Even though he lives on a cul-de-sac, sometimes weekend traffic in his Oak Park neighborhood is so bad that Bill O’Bryan has a hard time backing out of his driveway.
All too often, his street is lined with the cars of hikers, joggers and mountain bikers using a nearby trail head to explore one of the National Park Service’s most recent acquisitions, Palo Comado Canyon, better known as Jordan Ranch.
The park is lovely, O’Bryan agrees. But from his viewpoint--namely his driveway--it sure would be nice if visitors to the rolling meadows of China Flat and the narrow oak-lined canyon beyond could find somewhere else to leave their cars.
“I don’t want to see the trail shut down,” O’Bryan said. “That’s not what we’re after. But the parks people do have to work out the traffic problem. This is the front of my house, not a parking lot.”
After five years of battling by environmentalists to keep development out of Palo Comado Canyon, the biggest problem with the new park is how to get more people into the pristine setting without making trail head neighbors like O’Bryan miserable.
In two public workshops this week, park officials kept hearing the same refrain: How can the public get better access to Palo Comado Canyon?
“If you really want to get there, you can get there,” said Ginger Pollack, a member of the environmental group Save Open Space, which fought to preserve the canyon. “But you really have to want to get there to do it.
“It’s very ironic because the whole time we were fighting with Ahmanson (Land Co.) over Jordan Ranch, that was our whole argument, the lack of access,” Pollack added. “There was nothing the developer could do with it because there was no access to it.”
The park service bought the land from entertainer Bob Hope in June for $16.7 million as part of a complex parkland-for-development deal with Ahmanson Land Co.
There are three access trails into the park now, but only one of them is through national parkland and has adequate parking. The other two cut through open space in Oak Park managed by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.
“People would just like better access in Palo Comado,” said David Gackenbach, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the arm of the National Park Service that manages Palo Comado and adjacent Cheeseboro Canyon. “They don’t have time, or it takes too long to get there.”
Entering through Cheeseboro Canyon, visitors need to hike for two miles before they cross down into Palo Comado, Gackenbach said. Palo Comado runs parallel to Cheeseboro, pushing five or six miles deep into the Simi Hills to a spectacular summit near China Flat.
“If they want to see the whole canyon, we’re talking about a 10- to 15-mile round trip,” Gackenbach said. “So they would like easier access through Oak Park or up on Chesebro Road. We will try and address those issues.”
The park service is developing a comprehensive management plan for both canyons and is gathering public comment about what to do with the 4,400-acre site. Public meetings were held in Simi Valley and at Cheeseboro Canyon this week. And a third meeting is planned for 7:30 tonight at A. E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas.
Taking the wishes of the public into account, the park service wants to make a draft plan available for public review by the fall of 1995. A final plan should be ready by 1996, Gackenbach said. At that point, the park service would begin trail work and improvements in the canyons, such as putting in bathrooms, campgrounds or picnic areas.
Despite the lack of direct access, many Oak Park and Agoura residents have found ways into nearby Palo Comado Canyon. They park their cars at a Rancho Simi trail head on Sunnycrest Drive and walk a short way up a slope to a National Park Service gate, then descend into the canyon.
The hardier hikers park on the cul-de-sac at King James Court or on Lindero Road and make their way up a steep hill to China Flat, then descend into Palo Comado. A favorite routine, many residents said, is to leave one car at King James and one at Sunnycrest, then hike up from Sunnycrest, coming back down at King James and avoiding the strenuous climb.
On most days, there are at least half a dozen cars parked on Sunnycrest near the trail head, according to nearby residents. No homes face directly onto that street, but some residents said they are concerned that Sunnycrest is turning into a makeshift parking lot.
“Usually there are a lot of strange cars out there,” Larry Greco said. “I think it increases our risk of break-ins and burglaries.”
Greco said he recently chased off a burglar at his home.
“My gut feeling is that it was one of those people that park there,” he said.
O’Bryan also said he believed that the risk of crime in his suburban neighborhood is heightened by outsiders parking at the trail heads. He said he caught a man using crack cocaine at the trail head and has seen teen-agers firing guns on the trail.
“It’s not all mountain bikers and happy campers up there,” he said.