A group looking into cityhood for Oak Park is investigating whether it should be annexed by neighboring Thousand Oaks as a way of bringing more services to the unincorporated community.
The five-member committee is also studying whether the community of 13,000 can support itself as a city.
A preliminary study completed in August suggests that as a city, Oak Park could pay for the services provided by the county, including police and public works, from property and other taxes.
The new study will focus on whether Oak Park could afford a higher level of services, comparable to those enjoyed by residents in Thousand Oaks, through annexation, said Robert Braitman, director of the Ventura County Local Agency Formation Commission. Results of the study are not expected until January.
The results could determine whether Oak Park becomes the county’s 11th city or whether Thousand Oaks and the county should start the lengthy annexation process, he said.
“This would be a major annexation,” Braitman said. “We’ve had inhabited annexations before, but not on this scale.”
The proposal to merge the two communities into one is not new.
A marriage of Oak Park and Thousand Oaks, which has a population of 104,000, was first proposed to both communities in 1973 by then-County Supervisor John Conlan of Thousand Oaks.
Conlan said it made sense to consolidate the multiple agencies that ran schools, recreational and water facilities in Oak Park, then a six-year-old suburb of just a few hundred homes.
In the early 1970s, schools and parks were both run by agencies based in Simi Valley, miles from the heart of the Oak Park community. As Thousand Oaks grew, it made more sense for the area to belong to the Conejo Valley Unified School District, he said.
“They were in the Simi Valley Unified School District,” he said. “It was a heck of a way to take kids to school.”
Some problems have since been resolved. The Oak Park Unified School District was formed in 1977, but parks are still maintained by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District in Simi Valley.
In the end, both sides rejected Conlan’s suggestion, and the former supervisor said no one has resurrected the proposal since he left office.
Councilman Alex Fiore, who was in office when Thousand Oaks unanimously rejected the annexation, said city officials were reluctant to annex Oak Park because the two areas were separated by miles of undeveloped land.
Thousand Oaks would have had to pay for extra police, library and fire protection services in Oak Park, which had little commercial development to generate revenue, he said.
Fiore said he would be willing to reconsider the annexation, but that Oak Park would have to make the first move.
Oak Park school board member Wayne Blasman, who serves on the committee looking at cityhood, said he believes that development and population growth in the past two decades have brought the two communities closer together.
Thousand Oaks and Oak Park are both bedroom communities with high average household incomes and a predominantly white population, Blasman said.
Oak Park shoppers already do most of their spending in Thousand Oaks, Blasman said.
If annexed, Oak Park would be like the Westlake and Newbury Park neighborhoods of Thousand Oaks, areas with a strong sense of identity.
“I don’t think Oak Park would lose its identity, and I think that’s a community concern,” he said.
Ron Stark, a 24-year resident of Oak Park and another member of the committee looking at cityhood, said he has reservations about becoming a suburb of Thousand Oaks.
He believes that control over local issues will probably be diminished since Oak Park’s 4,610 registered voters make up only 8% of the 56,418 voters in Thousand Oaks.
Stark conceded that if the study finds that there are advantages to being annexed to Thousand Oaks, he may change his mind.
The main objective of becoming a city is to allow Oak Park residents to have more control over the services that the county provides. Right now, revenues generated by Oak Park exceed the cost of services that it receives, he said.
Stark said Oak Park is using Thousand Oaks as the model for the kind of programs that it would like to provide.
For example, when Thousand Oaks banned non-residents from checking out books from two city libraries, some Oak Park residents complained bitterly to the City Council.
“We don’t want to become a poor city with no services,” Stark said. “We said we would not raise people’s taxes to become a city.”