Susan Corbett thought she was buying a piece of the American dream when she moved into the comfortable tract neighborhood in Moorpark known as College Park.
A first-time homeowner and single parent, Corbett loved the semi-rural community, friendly neighbors, spacious backyard and big picture windows.
But the American dream has turned into an industrial nightmare for Corbett, who learned this summer that her windows will soon frame a 25-foot elevated freeway that the California Department of Transportation plans to build a half-block from her house.
"People are panicking," she said. "I don't think there's a single person on the street who hasn't told me, 'If the connector goes through we're moving out.' I don't want my daughter to grow up with a freeway in her backyard either, but I can't really afford to move," says Corbett, who lives on Yale Street.
Many people in east Ventura County will benefit from the 2.2-mile freeway Caltrans plans to build in Moorpark to connect California 23 and California 118. It will alleviate congestion and take heavy trucks off surface streets. But Susan Corbett and homeowners around her feel they will lose, even though the freeway will not run closer than 200 feet from the nearest home.
"If this goes through, they might as well take my home. It's going to be impossible to live here," Corbett said.
Marq Cheek, a neighbor, says that nine of the 17 homes on his part of Yale street have gone up for sale, ripping the delicate fabric of community life that neighbors have tried to weave.
John Wozniak, who heads a homeowner group that has unsuccessfully urged Caltrans to study a different route, complains that the freeway will lower property values of nearby homes--a charge that local real estate agents confirm.
"It will definitely have a negative effect on the value of their homes as well as the quality of their lives," said Helen Kline, a real estate agent with Joan Young Co. in Westlake.
Equally vexing are fears that the freeway will isolate the College Park area from the rest of Moorpark.
"All your friends and neighbors are going to start moving out and your home is going to become a kind of ghost town," Wozniak said.
Traditionally, freeways displaced minorities and poor urban dwellers who were not able to fight back successfully. The Caltrans connection of California 23 and California 118 in Moorpark will affect white, middle-class suburban homeowners--most of whom say they only learned about the impending freeway after they bought their homes.
Although the law requires disclosure of adverse conditions to prospective homeowners, the news sinks in too late for many residents who have plunked life savings into homes.
David Brodsly, who wrote the book "L.A. Freeway," says such turmoil is common when large public works sprout in developed areas.
"You will always have projects like this disproportionately burdening some people for the benefit of the whole," Brodsly says.
"It would be wonderful if they could plan these improvements way in advance of the population . . . but in the real world that would never happen," he added.
For the ordinary homeowner, fighting Caltrans, civic leaders, city planners and the public good is akin to a suburban David tackling a concrete Goliath.
Except in this case, David isn't likely to triumph.
"This is a matter of money and power, and not the best interests of Moorpark," Corbett says bitterly. "We don't want to stop the freeway, we just wanted Caltrans to consider another route. Now our only option is to go to court, and that would take a lot of money we don't have."