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Calm Corner of the Valley : West Hills has good schools, low crime, room to grow

February 25, 1996|ROSLYN ROZBRUCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When it came time for Alan and Harriet Zeitlin's daughter to start first grade nine years ago, the couple wasn't happy that she would be attending a Los Angeles public school. They thought about sending her to a private school, but instead decided to move to a school district they liked and spend the tuition money on a mortgage.

"We wanted a new house," Harriet Zeitlin said. "We also wanted to stay in the San Fernando Valley so we could remain close to family and friends."

After looking around for several months, they saw a new housing development in a Canoga Park community that would soon split off and name itself West Hills, and when they learned it was located in the Las Virgines School District, they put a deposit down on a 2,400-square-foot home with four bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths that was selling for $199,000. "Our neighborhood is one of the few in West Hills where the kids are able to go to the Las Virgines schools," said Alan Zeitlin, an independent insurance broker.

Over the years the Zeitlins had two more children and felt they needed more elbow room. They liked their neighborhood so much that instead of moving to a bigger house, they decided to add on several rooms to their home.

"We like being tucked away in the west end of the Valley, where it's a little more isolated," said Harriet Zeitlin.

Located on the western boundary of the San Fernando Valley, West Hills is one of the newer valley communities. It is a town with a mix of older homes built in the 1960s, and new homes. West Hills is bounded roughly by Roscoe Boulevard on the north, Victory Boulevard on the south, Shoup Avenue on the east and Ventura County (mainly undeveloped rolling hills) on the west.

During the mid-1980s, West Hills started to grow more rapidly. New housing developments were being built on the west side of the community in the Las Virgines district. Many parents were attracted to the district because of its smaller size, high student test scores and ongoing parent involvement in the schools. This, coupled with the affordable housing prices, brought many families into the community, which now has a population of more than 35,000. Before West Hills developed, Indians inhabited the area and supplied travelers with water. After California's admission into the United States, it became an agricultural community. In 1912, the Janss Investment Co. along with Harrison Gray Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times, and Moses Hazeltine Sherman planned to develop the community, and named it Owensmouth after Owens River. Residents thought the name was vulgar and in 1931 changed it to Canoga Park.

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In the 1980s, residents from the Westhills Assn. (named after a tract of homes), along with others in the more affluent and newer neighborhoods of Canoga Park, wanted to break away and establish themselves as West Hills. They petitioned to change the name, and in 1987 the name became official.

While many people move to West Hills for the name and prestige, Bill and Barbara Peiffer were attracted to the community for the opportunity to own a large piece of property. The Peiffers, who have a 6-year-old daughter, wanted to move from their El Segundo home to a bigger house a few years ago. The couple own a hardwood flooring company that they operate from their home and were encouraged by their employees--all of whom live in the San Fernando Valley--to move to their end of town.

In 1993, the Peiffers bought a one-story house built in 1960 on a half-acre lot. The couple like the fact that there's an office off the garage and that the house is rustic. "We didn't want a tract home," Bill Peiffer said.

The neighbors had always waved to each other, the Peiffers said, but after the Northridge earthquake, everyone became much friendlier. "Right after the earthquake, we all met in the street," Bill Peiffer said. "The [fact] that nobody had anything brought us all together. Since then we've become real good friends with a lot of the neighbors." Their house suffered only minor damage, the couple said.

West Hills is several miles west of the epicenter of the earthquake. Although there was some damage to homes and businesses, overall the community fared well.

According to Marc Shevin, a real estate agent with Prudential Realty's West Valley office, housing prices in West Hills vary from $112,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bath home to $890,000 for a six-bedroom, 5 1/2-bath home on a large lot. The median priced home is $200,000 for three bedrooms and 1 3/4 baths in 1,600 square feet.

Ava Better, a real estate agent with the Fred Sands office in Woodland Hills, explained West Hills' appeal: "There's low traffic, low crime, good schools, and you get a lot of bang for the buck."

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