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15 Years Later, Moorpark Has Grown Into Cityhood

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s been 15 years since Moorpark residents decided--just barely--to form a city. And despite a few rocky years following incorporation, some of the city’s old-timers have come to terms with the vote.

“At first I didn’t want it to become a city, but they’ve done a really good job,” said Christy Wirth, a 42-year Moorpark resident who lives on McFadden Avenue.

Not that it’s been an easy journey. The city was jolted by a series of City Council scandals in its early years, and the intense pressures of growth have not eased.

In coming weeks, for example, the City Council is scheduled to vote on Hidden Creek Ranch, a development that could increase the city’s population by one-third.

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Fear of rampant development, along with crime and other urban ills, helped feed concerns of those who opposed cityhood. Like a number of people who moved to the area before incorporation, Wirth believes the city has managed to plan its growth responsibly and that the area is still safe.

And now, at least, there’s a movie theater and three supermarkets open at night in Moorpark. Before cityhood, she jokes, “as soon as it was dark the sidewalks rolled up.”

On July 1, 1983, Moorpark became the newest city in Ventura County, gaining control over decisions previously handled by the county. Since that day, the city has tripled in population from 9,500 to more than 28,000.

Moorpark residents were sharply divided over the wisdom of incorporation.

Both supporters and opponents warned that the area’s rural quality was at risk. While opponents of incorporation feared accelerated development, supporters said local control was necessary to prevent it, said Clint Harper.

Harper, a Moorpark College physics instructor who pushed for incorporation and later served on the City Council, said the town became a “dumping ground for development” in the early 1980s.

“There was virtually no control over development, and building standards were lax,” he said. “The town of Moorpark would have been ruined if we wouldn’t incorporate.”

Vicki Perez, wife of veteran Councilman Bernardo Perez, agreed. “Some said, ‘Let the county do the development.’ And we said, ‘I don’t think so.’ ”

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The vote to become a city was hardly resounding: About 52% of fewer than 2,200 voters approved incorporation in March 1983. Less than four months later, Moorpark’s first council was seated, and the longtime agricultural center officially became a city.

Anna Bell Sessler opposed incorporation at the time. She and her husband then lived on Gabbert Road, where she raised black Angus cattle on 6 acres.

“We were concerned that . . . people would not like to have cattle for neighbors inside city limits,” said Sessler, a resident of the area since 1974.

‘More of Everything’

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But incorporation didn’t bring such problems.

“They didn’t bother us,” said Sessler. “As long as they didn’t bother us, why, that was fine with us.”

In fact, she is pleased with what changes she has seen since incorporation: more sheriff’s deputies and quicker response from firefighters.

Watering the garden in front of her home on Charles Street, 21-year resident Andrea Agredano agreed incorporation was a good idea.

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“I think it’s very good for the pueblo,” she said in Spanish. “Everything is better. There are more markets, more of everything, more work.”

She’s pleased she no longer has to travel to Simi Valley to purchase all the goods she needs; three supermarkets have been built in Moorpark since incorporation.

She also adds that it’s muy tranquilo in Moorpark. “The ugly things that happen in other areas, that doesn’t happen here,” she said.

Soap Opera Days

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A sense that Ventura County officials were ignoring Moorpark residents contributed to the push for cityhood. They had to travel to the county Government Center in Ventura with any concerns or grievances, said James Whitaker, who has lived in Moorpark since 1926. Now, at least, residents can take their grievances to City Hall.

“We can get up and complain and be heard,” he said. “We elect our City Council and then we de-elect them.”

Yet the city went through some rough times after incorporation. Old-timers often compare the early years to a soap opera.

Moorpark Councilman Danny Woolard was convicted in 1987 of embezzling $5,500 from the downtown post office, where he worked as a clerk, to feed his cocaine habit.

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Woolard pulled Mayor Thomas “Bud” Ferguson down with him, accusing the mayor after his indictment of trying to influence him with loans--charges that led to a successful recall of Ferguson the same year.

Also in 1987, the council fired all five members of its parks and recreation commission after arguments over a park design.

One of the most infamous occasions in that period was the council meeting of March 2, 1988, a night when one mayor quit and another presided for 20 minutes before a third council member was appointed to the honorary post in a political tussle sparked by Ferguson’s ouster.

“It took 10 years to shake down and become halfway organized,” Whitaker said.

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New Discontent

Some residents in midtown Moorpark, the area roughly north of New Los Angeles Avenue and south of Casey Road, said they supported incorporation but now believe the city is neglecting them.

Their part of town, often referred to as “original Moorpark,” doesn’t get the same level of service received by newer--and more affluent--neighborhoods such as Peach Hills and Mountain Meadows, some say.

“We’ve lived here a long time,” said Carlos Almeida of Cornett Avenue. “I see these people working along Tierra Rejada mowing lawns and they do it constantly, once a week,” he said. “You never see them doing it here. I hate to see my taxes all used up there.”

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The city built a number of parks in the newer housing tracts, but midtown residents say they only have one small one created just two years ago, Poindexter Park, south of Poindexter Avenue. And that park faces possible closure as the city wrestles with budget troubles this year.

“We have a measly little park and they want to close that,” said Almeida’s wife, Eleanor.

There are other concerns as well. Flory Street resident Mark Goodman, who has lived 17 years in Moorpark, said he worries that residents have lost their sense of self-reliance and now depend too much on politicians to make things happen.

“My personal feeling is it should have stayed with the county because it’s a small community growing too fast,” he said. “It’s getting to be that more politicians are stepping in.”

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Growth of a City

Although Moorpark residents worry about excessive growth, the young city’s history is marked by milestones of development--construction of large subdivisions and commerical centers that many residents say have improved the quality of life. Key dates include:

* March, 1983: Moorpark residents vote 52% in favor of cityhood and elect the first council members.

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* July, 1983: Moorpark officially becomes a city, and the first council members are seated. The council chooses Leta Yancy-Sutton as Moorpark’s first mayor.

* April, 1986: The council approves completion of a 2,500-home development in south Moorpark called Mountain Meadows. The project had begun under county auspices.

* October, 1990: Council approves Mission Bell Plaza, a major shopping center off New Los Angeles Avenue.

* June, 1994: The council approves the Arroyo Vista Recreation Center.

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* November, 1996: A movie theater--first in town since the 1950s--opens after three years of planning.

* July, 1998: Council is scheduled to consider approving Hidden Creek Ranch, a 3,221- home project that would increase the city’s population b;y one-third.


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