Last of Topanga Ranch Motel residents evicted


After almost four years, the California State Parks Department has evicted the remaining few residents of Lower Topanga. Popular bait shop may stay.

By Hans Laetz/Special to The Malibu Times

The funky surfside community of Lower Topanga moved one step closer to elimination last weekend when the five remaining tenants of the Topanga Ranch Motel were evicted Tuesday. A formal notice of eviction was also served on a landmark bait shop, but its owner and the State Parks Department both hope to agree on a lease for Wylie’s Bait and Tackle Shop.

“We don’t have a place to go and this is really nerve-wracking,” said one displaced motel resident, who did not want to give her name. “We have a large dog and we can’t find anything in Malibu. We don’t want to move back into L.A.”

The latest round of tenant removals is part of an effort by the parks department to clear a total of 70 leaseholders from the 1,659-acre parkland that was purchased by the state nearly four years ago. Beachside houses at Topanga were removed in 1978, but the canyon property remained a cluster of colorful characters until recently.

“We’re the last of our kind in Malibu,” lamented Robert “Baretta” Overby, a resident of what he describes as a “Grizzly Adams shed” perched on a driveway above Topanga Creek. Overby’s eviction papers give him until April 15 to move, and he is being offered no relocation benefits because his abode is not a legal structure.

“They finally figured out a way to pick my case apart and they’re not giving me anything,” a glum Baretta said, who was given that nickname when he arrived in the colorful beach shanty village in 1978.

Overby said he might end up sleeping in his car, instead of the funky community of bikers, artists, surfers, lifeguards and would-be actors that thrived along the creek when he arrived in the seventies.

At the bait shop, third generation owner Ginny Wylie has been given until July 1 to either sign a lease with the state or face eviction. Wylie says she won’t sign anything until her lawyer and she can review the current state offer.

“I don’t want to be nasty with them,” she said Tuesday as she sold hooks and line to an early morning angler. “I’ve tried to work it out with them and I want to stay.”

In Sacramento, Deputy Parks Director Roy Stearns said in a telephone interview that the state would also very much like to have Wylie continue to run the quaint bait shop. “It’s exactly the type of visitor-serving business that would be just perfect for a state park,” he said. “It is historic, it fulfills a need, and [it] would fit right in.

“But we need an answer from her so we can make a plan,” he continued. “We have given her until July 1 to do so.”

But Wylie said the state lease is for a short period of time, and contains prohibitive clauses that could cause her to lose her family’s heirloom if she were absent for any length of time, such as a hospitalization.

Wylie’s case is complicated by her ownership of her home, she said, because it sits behind her bait shop. Although she owns them both, they sit on land owned by the state.

The motel residents were formally served with eviction notices last Wednesday, giving them three days to remove their belongings. As of Tuesday morning, the ramshackle roadside cottages were largely deserted, although signs of a resident remained at one of the 20 or so units. One unit is being used by a park ranger who serves as a watchman.

Residents in homes along the “Rodeo Grounds” area west of the creek and north of the motel are not affected by the latest eviction orders. Their cases have been stayed while attorneys appeal their case.

Along the highway, four businesses are being offered leases: Cholada Thai and the Reel Inn restaurants, the Malibu Feed Bin and Wylie’s. Only Wylie’s has been given an eviction as of this time, said the parks department official.

The State Parks Department is removing residents from the Topanga Beach area as it moves ahead with clearing the 1,659 acres of canyon lands it bought in 2001 from the longtime owner, the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Parks officials have held three public hearings to gauge public desires for the park.

There is a possibility that a freshwater/saltwater lagoon may be constructed near the motel. The motel has been on the site since the 1930s and may be preserved as a unique surviving example of the small motor courts that used to dot the country.