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Judge Refuses to Block Tree Farm on Potential Indian Burial Ground

January 18, 1987|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

A group of archeologists and environmentalists has lost another round in a dispute over development of a Topanga Canyon site they claim is a historic Indian burial ground.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday refused to block establishment of a tree farm that the group fears will destroy important Indian artifacts and lead to further urbanization of the canyon.

Cultivation of trees will not damage Indian remains or other relics buried on the 406-acre parcel in the 1800 block of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Judge Jerry F. Fields ruled.

"There's no evidence they're in need of protection," Fields said.

The court order was sought by archeologists, the Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community and representatives of two Indian organizations because pictographs reportedly have been found in the area, indicating that it was an important Indian site. The court round was part of a continuing dispute with a developer who has proposed to build a country club at the northern edge of Topanga Canyon, a mile south of Woodland Hills.

Fears of Expansion

Environmentalists have complained that developer Christopher R. Wojciechowski may seek to use the Indian site for expansion of his proposed 257-acre Montevideo Country Club. Wojciechowski is a partner in the Summerhill Co., which has planned the tree farm.

The coalition filed suit last year in hopes of triggering an archeological assessment of the site by the Native American Heritage Commission. That agency is designated by the state to evaluate development sites thought to contain Indian artifacts.

Last month, however, another Superior Court judge refused to issue a restraining order against Summerhill.

Summerhill's representatives have acknowledged that the canyon site may be a rich archeological area. But they promised that the company will comply with all state and local archeological laws when it decides to build on the land.

Suit Called 'Subterfuge'

They complained that the lawsuit was brought to prevent eviction of a small commune of squatters living on the property.

"This was nothing but a subterfuge to delay that eviction," company lawyer Robert Crockett said after Wednesday's hearing. "They're in cars and trailers and one structure up there."

Fields' ruling clears the way for county marshals to remove remaining squatters from the site on Friday morning, Crockett said.

But Lawrence Teeter, the environmentalists' lawyer, denied that the suit was prompted by the eviction plans. He said his clients only wants to see the site acquired by the state and protected if it is shown to be archeologically valuable.

Agency Action Sought

"We wanted a court order to get the Native American Heritage Commission to fulfill its duties and to keep the property status quo until other agencies have time to act," Teeter said.

Many of the relics thought to be on the property are probably near the surface and susceptible to damage by tree cultivation, he said.

Teeter said his group is prepared to return to court "if bulldozers land on the site."

Henry Torres, a deputy state attorney general, said after Wednesday's hearing that the canyon site could be placed on a recommended acquisition list by the Native American Heritage Commission if it is eventually found to be architecturally significant.

But, even then, the land could be developed unless it is bought by the state, he said.

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