CAMARILLO — If you're a resident of Reseda, Van Nuys or even Ventura, the name Pardee may not ring a loud bell. But if you live in Mission Oaks, a sprawling, master-planned community in Ventura County that constitutes most of the east side of Camarillo, you're in Pardee country for sure.
Pardee Construction Co.'s land is next to the Santa Monica Mountains at the bottom, or northern end, of the steep Conejo Grade of the Ventura Freeway. To get into the community you'll probably use the Pleasant Valley Road-Santa Rosa Road exit, part of a freeway-access complex completed last year at a cost of $7.2 million. The project was paid for entirely by Pardee.
"Our proposals were being held up because people were afraid they'd create traffic problems," explains Bill Teller, Pardee's Ventura County project manager. "We could have waited for state funding, but that might have taken years."
At a time when many developers are holding back, Pardee is throttling ahead with residential, office and various commercial developments. The fact that Pardee bought more than 1,000 acres in Camarillo in 1969 at low prices helps it weather the ups and downs of the building cycles. That, and the fact Pardee is a unit of Weyerhaeuser Co., the $9-billion, giant lumber concern that helps finance Pardee's projects.
Since 1975, Pardee has built all 3,000 homes in the handsome, mostly earth-toned Mission Oaks community. In fact, Pardee is the biggest home builder in Ventura County. Now the company is also developing a large industrial park adjoining the Ventura Freeway and has built several retail and commercial centers in the area. To date, practically every structure in Mission Oaks (population about 8,500, or nearly one-sixth of Camarillo) was either built, designed or financed by Pardee, which in 1990 added another 300 acres to 1,150 acres it acquired originally.
Local real estate people believe Pardee bought its larger holding on the largely undeveloped Camarillo Ranch at about $2,000 an acre, less than a third of what it would be worth today. This gives Pardee a pricing advantage in the marketplace.
"We're expected to show a profit, but we can be more flexible than most other builders about that," notes Teller. "Since we don't have the cash-flow problems others may have, we can afford to take a longer view of things."
Pardee has yet another built-in advantage. A sister concern, Weyerhaeuser Mortgage Co., provides the mortgages for about one-third of Pardee's home sales.
Teller and his 60 employees are busy, with more than 150 Pardee units either under construction or planned in the near future. While other builders are still taking their lumps, Pardee's Ventura County operation is adapting by watching its inventories closely and concentrating on the lower end of the market.
"Business was very soft right after the earthquake," Teller says. "There was something psychological about it. But then it picked up and we sold 10 houses in a single week. I'd say we're getting our fair share of the market."
Teller, 47, a pleasant, quiet-spoken executive, is seated in a conference room in Pardee Center, a three-story office building in Pardee Plaza, and shows a visitor the firm's latest housing sales brochures.
Pardee now owns 425 acres in Mission Oaks, the rest having been contributed to the infrastructure or sold off to home buyers and others. The firm plans to build 1,900 more homes and an assortment of industrial buildings on the remaining land. "I expect us to be built out in about 10 years," Teller says.
Even if the market would support a faster pace, it wouldn't be permitted. A city-imposed ceiling limits residential construction permits in Camarillo to a total of 400 annually, with no single builder allowed more than 240 units.
Pardee, by far the city's largest home builder, got 233 allotments this year, but probably won't use them all because of Ventura County's slow economy. For several years, the firm has been building fewer units than it's been allotted by city planners, holding onto some allotments for use when the housing market rebounds.
Pardee's Camarillo housing developments range from tracts where a paired unit (half a duplex, with a private yard) can be purchased for as little as $174,000, to houses as large as 2,700 square feet that can cost in the low $300,000s.
Teller says the lower-priced end of the market is going well, that at one development there were 14 sales made on the tract's first weekend. At the higher-priced market, however, "it's been kind of slow. The upper market hasn't been on fire."
Houses in the Camarillo development are "beyond the grade," that is at the base of the steep Conejo Grade portion of the Ventura Freeway, and so are thousands of dollars less expensive than those closer to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, according to Teller.