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Though Adjacent to Simi, Sinaloa Is Not Attached : Residents of the unincorporated area guard their freedom from city government and revel in natural beauty, tranquillity

NEIGHBORHOODS. One in an occasional series

October 31, 1994|SARA CATANIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a town that prides itself on careful construction and uniform design, the narrow roads and mishmash of homes in the Sinaloa neighborhood are a Simi Valley planner's nightmare.

Perched atop a grassy slope between the Sinaloa golf course and Sinaloa Road, the secluded hamlet houses decades-old dwellings in a rainbow of colors, from mud brown to fiery red to bright green.

In Sinaloa, modest bungalows squat alongside rambling mini-mansions sprawled on large, sometimes overgrown lots. Driveways of the neighborhood's more than 250 homes lead onto narrow, curving lanes, many lacking the curbs, gutters and street lights required in most of the city.

The reason Sinaloa is allowed to flout city regulations is simple. Although surrounded by city property and receiving city water and sewer services, Sinaloa is unincorporated county property.

Its seven streets are paved by county workers and patrolled by sheriff's deputies, but its residents are barred from voting in City Council races or serving on neighborhood councils.

Sinaloa's independent status is the legacy of stubborn longtime residents who 25 years ago successfully warded off cityhood, which they feared would bring higher taxes and intrusive government.

A quarter of a century later, the tiny pocket of county property retains a rural wildness long vanished from much of the city.

The contrast is especially stark along Sinaloa Road, which borders the neighborhood. To the east, tidy homes are tucked behind a six-foot cinder-block wall that stretches unbroken for blocks. To the west, on the Sinaloa neighborhood side, aging eucalyptus trees tower above a patchwork of bougainvillea- covered picket and chain-link fences.

Residents, many of whom have lived in the neighborhood three decades and more, have no desire to change the neighborhood's non-city status.

"It's just one more level of government you have to put up with," said Dean Seymour, who built his Sinaloa home in 1956 and fought against cityhood. "That is something I can definitely do without."

Elaine Price, who moved to Sinaloa with her husband and their four children 17 years ago, said the lack of cityhood attracted them to the area. "Nobody bothers us, we can do what we want," she said. "We don't have to mow the lawn if we don't want to."

Sinaloa's resistance to the rules of Simi Valley has led to an unusual, and sometimes uneasy, relationship with the city.

"The city basically takes the position that if people don't want to be a part of Simi Valley, we don't want to force them," Mayor Greg Stratton said. "It's illogical and imperfect, but that's how they want it."

One ongoing controversy centers around a brush-filled, 30-foot-deep pit that was once Sinaloa Lake.

In 1983 city officials who feared that the man-made, clay-bottomed lake would flood called in state inspectors to check its sturdiness. Much to the horror of lakefront property owners, the state ordered that their private reservoir be drained.

"It was the state that made the decision," Stratton recalled. "But we were kind of the rats that called the police, as it were."

One furious resident referred to the draining of the boomerang-shaped, 12-acre lake as a "rape and a murder." A group of lakefront property owners, who feared their home values would plummet, sued the state for $15 million. Two years ago a federal judge dismissed the suit, saying that state employees were just doing their jobs.

Sinaloa residents still mourn the loss of the lake, which served as a swimming and fishing hole and a tranquil setting for picnics and afternoon walks.

"Everybody built these little docks and you'd go out and sit and look at the water or jump in," remembered 35-year resident Diantha Ain, who lives at the end of Laguna Terrace. "People had little boats and they would catch bass, bluegill and catfish. It was wonderful, like living on a resort."

More recently, tensions have mounted over a proposal to build an Iceoplex ice-skating rink at the corner of Madera Road and Royal Avenue, just down the hill from the Sinaloa neighborhood.

Several years ago Sinaloa residents fought plans to build condominiums on the property, and some are no more pleased with the plans for an ice rink, which they worry would increase traffic and noise at the already congested intersection.

"When we moved here it was so quiet, at night you could barely hear a sound," said William F. Hill, a retired optometrist who has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years. "Now that has changed, and every new development adds to that change."

Others, like resident Allan W. Jacobs, say they don't mind the ice-rink proposal, but are vehemently opposed to any other commercial development on the property.

"We need places for our young people to go," said Jacobs, a retired associate superintendent for the Simi Valley Unified School District. "What we don't need is some big supermarket bringing in all kinds of traffic to a dangerous road."

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