Topanga motel owner to vacate property

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Ray Craig will leave the Topanga Ranch Motel this week. The remaining tenants must leave by April 1.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

With the final Topanga Ranch Motel tenants ordered by the court in January to leave the property by March 1 (later extended to April 1), motel owner Ray Craig will officially vacate the site this week, more than three and a half years after the California Department of Parks and Recreation purchased the land and offered Craig a relocation fee to leave. Craig had remained on the property, he said, because tenants still remained at the motel. But he will be leaving before all the residents leave.

State Parks purchased the motel land in August 2001 from the Los Angeles Athletic Club as part of its plan to buy most of the land in Lower Topanga to turn it into a nature preserve. Shortly thereafter, State Parks paid the motel tenants relocation fees and they vacated their residences. The only holdout was Aneta Siegel, a resident of more than 50 years who died in June 2004, having never accepted the state’s monetary offer.

After the residents left the motel, a new batch of people moved in, even though State Parks officials said they told motel owner Craig not to allow that and that he, too, should vacate the property while accepting the state’s monetary compensation. State Parks told the new tenants that they must leave without receiving any compensation. The case went to court, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Karlan ruled on Jan. 11 in favor of State Parks.

The second wave of tenants was originally told to leave by March 1. A judge has extended that date to April 1. The tenants have appealed the original eviction decision, but the case will not be heard until after April 1.

Stearns said there are about 20 homes left in Lower Topanga in which the residents have not yet accepted State Parks’ compensation offer to vacate the properties. Those residents challenged the amount of money State Parks offered. The issue went to court on Feb. 9, with a judge expected to make a decision sometime in the next 90 days.

Meanwhile, the California Coastal Commission last month approved a State Parks application to demolish 27 Lower Topanga structures in phases for its project. The Coastal Commission also approved other features for the State Parks project, including the renovation of one structure for storage and office space and the construction of trail improvements, picnic tables, a comfort station and a temporary stream crossing. Stearns said the Topanga Ranch Motel would not be torn down, because it is considered a historical structure. He said the project would not begin until the issue with the 20 homes was concluded.