The Time We Saved Topanga Creek

Susan Nissman. Photo by Flavia Potenza

On Sunday, November 3, the Topanga Historical Society’s picnic was hosted at the creekside home of Keith Wilbur and his wife. The guest speaker was Susan Nissman, former Senior Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Nissman recounted the 16-year battle against the proposed Montevideo development in Topanga’s watershed, later known as Canyon Oaks when it was sold to Sharon Disney Lund. It is now Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park.

“The development included a treatment plant whose treated waste would discharge into the creek,” Nissman said. “Then, the county came to us with draconian flood plain maps.

“My good friend [the late] Rabyn Blake formed the Creekside Homeowners Association and found there was an alternative: develop a watershed development plan (Page 163 of The Topanga Story). Resource Conversation District (RCDSMM) Sr. Biologist Rosie Dagit, coordinated the initial TC Watershed Mananagent Committee, bringing together multi-agency and community stakeholders, including Rabyn Blake’s Topanga Creekside HOA, TASC, the TTC,  and in 2001, after almost 2 years of collaboration, the TC Watershed Management Plan was released. The new Topanga Creek Watershed Committee addressed the proposed infrastructure.

“We thought we had settled the battle with LA County and Public Works, but in 1995, when storms knocked out Topanga Canyon Blvd below Falls Drive, and Cross Creek Bridge on PCH in Malibu, the new DPW Director, Harry Stone, approached our brand new Supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, about implementing the exact same floodway mappings for Topanga Creek they’d proposed years earlier.  Instead, with Zev’s support, DPW came together with the community to create the alternative:  The Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan.”

Gail McTune (l) andSusan Nissman (r) reminisced about the fight to save Topanga’s watershed in Summit Valley. Protests continued after the property was sold to Sharon Disney Lund and the sign, “Disney’s 8th Dwarf, Greedy,” by local artist Stuart Moskowitz, may have contributed to Topanga’s victory and the creation of Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park. The signs are archived with the Topanga Historical Society. Photo by Flavia Potenza

“Instead of a mini-LA River that they are now trying to turn back to a green space, what the creek made over millennia continues to be our watershed,” Nissman said. “It’s nice to be alive to see circles come around in a good way, and that’s why I still council diligence, education, and vigilance.

“We borrow from our children’s future and we have to pay it back. This is not the legacy we thought we’d be leaving. We thought we’d be able to pass on a more healthy and sustainable future. Today, we need to bring in young people and introduce them to what will be their legacy.”


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

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