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Ventura County Perspective

Bananas' Appeal Immeasurable

September 28, 1997

Call it the case of the hillside that slipped on a banana plantation.

The latest casualty in the weird saga of the La Conchita landslide appears to be the Seaside Banana Gardens, one of Ventura County's truly delightful oases of oddity.

For a dozen years, the gardens owner, Doug Richardson, made the most of the rare balmy microclimate by turning 11 acres of rented land into a tropical paradise of 50,000 banana plants and fruit trees.

Hundreds of tourists a week pulled off the 101 Freeway to wander the trails and sample some of the 58 varieties of bananas grown there, including some that taste of chocolate or peppermint.

Now, banana heaven may be about to split.

Richardson was one of numerous La Conchita residents affected when part of a hillside citrus and avocado orchard owned by La Conchita Ranch Co. came loose during a violent winter storm early in 1995 and dropped about 600,000 tons of mud onto streets, houses--and the Seaside Banana Gardens. Nine houses were destroyed; property values were devastated.

More than 100 residents sued the ranch company, which also happens to own the land leased by the banana gardens, claiming that over-watering of the orchard had contributed to the instability of the slope. The suits were eventually settled.

Richardson wasn't among those who sued. But after suffering damage and lost business--that he estimates at $250,000--as a result of the slide, he said he was unable to pay his rent and fell behind.

With the amount owed now more than $30,000, the ranch has ordered him to pay up or leave.

Faced with the prospect of digging up 50,000 banana trees, Richardson has been negotiating for time--and looking frantically for a nearby spot with a similar microclimate.

This would be an excellent moment for some deep-pocketed partner to step forward, pay off the overdue rent and help keep this unique landmark in La Conchita.

The ranch owners could stand to be a bit more flexible too, considering that if Richardson had chosen to join the other 112 people who sued them he might now have plenty of cash to pay off the debt--their cash.

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