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Both Sides Win on Woodridge

Council OKs deal that protects property rights and community

September 14, 1997

In the end--or at least somewhere near the end of the tedious five-hour debate that was the latest of many rounds in Thousand Oaks' battle over the proposed development called Woodridge--it all came down to one question.

Councilman Andy Fox asked it of Save Open Space Director Mary Wiesbrock as she stood at the podium lecturing the council on why the entire 743-acre parcel should remain untouched, not just the 88% of it that the developer has agreed to dedicate permanently to open space in return for permission to build on the remaining 12%.

"Does your group differentiate between 'open space' and 'private property'?" Fox asked.

He asked it two or three different ways. Apparently, the answer was no.

The deal that the council finally approved, somewhere after midnight by a predictable 3-2 vote, was both a victory for nature lovers and a victory for capitalists. Thousand Oaks has plenty of both.

Much as the council minority and its supporters would have preferred to leave the entire tract as it is, Fox and the council majority recognized that the owners have a right to build something there, under the city's General Plan and every other policy of city, county and state. The best the city could do was to bargain, and bargain it did.

Over the last two years, Woodridge Associates revised its plans for the rolling hills between Lang Ranch in Thousand Oaks and Wood Ranch in Simi Valley five times. The number of houses was trimmed back from 339 to 252, and confined to 85 acres of the 743. Designs were changed to reduce the visual impact of the homes from a distance. School officials were pledged $1.8 million to help make room for Woodridge students in area classrooms. Traffic studies and wildlife migration patterns were taken into account. Every oak was spared.

Yes, the project narrows the buffer between Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley to less than 1,000 feet in places. But this deal makes it unlikely that the two cities will ever flow together or be linked by Sunset Hills Boulevard.

In return, the city gets 625 acres of open space free from any future threat of development. Much of it is too steep to be built upon anyway, but 200 acres that might have one day sprouted homes will now remain green. The trail system that rings the city can be completed.

None of that makes Woodridge more welcome for residents of nearby areas that will endure more traffic and, in some cases, diminished views. Their concerns are probably the same ones felt by even earlier arrivals when those now-established developments were first approved. We would all like to be the last to arrive, but that's not the way it works.

The best a city can do is to negotiate a deal that brings maximum benefit to its present and future citizens while allowing property owners to exercise their rights.

This time, Thousand Oaks did.

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