Giving Thanks

View of Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park, showing oak woodland restoration. Photo by Flavia Potenza

The great legacy Congressman Anthony Beilenson bequeathed to Southern Californians with the creation of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), is still growing today.

The inspired movement continues across Los Angeles and into Ventura County with a proposed Rim of the Valley Park Plan that will extend the SMMNRA designation to create an even more remarkable network of surrounding natural wildlands, mountains, beaches and canyons, connecting ecosystems and communities.

This wildland that cradles the San Fernando Valley—from the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco corridors, to the Verdugo Mountains-San Rafael Hills, the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, the Simi Hills, the Santa Susana Mountains and Conejo mountains—

will expand our precious open spaces and natural resources and make them accessible for people to enjoy and treasure for generations to come as the world’s largest wildland urban park. Indeed, the Santa Monica Mountains have often been called the “Lungs of LA.”

Much of the hard-fought preservation of open space is owed to our former Congressman Anthony Beilenson listening and talking with his constituents—the Santa Monica Mountains and seashore conservationists and indefatigable activists, like Sue Nelson, Margo Feur, Jill Swift, Dave Brown and many, many others—then boldly acting and sponsoring the legislation in 1978 that created the SMMNRA, which at the time, contained four state parks including Topanga State Park.

As there always is within the “Big Picture” story, thousands of smaller stories and subtexts bear remembering; the one I’d like to share took place on a drizzly Thanksgiving morning in 1991.  

The Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC) and the Topanga Canyon Town Council (TCTC) had previously met with the new development team for the reorganized Canyon Oaks Development Project, which is now preserved as the 662-acre Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park at the top of the Topanga Creek Watershed.

The Canyon Oaks development team had agreed with us that “optimizing their profits” didn’t actually limit the “project” to just a development, or prohibit the owners from, at some point, willingly selling the property into the public domain. However, time was short, and getting the land on Federal and State priority listings for acquisition had to move quickly, as the developers were moving forward themselves, pursuing their entitlements.  It was going to be a “race” to the finish that took almost three more years.

On that Thanksgiving Day, with Congressman Bielenson and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) Executive Director, Joe Edmiston, we hiked the property. Afterwards we all returned to Rabyn Blake’s living room, where a warm fire was burning, tea offered, and sat down to discuss what could be done at the federal level.  

Sue Nelson and archaeologist Lynn Gamble stressed the significant cultural and ecological significance of the land. They would eventually testify before Congressional Committees, all part of the process for getting on those all-important acquisition listings.

We knew getting Beilenson’s commitment to look for money back in Washington would also give Edmiston reason enough to start talking to the developers. Which is exactly what he did and, as they say, the rest is history.

Thank you, Tony, for that magical day when, once again, you helped make a dream come true for our beautiful Topanga mountains.


Susan Nissman, a 40-year resident of Topanga, worked with Beilenson and his staff, including the extraordinary Susan Little, seeking their support and testimony as the public hearing process proceeded. She was also a staunch supporter of his re-election campaigns up until his retirement in 1996. Topanga was the only community that was in both his original district and the newly redistricted one in 1991, serving as our Congressman from 1976 to 1996.


By Susan Nissman


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