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AT HOME : Where Families, Nature Thrive : Moorpark: Affordable homes, a 'Leave It to Beaver' aura, clean air and rolling hills draw families.

August 06, 1995|KATHY A. PRICE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kathy A. Price is a Santa Barbara free-lance writer. and

When Jeff Miller and his family moved from San Francisco to Moorpark last year, they had "reverse sticker shock."

"In San Francisco, we could not afford to buy a house," Miller said. As an added minus, the couple were afraid to let their young daughter venture alone outside the family's apartment.

And so when Jeff, 45, and his wife, Anne, 41, decided to move to Moorpark after he became the associate director of housing at Cal State Northridge, they were happily surprised. "It was like, hello, we can buy a house," he said.

In the Mountain Meadows subdivision of Moorpark, a town of just less than 30,000 in southeast Ventura County, the Millers found a 2,800-square-foot, 7-year-old home with a tile roof and four bedrooms for $240,000.

One evening at twilight, watching Kari, 8, skate around the cul-de-sac outside the family's new home, Jeff Miller turned to his wife and said: "The only thing missing is a strand of pearls and you'd be Barbara Billingsley," who played June Cleaver, mother of the Beaver, in "Leave It to Beaver."

That "Leave It to Beaver" aura is one attraction that brings buyers to Moorpark, said Debbie Rodgers Teasley, a real estate agent and manager with Coldwell Banker Town and Country in Moorpark.

"They want the small-town feeling they grew up with," said Teasley, who is also the president of the Moorpark Chamber of Commerce. "We're still at one grocery store. We're going to two, and it's going to be a huge, major event when we do."

According to Carlyn Paterson, an agent with Re-Max Distinctive, "Moorpark is still small enough that you can walk down the street and see someone you know and say 'Hi.' "

Newcomers to Moorpark, mostly families with children, are also drawn by the schools--including the 5-year-old high school--which consistently produce students ranking above average in academic achievements and by Moorpark College.

Despite its almost Midwest reputation, Moorpark is less than 50 miles from Los Angeles and a few miles north of Thousand Oaks and is served by the new Metrolink rail line. Many are charmed by the quaint downtown with its old brick buildings, gnarled California pepper trees and the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama and Vaudeville Co. Others come for the clean air and rolling hills that surround the community.

"I took a walk the other day, and you're in nature instantly," said Julia Felker, 38, who moved to Moorpark five years ago with her husband, Steve Rasmussen, an auto mechanic, and their two children, Wesley, 14, and Rebecca, 11.

"We see a lot of nature here," said Felker, a dance teacher and choreographer. She has spotted coyotes, hawks, turkey vultures and road runners in the area.

Previously, the family lived on more than an acre in nearby Simi Valley. However, Felker said, "the entire neighborhood was being turned into apartments and condos."

In the Campus Hills section of Moorpark, the family "got a deal" on a new two-story house with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. With upgrades, they paid $232,000.

Moorpark is divided, geographically and psychologically, into several distinct areas. Tucked into the northeast section of town is Campus Hills, which grew up around the college. In the center of Moorpark is downtown, near the railroad area from which the town blossomed in the early 1900s and where the refurbished old homes of the town's founders still stand. In the southwest corner are the Mountain Meadows and Peach Hill developments by California Community Builders of Santa Monica. On the outskirts are ranch and horse properties.

The median home price in Moorpark is about $225,000, with prices ranging from less than $150,000 for a smaller, older home to more than $400,000 for the new 4,000-square-foot homes in the Mountain Meadows subdivision called the Deauvilles. Eighty percent of the dwellings are owner-occupied.

Pam Castro, who moved to Moorpark in 1956 when she was 2 years old, lives in the downtown area with her husband, Steve Castro, a school teacher in Simi Valley. His family was among Moorpark's original settlers. The couple owns P.S. 4 Kids, a preschool that serves 84 families.

Pam Castro spent six years on the Moorpark School Board and was its president, quitting when her children "vehemently protested" the time it took her away from home. "I'm a mommy," she said.

The preschool is run from the home of Steve's parents, who built their house when they first married. Ten years ago, Pam and Steve were able to buy a three-bedroom house on an adjacent property for $248,000. They live there with their three children, Ana-Alicia, 10, Alejandro, almost 12, and Antonio, 21, a recent graduate of Moorpark College who is bound for Arizona State University.

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