In a move that one critic called a back-door attempt to develop another golf course, the City Council will consider a motion Tuesday to annex 326 acres of Broome Ranch, an undeveloped area near the southwest edge of the city.
City officials have been waiting almost two years for the state to decide whether to buy the ranch and turn it into a state park. Some, including City Councilwoman Judy Lazar, are tired of waiting.
"I think it's time to move on," Lazar said.
Annexing the land now also would save money because a costly environmental report, which city planners say is a requirement for the annexation, could be done along with the report for an equestrian facility in the area, Lazar said.
But other council members question what they consider a rush to annex the property.
"I don't know why this is suddenly [going before the council] unless there are plans to go forward with a golf course," said Councilwoman Elois Zeanah, the main proponent of the state park conversion plan. "If this is bought by the state, we don't need to annex it."
Councilwoman Linda Parks also said she was wary of the rush to annex the property before the state acts on the city's request for a state park.
"It seems to me there is no rush," Parks said. "It's not threatened by development now."
The city's involvement with Broome Ranch began in 1993 when the city spent $1 million and the Conejo Recreation and Park District $1.9 million to help another public agency, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, buy the land.
The purchase halted development plans for the area, reserved for residential housing in the Thousand Oaks General Plan. But the City Council reserved the right to build a golf course to help pay for the land.
Because the city would have had to pay property taxes since Broome Ranch is outside city limits, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority agreed to hold the deed to the parcel.
The City Council first proposed annexation in 1995 but halted the process later that year when it requested the state Department of Parks and Recreation purchase the land and turn it into a state park.
The state has had the proposal since September 1996 but has made no decision.
If the city annexes the land, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency would determine what uses would be allowed on the site. The property could be split into portions that would probably be zoned either for open space, which would preclude a golf course or stables, or "public lands," which would allow both, according to a city planning department report.
Tex Ward, general manager of the Conejo Recreation and Park District, said it makes sense to annex the property now.
"How long do you wait?" he asked.
Extending the city's sphere of influence to include Broome Ranch would make planning developments such as the proposed equestrian center more efficient, Ward said. Currently, any such developments would be under the jurisdiction of Ventura County planners.
But that efficiency and control are exactly what Zeanah said she fears about the annexation plan.
"I think the public would much prefer to have this acquired as open space for perpetuity," she said. Designation as a state park, she believes, would achieve that end.
"If you annex it to the city, the City Council has control," Zeanah said. That control, she said, could pave the way for further development, including a golf course.
Lazar countered that a golf course was envisioned when the city helped purchase the ranch in 1993. Moreover, given the city's current struggle with the Hill Canyon golf course proposal, which is being opposed by natural-resource preservationists, a Broome Ranch course would be in the "far future," she said.
"No one is proposing a golf course [now]," Lazar said. "Maybe some council members are reading something into this that is truly a product of their imagination."