TASC – History for the Topanga Story
During the first twenty months of its existence, TASC testified at fifteen
public hearings before the Regional Planning Commission and nine before the
Board of Supervisors. They opposed the General Plan and all major tract developments.
At that time, there was no difference between policies for flatland or hillside
development. In 1963, six major tracts were planned in Topanga, and its population
was projected to be 31,000 by 1990. As of 2004 the population is under 11,000
and approximately 75% of Topanga, is preserved natural parkland.
The stated purpose of TASC is - “to maintain an orderly development of
Topanga in keeping with its natural terrain and intrinsic beauty”. For
the first few years, Earl Wear, an architect and one of the founders of the
organization, was its Chair. Then Bob Bates, also an architect and founding
board member, led the group for almost twenty-five years. He served on the
first Countywide Citizens Planning Council and was elected to chair the Land
use Committee. Under his leadership, policies to preserve the character of
mountain regions were adopted into the General Plan. Among them were: grading
must follow the natural contours of the terrain; water courses must be kept
in their natural state; groves of trees and rock formations must be preserved;
and public parks must be planned and set aside for future use.
Although the General Plan forms a guideline for development and the Area Plan
sets densities, these were often ignored by planners. It took committed community
involvement to prevent drastic changes to the landscape. In one case the County
approved a mobile home park on 28 acres zoned for agriculture or one house
per acre. TASC argued the case all the way to the California Supreme Court
and won. In the 1974 landmark decision, the court concluded that the variance
amounted to a prohibited cc special privilege”.
Even though the state high court sided with TASC, the County continued to approve
developments in the Santa Monica Mountains that were two to three times the
density allowed in the Area Plan. Within Topanga however, TASC was mostly successful
in keeping development within zoning limits. One tract development (Viewridge)
was started before TASC formed, and one more (Summit Pointe) was built despite
opposition. However TASC scored a huge victory when Summit Valley, 257 scenic
acres at the headwaters of Topanga, Creek, was saved from a massive project.
Bob Bates led the effort to save Summit Valley, until 1991, and Susan Nissman,
the new TASC chair, saw the battle to its happy conclusion. Plans included
224 houses, a hotel, golf course, heliport, market, sewage treatment plant,
clubhouse, and tennis courts. Furthermore, the developer planned a second golf
and housing project on 405 rugged acres adjacent to the east. It was the longest
land use battle in the history of the county 16 years. It ended at a Board
of Supervisors hearing in 1994, when a last minute deal was announced - the
Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy would purchase the entire 662 acres for
TASC joined the Tuna Neighborhood Association-in a lawsuit to stop development
at the headwaters of Tuna Creek. Although the lawsuit was unsuccessful, attention
was brought to the importance of saving the rest of Tuna Canyon. As a result,
1820 unspoiled acres were acquired as parkland in 2002. Also, TASC opposed
two projects in the northern part of Topanga that ultimately became parkland
- nineteen acres on the ridgeline above Summit Valley and 63 acres at 2100
Mulholland Drive. TASC has consistently supported parkland acquisitions such
as 120 acres in Zuniga Canyon, home to the threatened western pond turtle,
and 1,659 acres of lower Topanga Canyon.
TASC supported a new area plan adopted by the County in 2000. It was more environmentally
friendly than the old one and rather than being just a guide, it is meant to
be an actual land-use plan. Called the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan,
its guiding principle is to: “let the land dictate the type and intensity
of use.” Currently, TASC is supporting the Grading and Significant Ridgeline
Ordinance, which minimizes development on ridgelines and limits grading to
meet the Plan’s goal to preserve the natural contours of the land.
Development within 5 miles of the coast is controlled by the Coastal Coastal
Commission. TASC has monitored essentially all the Coastal Commission hearings
affecting property, making recommendations for denial or approval as related
to each specific use.
TASC initiated a bill to the State Legislature whereby Topanga Canyon Blvd.
was included into the state system of Scenic Highways and continues to work
to keep it scenic. TASC is also involved with other organizations such as:
the Topanga Canyon Creekside Homeowners Association, which is protecting the
creek in its natural state; the Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives
to Toxics (SCAT), which is working on physically removing invasive non-native
plants without the use of toxic chemicals; and the Firesafe Committee, which
set fire safety standards that balanced the landscape needs of homeowners with
the recommendations of the fire department.
Since 1994, Roger Pugliese has been the Chair of TASC. Currently the other
Board Members are:Rabyn Blake, Ron Fomalont, Toby Keeler, Dan
Larson, Ken Mazur, Herbert Petermann and Joan Petermann.