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This is not just a community of whispery environmentalists. : Triumph of the Trees

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In historic terms, the semi-defeat of Chris Wojciechowski’s plans for a mountain resort in Topanga Canyon is not in the same league as either Rome’s destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War or the rout of the Nazis at Stalingrad. But, still, it’s a satisfying victory.

Not only did a long campaign by those often referred to as “goddamn tree lovers” smash down a proposal for a hotel and shopping center in the verdant canyon, it also caused an abrupt about-face by land development’s best friend on the Board of Supervisors.

Michael Antonovich, if nothing else, discovered in the long run upon which side his bread will be buttered come November. While Wojciechowski may pump money into Mike’s supervisorial reelection campaigns, it’s the people who ultimately could jerk his pious derriere out of office.

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The triumph of the tree-lovers, if that’s what it proves to be, came abruptly last week when Antonovich himself moved for a scaled-down version of the Montevideo project.

What makes it really surprising is that he not only recommended the project be scaled back, but that it be scaled back even below the level suggested by the county Planning Commission.

The commissioners were going to let the man derisively known as Wojo build 257 housing units. The board cut him down to 125.

I call it a semi- defeat for Wojciechowski only because he can still build the golf course he wanted, an equestrian center and tennis courts. His efforts to erect a nature-lover’s nightmare in the Santa Monicas, however, is history.

Antonovich hinted later that it was a perception of the will of the people that guided his heart’s decision to throw Wojciechowski to the wolves.

Cynics, however, scoff at this burst of murky self-aggrandizement and insist it was nothing more than political expediency.

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What everyone seems to forget is that they’re the same thing.

Political expediency is based upon political reality, and the reality is that Antonovich was forced into a runoff last June by slow-growth advocates who were tired of his love affairs with those who would level the hills and concrete the canyons.

It was both expedient and responsive to the will of the people, therefore, that he kiss Wojciechowski goodby. It’s tough siding with the Christians when lions have their teeth on your behind.

You have to feel a little sorry for Wojo in this case. He is not a subtle man. He came charging into the canyon with all the finesse of a Polish cavalry brigade and announced he was going to build everything but an NFL stadium and a rocket-launching pad in an area especially famous for its maniacal ecologists.

He wanted a three-story hotel, luxury homes, condos, a heliport, a country club, a market, a post office, a cleaning establishment, a gas station, tennis courts, horse stables and I forget what else. A mausoleum, perhaps. The people be damned.

You just don’t do that in Topanga.

This is not just a community of whispery environmentalists who abide by the courtly rules of debate and, in the end, are willing to place flowers in the muzzles of an enemy’s rifles in order to establish that God is love whatever the outcome of their battle.

These are people who shout and swear and shake their fists and come at you with pitchforks when their land is threatened, and that’s just the children and the doddering old people.

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While an enemy’s attention is diverted by the screaming pitchforkers, others move in with great stealth to snip his suspenders without the poor man even realizing it. When he tries to run, his suspenders finally give way and his pants fall down.

That’s what happened to Wojciechowski. He gathered some support from those at the Valley end of the canyon who live in houses with sprayed ceilings and gold-plated bathroom fixtures, but they were no match for the armies that came marching out of the trees like the Green Mountain Boys.

When Wojciechowski finally began to realize what was happening and scaled back the project somewhat himself, it was too late. His pants were down around his ankles and the drums of the devil were beating all around him.

In desperation, he faced the enemy in his underwear and declared that he, too, was an environmentalist and was saving the canyon from the destructive forces of brush fires by building the hotel and the shopping center. His logic was stunning. Concrete doesn’t burn.

I think that’s when I knew old Wojo was going to lose. He was a man offering to kill the doctor in order to eradicate disease. He just didn’t seem to understand the situation.

The Battle of Montevideo may or may not be over. Even if it is, other fights remain. Open land will remain in jeopardy as long as profit is the ultimate determination of its use.

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But, at least, the goddamn environmentalists who carried the battle so beautifully for almost 10 years will have this one small moment to remember. Topanga was under attack. It held.

I like that.

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