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Neighborhood Spotlight: Porter Ranch a scenic Valley community under a lingering cloud of unease

Porter Ranch Estates
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

One of L.A.’s newest neighborhoods, Porter Ranch remained largely undeveloped until the 1960s, when the first cul-de-sacs and tract homes sprouted up in the flats beneath the Santa Susana Mountains.

The property had previously been part of the massive holdings of a trio of San Franciscans drawn to the San Fernando Valley in 1874 by the ready availability of land.

After the purchase, the three divided the land into roughly equal portions. Benjamin Porter took possession of the westernmost reaches of their purchase, which encompassed the future locations of Chatsworth and Porter Ranch; his cousin George took the middle portion, and state Sen. Charles Maclay took the easternmost acreage.

Unlike many ambitious would-be empire builders during the real estate boom of the late 1800s, Benjamin Porter was primarily interested in using his 20,000 acres for ranching and farming. He focused on coaxing wheat fields out of the dusty Valley plains rather than laying out grand plans for future town sites.

A group power-walks along Tampa Avenue.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times )
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Despite his agrarian inclinations, in 1888 he sold his holdings at the mouth of the busy Santa Susana Pass (through which a steady flow of stagecoach traffic passed on its way from San Francisco to Los Angeles) to the San Fernando Valley Improvement Co., which laid out the town of Chatsworth.

Porter and his heirs kept the rest of the ranch intact until the 1960s, when the demand for new housing in the Valley drove land prices up to the point where sentimental attachment to the 4,000-acre homestead was outstripped by the opportunity to cash in on a nearly century-old investment.

Development of the ranch at first stuck to the flats between Chatsworth and Granada Hills, but in 1990 the city of Los Angeles approved a 1,300-acre master-planned community in the foothills above the 118 freeway.

Although local concerns at the time focused on the potential effect of traffic as the primary threat to the semirural character of the area, there was a bigger danger lurking beneath the surface of the scenic foothills.

Just a mile away from the sparkling new subdivisions was an old oil field that had been converted to a natural-gas holding facility, where more than 80 million cubic feet of gas was stored in deteriorating former oil wells.

A family visits Holleigh Bernson Memorial Park.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times )

In 2015 the containment system failed, causing a massive natural-gas leak that sickened thousands and took months to bring under control. Despite lingering questions about the safety of the still-active storage site, developers recently began selling luxury homes in a new Porter Ranch subdivision.

Neighborhood highlights

Commanding heights: The hills of Porter Ranch have long been renowned for their breathtaking views, courtesy of the winds that whip through the passes and clear out the smog.

Freeway-close: For commuters to Los Angeles job centers or to Thousand Oaks, Porter Ranch offers easy access to the Simi Valley Freeway, which is an attractive alternative to the 101.

The great outdoors: The Santa Susana Mountains offer plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, and Porter Ranch itself is home to scenic open spaces and hiking trails.

Neighborhood challenge

A lingering doubt: Although the gas leak has long been capped, the potential for another occurrence might give some home buyers pause.

Expert insight

Stacey Long, a real estate agent in the area, said that although the community is still rebuilding from the gas leak, Porter Ranch is far from the ghost town that stories described a few years ago.

“Like anywhere, people here are living their lives,” Long said. “Small businesses pop up. Homes still sell.”

She noted that hesitation remains, especially due to the lack of a long-term health study delayed because of a funding dispute. She believes that once everything is sorted out, Porter Ranch will have a steadier future.

“There are plenty of beautiful Mediterranean builds here that generate offers,” Long said. “It’s a quiet community in a good location. Things will be OK.”

Market snapshot

In the 91326 ZIP Code, based on 15 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in February was $839,000, up 20.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Report card

There are three public schools in Porter Ranch. Two scored above 900 on the 2013 Academic Performance Index: Castlebay Lane Elementary, at 939, and Beckford Avenue Elementary, at 933.

Darby Avenue Elementary scored 880. Highlights in the area include Topeka Drive Elementary, which scored 916, and Alfred Bernhard Nobel Middle, which scored 900.

Times staff writer Jack Flemming contributed to this report.

hotproperty@latimes.com

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