Canyon’s Oak Trees, Wildlife Threatened by Area Flood Basin


The allure of having a creek and an oak tree-lined canyon next door coaxed Ray and Catherine Sauvajot into paying a bit more rent than they could afford for their Thousand Oaks apartment.


For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 9, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 9, 1994 Ventura West Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong company--An article Thursday incorrectly identified the builder of a planned flood retention and debris basin, which requires the removal of 140 mature oak trees in a Thousand Oaks canyon. The builder of the project is the Lang Ranch Co. of Thousand Oaks.

The price was worth it, they reasoned, if it meant they could lie in their bed and listen to a great horned owl hooting overhead all night long.

Spectacular sunsets over the ridgeline were what attracted Glen Kelley. He was on a waiting list for more than a year to get his pricey two-bedroom apartment on the balconied third floor of The Knolls, a complex at Westlake Boulevard and Avenida de Los Arboles.


So the Sauvajots, Kelley and other residents of The Knolls were upset to learn recently that their view of Lang Creek and the canyon is due for a radical alteration.

The developer of a giant new housing project plans to tear up nearly 11 acres of the canyon--uprooting about 140 mature oak trees--to build a concrete and earthen flood and debris basin.

“I have the same gut reaction to the project that the residents do,” said city planner Greg Smith, who has worked three years on an environmental analysis of the basin. “We have looked exhaustively at the alternatives and we have simply come to the point where we realize this is the only place to construct this.

“No one is attempting to sweep this under the rug,” Smith added. “We are saying very clearly that there are some major environmental impacts on the site.”

With the oaks will go the horned owls, the golden eagles that have been spotted in the area, the raccoons, the coyotes, and the bobcats Ray Sauvajot has watched disappearing into the dense growth along the creek. The canyon area has been identified as a wildlife corridor from the Simi Hills to the Santa Monica Mountains.

“It will take away an important woodlands . . . (in) the Simi Hills,” said Paul Edelman, an ecologist with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. “It’s very difficult to think that there isn’t a different alternative to divert water than cutting down oak trees.”


The basin would be 580 feet wide and 1,200 feet long. It is being constructed by Orange County-based builder Baldwin Co. as part of the Lang Ranch project, a 2,257-residence development on 488 acres of valleys and southern oak woodland at the eastern end of Thousand Oaks. Construction is expected to begin within a year.

The city is between the proverbial rock and a hard place, officials say. No one likes the idea of ripping out century-old oaks in a town that named itself for the gracefully sprawling trees.

“It is not an easy project,” Smith said. “It has been somewhat frustrating to me. I can say very clearly it hasn’t been the kind of project I like.”

But because the project will strip away natural vegetation that would normally capture storm runoff, the basin is a necessity, Smith said. Occasionally, Lang Creek has flooded Erbes Road downstream from the project site. And a 1981 storm overflowed Calleguas Creek--into which Lang Creek feeds--and flooded the Oxnard agriculture plain, he said.

A 1986 federal court judgment settling a lawsuit brought by Lang Ranch developers forces the city to allow the development. The conditions are simple: a debris basin must come with the development.

Also, the court’s judgment requires that the upper portion of the basin be built to withstand a “12,000-year flood,” the type of cataclysmic event that Knolls resident Fred Beerstein is not expecting any time soon.


“How do you prepare for the 12,000-year flood?” Beerstein asked. “Is that reasonable? I mean the last time there was one of those was during the Ice Age.”

The city’s Planning Commission will consider the flood basin’s environmental report at a meeting Monday.

The residents plan to be there, armed with their concerns.

“I feel kind of guilty to be sort of a NIMBY person,” Sauvajot said. “But I can’t help but think that this is a big, big project to solve what seems to be a fairly small problem.”

Beerstein looked over the edge of Kelley’s balcony, watching a hawk settle on the uppermost branches of one of the oaks.

“It reminds me of my childhood in Northridge,” he said. “Before they turned it into one big cement block.”