By Kevin Harris
One hundred and thirty six residents showed up, either virtually or in person, Tuesday night, to speak their mind on proposed changes to the city’s General Plan, during a 6-hour Special Meeting of the Thousand Oaks City Council. These include land use designation changes for some areas of the city, from single, residential use, to mixed use, including commercial alongside residential, to help implement the population density increases required to build more housing units – in part to fulfill a state mandate.
Another part of the General Plan being debated was the potential rezoning of the Borchard Parcel, sometimes referred to as the “Borchard Wetlands” – the 37-acre open space lot off of the 101 freeway next to Borchard Road.
The meeting began with a staff presentation, including input from developer Matt Raimi, of Raimi & Associates, followed by city council members comments, and then the Public Comments, which went on for hours. Before staff began their slideshow, however, Mayor Bill-de la Pena explained that what was happening at this meeting was part of a long process started almost two years ago, and that the city’s General Plan has not been changed in 50 years. “Here we are in the final stretch to approve the land use map,” the Mayor said.
Matt Raimi spoke about the projects community outreach, which included community ads, newspaper coverage, a city website, and an extensive survey, which itself turned out to be controversial. Community Development Director Mark Towne spoke about the benefits to the community of more affordable housing units while still maintaining the open space nature of the city… things that the General Plan has been talking about doing for a long time. After the staff presentation, some city council members offered their comments on the project to date.
Council Member Al Adam: “We have the lowest population per square mile of any city in Ventura County,” Adams said. He pointed out that Thousand Oaks is made up of about 50% single family homes, 35% open space, and “I know the citizens of Thousand Oaks as well as myself, really value that balance in the city.” He said that this general plan preserves that balance, by pointing out that the general plan proposes only a potential of about 2 miles with changes among the city’s 56 square miles.
Council Member Ed Jones: Said he will remain open minded to new changes, but cautioned that we should preserve the “dominant vistas” that we enjoy in Thousand Oaks, which comes from the priority to open space that we have.
Council Member Kevin McNamee: Questioned the validity of the survey, focus group, and other methods used for community outreach, and pointed out that many residents feel such methods have little credibility. “The survey to me is bogus,” McNamee said. “The GPAC to me is bogus, the focus groups are bogus… because this was not done in a statistically accurate way of doing methodology for sociological studies.” Audience members in attendance applauded and cheered.
Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Pena: Said in response to the applause that we need to maintain our decorum. “Everybody’s passionate about this subject, including me,” the Mayor said. “And certainly it is long overdue that we take another very good look at our general plan. We do need to make room for additional housing. It is a mandate by the state of California, by Sacramento, and therefore, there will be change in the city of Thousand Oaks.” She urged everybody to keep an open mind and to be respectful of other peoples’ opinions. “We will not make everybody happy with our decision next week,” she added.
With more than a hundred public speakers available, following is an accurate sampling of the group. Each speaker was allowed 2 minutes to speak, and some speakers were virtual Zoom callers, while others were in-person.
Michelle Ketke – Newbury Park resident: Said that we are being “misdirected” to look only at the 101 corridor for proposed density changes, but that the general plan actually has density and height increases included for some residential neighborhoods as well. “You could soon see three story houses, or more likely, apartment buildings, on your street,” she warned.
Karen Wilburn – Newbury Park resident: Pointed out inconsistencies with the outreach survey related to the Borchard lot, and suggested the issue be put up for a popular vote by residents.
Alan Lewis: Said most residents oppose building out the Borchard Parcel, and that it serves as an important flood plain. Also asked the council why the opinions of people outside of the city are being considered for what happens to the Borchard Parcel.
Natalie Farrahan – Thousand Oaks resident: Supports rezoning the Borchard Parcel. Says millennials like her are in desperate need of a community gathering place in her neighborhood, and that re-zoning the Borchard Site for mixed use will provide such a place.
Dr. Mulbisery – Thousand Oaks resident: Also supports the development of the Borchard Parcel. A hospice and geriatric physician who says his older patients often complain about having no place locally to move to in order to downsize, and that the 37-acre Borchard site would be a good location for a mixed use facility for more senior housing.
Paul Carbone – Newbury Park resident, 21 years: Concerned about the increased traffic that will be generated by any new development on the Borchard Parcel. “How are all these vehicles getting in and out of this potential new development?” he asked.
Todd Smith – Thousand Oaks Financial Advisor: Pointed out that due to the dramatically increased traffic on surrounding streets from the Borchard Parcel if developed, there will be a big drop in home prices on those streets, which he said was confirmed by local realtors.
Kimberly: Newbury Park resident: Said that what drew her to move to NP from Studio City was the open space. “I don’t want it to look like Encino. I don’t want it to look like Sherman Oaks… T.O. is one of the greenest cities in the nation. I think we need to keep it that way.” She also said that she doesn’t agree with building on a flood plain (Borchard Parcel). “It didn’t work out so well for New Orleans or Texas or anywhere else you build along flood plains,” she said.
Lory Dingman – Newbury Park resident, 50 years: Called the proposed use change to high density, “stunning,” and opposes the new general plan. “The city is only required to build 2600 units over the next 8 years. Your own planning commissioner, David Newman, has asked, what is the rush?”
Robert Scott Horn: Newbury Park resident. “In Thousand Oaks, slow growth is in our DNA. This rush to massively over develop all of our city by rezoning is not who we are. We the people of Thousand Oaks, for decades, have carefully guarded our growth.” He wondered, loudly, “So how the FREAK did we get here tonight?” He reminded the council that the Borchard Wetlands have lay vacant all these years “because it is a flood plain!”
Jennifer Gross: Said that there are 18 empty restaurant and retail storefronts within a quarter mile from the Borchard Parcel. “If we need additional restaurant and retail, let’s work on getting those revitalized rather than building additional retail and restaurants within the area.” She also said that in regards to additional walking areas, she pointed out that we already tried that with The Lakes and with Dos Vientos, and neither of them have been successful. So “prove to me that works by making The Lakes successful, by making Dos Vientos successful,” she said.
Kinsey Flame: Newbury Park resident: Said her home backs up directly onto the Borchard Parcel. Supports changing the parcel to mixed use. “This piece of property is not like Wildwood or Mt. Bony. When I look over my fence I do not see a beautiful mountain, or flowers, or even animals. I see a dirty lot with rats. Lots of rats,” she said. “I don’t have a beautiful view of Mt. Bony, I have a view of the 101 Freeway.” She also said that she has seen the developer’s plans for the property, and that he has plans to mitigate the flooding and for traffic issues, and that there is “no talk of a seven story building.” She told the council, “This property is not wetlands.”
Deborah Baber – Port Hueneme resident: Said she was alarmed that the first reason listed under requirements for updating the Land Use map is to satisfy state requirements. “You were not elected to govern on behalf of the Republic of California. That is not your job or your jurisdiction,” she said.
The next Thousand Oaks City Council Meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. To view the meeting online, go to the following url: https://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/watch-totv/past-meeting-videos.
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks.