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Residents Attack Park District Plan

Land: Under proposal before board, some would lose parts of yards abutting a golf course, while others could buy property they have encroached upon.


SIMI VALLEY-One by one, residents of the Texas Tract stood up and told the park district's board of directors how worthless the land in dispute is.

The hillside next to the Simi Valley Golf Course is crumbling, the erosion widespread. And the gophers are tunneling through what's left of it.

The residents also had a few choice words for the district at Thursday night's board meeting, and while worthless wasn't actually used to describe members of the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District board, it was certainly implied.

"I feel like I'm a victim of gross incompetence," said Frank Ross, who recently discovered that half his swimming pool sits on park property.

"You expect me to bear the cost of your ineptitude," exclaimed Miriam Sanchez, whose pool also trespasses on the parkland behind her home.

The ire of residents, directed against a governing body that rarely treads in controversial matters, stems from a district proposal that would have some of them lose parts of their backyards and others pay as much as $3 a square foot for the right to hold on to what the homeowners thought they already owned.

Thursday, the park board took the first step toward declaring the land surplus and indicated that it is willing to work with residents to find a more acceptable price.

For years, residents in the neighborhood, which backs up to the golf course, had peacefully coexisted with one of the district's biggest revenue-generating resources. While golfers whacked balls along the fairways, homeowners built swimming pools and fences, and planted gardens and trees in their backyards, never questioning whether the level plots extending behind their houses belonged to them.

Until April, when a complaint from a resident about an eroding hillside behind one of the homes brought the park district in to inspect the boundaries. District staff discovered that many of the residents' backyards--41 in all--were encroaching on golf course property.

The discrepancies in boundary lines mean that some residents have swimming pools on district land. Others have carefully landscaped a hillside that doesn't belong to them, thinking that they were beautifying their own property.

"I feel most victimized to have to barter over land I thought was mine," Judy Lachmiller-Magness told the board.

Other residents complained that the district has done little to care for the land it is now claiming. The neighbors, not the district, have dealt with severe erosion by planting ice plant and other vegetation.

And the district has ignored other problems, from gophers to errant golf balls, neighbors said.

Board member Bonnie Carpenter acknowledged as much.

"I will be the first to admit we have not been good neighbors," Carpenter said after 1 1/2 hours of testimony from residents. "I certainly do not think the homeowners along Texas Avenue went out of their way to encroach on park property."

Board Chairman Don Funk told the residents: "I respect the anger," but added, "It is wrong for private homeowners to own public land."

Since last spring, the district has been searching for a solution to the problem that would satisfy all involved.

The staff proposal breaks the homeowners into two categories: those whose backyards the district wants to reclaim in order to maintain the golf course, and those who could buy the land from the district. The catch is the proposed price, $3 a square foot, which adds up to $130,000 per acre, a cost homeowners say is unfair.

"If you can find a developer willing to spend $3 a square foot, please send him to my house," Miriam Sanchez said.

Sanchez and other homeowners said they were willing to pay no more than $1 for each parcel--regardless of its size--because of the investments owners have put into the land. The parcels range from 2 to 25 feet deep.

Board members agreed that the price may be too high, but said they are unwilling to simply give the land away.

"It may not be the exact remedy or offer you are seeking, but it will be fair," Funk said.

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