LOS ANGELES TIMES -- December 1, 2002

"Hope for a Community in a Few Lines of Verse "

By Scott Timberg
Artwork by Norton Wisdom

Poetry, W.H. Auden famously said, "makes nothing happen." Can it keep a bunch of hippies from being evicted from their canyon hideaways? Whether verse can stop the bulldozers ... well, you can't blame the Lower Topanga Community Assn. for trying.

Today they're staging "Lost Lives," a concert, poetry reading and appearance by "performance painter" Norton Wisdom, to protest the uprooting of residents from their homes and the likely closing of restaurants and shops along Pacific Coast Highway.

"This little community is such a utopia," says Will Willoughby, Topanga resident and organizer. "It's a throwback to the '60s -- the people really look out for each other. They're writers, they're artists."

But not for long. Say goodbye to those groovy homes and funky shops like Malibu Feed Bin and Ginger Snips Salon and Spa. "We'll probably end up becoming a Gray Davis Visitors Center," he says, conjuring up the image of tourists relieving themselves on a site that once made up the Reel Inn's picnic tables.

Last year, the Los Angeles Athletic Club sold a patch of land -- 1,659 acres from the Pacific Coast Highway to Topanga Canyon Park -- to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Residents received a letter from the deal's broker saying they'd have to clear out by Dec. 12 or be evicted. That day's getting close.

The parks department, though, says it's acquiring the land for pretty, uh, utopian reasons. "Mostly, it's to turn it back to nature," spokesman Roy Sterns says. "We'll be restoring the creek, rehabilitating the fish runs, bringing back native plants. No plans, he says, for a visitors center or commercial development, though some of the homes will be converted into park offices. So which side really wants to get back to the garden?

Either way, "Lost Lives" kicks off at 4 p.m. at the Rose Alley Theater, 318 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. Admission is $5. For information, call (323) 650-3013.

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