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Thousand Oaks Council Delays Vote on Lang Creek Debris Basin

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying they need more information before they can reach a decision, members of the Thousand Oaks City Council early Wednesday delayed voting on a proposed flood control basin on Lang Creek.

The project--opposed by some residents of the North Ranch neighborhood--would have significant environmental impacts, including the removal of up to 140 century-old oak trees and the destruction of a wildlife habitat, city planners said.

City and county officials say a dam and debris retention basin are needed along the Lang Creek watershed to prevent downstream flooding in major storms. A 2,257-home development being built by Lang Ranch Co. in North Ranch will denude natural hillside vegetation and exacerbate the fear of flooding, they said.

After a hearing that began Tuesday night and ended just before 1 a.m. Wednesday, the council decided to continue a public hearing until Feb. 7, saying that will give city planners a chance to study an alternative introduced publicly for the first time Tuesday night.

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“By no means are we trying to string anybody along on this,” Councilman Andy Fox said. “Essentially what we are trying to do is get all the cards out on the table.”

The project has been under consideration for nearly a decade, and a several-inch-thick environmental study of its consequences was completed late last year. And when the city Planning Commission approved the original proposal two weeks ago, members were told by city attorneys and planners that removing the 140 oak trees was the only viable alternative.

But on Jan. 5, county flood control officials said they had reworked their original calculations and found that the entire project could be reduced by about 25% to 30%.

Instead of putting in a massive dam and debris basin in the oak-lined canyon, flood district officials said they could split the project, putting the debris basin on the eastern side of Westlake Boulevard and the dam on the west side. By doing so, they estimate that a substantial number of trees could be saved.

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Representatives of Lang Ranch Co., which is designing and constructing the basin according to flood control specifications, appeared disturbed Tuesday that the change in calculations had not been made earlier.

Ron Gallegher, project manager for Lang Ranch Co., said he had relied on the flood control figures. “Not until the last couple of weeks did we find out there was a mistake.”

But flood control Deputy Director Alex Sheydayi defended his department.

“In fact, this error was made because calculations were made before the entire Lang Ranch development plan was known,” Sheydayi told the council. “That error should have been picked up by the developer’s engineer.”

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Showing the council sketches his design team had put together based on the new calculations, Gallegher said he thought that using the alternative plan, which he called a hybrid of earlier proposals, could lower the number of oaks removed to 89. He asked the council to go ahead and consider the alternative without further study.

“You have before you an (environmental impact report) that addresses all aspects of the project,” Gallegher said. “It’s not going to change tomorrow or the next day or ever.”

Gallegher also said he thought that putting the debris basin on the east side of Westlake Boulevard would do more damage to wildlife by disturbing a riparian area.

But residents who live near the proposed site disagreed.

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“If the project is needed, which I’m still not convinced of, the east side is already substantially disturbed,” resident Ray Sauvajot said.

“This new proposal seems like it might be better,” he added. “But I’m not sure I recognize it from the (environmental impact report). It seems like a new proposal to me, and I think it should be considered as such.”

The project is further complicated by a 1986 federal court ruling that severely limits the city’s control over the Lang Ranch development. City Atty. Mark Sellers said Thousand Oaks is bound by the ruling to allow the flood control basin and also by threat of future lawsuits from downstream property owners.

But Mayor Jaime Zukowski and Councilwoman Elois Zeanah both questioned Sellers’ advice and called unsuccessfully for review by an independent counsel.

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“I disagree that we are bound by the stipulated judgment,” Zeanah said. “In the case of the Planning Commission, the city attorney’s advice was blatantly off the mark.”


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