Back in the 1950s, the nation got a brief glimpse of Moorpark, then a tiny hamlet in eastern Ventura County. It came during one of Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” programs when the area was lit up in a televised demonstration of electricity generated by a small nuclear reactor operating then in nearby Santa Susana.
Except for that brief moment in the spotlight, Moorpark for years was virtually unknown among Southern California communities, existing as a sleepy town amid vegetable ranches and citrus groves.
That is beginning to change. Since becoming a city in July, 1983, Moorpark city officials and business leaders have actively sought to persuade high-technology businesses to locate plants in the city, touting Moorpark’s lower land prices and more reasonable commercial and industrial rents than can be found in much of the San Fernando Valley.
Moorpark has achieved considerable success in the past five years by luring 10 companies, each with at least 250 employees. The list includes aerospace giant Litton’s Aero Products division, aerospace supplier Metal Bellows and personal computer maker Tandon Corp.
So far, companies have discovered Moorpark through developers, real estate brokers or other companies, although Moorpark is considering hiring a full-time economic development director to recruit new businesses.
Those companies that have moved were attracted largely by cheaper space. Ed Ball, vice president with Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, a Boston-based real estate developer that has about 100 acres of industrial park land in Moorpark, said that its office space there rents for about 45 cents a square foot per month. That compares to 60 cents a square foot at the company’s Chatsworth property, Ball said.
In addition, companies have been attracted by a plentiful labor supply, rapidly improving schools and greater freedom to design a plant to a company’s specific needs.
“It is a real good community. Most companies have moved out there from the Valley,” said Neil Nadler, a senior industrial specialist with Johnstown American, which leases industrial space to companies in Moorpark.
Nadler says the main concern companies have about relocating to Moorpark is the distance from their old operations. They worry that they may lose employees reluctant to make the commute, he said.
But last summer Tandon, a well-known high-technology company, became the first major publicly held company to locate its corporate headquarters in Moorpark. Tandon officials say they pay roughly the same rent--about 58 cents a square foot per month for about 200,000 square feet--that it did at three locations combined in Chatsworth, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark. But the company was able to consolidate its operations and move into a plant tailored for its important personal computer business.
And Litton was able to consolidate four facilities it had in Canoga Park and Calabasas into one site in Moorpark.
Moorpark’s success is tied in part to the Valley economy. It was more difficult for Moorpark to lure companies when the Valley had a glut of office and industrial space, which made it a renter’s market. In December, 1985, the Valley office vacancy rate was running at 20%, but by last December that figure had dropped to 12%, as low as it has been in five years.
That made it easier for Moorpark to establish itself as something of an annex to the Valley high-technology area.
“It was an excellent move for us,” said Dick Cameron, human resources director at Litton Aero Products, which in 1984 consolidated operations that were scattered through the West Valley into one location in Moorpark.
But for all Moorpark’s success, there are growing pains. Moorpark is continually struggling to strike a balance between high-technology businesses that fill up concrete industrial parks while maintaining the kind of attractive small-town quality one sees on High Street, lined with Western-style shops and shady pepper trees.
“Moorpark is very oriented toward managed growth. Otherwise your intersections turn into parking lots, your schools become overcrowded, your air quality suffers and your open space disappears. You become Van Nuys instead of Moorpark,” said Clint Harper, a city councilman who was one of the sponsors of a 1986 measure passed by voters that limits home construction.
Traffic congestion, ironically one of the headaches companies hope to avoid by moving to places such as Moorpark, is a major problem at rush hour. The Simi Valley and Moorpark freeways both end in Moorpark and squeeze traffic onto the city’s streets. The state is not expected to connect the freeways until at least 1992, and money has still not been set aside for it.
In addition to traffic problems, the growth spurt has brought attention to the city’s lack of basic amenities that companies need to do business.
Businesses must put their guests up in hotels in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks or the Valley because there is no hotel or motel in Moorpark. The city also lacks upscale restaurants or a large dinner house for meetings. The problem is so bad that the city’s chamber of commerce is holding its upcoming annual dinner in nearby Camarillo because there are no suitable restaurants in town.
Moorpark also is relatively far from major airports. Even in the smoothest of traffic, Los Angeles International Airport is an hour away.
Many of Moorpark’s 28,000 residents are wary of rapid growth. The city’s growth law basically limits new home building permits to 270 a year, excluding small projects, low-income housing or homes on ranches.
And Moorpark’s growth is eliminating some of its advantages, notably cheap home prices. Houses costing $250,000 to $500,000 are commonplace. City officials and business leaders say the gap is closing between the city’s home prices and those in nearby areas.
Some businesses are reluctant to locate in areas where growth is being slowed because they believe it reflects anti-business feelings. But others see Moorpark’s slower growth as an advantage in attracting business.
“You can still drive five minutes in any direction and find farmland. That makes it very attractive,” Harper said.