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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Cities in the Two-County Valley Shun Territorialism

Divided between two counties and nestled between two mountain ranges, the Conejo Valley offers itself as an alternative to Los Angeles. The three cities and the unincorporated areas making up this valley are linked to the metropolis for all the good and ill that brings the Ventura (101) Freeway serving as the connection and as a prime stimulator of economic development. As the cities of Agoura Hills, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village approach build-out and the surrounding areas exert a stronger influence, the cooperation among all strengthens into a regional strategy of forgetting about city and county borders. “The future of the Conejo Valley is linked to Los Angeles but not in a way that has to be worried about,” said Bruce Stenslie, president and CEO of the Economic Development Collaborative Ventura County. Straddling the Los Angeles and Ventura county lines, the Conejo Valley has its roots in a land grant given to two Spanish soldiers in the 19th century. Later the open land where cattle once grazed turned into large residential developments. Thousand Oaks, the valley’s largest city, was incorporated in 1964, and later annexed part of Newbury Park. Westlake Village became a city in 1981 with Agoura Hills following the next year. Incorporation became the favored choice to limit the explosive growth on both sides of the county line. The three cities are all on friendly terms with each other, with monthly meetings taking place between staff members as well as contact through the Ventura County economic collaborative. <!– CONEJO VALLEY –> CONEJO VALLEY Westlake Village and Agoura Hills are members of the Las Virgenes/Malibu Council of Governments for representation before the Los Angeles City Council, the Southern California Council of Governments, and state lawmakers to represent the region to get funding for certain projects. The city’s participation in that council has strengthened its ties with Los Angeles, said Westlake Village City Manager Raymond Taylor. Relations with the San Fernando Valley are friendly as well although operating on a different dynamic. Whereas the three Conejo Valley cities have a combined population of approximately 180,000, the San Fernando Valley has 1.8 million and is largely made up of a city with different politics and one of the largest economies in the world. But on a per capita basis, the Conejo Valley has a competitive economy when income, education level and level of jobs are taken into consideration. “That is not unusual,” said Gary Wartik, the economic development director for the city of Thousand Oaks. “You have a major metropolitan area up against a different development process and way of living.” The main link between the two valleys is the 101 Freeway, just as Highway 23 links the Conejo Valley with Simi Valley to the north. The 101 in particular has attracted major companies because of the available labor pool and like businesses congregating close by each other resulting in a high-tech corridor developing in the Conejo Valley and into Ventura County. Major employers along that corridor include pharmaceutical giants Amgen and Baxter; video game publisher THQ Inc.; J.D. Power and Associates; Bank of America; and Verizon. Those whose job it is to attract and retain business do not deny competition takes place between the Conejo, San Fernando and Simi valleys. Relations, however, remain collegial and communication never breaks down. After all, there are geographic and demographic reasons why a company chooses one location over another. “If we can’t accommodate it maybe one of the other cities can,” said Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell. The Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley does not engage in “corporate theft” to lure a business away from another city, said its President and CEO Bruce Ackerman. Instead, the alliance is border blind and works to meet the needs of business wherever they might be. Requests for assistance from the Conejo Valley or Simi are given the same consideration as those from San Fernando. “If you put us in a room together you are going to hear jostling but at the end if we can help each other we know it will come back,” Ackerman said. The three cities in the valley are at different stages of development and face different challenges of managing their growth. Agoura Hills, for instance, has the most open land to build on but has restrictions in place that limit retail to 60,000 square feet. Anything more needs voter approval. Those restrictions in turn are good news for, say, Thousand Oaks, which has made itself into the retail and commercial center of the Conejo Valley. The Oaks recently completed a $350 million expansion and renovation that included a new Nordstrom’s store. A $30 million renovation of a shopping center in Newbury Park is pending before the city’s planning department, and there are applications for a Costco in Newbury Park and a Home Depot in a former K-mart building. In Agoura Hills, meantime, the city has to think differently, said City Manager Greg Ramirez. The approach to designing the Agoura Village project is to make it a pedestrian environment with smaller, independent businesses, Ramirez said. Westlake Village finds itself almost built out in residential and commercial development. The city council has embarked on a plan on infill projects and what to do with business parks approaching nearly three decades in age. The city is soliciting land use firms and would consider zoning changes and mixing land uses to keep the properties useful, Taylor said. “It is one of the goals to look at aging commercial and office properties and planning for turnover,” Taylor said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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