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Storms Buoy Neighbors’ Opposition to Flood Basin : Thousand Oaks: Residents who kept watch on Lang Creek during heavy rains say county project may be unnecessary. Proposal threatens oak trees, wildlife corridor.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Throughout last week’s torrential rains, Lang Creek in Thousand Oaks received an inordinate amount of attention for a stream that never overflowed its banks, threatened any homes or washed out any roads.

Because the creek is the site of a proposed county flood-control project that threatens as many as 140 oak trees and a wildlife corridor, opponents of the project turned out in force to see if the dire predictions that flood-control officials had made about the creek’s behavior in heavy rains would come true.

Ray Sauvajot checked upstream and downstream and found no flooding. He vigilantly examined the creek’s outlet at Erbes Road to see if the creek was washing over the road as officials said it had in the past.

His neighbors in the apartment complex overlooking the site of the proposed basin took turns running out to see what was going on with the creek.

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Bob Calverley, who lives off Avenida de los Arboles near the site, drove over to Oakbrook Park during the height of the storm, tromping around in the muck to see if the creek was endangering any nearby homes.

The residents went home satisfied that the creek posed little threat. If anything, they are now even more opposed to a project they say is ill-conceived and perhaps not even necessary.

“It seemed that the opportunity to really convince me and the others of this would have been during that enormous storm,” Sauvajot said. “But after that, it just seemed like we are going to destroy a lot of oak trees and a wildlife area for no reason at all.”

But flood-control officials estimate that the storm was only a 10-year event in the Calleguas Creek watershed, which Lang Creek dumps into. The proposed basin is designed to handle the effects of a 100-year rainstorm.

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The dispute over the oak trees goes before the City Council on Tuesday night, and residents say they plan to share the results of their monitoring with council members at the public hearing.

City Atty. Mark Sellers said the city is not fighting the unpopular flood-control basin because upstream development at the Lang Ranch will denude hillsides and increase risk of downstream flooding.

“We’re not forced to build it,” Sellers said. “But if we don’t build it and something happens, we are going to be liable because we allowed development to occur upstream.”

The city lost the legal right to impose any size restrictions on the 2,257-home development during a protracted court battle with the Lang Ranch Co.

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An unhappy Planning Commission voted to approve the basin 4 to 1 two weeks ago, convinced that there were no viable alternatives.

“I was so disappointed and so frustrated that our hands could be so tied,” said Planning Commissioner Marilyn Carpenter. “We were so persuaded that there was nothing we could do.”

The night after she voted to approve the project, Carpenter said she could barely sleep. The next morning, she called the city to ask if she could change her vote as a form of protest, but it was too late.

Now a new alternative has been presented by flood-control officials, who told city planners two weeks ago they had recalculated the effects of the project and found that runoff from the area would not pose such a large threat after all.

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They offered to redesign the project, building the debris basin in a separate area on the east side of Westlake Boulevard. The entire project would be reduced by 25%, and 80 of the oak trees could be saved.

“We’re crossing our fingers that (the alternative) is going to be better,” Carpenter said. “We have to take it on faith because it hasn’t been looked at as thoroughly as it should be.”

Carpenter credits the strong public opposition to the project with pressuring flood-control officials to review their options, and she thinks another environmental study is needed on the proposed alternative for public review.

But Lang Ranch has made it clear they are not willing to hold up the project any longer, planners said.

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On Friday, Carpenter went out to look at the stream. She talked to a woman who lives downstream, and said the woman told her she had not even looked at the creek during the storm because her concern was so minimal.

“I wonder, are we guilty of overkill?” Carpenter asked.

Residents like Sauvajot take that question one step further, wondering if the project is necessary at all and whether more than 80 oak trees can be saved through further opposition.

“It seems fascinating to me that we had this incredibly destructive proposal without any alternatives, and a few people complain about it and suddenly we have an alternative proposal,” he said.

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“What is the scenario that they are envisioning that will cause this thing to flood?” he added. “I mean we had a huge storm and nothing happened.”

But Sellers said just because residents did not see flooding during Tuesday’s storm does not mean it wouldn’t happen. “This storm isn’t the storm you are going to design the facility to handle,” he said.


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