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Farmhouse Blues : Owner Upset After Council Preserves His Land, Then Decides to Use It for Road

June 22, 1989|WILLIAM OVEREND | Times Staff Writer

The Ventura City Council wanted to preserve the city's open spaces, and that included Ed Duval's 28 acres of lemon groves.

But the council also had future growth and traffic problems on its mind, and that called for eventually extending Kimball Road in East Ventura--right through the same lemon groves and, most likely, the little farmhouse where Duval spent his childhood years.

The politicians had focused for three weeks on the big issues confronting Ventura, but Duval was convinced they had made at least one mistake.

In his view, it didn't make much sense that they had voted to save his land one day and then approved building a road through it the next.

Hearings Concluded

This week, as the council finally concluded its marathon future growth hearings, the 71-year-old Duval sat on the steps of the house where he grew up.

He was annoyed, he said, but not surprised.

"First they tell us we have to stay in agriculture," Duval said. "Then they want to lop off some more of my trees and probably bulldoze the house.

"I wish they'd stay the hell out of here," he added. "But I didn't bother speaking out on this. I'm very familiar with the city of Ventura. It's pointless to ask them for anything."

Duval's house is a three-bedroom brown frame farmhouse, shaded by a giant peppertree, where the half-completed Kimball Road now dumps its traffic onto Telephone Road.

Scenic Remnant

Behind the house is an old barn where Duval once had a woodworking shop. There are a couple of toolsheds and an old water tower, all built sometime during World War I.

Flanked by strawberry fields on one side and lemon trees on the others, the old farmhouse is a scenic remnant of the past sitting in semi-isolation amid the housing tracts of East Ventura.

Duval remembers when his father bought the house. They grew walnut trees in those days, and Duval and his brother helped pick the walnuts at harvest time.

But he is not a particularly nostalgic man. He never wanted to be a farmer in the first place, Duval said.

From an early age, he was interested mainly in his woodwork and in reading. From Ventura High School, he went to UC Berkeley and then to law school at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall.

After law school, Duval and his wife, Margaret, lived in the little farmhouse again until he built another just around the corner on Montgomery Avenue. Duval practiced law in Ventura until 1986.

His father, Edwin, lived in the house until his death in 1965. Then it was occupied by one of the farmhands who actually worked the lemon crop. Then, when he died, it was briefly vacant.

Vandals moved in, so Duval rented the house out to another of the farmhands who tended his orchards for one of the land management companies that actually do much of the farming in modern Ventura.

Miguel Vera and his wife and five children live there now. Duval says the rent is minimal, probably the cheapest in the entire city.

"They'll be here for quite a while probably," Duval said. "I expect the road will be coming through someday, but that someday may be long in coming.

"I don't like it, obviously. Neither do they. You can't find a house like this at the minimal rent they pay anywhere around here. But there's nothing I can do except negotiate over the price when they decide to come through."

No Specific Route

That could be a decade away. No specific route has been planned for the road extension, city officials said this week.

Duval, one of Ventura's many reluctant farmers who would rather do something else with his land, said he would have preferred it if the City Council had opened the remaining 1,000 acres of East Ventura farmland to development.

"I'd be looking for someone to sell it to," he said.

But since the city has made preservation of farmland a major goal, Duval thinks the city should have decided to preserve his farmhouse too.

"I could understand it if they were going to develop this area, but if they're not going to do that, they shouldn't keep chipping away for city uses," he said.

Duval slowly walked around the property, noting where the Vera family had planted a row of rose bushes and pointed to a back-yard pen housing two pet peacocks.

"I don't have any great sentimental attachment to this house," he said. "It will collapse under its own weight anyway one of these days.

"But the city pretends to be such a great friend of the farmer. They will be wiping out a family here when they eventually build that road, and I doubt if they even thought about that at all."

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