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Request for Gates Raises Neighbors’ Resentment : Thousand Oaks: Barrier would keep out troublemakers, Mirabella says. But Las Casitas feels like the scapegoat.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Residents of the Mirabella Apartments in Thousand Oaks have long endured graffiti, vandalism and other minor crime problems.

But owners of the 608-unit complex have been working over the past year to change that image. They have improved their tenant-screening process and hired two security guards as well as a full-time maintenance man to paint over graffiti.

Last month, they even changed the name of the complex from Los Arbolitos to Mirabella Apartments--feeling that the old name was too strongly linked to the problems.

And now they want to go a step further and install security gates around their Hillcrest Drive property to keep out residents of the neighboring Las Casitas condominiums, saying they are responsible for many of the problems at the complex.

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The Thousand Oaks Planning Commission will consider the request at its meeting Monday. But the commission’s staff is recommending that Mirabella’s request be denied. They say the gates would create a negative impression of the neighborhood, cause traffic problems and encourage other owners of rental properties to make similar requests.

Robert Bickle, president of the Las Casitas Homeowners Assn., said he has no objection to the gates. But he takes exception to charges that his neighborhood is responsible for the problems there.

“They have problems of their own to solve,” he said. “They have people who live there that cause problems over here . To be pointing fingers at us is unfair.

“If they want to put up gates to create a more upscale image, that’s fine,” Bickle said. “But this community will not accept being a scapegoat.”

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Vincent Lopez, a supervisor at the 23-year-old apartment complex, insists that many of the problems there are caused by teen-agers from the neighboring 540-condominium tract. He calls police at least three times a week about disturbances, he said.

“We’ve had problems of vandalism, graffiti, car theft, people dumping trash and people coming in and working on their cars,” Lopez said. “I can go on and on.”

He said his complex has corporate accounts with such respected firms as Rockwell International, Amgen, Baxter Pharmaceuticals and Dole Foods and the owners want to do whatever they can to make tenants feel safe and comfortable. Mirabella rents range from $695 to $900 a month.

“We’ve had quite a few people move out because of problems,” Lopez said. “We used to have a bad image. We’re trying to change the image and have people feel more secure here.”

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He acknowledged that the complex is not without its own problems. Two weeks ago, he said, three teen-agers were arrested for trying to start a fire at the building. One was from Las Casitas, the other two from Mirabella.

But he said the majority of problems at the complex were caused by non-residents and that although the gates alone will not stop all crime, they will enhance other security precautions already taken. He noted that it is very difficult even for two security guards to patrol the 35-acre complex.

Sgt. Bruce Hansen of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said problems at Mirabella are no more serious than those in other high-density areas of town. The department does not keep records on the number of calls made from the complex.

From October, 1992, through September of this year, the department received 362 disturbance calls from Las Casitas, mostly about loud music, raucous parties or other noise. About 21% involved domestic disturbances, according to a city report.

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Again, Hansen said this was not unusual for a high-density area and pointed out that the number of crimes and calls from the area has dropped in the past year.

He said the Sheriff’s Department has not taken a position on the security gates requested by Mirabella.

“The gates would cut down on unwanted traffic,” he said. “But it would also make it more difficult for police to respond to the area.”

But Lopez said police would be provided with card keys to enter the complex at any time, just as they are at other gated communities in the city. He also noted that the gates would remain open most of the day, although closed at night.

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Meanwhile, Bickle said his homeowners group joined with city officials, including Mayor Elois Zeanah, last year to form the Las Casitas Neighborhood Improvement Committee to help turn things around in the neighborhood.

Also, the association has hired two painters, an exterminator and a city street sweeper to keep the neighborhood clean. To address overcrowding, the City Council recently approved a parking-permit system for Las Casitas. Under the new law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, each household will be entitled to keep only one car on the street overnight.

Still, some Las Casitas homeowners, like Lori Rai, are fed up with the problems in the neighborhood and would like to follow Mirabella’s lead and put up their own gates.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Rai said. “More power to them. If they get their gate up, maybe we can get a gate up too.”

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But Bickle is adamantly opposed to the idea. He would prefer to work with the owners of the Mirabella Apartments to improve the community.

“The idea of trying to seclude yourself from the rest of the world goes against the way I was raised,” Bickle said. “We should be working together, rather than trying to hide from each other.”


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