County officials are cooking up plans for a 326-acre park near Camarillo that might include an Old West town, a steam-powered railroad, a Mexican rodeo arena, a 1,500-seat amphitheater and nostalgic "Burma Shave" signs intended to whisk visitors back to the frothy past.
The proposed park would be located on county-owned land about two miles from Camarillo State Hospital off Lewis Road, said Blake Boyle, deputy director of recreational services for the General Services Agency.
While Boyle stressed that planning is still in the early stage, the working blueprint would allow visitors to enter the "Camarillo Regional Recreation Area" and immediately be transported to a 1950s-style environment with period architecture and a drive-through diner.
Slices of Time
Intrepid visitors who venture farther would pass facilities such as a 1935-era truck stop, a festival grounds, a turn-of-the-century rural enclave with camping facilities for 200 recreational vehicles, and, finally, a town square around which might cluster pre-1900s homes, a general store and a bed-and-breakfast inn.
"Some of this may not work. It may not fit community needs. We're going to look at a lot of different aspects," said Ron Blakemore, GSA's manager of planning and development.
Blakemore, the mastermind behind the ambitious park plan, said the county has hired Takata Associates of Pasadena to conduct a 10-month, $86,000 feasibility study and develop a master plan for the site. The county also is paying Thousand Oaks-based Edcon about $6,000 for a financial assessment of the project, he said.
Two public workshops have been scheduled so that local residents can comment on the plan. They will be held Sept. 14 at the Thousand Oaks city library and Sept. 22 at the Camarillo city library. Both are to begin at 7 p.m.
The proposed park has already elicited some strong reaction at Camarillo City Hall.
"Good heavens, I've never heard any of that before," said Camarillo Mayor Tom Martin, who added that the park "sounds like a miniature Disney World."
The mayor expressed concern that the projected park and related activities might adversely affect the environment.
"I don't want to see anything that's going to bring pollution and traffic and cars to Camarillo," he said.
Boyle acknowledges that county parks officials have not formally unveiled their plans because "it's so early in the game." But, he added, "It's not like we're building an Indy 500 race track.
"I see this as a community activity point with weekend dog shows, a farmer's market, recreational boating, antique cars shows and concerts," he said.
Before any decision, county officials say they plan to seek the support of nearby cities and complete an environmental impact report, as required by law. The county must also obtain special permits from its planning department to build the park, which lies in an area zoned for open space. No zoning change is necessary, however, because "county-initiated recreation projects" are already permitted under the current open space ordinance.
"I think people would be quite surprised if they looked closely at the open space ordinance and saw what types of development it permits," Boyle said.
Russ Baggerly, a spokesman for Environmental Coalition, called the proposal "very troubling."
"It's going to draw huge numbers of people from outside the county and it's really devasting for the environment," he said. Baggerly vowed that his group "will be looking very closely at these amusement park-type projects."
Officials envision contracting with a private company to develop the Camarillo park facilities. They hope the project will eventually make money, much like the county-run Channel Islands Harbor, whose $2 million in revenue last year went toward operating the county's parks.
The Camarillo site was purchased with state grants last year from the federal government's surplus lands program, Boyle said. During the 1970s, the government proposed building a federal prison on the site but eventually dropped the idea because of financial constraints.
Boyle said he does not expect the Camarillo park to compete for visitors with either the Ventura County Fairgrounds or the proposed "Happy Camp Regional Park."
The county is negotiating with Encino-based Quor to develop a $30-million theme park, combining a conference center, campgrounds, a replica of an Old Western town, an Indian village and an equestrian center on 700 acres near Moorpark.
Already, the county's plans have generated interest from the Conejo Archers, who practice on the site, and the Ventura County Live Steamers, who run miniature trains there on 8-inch tracks similar to those at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.
Boyle said the Ventura County Historical Society has also approached the county about building a small historical museum to house antique farm implements. The county is looking into moving three historic houses and a barn that it owns to the town-square area of the park.
For now, however, plans are up in the air.
"As the process evolves, this will all be redefined," Boyle said. He noted that people might decide they don't want a particular activity, for instance the \o7 Charro, \f7 the Mexican rodeo, in this case because it is dusty and might attract flies.
In fact, one group has registered a complaint about that activity. Boyle said the Ventura County Humane Society opposes the \o7 Charro\f7 because of the potential for cruelty to horses.