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Robert Haaland, Noted Local Engineer, Dies


THOUSAND OAKS — Robert S. Haaland, principal engineer behind several developments that defined the exclusive nature of this city over the last three decades, has died at age 64.

Haaland died Thursday at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood following complications from an earlier surgery to correct a hiatal hernia, said his longtime friend, Chuck Cohen, a land-use lawyer and former Thousand Oaks mayor.

Haaland's engineering skills shaped local landmarks such as The Oaks mall and the Lake Sherwood and Dos Vientos communities. He also was involved in engineering design on the Seventh-day Adventist Village in Newbury Park, Wood Ranch in Simi Valley and the Casa Pacifica youth facility in Camarillo, said Dale Ortmann, a partner in Haaland & Associates.

Current city planners said Haaland's role as a behind-the-scenes advisor to the city in its formative years will have perhaps a more lasting effect than individual projects.

"You will not see any one building or edifice that is Bob Haaland," said Phil Gatch, the city's planning director since 1970. "What you'll see are the city's land forms, how the streets are planned, how much grading parking lots have, how high driveways should be in commercial and industrial property. A lot of what Thousand Oaks is today is what Bob Haaland provided to us."

Gatch said Haaland had a reputation for standing up to developers with whom he contracted if he thought their plans would meet too much resistance from city officials, or would alter the natural feel of the city. "He had a much stronger feeling for what Thousand Oaks should be, rather than having it raped or scraped by bulldozers."

On the Dos Vientos housing project, for example, Haaland predicted early on that residents would balk at a steep curving road, such as the eventual Borchard Road extension. Instead, he talked developers into agreeing to build a tunneled road that could lie flat, simultaneously easing safety concerns and visual impact, Ortmann said.

But the tunnel plan was scrapped after the development size was cut in half and costs became prohibitive. And the Borchard extension became the subject of lawsuits after Newbury Park residents objected to its 12% grade.

"Dutch," as he liked to be called, was active in local civics projects and philanthropies. He established an endowment for Hospice of the Conejo. In 1994, he created a fund-raiser to close a shortfall of several thousand dollars in the group's budget by asking shoppers to build a chain of quarters on tape stretching from one end of The Oaks to the other.

Born Oct. 31, 1936, in Lewistown, Mont., Haaland earned a civil engineering degree from Montana State University. He worked briefly surveying land at Yellowstone National Park, later moving to Los Angeles, where he was a city employee.

In 1963, he was hired as an engineer to help develop the 10,000 acres of Janss family land that became a building block of Thousand Oaks, which was incorporated the following year. He later went into business for himself.

Friends and family said he enjoyed world travel, including skiing trips and African safaris.

Haaland was twice divorced, and is survived by a son, Ron, and a daughter, Lynne.

Visitation is scheduled for Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m. at Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Memorial Park and Mortuary in Westlake Village. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday at Lake Sherwood Country Club. Those wishing to attend are asked to call 497-4554.

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