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A Secret Place : Santa Rosa Valley May Be Little-Known but It’s Cherished by Residents

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They live in one of Ventura County’s most secluded places. And residents of the little-known but visually stunning Santa Rosa Valley say they would like to keep it that way.

Nestled between two steep, 10-mile-long mountain ridges in a natural corridor between the cities of Camarillo and Thousand Oaks, residents of the valley say they love that they are far out of earshot of the drone of the Ventura Freeway and free of the visual blight of Ventura County’s ever-increasing urbanization.

“We do think of it as a kind of secret place,” said resident Ruth Means. “We lived in Westlake for years and didn’t even know this place existed. I’m sure happy we found it though.”

The heart of the area is dissected by the snaking, two-lane Santa Rosa Valley Road. The road divides the valley floor, where there is a mixture of open-field farming, nursery operations and residential space.

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About 3,200 people call the Santa Rosa Valley their home.

Farms dominate the valley’s western half, their fields displaying neatly sown furrows of baby celery and acres of young lettuce. Skirting the fields are dense, deep-green orchards filled with lemon and avocado trees.

The valley’s eastern side is more developed, with modest subdivisions and older stucco ranch houses standing next to larger, newer homes with thousands of square feet of floor space. Along the ridgelines, massive custom-made homes perch on natural aeries in the rock.

Regardless of where they live in the valley, residents say they like the rustic feel of the place, which they can enjoy while being near shopping centers and gas stations in neighboring cities.

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Residents, however, must forgo other conveniences to live in such a rural environment.

Because the area has no sewer system, septic tanks must be used for the estimated 890 dwellings there, residents and Ventura County planning officials said. The septic tanks may contribute to the poor quality of the area’s ground water, they said.

The Camrosa Water District, which serves the area, blends the ground water with imported water from other parts of the state before distributing it to customers.

But without improved water quality and a sewer system--and until a project to widen Santa Rosa Road from two lanes to four is completed--planners say further development is not likely anytime soon.

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“I don’t see significant changes in the valley in the near future because of those factors,” said Ron Allen, a senior planner for the county. “Obviously, there would have to be some major zoning changes and some major infrastructure changes before any further development could occur.”

Allen said other factors inhibiting growth include the crowded, near-capacity Santa Rosa School, the valley’s only elementary school. Because the county supports preserving agricultural lands and greenbelts, Allen said he doubts whether some large landowners who in the past have sought to subdivide their properties will be given such permission in the near future.

The $5.5-million construction project to widen Santa Rosa Road, which is used by about 11,000 vehicles a day, was delayed in December, 1993, after crews stumbled upon what they believed were human remains.

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During a subsequent investigation, archeologists unearthed 11 human bone fragments and three human teeth along the road in the western end of the valley. The archeologists said they believe the road was built over what may have been an ancient Chumash village.

Last spring, after a report concluded that the site failed to meet state legal qualifications as an “important archeological resource,” the Ventura County Board of Supervisors authorized the road-widening project to resume. Work is expected to be completed this spring.

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Presently, the minimum lot size in the valley is one acre--a fact that residents say will help slow further growth and help them preserve the rural, community atmosphere.

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In fact, the 15 homeowners associations active in the valley have joined together under the banner of the Santa Rosa Valley Community Assn. to help preserve the area’s quality of life.

Dan Peyton, the group’s chairman, said valley residents have in recent months come together to build an equestrian under-crossing at Santa Rosa Road near Glenside Lane and have kept pressure on county leaders to remember the small unincorporated valley.

“The people that live here all care very much about what is happening in the valley,” said Peyton, 47. “They get involved and stay up with the current issues that we are facing.”

Peyton said a recent drive by the association has led to what residents and county officials hope will someday be a 3,000-square-foot, $1-million equestrian and community center near Santa Rosa Road and Yucca Drive.

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The city of Thousand Oaks is negotiating with the county to buy or lease about two-thirds of a 50-acre county-owned parcel for the development of an 18-hole golf course near the proposed community center, said Blake Boyle, the county’s deputy director of recreational services.

If a deal is brokered, Boyle said, proceeds from the sale or lease revenues will help finance construction of the equestrian and community center.

“The county and residents of the Santa Rosa Valley are excited about the prospects for this center,” Boyle said. “We’re hoping to come to terms with Thousand Oaks soon.”

Residents across the valley are bound by a love of horses, Peyton said, an affection vividly demonstrated by the profusion of lots with barns and corrals. Many of the homeowners associations own and maintain their own community jumping arenas.

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Resident Jerry Hagel said an informal survey by homeowners in the area showed that about 1,800 horses are permanently boarded in the Santa Rosa Valley. Hagel, along with his wife, Carol, own three of the animals.

Hagel also credited the valley’s multiple trails system for helping to set the community apart.

“I think the trails have added a real quality-of-life factor to the place,” Hagel said. “They bind us together as a community in a way more than just streets can. They are there for the equestrian set, the bicyclists and the hikers.”

But along with many residents’ love for horses, is a respect for the land, they say.

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“This is a community that likes earthy things,” said Jean Bergenstal, district commissioner of the Santa Rosa Valley Pony Club, which promotes English-style riding and educates young people about the care and maintenance of horses. “People out here tend to bond over horses. The attitude is that if you move here and you don’t like that sort of thing, you shouldn’t have moved here.”

Farming remains a valued tradition in the valley--the local 4-H Club took honors as Ventura County’s 1994 Club of the Year, tying with another club. About 75 children and teen-agers participate in the organization, which wins prizes every year at the county fair.

Lemon rancher Will Gerry, a descendant of early pioneers to the valley, carries on a farming tradition started by his grandfather, who first settled on a large parcel in 1916. Gerry Road, a lane leading off Santa Rosa Road, carries his family’s name. Gerry, 49, his wife, Joy, and their two children live in the same farmhouse in which he grew up.

“There is something really wonderful about growing things,” said Gerry, who raises lemons and some avocados on about 90 acres. “It’s not for everybody, but I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”

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Alfred Nunes, another longtime valley resident, echoed Gerry’s comments.

After tilling a large parcel near Point Mugu for the better part of two decades, Nunes decided that he wanted a piece of property to call his own.

So on Sundays he and his wife, Isabell, would jump in their car and roam Ventura County’s back roads, cities and open spaces looking for just the right spot.

They searched Ventura, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Moorpark, often taking Santa Rosa Road to check out properties in the eastern part of the county.

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On one such outing, while driving along infrequently traveled Santa Rosa Road, it hit him. There, right under his nose in the Santa Rosa Valley, he would sink his family roots.

That was in 1949.

Now, some 45 years after that sunny afternoon, Nunes, 74, says he and his wife have no regrets. Together, the Nuneses have raised two children in the scenic valley, in a marriage that has spanned 52 years.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” said the now-retired Nunes. “This is a great place to raise a family. It was the strangest thing. Isabell and I must have driven through this valley dozens of times before the idea sank in. It was like something was always calling us back here.”

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