Exploring the confusion over city boundaries in the Conejo Valley

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A brief history of the incorporation of cities in the Conejo Valley

Source of this article – Thousand Oaks Acorn, September 8, 2011

By Jonathan Kuperberg

Scott Wolfe admitted it’s confusing.

COUNTY LINE—In order to avoid having to build two bridges, the company that constructed the Westlake Bridge built it to straddle the border between Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Each side was built to different standards. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers

The planning director for Westlake Village—the city in Los Angeles County, not the Thousand Oaks community in Ventura County—said people who call city hall are always asked their address. Their answer determines if, in fact, they actually live in the city of Westlake Village.

“I would say maybe between 20 and 30 percent (of callers) are not actually residents of Westlake Village but Thousand Oaks or a neighboring community, like Lake Sherwood,” Wolfe said. “It’s a fact of life here. The first thing we screen for is where do you really live.”

To help resolve some of the confusion, the Acorn recently researched how the boundaries of local cities were formed. The story involves sewers, billboards and a curious fire protection fee, not to mention a race between city founders to incorporate up to the L.A.-Ventura County line.

The valley’s first city

Thousand Oaks, which incorporated in 1964, is the oldest city in the Conejo Valley. Its borders generally follow Santa Monica Mountain ridge lines or major land ownership boundaries, according to John Prescott, the city’s community development director, who’s been with T.O. since 1971.

On the northern edge, the drainage of Bard Lake—a 230- acre man-made lake created by the Wood Ranch Dam—separates T.O. and Simi Valley.

“(Bard Lake) drains out to Arroyo Simi, pretty much all the way around the northeast corner of the city around Olsen Road,” Prescott said.

Aside from the Potrero Valley to the west and other apparent geographical barriers, most of Thousand Oaks’ boundaries stem from land ownerships. The Janss Company owned much of the area that was to become T.O. The American Alliance Steam Ship Company and the American- Hawaiian Land Company also had property.

Other borders were extended due to annexation in 1964. The city took over the sewer system and annexed most of the neighboring unincorporated communities, specifically most of the Newbury Park area, to provide them with that service, according to Prescott. Newbury Park, a separate community in the 1940s and ’50s, kept its name after annexation.

“It was a way to make sure future growth of the Conejo Valley would be controlled by the city,” Prescott said.

Thousand Oaks’ eastern boundary, which runs into the Los Angeles County line, is another story.

Westlake Village, USA

When Westlake Village was established in the 1960s as one of the country’s first master-planned communities, it encompassed areas in both Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Then, in 1968 and 1972, two portions of the Ventura County side of Westlake were annexed into the city of Thousand Oaks.

A decade later, in 1981, WLV was incorporated as a city but, according to state law, one city cannot be in two counties. So those whose homes were in Ventura County became a part of Thousand Oaks. Some residents still haven’t figured that out.

“People who live in North Ranch assume they live in (the city of) Westlake Village,” Wolfe said. “(They) don’t realize they live in the city of Thousand Oaks.”

LINES—The above map shows the boundaries separating Westlake Village, T.O. and Agoura Hills. Courtesy of the City of Westlake Village

Westlake Village’s eastern boundaries follow the historic boundaries of Russell Ranch, Wolfe said. The Russell family owned most of the property in the area—except for the portion it sold to William Randolph Hearst, the San Francisco newspaper tycoon, who in turn sold it to the Albertson Company.

The division of Westlake Village by the county line manifested itself in some unusual ways.

Straddling that line— and therefore the cities of Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village— is Westlake Lake. The bridge that accesses Westlake Island also lies on both sides of the county line, which complicated the construction of the bridge in the 1960s.

“Each county required some access from their particular county,” Wolfe said. “Rather than building two bridges, the developer figured, build one on the county line.”

As a result, the lane leading onto the island is in Ventura County and the lane leading off is in L.A. County.

The Great Race of Agoura

The formation of Agoura Hills in the late ’70s was driven by residents who were disheartened by their inability to curtail development in northwestern L.A. County, according to Fran Pavley, the city’s first mayor and current representative for the 23rd District in the California Senate.

Twice as many billboards dotted Agoura Hills before it was incorporated, Pavley said.

“The county was the one who approved all those billboards,” she said. “Lots of things were approved without very much planning. . . . No one was looking out for greater good of the community.”

Agoura Hills had two main incorporation campaigns, Pavley said. One proposal would have extended the city to the Ventura County line, encompassing what is today Westlake Village, and would have included much of the unincorporated area just south of the city limits as well as Calabasas.

“(But) a battle was brewing between the Agoura contingent and the Westlake residents,” Wolfe said. “So they each went their own way.”

In the early ’80s, Agoura Hills was on the verge of becoming its own city. However, at the last minute, as a means to scale back the city limits, the county assessed a new fee for wildland fires.

“ So the more open space you had in your city, the more it would cost you to provide that money for the county,” Pavley said. “It became unaffordable to new cities that had to show to LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission) that they would have a balanced budget with sales.”

The second plan, a more scaled-down city, was accepted by LAFCO for Los Angeles County in 1981.

“ That sort of stopped the grander vision, which would have been Calabasas, Agoura and Agoura Hills,” Pavley said.

This is why Agoura Hills’ city limits do not extend far into the mountains, leaving mountainous communities such as Agoura in unincorporated L.A. County. With that, most of Agoura Hills’ boundaries were sealed, since Westlake Village was to the west and Ventura County to the north.

As for the eastern side, Liberty Canyon seemed disconnected from the rest Agoura Hills, geographically speaking, but the older, developed neighborhood would have been an island if it were not included in Agoura Hills.

“It was somewhat of a surprise that Liberty Canyon was part (of the city),” Pavley said. “It is connected (only) by eastbound lanes and Agoura Road.”

The remainder of the territory fell largely to Calabasas.

Calabasas cometh

“ I drew the boundaries (of Calabasas),” says Dennis Washburn.

Calabasas’ first mayor, Washburn and company had to contend with Agoura Hills and Westlake Village in the incorporation process.

“We were trying to get as much of the territory created by the Las Virgenes Unified School District and Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (as possible),” he said.

A 1978 campaign to create the city of Rancho Las Virgenes was the first in a string of efforts “ torpedoed” by developers, Washburn said.

Malibu was going through incorporation at the same time, but “we weren’t going to go into the coastal zone,” Washburn said.

In 1991, Calabasas was finally incorporated, cutting Washburn’s original proposal of 26 square miles roughly in half.

What could have been called Rancho Las Virgenes ended up as Calabasas, which comes from the Spanish word “calabaza,” meaning “pumpkin.”

Next door, residents had long since voted to name their city Agoura Hills instead of Las Virgenes.

And despite the confusion that continues to this day, Westlake Village has always been Westlake Village. Both of them.