Topangans protest Disney

“Bambi, Thumper, Help Us Please! Save the Animals! Save the Trees!”

That will be just one of the chants heard at 2 p.m. today outside the Walt Disney Studios when members of the Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community protest against Canyon Oaks Estates — a proposed real-estate development that a Disney family trust has invested in.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will rule on whether the 257-acre gated community/golf course can proceed as planned, but before that date the Topanga residents want to communicate their displeasure directly with the Disney family.

The association members are aware that RETLAW, the Disney family trust whose name is “Walter” spelled backward, is not a subsidiary of the entertainment conglomerate. Yet they have chosen to protest at the studio’s Alameda gate because of the media attention it will attract.

Susan Petrulas Nissman, chairwoman of the Topanga residents org, said: “The direct heirs have made all these profits from family entertainment and putting forth this small-town American image. Now the Disney family is in this hypocritical situation where they are at odds with Topanga’s small-town family values.”

Tension visible

The most visible manifestation of tension between Topanga and Disney family values has been an amusing series of road signs harkening back to the Burma Shave advertisements of old.

They feature catchy logos like “Disney’s Eighth Dwarf: Greedy” and “Topanga Is Nature’s Niche; Please Don’t Make It Disney’s Ditch.”

They plan to bolster their road-sign campaign by having familiessing “This Land Is Your Land” outside the studio this afternoon. Children and adults from Topanga area schools have also penned letters they wish to deliver to the Disney family.

A Disney corporate rep said the association’s complaints are misguided. “They should protest where the developers live,” he said, “We have nothing to do with this.”

Ironically, Disney president Frank G. Wells is an avid environmentalist who founded Environment Now.

Charles McLaughlin, the general manager for the owner of the Canyon Oaks project, argues that the protest is less about clean water than self-interest. “These people have gone out of their way to embarrass the studio although they know the project has nothing to do with the studio. Their real agenda is economic and political. They just want to keep rival realtors, engineers and architects out of Topanga. Also the less houses built, the higher their property values remain. They don’t want anyone living there whose politics are different than theirs.”

Development in this section near the Topanga Creek head waters has been in the planning stages since 1978, when another developer proposed a project with greater environmental impact that was rejected in 1988. A plan similar to the current one in which Disney’s daughter Sharon Disney Lund invested was also rejected by county supervisors in 1991.

The Topanga residents’ complaints with the proposed plan are numerous. They suggest that despite the additional waterline and sanitation services Canyon Oaks has promised, the environmental impact would be disastrous. They also object to the additional car traffic the project would create. And most important, they believe that Los Angeles County has greater need for mountain wilderness than landscaped luxury homes and a new golf course.

Ironically, the Topanga dispute coincides with the announcement Monday of the Walt Disney Co.’s planned “Mediterranean-style” resort development on an ocean-front site between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

Disney Vacation Club, a subsidiary of Disney, said it plans to build its largest time-share resort yet, with 650 villas, shops and restaurants as part of a 9,432-acre Newport Coast resort and residential project being developed by the Irvine Co.

Disney has purchased 35 acres from Irvine for the project and has agreed to buy another 35 acres.

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