Foes Aim to Buy Land to Stop Sport X

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Opponents of Sport X--which would build a private, profit-making athletic complex on the city's most popular public park--have devised a strategy to thwart the unpopular proposal: buy part of the land themselves.

A newly formed anti-Sport X coalition announced Tuesday that it will launch a campaign to purchase a 10-acre portion of Conejo Creek Park owned by the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

If successful, the group--made up of residents, local members of the American Youth Soccer Organization, horse owners and the organizers of the annual Conejo Valley Days Festival--would then hand the land over to the Conejo Recreation and Park District, which owns the rest of the parkland.

The plan would not only do away with Sport X, coalition members argue--it would also guarantee that Conejo Creek Park remained a park forever.

"We believe that if all the land goes to the park district, it makes it a more viable park and allows the park to remain the way it is," said Sandra Clayton of the soccer organization. "What we want is to make sure Conejo Creek Park will still be there for future generations to enjoy."

But how does the coalition intend to pay for the land? Dave Anderson, a leader of Keep Parks Public, a residents group formed to oppose Sport X, said the city needs to help.

The group believes it can obtain state and federal grants to acquire public parkland--but only with assistance from the city of Thousand Oaks. Coalition members believe that neither a bond measure nor a tax increase is necessary.

"What this comes down to is that Thousand Oaks finds itself at a pivotal point in its growth," Anderson said. "Either Thousand Oaks is going to become the San Fernando Valley, or we're going to become the city we bought into. It's up to the city to decide."

And if Thousand Oaks leaders are not responsive, Clayton said, the Sport X opponents will take a cue from the Santa Barbara residents who recently purchased the 69-acre Wilcox property for several million dollars to create a public preserve: It will raise the money on its own.

"The goal is acquiring that land, one way or another," Clayton said. "If we have to do cook-offs or whatever, we will."

Jerry Gross, superintendent of the Conejo Valley Unified School District, said Tuesday that the school district had not been notified of any resident proposals to purchase its property. Officials with the park district could not be reached for comment.

Coalition members said Tuesday that they and many other Sport X opponents plan to crowd the school district's board meeting Thursday night to present their idea. In addition to acquiring the land and giving it to the park district, the group's members say they will campaign for improved restroom facilities at the park and better maintenance.

Proposed by Thousand Oaks businessman Dave Gulbranson, the Sport X plan would create a large, modern athletic complex at Conejo Creek Park, the current site of the Conejo Valley Days Festival.

Detailed plans have yet to be filed, but originally, Gulbranson said, Sport X was to be a public-private partnership. It would have included an outdoor running track, an indoor Olympic swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts, a cafeteria, some small express-type fast-food counters, and an area where corporate sponsors could sell their wares, he said.

However, because of the public outcry against private development on public parkland, Gulbranson said Tuesday that the prospect of a public-private partnership seems unlikely. The still-unfinished proposal now focuses only on developing the school district's portion of the park, he said.

"The school district property is excess land, and it's for sale," Gulbranson said. "They [the residents' committee] have every right in the world to try and buy that property. But so do I.

"We'll be bidding against them," he added. "I look forward to the competition."

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