Lower Topanga plan to be discussed in Valley

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Park rangers are already stationed at Lower Topanga area, showing the reality that the land now belongs to the state.

By Sylvie Belmond/Staff Writer

Lower Topanga residents are grumbling that California State Parks officials are trying to keep them out of discussions over the recent acquisition and impending conversion of the area into a state park by holding a meeting in the Valley.

The meeting is taking place Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Wilbur Avenue Elementary School at 5213 Crebs Ave. in Tarzana.

At issue is what will become of all or some of the land in the Lower Topanga area, as well as an interim management plan.

All residents of the area have to move by July 2002, and it is yet undetermined if some of the businesses, which include The Reel Inn and Malibu Feed Bin, will be allowed to stay.

Frank Angel, the attorney representing the residents who will be relocated to make way for the park, said that while the meeting relates to the broader aspect of the future planning for the park, the planning process should not be separated from the residents’ concerns. “The two issues are related,” he said.

“The very purpose of this meeting is to get public input to assist them with the plan,” he said. “The one thing we are concerned with is that they already made up their mind that the tenants must be all out, and we take strong issue with that.”

As he spoke about the residents’ dilemma, Russ Guiney, state parks district superintendent for the Angeles District, said he understood it is hard for the residents who have been there for a long time.

“But on the other hand, if a private property owner had purchased the land, they would not have gotten anything at all,” he said, referring to payments residents will receive to help them relocate.

Restoring wetlands is one alternative being discussed as part of the parkland, but it is only one option among numerous ideas in a number of different categories and that is what will be explored at the meeting, said Guiney.

One of the goals is to enhance wildlife habitat and plant community, he said. “But any restoration we would do would not have an impact on the highway [PCH].”

Building a new bridge and widening the creek would be a long-term plan, he said.

As the battle goes on, Valley residents will now take part in the process and their point-of-view could be different from that of local residents.

“Valley residents are heavy users of the park,” said Guiney.

The plan should be finalized by the spring, he said.

Meanwhile, Lower Topanga is home to 50 families who anxiously wait to know their fate to receive compensation for the impending relocation plans the state has in mind. But they say they would rather stay.