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Al Martinez

A friend lives in the Bowels in a tar paper shack with an earthen floor. . . . It is : assessed at $372,000. : A View From The Ridge

December 12, 1985|AL MARTINEZ

I have been following for some weeks the escalating battle in Topanga Canyon between those who favor a $100-million development in the beautiful rolling hills of Summit Valley and those who do not.

Up until now, however, I have been at a loss on how to approach the subject, since it has been, more or less, a routine kind of community squabble, with attendant name-calling, cursing, fist-shaking and threats to shoot each other in the head. Nothing unusual there.

The dispute is basically between those who live in the tidy, tract-like development at the ridge of the canyon and those who reside, as someone has said, in the "bowels" of the canyon.

Predictably, those who live in the tracts favor the so-called Montevideo Project across the highway from them, with its hotel, golf course, heliport and condos, while those who live in that section called the Bowels want Summit Valley to remain exactly as it is.

Bowel people are traditionally anti-development, while tract people are forever upholding the essential beauty of artificial lawns and sprayed ceilings with sparkles in them.

I have never anticipated that they could unite into one group (thereby becoming the Bowel-tract people), but neither did I expect them to be so vigorously at each other's throats.

Therefore, I hesitate in taking any kind of stand in the fight between the Bowel people and their love for quiet beauty and winding pathways and the tract people, who prefer the tranquil magnificence of international airports and domed football stadiums.

I don't want to be the one to stir already existing animosities.

However, I have always been intrigued by the differences between these two groups, wondering what elements exist to divide people who live in the same community. Then last week, one of the differences, at least, was adequately explained.

A tract person, referring to the Bowels, told reporters: "It's a skid row down there. You see hippies growing marijuana in the hills. Police are always finding dead bodies."

That explains a lot.

It was reported just last month in medical journals that living in a skid row surrounded by marijuana fields and rotting bodies has a subtle way of altering human behavior patterns and thereby affecting the manner in which someone perceives his surroundings.

A friend, for example, lives in the Bowels of Topanga in a modest tar paper shack with an earthen floor and a heavy sheet of plastic where the door ought to be. It is assessed at $372,000.

Not a morning passes that troops of hippies do not march by on their way to the marijuana fields, rakes and hoes over their filthy shoulders, singing old Pete Seeger folk tunes.

In some ways, it is like watching an army set off to war, because those in the Bowels know that some of them will never return.

Later in the day, a good, oh, say, 10%, of the workers are found lying dead between the rows of cannabis plants, like Dorothy and Toto sprawled among the poppies.

No one knows exactly why they die, since those in the Bowels are usually too mellowed-out to commit

violence, although it is suspected that God simply does not like people who refuse to bathe, trim their beards or have their hair cut. He never has.

To simplify, God loves people who like wall-to-wall carpeting, and there is no wall-to-wall carpeting in the Bowels.

You can imagine how living among rotting bodies and skid row squalor can twist a person's perceptions when it comes to land development.

They cannot understand the beneficial qualities of transforming otherwise useless acres of idle hills and unnecessary streams and pointless, winding pathways into a paradise of functional urban activity.

You can explain to the simple, shabby fools a thousand times a morning that development means a broader tax base, a new sewer system and, hell, maybe even shuttle bus service to Canoga Park, but that doesn't matter to them.

They still prefer a meadow to a hotel complex and the idle radiance of a single oak tree to a forest of gleaming condominiums filled with people who, like God, love wall-to-wall carpeting.

But you can't really blame them.

The Bowel-dwellers are simple folks with simple attitudes who measure progress by standards geared to quieter values. They see beauty less in bold outline than in gentle slope and do not seem to mind the absence of commerce on nights that the coyotes howl.

Even though I hesitate, as I said, to take sides in the Battle of Montevideo, I would make an effort to educate the ignorant slum-dwellers of Topanga on the merits of progress if I could just see my way clear.

But I find it difficult myself to understand the rationale of the tract people. There is something about the smell of rotting bodies and the cadence of filthy hippies marching off to the cannabis fields that makes me love the open mountains even more.

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