Topanga Canyon residents trying to stop the development of a $100-million resort at the northern mouth of the canyon have used everything from an Indian incantation to the Woody Guthrie folk song, "This Land Is My Land," in their campaign against the luxury complex.
What they have not been able to do is have their experts testify against the project before the county Regional Planning Commission, which has conducted two hearings on the development and has scheduled a third March 3.
The proposed development, called the Montevideo Country Club and planned for 257 acres south of Woodland Hills, would include a 106-room hotel, golf course, tennis courts, equestrian trails, 90 condominiums, 136 luxury homes and some commercial stores.
Echoing the complaints of several other leaders of the opposition, Jan Moore, president of the Topanga Canyon Town Council, said the hearings have been dominated by the developers and spokesmen for the two homeowner groups supporting the resort.
Unable to Testify
She made her comments Thursday after Wednesday's commission hearing at which those opposing the project were not able to testify.
"We have yet to get our chance," Moore said. "We felt we were denied due process, even though the vast majority of the 300 people who attended the hearing were against the project. We must have had half the faculty of UCLA there ready to answer the complex questions raised by the development and were not given the opportunity to speak."
Moore said opponents of the project were given 45 minutes to speak during a three-hour commission hearing in October. And Wednesday, Robert B. Goldberg, a spokesman for the Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community--a conglomeration of Topanga Canyon groups against the resort, was allowed to present a brief outline of their complaints.
"And the only way he got a chance to speak was to demand to be heard from (his seat in) the audience," Moore said. "People will learn that Topanga Canyon people never quit. We will be heard in March."
Commission Chairman Stanley Gould said the commission did not have enough time to hear all of the testimony Wednesday because it was committed to take up several other issues. Cutting off discussion just before noon, he invited the Topanga residents to return to testify at 4:30 p.m.
"We had to refuse because, believe it or not, most people in Topanga have to work for a living, and we cannot afford to miss a full day of work," Moore said.
Architect Christopher R. Wojciechowski, who has lease options on the land to build the project, told the commission that his development will open up new recreational opportunities for people who do not live in Topanga Canyon.
"It's time the rest of us had a chance to enjoy that precious environment of Topanga Canyon along with the few residents who live there now," he said.
Supporting the project were spokesmen for the Viewridge Homeowners Assn. and the Top-O-Topanga Mobile Home Assn. Both organizations represent sites above and east of the planned resort. The developer has promised to hook their homes into his planned sewage system.
"This project will help get us a decent sewer system," said Jeanette Miller, president of the mobile home group. "If all the things are put in (by the developer), this project will give us more protection. This project really doesn't involve people at the other end of the canyon."
Residents living south of the proposed resort disagree.
They said in interviews and at a protest conducted Tuesday at the site that development would destroy the watershed, increase residents' vulnerability to flooding, disturb the natural habitat of wildlife and uproot many oak trees in the area.
"The developer is talking about completely destroying the environment by moving over 4 million cubic yards of dirt," said Marilyn McKnight, president of the Glenview Homeowners group. "We are not against development, only against development that does not fit into the natural environment."
The demonstration Tuesday was punctuated by the singing of "This Land Is My Land" and by Susan Powell's Indian blessing asking for a "special love for the land." Powell said that she was of mixed blood, Scottish and Oglala Sioux.
Wojciechowski is confident he will win approval of his project. "We have been at this for six years and are prepared to put in another six years," he said in an interview. "We happen to be right."
He said that there is no basis for compromise with opponents, such as dropping plans for the hotel, the golf course or the condominiums. "The project is viable only in its entirety," he said.
Those opposed to the project claim that 99.99% of the canyon's residents are against the resort. "We want development on a piecemeal basis, house by house, the way the canyon has been developed thus far," said Susan Nissman, a member of the Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community.