Hilly Haven : Camarillo Heights Offers Mix of Lifestyles in a Country Setting

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Bob and Annie Laurie Jochum moved to Camarillo Heights in 1963, they knew immediately that they had found the place they wanted to live for the rest of their lives.

Now, three decades later, with their three children grown and moved out, the Jochums say they are still just as happy with the community as they were the day they signed the title to their one-third-acre parcel.

"It's really marvelous," said Bob Jochum, 69. "It still has the kind of rural feel that attracted us in the first place. There's a feeling here that you can stretch out and not run into someone doing it."

Camarillo Heights takes its name from the territory originally held by the Spanish ranch-owning family. Development of the county-held community began in the early 1950s, predating Camarillo's 1964 incorporation.

Perched above the city, Camarillo Heights is home to about 3,400 residents who live in a small, hilly enclave roughly 670 acres in size. The main road through the community, North Loop Drive, is one of a handful of cramped, curvy streets lacing the area. To its north is a mixture of hilly, undeveloped land and farming parcels that stretch to California 118.

Unlike most of the neatly planned, uniform tracts beneath it, Camarillo Heights is an eclectic place, said Nancy Francis, manager of residential land-use for the Ventura County Planning Department.

"It's different than what you see in the city because when the area was being developed, it wasn't subject to the same kind of zoning standards that there are today," Francis said. "I think that some of residents still today think that the rules up there are less strict than they would be in the city or elsewhere."

There are about 1,200 dwellings within the loose confines of Camarillo Heights--an area generally bordered by Loop Drive to the north, Altamont Way to the west, Alosta Drive to the east and the city limits to the south.

Most new construction in the neighborhood has slowed in favor of renovation or add-on projects.

"It has been developed and settled for a while now," Francis said. "We're not seeing a lot of new, from-the-ground-up construction starts there."

Unlike the cookie-cutter sameness of many houses in the tracts below them, the homes in Camarillo Heights are a wide-ranging mix of styles and price ranges--a key part of the neighborhood's attraction, residents say.

Narrow two-lane streets and the dense brush and trees found in the area add to its distinctly country-like environment, they add.

"It's definitely country and we like it that way," said Della Abernathy, 70, who with her husband, Robert, has lived in the neighborhood since 1954. "When we got here, you could tell that the flatlands were going to be subdivided and we wanted to avoid that."

As taken as the Jochums were with Camarillo Heights' attractions, the family at one point in the early 1970s flirted with the idea of moving to Napa County, and even bought a piece of property there. But they abandoned the plan after realizing how close their ties were to the community.

"I always kidded my wife, Annie Laurie, that she had put roots down that ran clear to China," Jochum said. "We both realized that we just had too many good friends here and we opted to stay."

Early residents recall having to clear lemon groves from their parcels before building could start. Such was the case with the Jochums, who, with a family named Reedy, spent long hours after work and on weekends clearing a grove and then building on a parcel that later became known as Jody Lane.

"We cleared the land, then subdivided it," Jochum said. "A neighbor of mine named Reedy and I then built several homes on the block. We even named it--partially after his last name and partly after ours."

Along the tree-shrouded streets where Volkswagens can be found along with Lincolns, homes range from modest stucco ranch houses to custom-designed residences worth more than $1 million each.

At Camarillo Heights School on Catalina Drive, children of affluent parents mix well with those families whose children are middle-class or lower, Principal Gerry Hamor said.

Hamor said the elementary school, the second oldest in the Pleasant Valley School District, educates the neighborhood's children but also acts as a community center of sorts. During evenings and weekends, the school's athletic field is often abuzz with a hotly contested Little League game or soccer match.

"People in the Heights like to come by just to take walks. This is a place well-supported by the local community," Hamor said. "It's pretty rare when you find that many of your parents attended this place when they were young. We're now seeing, with some families, a second generation come through."

Sandy Rao, 39, president of the Camarillo Heights PTA, said that while the community has its share of older, more established families, younger families are also attracted to the special environment that the neighborhood offers.

Rao's husband, Kris, also 39, who works as a camera operator in the motion picture industry in Los Angeles, willingly makes the long commute several times a week because of the family's satisfaction with Camarillo Heights.

"For us, Camarillo Heights seemed to be the longest commutable distance that we could stand," said Sandy Rao, who along with the couple's three daughters lived in a small house in Venice before moving to Ventura County two years ago. "It's got a rural feeling, yet it has all the suburban conveniences. We're happy here."

Camarillo Mayor Ken Gose said the city has occasionally annexed parcels of Camarillo Heights but has done so only at the request of the individual property owner--a policy made evident by the neighborhood's jagged southern borderline with the city.

"There's a lot involved in the process of annexation. It's our policy not to annex property unless we're asked to," Gose said. "Increasingly, it's more and more expensive to do so because of the costs of running sewer and water lines up there."

But when applications for new buildings in Camarillo Heights are submitted, county planning officials often ask city planning staff to approve the projects because of their proximity to the city, Francis said.

Francis said city planners occasionally request developers of larger properties in the area to install sewer lines in anticipation that one day the area will be hooked up to the city's sewer system. Currently, most of the area's residences use septic tanks.

For Peggy Smaby and her husband, Richard, who run a children's art class studio out of their home, Camarillo Heights has been home for 20 years. Smaby, 60, said she can remember the days when her children, who were in the local 4-H Club, regularly took their 1,100-pound pet steer for walks on Mesa Drive.

"I don't think you'd see that now, but that was the kind of place it was," Peggy Smaby said. "I think we all like it up here just because it's not the city. There's a feeling of country independence here that you don't find in many other places."

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