Old photo courtesy of Topanga Historical Society
Old photo courtesy of Topanga Historical Society
The fight to save Lower Topanga
The Rodeo Grounds is one of a few neighborhoods that comprise the 1,659 acres of the Lower Topanga Canyon area, which was purchased in August of 2001 by California State Parks after 64 percent of California citizens approved Proposition 12, the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000. As the largest park bond act in
"We are preserving and protecting a significant ecological corridor for future use and recreation and just as importantly we are preserving the habitat and wildlife of the area," said Deputy Director of California State Parks Roy Stearns. "As
The area has been coveted by California State Parks for several decades with the goal of creating a hiking trail that links the ocean to the Valley. Starting at
The irony of the situation is that Pablo Capra said he was probably one of the state's citizens who voted yes for Proposition 12, because "who doesn't want clean water and clean air?" he asked. One of the main reasons he and his fellow residents live where they do is because they enjoy living immersed in nature, where the door delineating the outside from the inside is often blurred. He and his neighbors most likely also voted yes for Proposition 40 in 2002 which collected $2.6 billion dollars for land acquisition, park development, habitat protection, clean beaches, and more. Stearns stated that there isn't enough money in this lifetime to purchase all of the land that Californians would like state parks to protect. Pablo Capra wondered if Californians would still vote yes to these bond acts if they knew people would be evicted from their homes in the process.
Five million dollars has been allocated by State Parks to provide relocation funds for the area's evicted tenants, two-thirds of whom have already accepted their buy-out offers and have moved out. The average pay-out has been about $80,000 per household, depending on the size and condition of the home, with the highest payment so far reaching well over $200,000. The commercial district along the highway with its staple historic institutions has suffered a similar fate. Stearns said that businesses compatible with future visitor use of the park have a greater chance of remaining in place. The Topanga Ranch Motel closed in 2004 but will eventually be restored as a historic structure. Of the initial ten businesses, half have opted for a buyout, while the other five remain open, albeit somewhat tenuously, as they continue to work through arrangements with State Parks. Wylie's Bait and Tackle has been in business since 1946 and the Malibu Feed Bin is going on 40 years.
Many of us have driven by
"We are fortunate enough to have landed like
Before state park acquisition, the area was home to a community of more than 80 households composed of artists, writers, filmmakers, surfers, local business-owners, photographers, families, students and retirees, many of whom have lived there for decades in a lifestyle that has been called eclectic, bohemian, and unconventional. Residents lived in a rural, village environment where everyone knew each other's families, histories, fears and dreams; where neighbors helped one another and the community pitched in for public works projects. In 1981, they collected $2,000 to construct a permanent foot bridge across the creek out of old telephone poles after floods destroyed the previous one. During the
"People don't understand why we live here - some people think it is too rustic - sometimes we go through winters when there aren't any exits except on foot, but we still think it is the best place to live in the world," said Ray Casser, who with his wife Renate, has been a Lower Topanga resident since 1965. "I love nature and when I first came here I was instantly fascinated by the beauty and serenity of the place. Each time we come home at the end of the day we are reminded of how we live in paradise."
"I have lived here for 25 years and I have really grown roots here with my family," said Bernt Capra, Pablo's father. "My son Lucas was born here, Pablo was 6 months old when we moved here and my youngest daughter Michele loves it here. I have buried pets here. We have a vegetable garden and 15 fruits trees with avocado and fig trees and blackberries - it is just a different lifestyle here - and yet we are only 10 minutes from
The Capra family is one of the remaining households that has refused to leave their home and who, along with the others, are currently in litigation against State Parks challenging the relocation plan. The residents' contend that a proper relocation committee was never formed, in which tenants comprise 50 percent, according to state relocation laws. Tenants and business owners alike have said they feel as if their voices were ignored throughout the planning process, even though they attended all meetings, repeatedly outlined their needs, formed a community association, and hired legal counsel. Ginny Wylie, owner of Wylie's Bait shop (which her grandfather started), also has a home on the property and said that if the process had been fair and equitable most of the tenants would have probably made agreements with State Parks by now. The initial court rulings in the case have not been favorable to residents.
Another impediment in the relocation process is finding equitable housing for residents, which in today's real estate market seems impossible, particularly for anything along the coast for the rates residents had been paying. As Bernt Capra pointed out, the only comparable location that has a surfing beach within walking distance surrounded by a lush, tree-filled environment with a creek running through it is Serra Retreat, which as he also highlighted, is a playground for millionaires.
"Living here has made me very open minded and it made me respect nature and helped me to become an artist with all of the other artists around as role models and inspiration," said Pablo Capra. "It is hard to get back a community that you grew up in so it would be hard to build another community like this because I have been here my entire life."
To read more about the residents of the area, Pablo Capra has published Idlers of the Bamboo Grove, a book of poetry and drawings from