City Councilwoman Joy Picus, pressured for months by Canoga Park homeowners angry at being left out of the new community of West Hills, agreed Monday to poll her constituents in both communities and abide by their decision on whether to enlarge West Hills' boundaries.
Her decision set off angry protests from West Hills representatives, who accused her of "bowing to pressure born of hysteria," and allowing Canoga Park residents to destroy West Hills' identity as a separate community.
They called for a vote of West Hills residents alone.
Picus announced her decision after a heated meeting Monday night at her district office in Reseda.
Picus said that a questionnaire would be mailed to all residential and business addresses in her district in Canoga Park and West Hills, asking whether the West Hills boundary should be extended eastward from Platt and Woodlake avenues to Fallbrook Avenue.
Picus, who has the authority to designate the community's boundary, said she would abide by the results of the survey, but she would not say what percentage of replies would have to favor expansion in order to change her earlier decision.
After the results are in, she will meet with representatives of all sides, she said.
The meeting, which had been scheduled to last an hour, took more than three hours. Picus described it as "long and difficult" and "at times heated."
Representatives of current West Hills residents--who want separation from Canoga Park to give their more affluent area an identity that would benefit real estate values--stalked from the meeting after about two hours, protesting that Picus was reversing her earlier decision on the boundary.
"Canoga Park is ganging up on West Hills," said Joel Schiffman, president of the West Hills Property Owners Assn.
"The only question is how much they want to carve up West Hills and destroy the concept of the hillside residential community," he said. "Obviously, an expansion of West Hills' boundaries in this manner is not only completely inconsistent with the original concept of the hillside residential community, but also will enlarge the community so significantly as to substantially diminish--if not completely destroy--the small-town ambiance that its residents worked so hard to gain.
"Should Ms. Picus now feel it is appropriate to reassess and reverse her longstanding position, thereby bowing to pressure born of hysteria, then we believe a plebiscite of the entire community of West Hills is appropriate."
The West Hills Open Zone, an association of homeowners fighting to be included in West Hills, was not entirely satisfied either.
Lil Younger, founder of the group, said she was "disappointed it didn't get settled tonight."
About 18 residents of the "open zone" waited outside the meeting.
"We have a lot at stake," said Shirley Thorne, who purchased a home this spring in what she thought was West Hills and then discovered it was technically still part of Canoga Park.
Thorne's friend, Roxana Danova, 28, said she also bought a house listed as in West Hills and later learned it was in Canoga Park. "It's really upsetting because we feel we paid more because of the name 'West Hills,' " Danova said.
Picus invited three representatives each from the West Hills Property Owners Assn. and the West Hills Open Zone to the meeting in an attempt to defuse the controversy that has dogged her since she created West Hills.
She also invited three representatives from the Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce, which opposed formation of West Hills and is fighting the shifting of any more of Canoga Park, and representatives from the Vanowen Estates section of Canoga Park, which also seeks inclusion in West Hills.
Reporters were barred from the meeting.
Schiffman's group gathered petitions that convinced Picus to create the new community in January. Founders hoped the new name would result in higher property values and lower insurance rates.
The Open Zone, formed by homeowners in a two-mile strip west of Fallbrook and east of Platt and Woodlake, contended that Picus reneged on a promise made in February to extend the boundaries of West Hills to include its neighborhood.
Picus told the homeowners they could call themselves West Hills, but refused to extend the original boundaries: Roscoe Boulevard on the north; Woodlake, Platt and Sherman Way on the east; Victory Boulevard on the south and the Ventura County line on the west.
Meanwhile, Picus has come under fire in recent weeks for failing to appear at a long-scheduled Neighborhood Watch meeting. Picus said she canceled her appearance because she did not want to face irate Canoga Park residents seeking admission to West Hills.
A few days later, about 500 people attending a meeting of Younger's group were asked to clog telephone lines at Picus's office in hopes of forcing her to let them become part of West Hills.