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Ventura County

Farm Town Sends Out SOS

Save Our Somis group fears widening a state highway will disrupt the rural lifestyle. Judge will decide if more study is needed.

November 05, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Residents of the Ventura County farm town of Somis say they want to maintain the rural atmosphere of one of Southern California's last undeveloped agricultural valleys.

Caltrans says it wants to improve and expand an unsafe and overcrowded intersection where two highways meet in the tiny hamlet near Camarillo.

The debate brought both sides Monday to Ventura County Superior Court, where Judge Henry J. Walsh said he will soon decide whether Caltrans must review the proposal's environmental effects before it can expand the intersection at state highways 34 and 118.

About 80 members of the group Save Our Somis attended the hearing, saying the future of the Las Posas Valley is at stake. Except for the Ventura Freeway, California 118 is the only main traffic artery connecting the east county to the west. It also serves as a popular alternate route for truckers and commuters.

Caltrans attorney William Evans told Walsh that the widening project, which is scheduled to begin in 2005, isn't large enough to warrant an expensive and time-consuming environmental study.

"From a state perspective, this is a small project with a limited impact on the environment," Evans said.

Evans said construction costs on Caltrans projects tend to rise about 8% to 10% a year. The work in Somis is projected to cost $4 million, barring delays.

Attorneys for Save Our Somis, whose members agree the intersection needs improvement to ease severe congestion, said Caltrans' proposal would require crews to cut down 38 eucalyptus trees that provide a winter home for monarch butterflies and would affect a quarter-acre of wetlands near the intersection.

"These people aren't against a project to fix the intersection," Save Our Somis attorney Rachel Hooper said outside the courtroom. "They're saying, 'Let's do it in a proper way so the impacts are studied.' "

Members of Save Our Somis say the Caltrans proposal is part of a larger plan to turn California 118 into a four-lane highway stretching from the Port of Hueneme to Moorpark. They fear a widened 118 would invite more development and heavy truck traffic.

"I don't want that connection to come through and destroy our little town," said Somis resident Barbara Kerkhoff, who attended the hearing.

Save Our Somis has raised about $100,000 to fight the Caltrans proposal, including hiring Hooper and paying a private engineer to develop an alternate proposal.

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