Concept plan for Rancho Potrero OK’d by council

Letters to the editor indicate controversy

Source of this article – Thousand Oaks Acorn, October 6, 2005

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

The Thousand Oaks City Council hopes that more residents can enjoy the scenic blend of hills, ridgelines and grassy slopes that make up the 326-acre Rancho Potrero open space parcel south of Lynn Road.

With that in mind, the council approved a conceptual plan that would include the construction of picnic areas, including a covered pavilion to accommodate up to 200 people; car and bus parking; and additional trails. The city would pay the $450,000 cost over a four-year period beginning in 2007.

The council voted 3 to 0, with Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña abstaining.

Councilmember Ed Masry was absent.

The property, which includes the Two Winds Ranch public equestrian center, has been primarily accessible only to hikers, bikers and horseback riders. It’s adjacent to private and National Park Service land.

Several residents of the Dos Vientos development, located directly across the street from the property, spoke out against any development, citing various reasons from disturbance of the local habitat to safety and security issues and concerns over the effect on views.

“I want you to stop, look and listen in regard to the land south of Lynn Road,” said Connie LaFace of Newbury Park. “Leave it alone, au natural, please. We really want you to listen to us.”

But Councilmember Jacqui Irwin said the council’s decision is one that must benefit all residents, not just those who live in the area of the property.

“This is the perfect spot to teach our children the importance of our environment. That cannot be taught in the classroom,” Irwin said.

City staff together with Irwin and Bill-de la Peña, who were representing the council, met with the Conejo Recreation & Park District (CRPD) several times over the summer to discuss ownership, management issues and a conceptual plan for the property. When Rancho Potrero was purchased in 1993, the city put up $1 million and the CRPD paid $1.9 million. To avoid any conflict of interest, the city and the CRPD agreed to transfer ownership to the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA), which was created by the city and the CRPD to conserve local open space.

Irwin pointed out that although the city is a minority owner of the property, to date it has made all of the decisions involving the land. By agreeing to low-intensity use, the city is still allowed to have a say.

“We could buy the CRPD out or give them their two-thirds of the property without city input at all,” Irwin said. “The ownership issue of this land has been a mess for a long time. This is an attempt to make things more fair, a compromise that I think benefits residents of the entire community.”

The plan involves only about five to seven acres of the 326acre property, according to Jim Friedl, CRPD assistant general manager. With the views of Dos Vientos residents in mind, the proposed improvements would not be visible from Lynn Road.

The property will be managed by COSCA rangers, said COSCA Manager Mark Towne.

Mary Wiesbrock of Save Open Space in Agoura Hills commended the city and the park district for providing the funding needed to purchase the land. She suggested creating an alternative plan that would include a scenic lookout point and a plaque recognizing the city and the CRPD for their contribution in buying the land when the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy came up short.

Wiesbrock also urged the city to look into obtaining Proposition 117 funds to help purchase open space.

“You deserve Proposition 117 monies for these critical properties, but you have to ask for it,” Wiesbrock said.

Bill-de la Peña suggested cleaning up the area, including the remains of a site known as Olympia Farms, where a decaying barn is beyond repair.

“Restoring the natural habitat might be more worthwhile,” she said.

The issue will be on the agenda of a CRPD board meeting today, Thurs., Oct. 6. A formal community input process and environmental impact report will be conducted.

Letters to the Editor:

Rancho Potrero as open space now in danger

Pavement, parking lots, party pavilions, flush toilets, lights and barbecues: such are the plans for Rancho Potrero approved by Thousand Oaks City Council at its last meeting (3-0, Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña abstaining).

This is what happens when city planners are turned loose on a choice chunk of open space. Accusations were made that those who wanted the area left in its natural state were being self serving while those who want it developed, it was implied, were humanitarian and democratic.

Jacqui Irwin claimed that leaving it natural made it accessible only to Dos Vientos residents and inaccessible to the handicapped and the community at large. This was inaccurate and possibly duplicitous.

Was she trying to ride the sentimental tailwinds of David Murdoch’s earlier presentation concerning the Ride On program for the handicapped to score political points and advance this pet project?

General accessibility: This property is currently accessible to all. I am not a Dos Vientos resident and use it several times a week. There is ample parking for all. It is true that the nearest of the Dos Vientos residents do not have to drive to get to Rancho Potrero, but that will still be the case after it’s developed.

Handicapped accessibility: The existing one-lane blacktop road from Lynn Road up to the view site could be maintained as such for wheel chairs. This is about the same as the length of The Oaks mall and back, which many wheelchair-bound people negotiate on a regular basis.

Mention was first made the other night regarding barbecues. This is amid acres of dry brush and grass. Do the wildfires raging at this moment not underscore the folly of this? Does it make sense to construct a party pavilion four miles from a university campus that may eventually draw 25,000 students?

Thousand Oaks will have its own Isla Vista scenario. It would be better, as Mayor Bill-De la Peña suggested, to turn this area over to the National Park Service since the city and the park district demonstrate a misunderstanding of the concept of “open space.”

Although the feds are an officious bunch, they at least understand the meaning of the term. FD Newbury Park

Rancho Potrero should be left untouched

Dozens of opponents to the conceptual plan for Rancho Potrero (Olympia Farms) were ignored by council members Andy Fox, Jacqui Irwin and Dennis Gillette at 2 a.m. Wed. morning, Sept. 28, at the end of an eight-hour council meeting. 

Gillette, who had previously mentioned donation of the property to the national park, was conspicuously quiet this time. Was he just pandering to the crowd back in February?     After telling the speakers that they lost sight of things and didn’t know what they were taking about, Irwin reneged on her campaign promise to maintain the area as open space. While emphasizing that it is important to conserve resources and to create a way for future sustainability, she said that this new facility will help to teach children that the environment should be protected. 

Was this a classic case of political doublespeak? Do buses, cars, parking lots and barbecue grills protect the environment? Irwin also said this plan is a solution for the interests of both the city and the park district. 

Funny, don’t they both represent the same taxpaying citizens who overwhelmingly reject this plan? Is this a classic case of our government telling us what’s best for us? Do they forget who they represent? Or do they just represent themselves and do whatever they can get away with?   This property was purchased with taxpayer dollars for a golf course, an equestrian center and open space. The golf course idea was abandoned years ago, leaving only the equestrian center and open space. Why do our elected officials continue to pursue building a new facility on property that should just be cleaned up and left natural? 

The actions of Fox, Irwin and Gillette prove that we were absolutely right in demanding that the equestrian center stays put. 

Because who knows what our leaders would dream up for that site if it were ever freed up? JF Newbury Park

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