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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE: OAK PARK

A sensible town has its wild side

September 02, 2007|Talya Meyers | Special to The Times

Who says that a planned community can't have character? Oak Park, an unincorporated community in Ventura County, may have begun life as just another luxury tract community, but with open space, a recreational park, shopping and good food, it's developing a personality.

Beginnings

The land on which Oak Park stands once belonged to Jim and Marian Jordan, the voice talent behind the radio show "Fibber McGee & Molly." They bought 2,600 acres for use as a cattle ranch, but Southern California's rapid development made the sale of the land more beneficial.

In 1967, the first three-, four- and five-bedroom tract houses in rustic Oak Park were sold for about $27,000 to $29,000 to people seeking an "Escape to the Scenic Grandeur of Early California," as the development's brochures read.

From the beginning, the community's design included preservation of neighborhood nature parks. The community elected in the 1970s to remain unincorporated and is so to this day. Now, Oak Park is a prosperous, sparkling-clean community of about 14,800 people.

What it's about

For residents, Oak Park offers a combination of convenient suburban life, access to nature and relative urban proximity.

Houses are contemporary in style and well-kept. "One of the good things about moving here is that the house didn't need a lot of work," said Irina Vladi Wender, a graduate student and former model, who moved to the community in 2005 with her husband, Evan, a lawyer. They paid $820,000 for their home.

And Oak Park is coming into its own, with shopping centers providing residents with chic little cafes and boutiques. "It's a really young, kind of a hip neighborhood, and there's a ton of new stuff opening up," Wender said.

Insider's view

Oak Park's prettiness lies in the contrast between its organized housing and the rustic quality of its setting. Spacious, well-maintained houses -- the result of prosperous residents and active homeowners associations -- stand in quiet neighborhoods with manicured grass and carefully clipped trees.

But the community is flanked by the rough, red Santa Monica Mountains, which lend the pristine town a dusty, rustic quality, and is interspersed with six parks, which run the gamut from the pristine tameness of a country club to the wildness of the area's nature parks.

Good news, bad news

Oak Park's insistence on remaining unincorporated clearly hasn't hurt it. In addition to the park system, the community boasts its own library, school system and myriad social activities including a gardeners club and a performing arts alliance.

For parents with young children, it's a community that caters to family needs without suburban anonymity.

"I moved here because I loved the schools," said Apinder Bal, a realty agent and single mother who lives in Oak Park. Her son walks to his elementary school, and people frequently mention to her that they've seen him walking home. "It's nice that they're noticing him, looking out for him."

Cafe-style hangouts such as Nico's and the Bean Scene, an after-school hangout for parents and their kids, have popped up along Oak Park's quiet streets. Shopping at the Oaks shopping center or the Camarillo outlets is nearby. Summer music in the park is a mainstay and a new, designer-landscaped community center with a nearby waterfall is a popular spot for get-togethers.

But it's still in suburbia, a fact that may grate on urban dwellers who are used to a faster-paced lifestyle.

Free spirits may, in addition, be annoyed by the sense of uniformity and detail-driven homeowners associations.

Housing stock

Houses tend to be large and town houses are generally a more economical option. A five-bedroom, 4 1/2 -bathroom house with 3,700 square feet is on the market for $1,475,000. It has hardwood floors, crown moldings and a private pool and spa.

A four-bedroom, three-bathroom house is listed for $979,000. It has 2,867 square feet and comes with a built-in barbecue and a view of the surrounding mountains.

Report card

Children attend the Oak Park Unified School District. Brookside Elementary scored 929 out of a possible 1,000 in the 2006 Academic Performance Index Growth Report, and Oak Hills and Red Oak elementary schools scored 936 and 899, respectively. Medea Creek Middle School's score was 890, and Oak Park High's was 879.

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Sources: cde.ca.gov; www.rossde.com/oakpark.html; www.oakparkupdate.com.

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