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Disneys to sell disputed land

Topanga Canyon residents were humming “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” Thursday when the heirs of Walt Disney abandoned plans to build a gated luxury community/golf course and instead agreed to sell the 662 acres of wilderness to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for nearly $ 20 million.

The surprise ending to the 14-year land dispute occurred Thursday morning as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heard final testimony on the proposed development called Canyon Oaks Estates.

“The battle is over,” said Susan Petrulas Nissman, chairwoman of the Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community, the residents org that fought the development. “Now is a time to recover and heal and join together in celebrating the fact that the people have a new park. After all, these mountains are Los Angeles’ backyard.”

The dispute pitted the interest of real estate developers against several grass-roots organizations. Residents charged that grading for a luxury development would increase flood danger, createtraffic and sewage problems, and use up limited water. Developers argued that Topangans’ agenda was more economic than environmental. They felt residents simply wanted to protect property value and keep rival builders out of the community.

Amusing protests

Topangans led a unique, and at times amusing, protest campaign. Since the Canyon Oaks partnership was led by Sharon Disney Lund and financed largely by a RETLAW, a trust for three of Disney’s grandchildren, residents poked fun at Disney characters to create media-friendly slogans.

Road signs harkening back to the Burma Shave advertisements of old popped up throughout the canyon. They featured catchy slogans like “Disney’s Eighth Dwarf: Greedy” and “Topanga Is Nature’s Niche; Please Don’t Make It Disney’s Ditch.”

The association members were aware that RETLAW, whose name is “Walter” spelled backward, is not a subsidiary of the entertainment conglomerate. Yet Tuesday afternoon they chose to protest at the studio’s Alameda gate because of the media attention it would attract.

Topanga families sang “This Land Is Your Land” outside the studio gates. They also chanted “Bambi, Thumper, Help Us Please! Save the Animals! Save the Trees!”

Los Angeles County supervisors will decide whether to ratify the deal at their March 29 meeting. April 9 is the deadline for the land closure.

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