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2 County Sites Considered for Reagan Library

October 01, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

A bluff in the Tierra Rejada Valley and a sprawling ranch in the Simi Valley Hills are among the sites being considered for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Ventura County officials and Reagan Presidential Foundation members say.

Foundation members remain tight-lipped about the library's ultimate location but say they're getting close to a decision.

"We certainly hope to do it this month," said William French Smith, the former attorney general, who chairs the Foundation's site selection committee. He refused to comment further on prospective sites but said the committee prefers a Southern California location.

30 Sites Considered

But Ventura County officials and the owner of one site said that the foundation has narrowed the original field of more than 30 sites to four, and that the two Ventura sites are top contenders.

One is Big Sky Ranch, a farming and cattle-ranching property north of the Simi Valley Freeway between Eringer Road and Tapo Canyon Road that is owned by Watt Industries of Santa Monica. The Tierra Rejada site, owned by the Blakely Swartz Co. of Los Angeles, is located near Olsen Road and commands an ocean view on clear days, said Brian Miller, an aide to Ventura County Supervisor James R. Dougherty, who represents Simi Valley.

Miller said both property owners have offered to donate 50 to 100 acres of their land so the foundation can build the proposed 115,000-square-foot library.

Sent Architect

"We think it would help the whole Simi Valley," said Glen Gessford, president of Big Sky Development Co., a division of Watt Industries. "It would put Simi Valley on the map and give it a national identity," said Gessford, who said Big Sky is one of four sites still under consideration.

County officials say the foundation is also looking closely at the Tierra Rejada site.

"They've been out here twice to look it over. They even sent their architect," Miller said.

Presidential libraries house documents, papers and memorabilia from a President's years in office. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt built the first one in 1939, presidential libraries have grown progressively larger and more expensive.

Criticized as Wasteful

But some critics--like Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida, who described the facilities as "monuments to the pharaohs"--assail their million-dollar price tags and call them wasteful shrines to ego and ideology.

Eight such libraries now exist, including the $25-million Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, which was dedicated in 1986.

Reagan's proposed library has engendered the most controversy in recent years because of its estimated $100-million cost and squabbles over its location. The library issue became a political hot potato this spring after student groups and the faculty senate at Stanford University opposed a proposal to build the library on or near that campus.

The foundation formally withdrew its proposal in April, and since then the library has been a concept in search of a home.

In addition to the two Ventura County locations, sites near or at the University of California, Irvine; Malibu's Pepperdine University; the University of Southern California; the University of California, Riverside, and the Santa Ynez area also have been proposed.

What makes Ventura officials and developers think they have the edge?

Some say the Ventura County sites are close enough to Los Angeles for an hour's commute, but isolated enough to provide a majestic setting for the library. Both sites also have enough land to build bungalows for visiting scholars to work and study.

Officials estimate that a Reagan Library would draw up to 10,000 daily visitors and serve as an international research and forum site.

Says Miller: "It would give prestige to the community. We feel very excited, very privileged that they would even consider us."

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