concern. Although a basic study of the project's impact on traffic was completed as a part of the permit process, Caltrans has not provided additional striping for turn pockets on the Boulevard.

Currently Caltrans is producing a major study of traffic throughout the "scenic corridor" which extends from Santa Monica to the Ventura County line. Topanga's existing traffic problems merit the attention of Caltrans traffic engineers and an inspection of the most congested portions of the Boulevard is in discussion.Steve Carlson sees Pine Tree Circle as ultimately improving the business and retail spaces of the community. Pat Burke, owner of Pat's Topanga Grill, remarked that Topanga needs "an increase in positive mutualism" with community support of local business. Longtime Topanga Center owner Joe Gerson, when asked his views on the new project preferred to reserve judgment with "no comment."

Topangans are clearly watching the final stages of construction as the community once again anticipates the consequences of change. Nostalgia for the "old" Topanga remains, as the community looks forward to the future.



New Homes Could Threaten Summit Valley Viewshed

By Michele Johnson

A landowner with 19.9 acres of land on two parcels looming above Ed Edelman Park in Summit Valley is seeking a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) from County Regional Planning, requesting permission to subdivide his land into three parcels and build three homes in what the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy calls the "viewshed" of the park. The land is within the boundary of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the building pads would be situated on the prominent ridgeline above Summit Valley Park and be visible both from the park and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

In addition, the Topanga-Henry Ridge to Serrania Park trail segment now cuts across the southern end of the property and crosses into Summit Valley Park. In a letter it is drafting to Regional Planning, the Conservancy calls it "a popular trail," and points out that they "just invested over $800,000 in acquiring and improving the Top O' Topanga Overlook at the origin of this trail. As a trailhead, the Overlook--with parking, water and a restroom--provides a significant recreational resource. The proposed project eclipses this trailhead value."

VOICE (Viewridge Owners Involved in the Community and Environment) and TASC (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) have both gone on record as being opposed to the subdivision: "This is the one piece of land that is most important to save," said Roger Pugliese, head of TASC.

Herbert Petermann, VOICE chair, wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy urging the Conservancy to buy the land. It reads, "Topanga fought a gated development in Summit Valley for 16 years. Now that we have a park there, we do not want a development that would spoil the views from within Summit Valley Ed Edelman Park or along Topanga Canyon Boulevard. We also want to preserve the Henry Ridge Trail which goes through the property." VOICE goes on to protest such an exemption at a time when a new County land use plan is being prepared: "Its goal is to have a more stable plan without allowing exemptions such as this."

In a March 28 meeting among leaders of the Conservancy, TASC and VOICE, Joe Edmiston of the Conservancy revealed that one-and-a-half years ago the Conservancy negotiated to buy the land, but, reported Roger Pugliese, the owners asked "much too high a price."

TASC, VOICE and the Conservancy will stand together opposing the granting of the CUP, and will be petitioning Regional Planning to quash it. As Herb Petermann put it, "It would be terrible if that parcel was developed after the great struggle and expense to save Summit Valley."


Horse Owners to County Zoning: Whoa!

By Susan Chasen

Topanga equestrians along with horse and stable owners throughout the Santa Monica Mountains are joining forces to oppose a new county zoning measure they fear could eventually dramatically restrict horse-keeping in the mountains and ultimately threaten the region's rural character...

To read the whole story, buy the current issue of the Messenger!


Feds Propose $4.4 Million for Park Acquisition

Congressman Brad Sherman announced that the President's proposed budget includes $4.4 million for fiscal year 2001 to help the National Park Service acquire properties in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).

"I am pleased that the President has once again included the Santa Monica Mountains among his land acquisition priorities," Sherman said. "The budget process is just getting underway, and there are many, many hurdles we will have to get over, but this is certainly a great first step."

The funds will go towards fulfilling the National Park Service's Land Acquisition Plan for the Santa Monica Mountains, which identifies and prioritizes land parcels based on their proximity to other Park Service properties, as well as value to the park and its ecology.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues from Southern California, members of the Appropriations Committee, and other decision-makers in Congress and the Clinton Administration to ensure that the final budget includes this important $4.4 million allocation," Sherman said. "It is critical that the federal government continue to play a strong role, along with state and local agencies, in protecting this incredible resource."

The SMMNRA is the most often visited unit of the National Park Service--the park's beaches and mountain trails receive more than 33 million visitors each year. The SMMNRA is also the largest urban park in the country. One in 17 Americans--over 16 million people--live within an hour's drive of the park. The park's rare Mediterranean ecosystem makes it an national environmental treasure.

Since coming to Congress in 1997, Congressman Sherman has accrued $12 million in federal funding for the SMMNRA. Most of these funds have gone toward the completion of the 65-mile long Backbone Trail, which transverses the length of park, from Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu.


Determined Topangans Bridge the Gap

By Susan Chasen

A crowd of about 75 people, from Topanga and beyond, packed themselves onto the trail just south of the new Viewridge Bridge on March 26 to join in celebrating this important opening of access through the beautiful eastern part of Summit Valley Ed Edelman Park...

...The crowd of joyful people--some of whom had worked on the bridge project, and many enjoying the Viewridge Trail for the first time--was like a little surprise party, gathered near the middle of an otherwise quiet trail...

...Also on hand was Joe Edmiston, Executive Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Edmiston said he would like to see more projects like this put together--little projects that bring a lot of access, funded out of the Proposition 12 park bond initiative approved by voters last month...

Be sure to see the newsstand edition of the Messenger for the whole story!