While Ventura County is groping for an identity, one of its least likely destination cities is preparing to promote itself as a headquarters for tourists to Southern California.
A booklet called "The Official Simi Valley Visitors Guide" is scheduled for release in February. Copies of the guide, which will be financed by advertising revenues, will be mailed to travel agents across the United States and in Canada, and guests in the city's 216 hotel rooms will also receive them.
"We're doing some modest promotion because we've found in the past that people have come to stay even when we just had Motel 6, particularly people from the Midwest," said Nancy Bender, executive director of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce.
More than 6,000 inquiries about Simi Valley tourism possibilities flood the chamber annually, she said. Fans attending the Rose Bowl game pitch camp in Simi Valley hotels. And, needless to say, the nearby Reagan Library will open the city to a deluge of schoolchildren, scholars and visitors of all stripes.
But, until the library's scheduled completion in 1991, the 18-year-old city of 93,000 offers little in the way of traditional tourist attractions, Bender and others promoting Simi tourism readily acknowledge.
The facade of a barn used in "Little House on the Prairie" sits in Strathearn Park. Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village, a collection of small buildings built largely from bottles, is across town. Hiking and riding trails weave through nearby rock formations.
"Actually, there's not a lot to do," said Peter Mansfield, an owner of the Mansfield & Dodge advertising agency creating the promotion.
"But we're not that far from so much. We're pushing proximity. We're close to the beaches, the Universal Studios tour and the L.A. Zoo. We're 20 minutes from Magic Mountain."
Besides, he said, Simi Valley's low crime rate may be just the lure needed for those tentative visitors to Southern California "who assume they're going to be mugged on the way to the elevator."
Low Crime Rate
For four years, Simi has had the lowest rate of serious crime among cities of its size in California, according to FBI statistics. Coincidentally, the city is home to an estimated 2,000 active and retired law enforcement officers from agencies in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
If the long arm of the law does not snag the tourist trade, Simi Valley's very identity as a placid suburban community might.
"A lot of these groups come and don't want to see just the tourist spots," said Bernice Gordon, sales manager at the Quality Inn Posada Royale. "They want to see the countryside, they want to see the communities, they want to see something different."
While business people account for most of the trade at her hotel, families packed it last summer, she said. Canadian travel agents regularly request information. The word is starting to get around, she said, but not quickly enough.
"Who ever heard of Santa Barbara before they started promoting themselves?" she asked. "If we're not positive about it, nobody else will be."