Bulldozing had been halted Tuesday at a controversial grading site in the heart of Topanga Canyon, but the dust from a dispute that is dividing the rustic mountain community was far from settled.
Canyon dwellers were choosing sides over development of a three-acre parcel that landed a developer briefly in jail last week and has become the center of a dispute that has spread far beyond the hamlet south of the San Fernando Valley.
State Coastal Commission officials in San Francisco said they have obtained a temporary restraining order blocking further earthmoving in the 100 block of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
Angry developer Arnold Carlson responded by erecting a second billboard berating the state agency for "Gestapo methods."
Homeowner Rick Jones stood next to dirt Carlson has piled alongside Topanga Creek and defended the 62-year-old landowner and his bulldozing.
"All the bleeding hearts here in the canyon have caused the problem," Jones said. "These ponytailed ecologists care more about polliwogs than people's safety."
Homeowner Marty Corbett stood next to Jones and disagreed vigorously. She blasted Carlson for piling dirt around oaks and sycamores at the creek's edge.
"He doesn't realize all that dirt will go downstream when it floods. It will wipe out somebody's house as mud," Corbett said. "There's no question water will wash it downstream."
Jones, an aerospace designer who has lived 19 years on a hillside overlooking Carlson's site, said many sections of the creek that meanders through the canyon have become dangerously overgrown with brush.
Trees and other vegetation and trash will create mini-dams that could lead to treacherous washouts and flooding during rainstorms, Jones said.
Carlson's grading did not threaten the creek, Jones said. Instead, it improved traffic safety along Topanga Canyon Boulevard by eliminating a small hill that obscured the view for motorists.
Corbett, secretary of the Topanga Town Council and a nine-year canyon resident who lives a mile from Carlson's site, dismissed those arguments.
"The point is, this creek is one of the last free-flowing streams between San Francisco and the Mexican border," she said. "You want them to come in and concrete it over?"
Corbett said Carlson should have sought a Los Angeles County grading permit and permission from the Coastal Commission and the state Department of Fish and Game before starting his grading.
Jailed Six Hours
It was a Fish and Game warden who arrested Carlson last week on a misdemeanor charge of altering a stream bed with the grading. Carlson was jailed for six hours before being released on $250 bail.
Carlson, whose son said last week that the grading was being done as a soils test in preparation for the filing of a building project with the county, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
He had erected a billboard next to one installed on his property, which he calls Topanga Junction, last week that chided the Coastal Commission. The latest sign suggested that the state panel is engaging in "extortion, conspiracy, delay" and other things that "ruin peoples' lives."
Steven H. Kaufmann, a deputy state attorney general who drove to Topanga to view the sign, said officials will go to Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 14 to seek a preliminary injunction against Carlson's grading.
"He's certainly entitled to exercise his First Amendment rights in any way he sees fit," Kaufmann said of the billboards. "But he's grossly overstated his case and degraded the environment."
Kaufmann characterized Carlson's Topanga property as a "highly significant" ecological area. Others, including an archeologist who threw himself onto the blade of Carlson's earthmoving machine last week, have identified it as the site of an ancient Indian village.
In Topanga's nearby shopping village, others were watching the controversy with interest Tuesday.
J. R. Ball, owner of a used clothing shop called Topanga Threads, predicted that Carlson will be penalized for moving a relatively few cubic yards of earth without proper permits while another developer can "legally move millions of cubic yards" further upstream with a permit.
That hotly contested development proposal involves a plan for a hotel and golf course near the Topanga Canyon-Woodland Hills boundary.
"Arnold Carlson is acting in the spirit of traditional Topanga, which is anarchic and maverick," Ball said. "Of course, I'll look pretty silly if there's a Jack-in-the-Box on Carlson's land in six months."