Ranch on top of the world
Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, March 30, 2017
As dementia began to overtake Harman Rasnow in the last years of his life, the 80-year-old loved to sit on his ranch on a hill high above Newbury Park and count the hikers below.
“Counting gave him a lot of joy,” said Tina Rasnow, Harman’s daughter. “He loved to see people using the trail.”
It was fitting, then, that one of the Rasnow family’s final acts before Harman died in 2012 was to begin proceedings to transfer control of the land the trail passes through to the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency in order to preserve it into perpetuity.
The 82-acre donation was completed this month.
Tina Rasnow, a retired attorney who has served as the president of the Ventura County Bar Association and coordinator of the Ventura Self-Help Legal Access Center, told the Acorn the donation was in honor of her father’s legacy.
“He never hesitated to let the public use the land,” she said. “It’s so consistent with the importance he placed on nature.”
Prior to a handshake deal with COSCA in 1983, only those willing to trespass on the Rasnows’ mountaintop property had access to the trail.
The family has called the top of a 1,600-foot peak at the southern border of Newbury Park home since 1963, when Harman—a civil engineer—agreed to take 7 acres in lieu of payment for survey work he had done in the area. The peak now carries the family name.
When Harman visited the Ventura County assessor’s office to learn who owned the adjoining property, he discovered the hillside had been subdivided into cabin and campsite lots in the 1920s. Most lots were small—some just a quarter-acre—and steeply graded, making them unsuitable for development.
Property taxes were seldom paid on the lots, which then became available at county auction for the amount of the tax lien. Harman attended such an auction in 1964 and began piecing together what would eventually become a 193-acre property with panoramic views of the Conejo and Hidden valleys.
The family patriarch moved his wife, Eleanor, and three children to Newbury Park in 1970 to escape an increasingly urban San Fernando Valley. A Brooklyn native, Harman was deeply influenced by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”
“Dad moved us out here because he wanted us to live close to the land,” Tina Rasnow said. “He knew the value of a connection to the land.”
Her brother, Brian Rasnow, is a lecturer in physics at Cal State Channel Islands. He said the view from Rasnow Peak has changed dramatically over the past 47 years.
“We used to look at Running Springs Ranch and the Rancho Conejo Airport,” he said. “Now it’s nothing but earth-toned housing tracts.”
Living off the land
Three generations of the Rasnow family have lived on the hilltop. Tina said her father would often commandeer one of the radios used for communication on the ranch to make an announcement.
“Look at the sunset, everybody,” he’d say.
Despite the penthouse views, life on the Rasnows’ land, known as the U4EA Ranch, is a down to earth affair.
Harman Rasnow was an early adopter of organic farming. The ranch produces exotic fruits including pomegranates and guavas. Six thriving bee colonies help keep crops fertile. Sheep and horses roam the property.
Tina Rasnow said her father never predicted his hilltop ranch would be home to a major communication network. But Rasnow Peak leases its mountaintop tech site facilities to satellite, radio, television and cellular telephone companies. Two towers, 60 and 150 feet tall, can be seen on the north side of the peak.
The ranch also houses radio equipment for the Ventura County Fire Department and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
Desire for privacy
Though they have the most visible home in the Conejo Valley, the Rasnows value their privacy. For decades, the family has had encounters with wayward hikers and drug users who have wandered onto their private property and, on at least one occasion, knocked on the front door.
Their visibility has also made them the target of view protection advocates. In 2009, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks asked for a review of the county’s scenic resource protection zone and pointed to homes like the Rasnows as a reason to tighten the area’s open view shed rules.
“There have been some large houses that have been built on or near the ridgeline that have really dominated the hills,” Parks said. “You look at that hillside, and it is definitely scarred in some areas.”
Putting bad blood aside, Parks told the Acorn that donations like the Rasnows’ give the public access to the beauty of the outdoors and are a remedy to what she called “nature deficit disorder.”
“As our cities grow, having parkland will become more and more treasured and appreciated by future generations,” she said.
It may be beautiful, but life on Rasnow Peak is not for the faint of heart.
The ranch lies beyond the reach of paved roads. Water utilities don’t reach a high enough altitude to service U4EA, so the family survives off two deep water wells, which puts them on the front line of the battle against climate change.
The family has had to kill off two orchards of stone fruit since the drought began five years ago and uses clay irrigation pots called ollas to grow the family’s fruits and vegetables.
The sheep and horses—as well as a rescued burro named Filimón—serve as a natural form of weed abatement. But the undeveloped hillside is an important wildlife corridor, and five of the family’s sheep were killed by a single mountain lion in January.
More than 20 years after a fire destroyed much of their property, forcing them to rebuild, the Rasnow family is focused on the future. With the 82-acre donation complete, COSCA will begin work rerouting the Los Robles Trail away from the family’s private gate.
Once rerouted, the trail will still be visible from their hilltop perch, just in a different location. Tina Rasnow said that’s OK. She said her family has lived with a changing view for years.