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Schools, Orderly Growth Attract Buyers : Thousand Oaks: City on eastern edge of Ventura County offers clean air, ocean breezes and safe neighborhoods--at a price.

March 27, 1994|KATHY A. PRICE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Price is a free-lance writer who lives in Santa Barbara

When a Hollywood special-effects job lured Jim Mini from New York, the biggest decision facing Mini, his wife and two children was where to live.

"It was a process of elimination," said Mini, whose family finally ended up choosing Thousand Oaks, a city of 105,000 on the eastern edge of Ventura County.

During the search, the Minis considered, and decided against, Orange County (too crowded), Van Nuys (too polluted), Woodland Hills and Calabasas (too hot).

When they moved to Thousand Oaks, the Minis found they had moved to a place where "the family comes first," Mini said. "You can't go more than a half-mile without seeing a community park. You see lots of mothers and fathers playing with their kids."

That was the good news. But, when the family was ready to purchase a home, they got what Mini called "sticker shock." Their 2,200-square-foot home in Hyde Park, 75 miles north of New York City, sold for $160,000. But their 2,800-square-foot home in Thousand Oaks cost them $298,000.

"My mortgage is twice what it was in New York," Mini said.

The good news/bad news aspects of Thousand Oaks are familiar to Wally Malesh, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Town & Country.

Malesh is happy about the highly rated public schools, where his own two children have been educated. The Ohio native is excited about youth soccer, youth football, the "strong sense of family." And he's aware of the cost of it all.

"(Thousand Oaks) tends to be a little bit on the pricey side," Malesh admitted. "It's not necessarily the most affordable community to live in."

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Recent figures show the median listed price for a home in the area to be $279,000, with a median selling price of $264,000. Starting at about $85,000, you can get a modest two-bedroom, one-bath condo in Thousand Oaks. Single-family homes start about $150,000 and go all the way up to the multimillion-dollar range.

And as they have elsewhere in the Southland, home prices in Thousand Oaks have fallen over the last few years. But that doesn't worry Gene Maiden. He bought his home 21 years ago for $40,000 (which, he said, "seemed like a lot at the time") and has seen its value soar to $250,000, and then slide downward quite a ways. But so what, he figures.

"Even if it goes down to $10, it doesn't make any difference," Maiden said. "I don't have any plans to go any place."

While neighbors driving by Maiden's 2,000-square-foot, single-story ranch may not know it, the inside of the home has been transformed, with a marble entry hall, a couple of Greek columns and a new fireplace with a carved wood mantle.

What Maiden, an antique print dealer and a bachelor, likes about the area is the rural feeling, the proximity to entertainment in Los Angeles and the ocean breezes that swoosh through from the Santa Monica Mountains every afternoon.

That Maiden is still satisfied with Thousand Oaks is significant, considering he has seen the population increase from 15,000 when he first came to town almost 30 years ago, to more than 100,000 today. "It's still a very pleasant place to live," he said.

Others have also noticed how pleasant Thousand Oaks is. A recent survey by Zero Population Growth named Thousand Oaks one of the best places in Southern California for children, second only to Huntington Beach. And the city consistently places at or near the top of the list of the country's safest communities.

According to Sgt. Ray Nagel of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, the area's low crime rate is because of two factors: 1--strong policing, and 2--support of the community. "There's no way we can do it on our own," Nagel said, citing support by merchants, the city council, Neighborhood Watch groups and the Crime Stoppers program.

Still, though the area is safer than most, "We are not immune to gang activity," Nagel said. Indeed, the community was shook up when a gang-related shooting last year left three local teen-agers wounded and one dead.

But according to most accounts, these problems are new and not yet overwhelming. Even though it's only 25 miles from one of the largest metropolitan centers in the world, Thousand Oaks still feels calm and safe. (The city suffered only "minimal damage" in the Northridge earthquake, realtor Malesh said. Some 1,200 homes were inspected by the city; only 10 needed repairs to restore them to habitability.)

Much of the credit for Thousand Oaks evolution as a pleasant place to live goes to the Janss family, which developed about 20% of the land in the city.

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