2005-10-06 / Front Page

Concept plan for Rancho Potrero OK’d by council

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

The Thousand Oaks City Council hopes that more residents can enjoy the scenic blend of hills, ridgelines and grassy slopes that make up the 326-acre Rancho Potrero open space parcel south of Lynn Road.

With that in mind, the council approved a conceptual plan that would include the construction of picnic areas, including a covered pavilion to accommodate up to 200 people; car and bus parking; and additional trails. The city would pay the $450,000 cost over a four-year period beginning in 2007.

The council voted 3 to 0, with Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña abstaining.

Councilmember Ed Masry was absent.

The property, which includes the Two Winds Ranch public equestrian center, has been primarily accessible only to hikers, bikers and horseback riders. It’s adjacent to private and National Park Service land.

Several residents of the Dos Vientos development, located directly across the street from the property, spoke out against any development, citing various reasons from disturbance of the local habitat to safety and security issues and concerns over the effect on views.

“I want you to stop, look and listen in regard to the land south of Lynn Road,” said Connie LaFace of Newbury Park. “Leave it alone, au natural, please. We really want you to listen to us.”

But Councilmember Jacqui Irwin said the council’s decision is one that must benefit all residents, not just those who live in the area of the property.

“This is the perfect spot to teach our children the importance of our environment. That cannot be taught in the classroom,” Irwin said.

City staff together with Irwin and Bill-de la Peña, who were representing the council, met with the Conejo Recreation & Park District (CRPD) several times over the summer to discuss ownership, management issues and a conceptual plan for the property. When Rancho Potrero was purchased in 1993, the city put up $1 million and the CRPD paid $1.9 million. To avoid any conflict of interest, the city and the CRPD agreed to transfer ownership to the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA), which was created by the city and the CRPD to conserve local open space.

Irwin pointed out that although the city is a minority owner of the property, to date it has made all of the decisions involving the land. By agreeing to low-intensity use, the city is still allowed to have a say.

“We could buy the CRPD out or give them their two-thirds of the property without city input at all,” Irwin said. “The ownership issue of this land has been a mess for a long time. This is an attempt to make things more fair, a compromise that I think benefits residents of the entire community.”

The plan involves only about five to seven acres of the 326acre property, according to Jim Friedl, CRPD assistant general manager. With the views of Dos Vientos residents in mind, the proposed improvements would not be visible from Lynn Road.

The property will be managed by COSCA rangers, said COSCA Manager Mark Towne.

Mary Wiesbrock of Save Open Space in Agoura Hills commended the city and the park district for providing the funding needed to purchase the land. She suggested creating an alternative plan that would include a scenic lookout point and a plaque recognizing the city and the CRPD for their contribution in buying the land when the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy came up short.

Wiesbrock also urged the city to look into obtaining Proposition 117 funds to help purchase open space.

“You deserve Proposition 117 monies for these critical properties, but you have to ask for it,” Wiesbrock said.

Bill-de la Peña suggested cleaning up the area, including the remains of a site known as Olympia Farms, where a decaying barn is beyond repair.

“Restoring the natural habitat might be more worthwhile,” she said.

The issue will be on the agenda of a CRPD board meeting today, Thurs., Oct. 6. A formal community input process and environmental impact report will be conducted.

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