3 Neighboring Cities Seek a Common Ground

Times Staff Writer

Saying there's strength in numbers, a Moorpark councilman is advancing a plan to form a political coalition among the three largest cities of eastern Ventura County.

Keith F. Millhouse, an attorney who joined the Moorpark council two years ago, has contacted elected leaders in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

Millhouse said he wants to protect the undeveloped "greenbelts" that separate the cities while tackling common concerns such as traffic and development under the aegis of a new East County Alliance.

"There was no formal means of communication on a regular basis between the cities of the east county," Millhouse said. "It seemed to me, based upon our geographic proximity, that we all shared a lot of common issues that we should be working on."

Each city would appoint two council members to the new alliance, which would meet quarterly or more frequently if an issue needs immediate response, Millhouse said.

The councilman hopes to win approval for the concept from the three city councils in the next few months.

Millhouse said frustration in dealing with Caltrans on improving traffic along California 23 prompted him to reach out to his neighbors.

Along with regular discussions on issues, Millhouse said the alliance could move to increase the east county's share of funding and services from county and state government.

"There's a lot of potential political lobbying power that's going untapped," he said. "We've got a quarter of a million proactive, affluent people.... It seems you could form a very powerful lobbying group."

Thousand Oaks Councilman Dennis Gillette said the idea of the cities nearest Los Angeles working together has surfaced before, but this could be the first time a formal plan has been offered.

"I'd be more than open to discussing the concept," Gillette said. "I don't believe you can have too much open dialogue about issues of mutual interest and concern."

Gillette's Thousand Oaks council colleague Ed Masry supports the coalition. He suggests the first issue to be addressed should be traffic on California 23 and the Ventura Freeway.

Simi Valley Councilman Steven T. Sojka said working with Moorpark and Thousand Oaks makes sense.

"When we deal with county issues, we want to make sure the east county is well-represented," Sojka said. "Too often, the west county gets the lion's share of county services."

Glen T. Becerra, a two-term Simi Valley councilman, said there is no guarantee the cities would always agree on how to handle thorny issues, such as open-space preservation or economic and residential development.

"But you'll never know what you can agree on if you don't sit down and talk," he said.

And regularly placing half a dozen politicians in a room will only be successful, he said, if egos are left at the door.

"Whenever you can get people to sit down cooperatively to talk about issues, there's nothing you can't accomplish as long as no one worries about who gets the credit," said Becerra, borrowing a line from former President Reagan.

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