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Who Said Moving to Camarillo Was Crazy?

We all have our favorite spots in this beautiful state, the scenes that brought most of us out here and have kept us here.

For some people, it’s the San Francisco Bay, the blooms of the Mojave, the snowy peaks of Lake Tahoe.

Mine is a bit more unorthodox: the Conejo Grade.

Sure, it can be torture when you are driving it.

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But viewed from my backyard--the sunset casting its red and golden hues across the sweeping expanse of the Santa Monica Mountains--it’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Those of us who live in Camarillo know this: It’s no coincidence that many of the homes here point their picture windows at this majestic view.

And frankly, it has been a secret we try to keep from the rest of the world.

I’ll never forget my brother laughing when I told him where I was moving.

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“Camarillo? Why would you move to a place known for a mental hospital?” he asked.

I overheard a new co-worker say to others, “Geez, she must really want this job. I mean, she moved to Camarillo!”

That was just four years ago.

Sure, I was a little embarrassed; I was also glad my husband wasn’t around to hear those comments about the little hamlet I picked.

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Being from the New York area, he had never heard of the town. Being in a traveling profession, he was concerned about the extra miles from LAX.

I can now confess that I kept the state hospital a secret from him until shortly before signing our mortgage. But by that time, my husband had fallen in love with our quiet street, even preferring our view of the grade to that of the mountains of Maui.

Four years later, none of this matters. The hospital has closed. We have 27 theaters instead of just three old ones. The Spanish Hills development looms like Emerald City above the remaining farm fields. Of course, there is also a huge Target store and surrounding shopping development many of us see as a sad sign of growth.

My sleepy town has awakened rather abruptly. I see older Camarillo residents look at me as the enemy, the new influx of population. And after four years, I now look on at those who arrived after me in the same way.

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The secret is out, and I am forced to share it with the wave of new people who have discovered it. You can see it in the traffic jams that briefly crowd the onramps and offramps of Camarillo, in the schools as they let out in the afternoon and at the churches on Sunday mornings as our ever-expanding population crowds to get in.

I worked in Los Angeles for years, and I mean no disrespect to their traffic: I’m talking Ventura County-sized traffic jams here, which for now, are no comparison.

But mostly you can tell the growth by the sirens you hear around town as our firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and police race from fires, to accidents to crimes. It may still be one of the safest towns in the county, but not as safe as it was just a short while ago.

This year I have seen more neighbors installing house alarms than springtime blooms. They are attending Neighborhood Watch meetings between Little League games and putting up big “Beware of Dog” signs where there really isn’t a dog.

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I don’t mean to alarm anyone. There has been a lot of good buzz around the town. Those friends who once laughed as we packed for our move now call wanting to come visit, having heard of the ever-expanding Premium Outlet Center.

I get requests to pick up strawberries from the farm stand one mile from my home as I head south to visit my friends in Los Angeles. And as my garden grows to unbelievable heights, my mother calls weekly to see how many blooms I have on my roses, while hers still sit covered in late Chicago springtime frost.

And there is something else new to our town: We now have stars of the Hollywood type, not just those that twinkle down on me on a clear, cool Camarillo night.

Recently, while standing in the supermarket line in Mission Oaks, I overheard another patron pointing to a magazine with a well-known star on the cover, saying, “‘Oh, did you hear? He moved to Camarillo, too!”

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As she pointed to a smiling photo of Will Smith, I couldn’t help but interrupt. Will Smith, here? With his wife, Jada Pinkett? And what did she mean by using the word too in her conversation?

She explained that she heard from a girl at the video store that she routinely rents movies to country music star Clint Black. The Clint Black?.

Haven’t you heard? she asked. Hollywood is moving into Spanish Hills.

I now sit in my backyard, look at my beautiful view and wonder who else is sharing it with me at that moment. New residents, long-timers and some who just might be plucking at their guitar strings and writing a song about the beauty we now share. I left L.A., and in four years it seems to have followed me here.

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The good, the bad and the ugly, whatever your perception is, have come to my hometown.

Marsha Gorman is a Times photographer.


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