Something’s Fishy to close

It is the latest in a string of businesses that have closed, or will be closing, the result of the area being bought by the state with plans to turn it into a park.

By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times

For the last 23 years, Something’s Fishy, located just west of Topanga Canyon at 18753 Pacific Coast Highway, has been a local dining landmark. But, the restaurant’s history will end when it closes on Jan. 4. It is the latest casualty in the two-and-a-half year battle between Lower Topanga area residents and businesses, and the California State Parks and Recreation Department, which is determined to turn the area into a nature preserve. However, the restaurant’s owners could have stayed, at least for three to five years, because the business had been deemed visitor serving by State Parks.

Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for State Parks, said the owners decided to leave “willingly.”

“They were offered a lease, and they decided that they’d rather have the relocation settlement,” Stearns said.

Earlier this year, the owners of the Topanga Ranch Market also decided to take relocation funds and the building was then demolished by State Parks. Twenty-six residential homes have also been demolished. Stearns said the owner of Ginger Snips has decided to leave as well. In April it was reported that the Money House, the Malibu Feed Bin, Oasis Furniture and Imports as well as Ginger Snips were not deemed compatible to serving visitors in a state park. However, Stearns said the businesses agreed to make changes to become compatible. He said he did not know what those changes were. As a result, the Feed Bin and Oasis have negotiated 3- to 5-year leases. Thai Cholada, the Reel Inn and Wylie’s Bait & Tackle Shop were deemed compatible and are also staying. After the leases expire, they will open up for bidding, Stearns said. Of the businesses that do leave, Stearns said the buildings would be boarded up and the “future of the structures will be decided in the general plan process.”

Owners of the Money House and Topanga Ranch Motel have not yet reached a settlement with State Parks, Stearns said.

Meanwhile, probably all 20 employees of the Malibu branch of Something’s Fishy will be out of work. Bobby Sanklar, manager of the restaurant, which serves some 60-70 diners every evening and “is packed on weekends,” says that as far as he knows, there are no plans to reopen in Malibu (Ichiro Masui, general manager of the chain, which operates branches in Woodland Hills, Oxnard and Santa Barbara, adds that plans are indefinite and that they might reopen “in a few years.”

As has been earlier reported in The Malibu Times, the present action stems from the 2001 purchase by the State Parks Department of 1,659 acres of Lower Topanga land from the Los Angeles Athletic Club Organization (LAACO) for $43 million for the creation of a continuous park stretching from the mountains to the sea. Although not finalized, interim plans for the site include the creation of nature trails, restoration of native fauna and flora, and the restoration of the original wetlands at the outlet of Topanga Creek, one of only 10 percent of Los Angeles waterways free of sewerage pollution. According to recent State Park comments, the result will benefit both visitors and the local wildlife.

But to many of the 20 or so residents who have yet to leave (of the original 74 who received eviction notes in the summer of 2002), the plans are unrealistic. (Those who moved received compensation ranging from $85,000 to $250,000.) Last January, Bernt Capra, a longtime Topanga resident and co-chair of the Topanga Community Association, estimated that restoring the lagoon to its natural condition would involve moving some 900,000 cubic yards of material that was used more than 100 years ago to fill in the land where the Topanga Ranch Motel now sits. It could also involve putting PCH on stilts to allow for a free exchange of tidal waters between the creek and the lagoon. “You cannot bring back paradise,” Capra said at the time. “It is impossible to turn back the clock 150 years.”

It’s also expensive. Because of California’s present budget crisis, Ray Craig, owner of the 30-unit Topanga Ranch Motel for 19 years, doubts that such grandiose changes will ever happen – at least not for a long time. The state is, nevertheless, “making offers for the motel,” he says, “but they’ve offered nothing so far which we would accept.” The offers Craig has received are in compensation for his business, not his buildings; the motel and the land it sits on, like most of the buildings and houses slated for demolition or already demolished, were owned by the LAACO, and now, by the state.

Craig said the entire situation might be further complicated by the upcoming expiration of contracts between the state and the relocation company. At present, the only thing certain is that Lower Topanga will change. As Masui says philosophically, “Nothing is forever; everything has a time.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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