A citizens committee of Oak Park residents has decided to back away from proposals to consider incorporating as a new city, partly because of the high cost involved in trying to duplicate existing county services.
"In view of the cost of incorporation and that many small communities are facing fiscal problems, we opted not to seek cityhood at this time," said George Anterasian, a member of the Oak Park Cityhood Steering Committee.
Anterasian said the committee's decision was announced Tuesday at a meeting of the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council. The group, an elected body representing the southeastern Ventura County community of 13,000, advises county Supervisor Maria VanderKolk.
The decision follows a consultant's study that concluded that Oak Park already receives high levels of public service when compared with Thousand Oaks, its neighbor to the west. The exceptions were libraries, public transit and law enforcement.
The consultants said cityhood could carry some significant costs. For instance, the study said, Oak Park as an incorporated city could not afford to contract with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement, but would probably have to share a patrol car with Thousand Oaks.
Nor could a new city afford to maintain the same level of parks and recreation services that the community now enjoys as a member of a larger, regional parks district, the consultant concluded.
Another option suggested by the consultant was that Oak Park consider annexing to Thousand Oaks, which has nine times the population. But cityhood committee members said that idea had no support at all.
"We just didn't want to become part of the larger Thousand Oaks bureaucracy," said Philip Garrett Panitz, a committee member. "Thousand Oaks would tend to swallow us up. There's a strong pride of place in Oak Park. We really don't want to become part of any other city."
Annexation would raise other thorny issues, such as whether the Oak Park Unified School District should merge with the larger Conejo Valley Unified School District.
Committee members said Oak Park residents are protective of their small but highly regarded school district.
The state's fiscal problems cast further uncertainty about the wisdom of incorporating, said Ron Stark, a cityhood committee member.
"Look at all the cities around us. They're crying the blues," Stark said. "I was probably the most pro-city on the committee, and I could see the value of waiting. I just don't think this is the time now to do it."