(L-R) MRCA Director Joe Edmiston, Supervisor Ed Edelman and former TASC chair Bob Bates at unveiling of Summit Valley Park.
The story of the battle for Summit Valley, Topangas dramatic David vs. Goliath victory over its land use, is the subject of the Topanga Historical Societys July 25 program at the Community House.
Presenting the program will be Susan Nissman, who many may not realize played a major role in leading Topangans to defeat the projected 257-acre development in a serene meadowland near the top of Topanga that was ultimately owned by a Disney family corporation.
Designed to hold 97 luxury home sites and an 18-hole championship golf course, it would have involved massive grading, loss of hundreds of oak trees and the construction of a sewage treatment plant that would provide water for the golf course. The 16-year battle to defeat this development ended in a dramatic victory on March 11, 1994.
The Summit Valley battle heated up in 1991 when Nissman was TASCs (Topanga Association for a Scenic Community) Acting Chair. She recalls talking with Bob Bates, who had served as TASCs Chair for 18 years, about the task before her. Bates told her to be smart and do her homework.
Topanga resident Chryssa Lightheart holds the sign that may have convinced Disney this was not a path they wanted to pursue.
Taking his words to heart, she galvanized TASCs membership as the organization's new Chair. They formed committees and study groups, prepared position papers for presentation at L.A. County Regional Planning Commission hearings, met with government agencies, signed petitions, alerted the media and held fundraisers. Their hard work and intense focus paid off on March 11, 1994, when, behind the scenes at a final hearing before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a deal was struck with the land owners to sell Summit Valleys 257 acres plus the additional 405 acres across the road to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for parkland.
When the announcement was made, the audience, which included hundreds of Topangans, broke into sustained cheers.
Today, eighteen years after the historic victory, the parkland, named Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park, in honor of the former Los Angeles County Supervisor who supported TASCs and the communitys endeavors, is enjoyed by scores of visitors who savor the pristine open rolling land at the very top of the Topanga Creek Watershed.
Nissman will illustrate the story, dubbed by the L.A. Times as the longest land-use dispute in county history, with a PowerPoint presentation that will include live news footage compiled by Tom Mitchell.
Also featured will be a collection of photos, several that accompanied Topanga Messenger stories by then-editor Colin Penno who wrote hard-hitting articles about the battle. A particularly light-hearted set of photos shows Topangans holding protest signs that feature Disney characters and Disney-themed signs that lined Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Summit Valley to the ocean in what Nissman calls Topangas own version of a Christo art installation. One sign, created by artist Stewart Moskowitz, titled Disneys 8th Dwarf, Greedy, shows a demonically grinning dwarf clutching a moneybag.
An excellent chapter about the Summit Valley battle, written by Susan Nissman, is included in the Societys recent book, The Topanga Story, Expanded Edition, edited by Michele Johnson. Johnson also devotes several paragraphs to the land battle in a section on Topangas parkland. Copies of the book can be purchased online at topangahistoricalsociety.org or at Topanga Homegrown and will also be on sale at the program.
A 7 p.m. potluck dinner will precede the program that starts promptly at 8 p.m. Those attending the potluck dinner should bring a main dish, side dish, salad or dessert and their own cup and place setting (plate, knife, fork and spoon). Coffee and tea will be provided. There is no charge for the program, though donations are welcomed and everyone is invited. Those who wish to join the Society may do so at the event. Membership is $15 for individuals and $25 for families. For more information call (310) 455-1969.