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Ventura County Perspective

County Line Defines a Debate About Growth : Springtime, and the Topic Is Golf

April 11, 1999

Spring has returned once again to Thousand Oaks' picturesque Hill Canyon, bringing the usual sounds: chirping songbirds, buzzing insects and passionate debate over whether building a golf course here would open this treasured place to legions of appreciative new visitors or destroy it altogether. Yet another forum was scheduled for this weekend to review the pros and cons.

For more than six years the golf-course controversy has swirled around this peaceful place. Although some progress has been made with the completion of two environmental impact reports and numerous modifications to the design, the city remains far from consensus.

There's little question that Thousand Oaks needs to build a second public golf course somewhere. The City Council has approved spending $10 million to refurbish the 36-year-old Los Robles Golf Course but that won't fix the very real problem of overcrowding. Los Robles logs 87,000 rounds each year--an average of 240 every day. As an extra incentive, a golf course is that rare recreational facility likely to make money, enough to support its own upkeep and that of other parks as well.

Hill Canyon, in the northwest corner of the city, seems like a good site to the joint powers authority of city and park district officials who came up with the plan. A remote and lovely area, it is known to relatively few Thousand Oaks residents (other than as the site of last year's disastrous sewer-pipe gusher) and visited by even fewer. Some who do visit come to dump trash, to target shoot or to tear up the terrain with off-road vehicles.

The planners have taken extraordinary steps to be as nature-sensitive as possible. They hired a golf architect known for his environmentally conscious courses and asked him to keep grading and turf areas to a minimum and to work around the canyon's oaks and wetland habitat. A nature center, footpaths and equestrian trails were added to broaden the appeal.

Yet even this careful design would affect 28 acres of wetlands and 75 acres of farmland and require the uprooting of more than three dozen oak trees. Concerns that the plan might increase flood hazards downstream grew after the same El Nino deluge that burst the sewer pipe also eroded the banks of the Arroyo Conejo, the canyon's spine. Had that erosion damaged a multimillion-dollar golf course rather than a wild creek bed, even good intentions to keep the creek in a semi-natural state might have been washed away too.

And so the debate returns for another spring. Those who oppose the Hill Canyon Recreational Project could help their case by suggesting an alternative location. Thousand Oaks has also considered building a golf course on its newly acquired Broome Ranch property at the southwest corner of the city. Some of the same people battling to stop golf in Hill Canyon also oppose it at Broome Ranch.

We are glad to see this issue getting such careful consideration and such vigorous public debate. Whatever happens, it is unlikely to please everyone. But both sides could help their city by working together to find the right place and right attributes for a facility Thousand Oaks' many golfers have been craving for six years.

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