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Congestion Takes a Turn for the Worse in Santa Rosa Valley

Rural residents want a timeout from a road's morning traffic. But commuters say a no-right-on-red rule slows them down.

October 10, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

A traffic signal has become the latest battleground for Santa Rosa Valley residents who are fighting to maintain their rural lifestyle in the face of encroaching suburban sprawl.

Westbound commuters driving through the valley -- a five-mile stretch of homes, farms, nurseries, ranchettes and horse trails surrounded by growing bedroom cities -- want to make a right on red from Moorpark Road onto Santa Rosa Road. Locals want them to stop awhile.

Without the no-right-on-red rule at the busy intersection of Santa Rosa and Moorpark roads, residents say they would be stuck on their streets, unable to get on to Santa Rosa Road in their cars because of the ceaseless traffic.

"The only break we have is our light system," said Janis Gardner, vice chairwoman of the Santa Rosa Valley Community Assn. "The light is crucial, because otherwise there would be virtually no breaks in traffic on Santa Rosa Road."

But commuters forced to stop and wait for the one-minute light say it adds precious time to their morning drive, since the signal often doesn't stay green long enough for everyone to get through. That means they have to sit through another cycle or two.

"Whatever money they spent, the main problem is still there," said Simi Valley resident Greg Horne, who commutes every morning to Santa Barbara, where he works as a quality engineering consultant. "There's too many cars."

The two-lane farm road runs the length of the valley, connecting the eastern Ventura County cities of Moorpark, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley with Camarillo, where commuters hop on to the Ventura Freeway. Many say they prefer the scenic route through the valley to the gridlocked California 23 connector to the Ventura Freeway.

But residents such as Gardner complain that growing traffic on Santa Rosa Road is affecting their quality of life and threatening the serenity of their residential village, where no billboards, strip malls or drive-through restaurants mar the landscape.

Drivers often travel faster than the 55 mph speed limit, spooking horses on a trail that runs parallel with the road. The trail is actually a series of paths that connect in some places and split off in others. At times, horses have to walk on the shoulder of the road, and drivers sometimes honk and yell at them to get out of the way, Gardner said.

"We wanted to live in a 'Leave It to Beaver,' countrified atmosphere, the total opposite of the Hollywood Hills," said Gardner, who moved from the Westside of Los Angeles to an estate home behind gates three years ago with her husband and three children.

"But commuters weren't coming through like this three years ago," she said as she drove down Santa Rosa Road on a weekday afternoon, a car tailgating her SUV.

It wasn't always this way. In the 1800s, the site where the Santa Rosa Technological Magnet School now stands served as a stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage Route, where travelers refreshed themselves at the cool springs percolating through the valley floor. An old bell under an oak on campus marks the stagecoach stop.

Horse paths wind past homes, and children walking to school stop to feed carrots to Sam, a retired Ventura County Sheriff's Department horse who grazes in a backyard corral.

Locals estimate that about 100 valley households own horses, said Mark Burley, a TV producer who moved to the Santa Rosa Valley a decade ago. "The atmosphere has more or less stayed the same, but one thing that has changed is the road," Burley said. "It's much, much busier than it was. That's why that no-right turn is crucial."

The county plans to install at least one other signal on Santa Rosa Road this fall as a "traffic calming" measure. In the meantime, locals say they are trying to not let the roadway fracas disturb their peace.

"Overall, it's a piece of paradise out here," said Ruth Means, who frequently rides her mare on the valley's meandering bridle paths. "But people just don't realize they need to slow down."

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