The History of the Lakes Project and its Historical Context

Source: https://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/campus-master-plan

This month, the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission and City Council will be presented with changes that would allow for the development of a residential complex on the East Side parcel next to the Civic Arts Plaza.

As with any important decision, the proposal should be judged relative to the city’s history and its decades-long effort by a subset of city leaders to make something more happen in Thousand Oaks than originally planned.

The divisiveness of previous city decision making demonstrates a history of significant time, energy, and money having been invested, leading to a perception of sunk costs in pursuit of a “downtown” area — an area that somehow needed to be created when one didn’t exist before.

This is not the case, as the most natural “downtown” area in Thousand Oaks is the commercial area between Moorpark and Lynn Roads:

  • As its first act of expansion, in November 1964, the Council annexed the land comprising Janss Marketplace, then known as the Conejo Village Shopping Center.[1]
  • The site of the city’s first city hall — 401 Hillcrest — a city landmark,[2] and now home to the National Park Service — is located in this area.
  • Lands on the east side of the Oaks Mall were identified decades ago for the proposed civic arts center.
  • The Thousand Oaks Street Fair has been held in this area for the past three decades.
  • The area is most logical, since this it has long existed as the city’s center — an already vibrant commercial area, able to handle such proposed changes better than other areas.

With the City’s General Plan update proposed for final approval next year, now is the perfect time for leaders to reassess the poor decisions of the past and endeavor not to make similar poor decisions going forward. Rethinking what makes sense for our city’s “downtown” and future growth is a prudent path ahead.

Please review and consider the city’s history in our collective decision making to guide our city’s future.

Background

What follows is the history of the $100 million pursuit to build a “downtown” in the Jungleland area.

The city’s first City Hall

In January 1967, the Council dedicated themselves to building a civic center for the new city.[3]

  • In the beginning of 1968, the Janss Corporation made an offer of twenty acres north of Hillcrest Drive as the site for a civic center.[4] The Council accepted the offer in principle, and this site served as the location for the first City Hall.
  • A nationwide design competition was held for the center’s design, and La Jolla architect Robert Houvener’s design was selected, which captured “its strength from the natural hillside” and was dubbed “the eyebrows on the hill.”[5] By January 1973, the center was finished. [6]
  • Thousand Oaks Mayor Ed Jones dedicated the civic center in 1973.[7]

Wide-eyed ambitions

Several years later, civic, business, and cultural leaders wanted to build a cultural center in Thousand Oaks through an “ambitious downtown redevelopment project”[8]

  • Under the plan, there would be “a revenue bonanza, [where] the city plans to spend $53 million on moderate and low-cost housing, $50 million on streets and facilities and $15–18 million to build a scaled-down version of the Los Angeles Music Center.” [9]
  • The cultural center was originally planned for the parking lot of the Oaks Mall, furthering the downtown area comprising the Oaks Mall, Janss Marketplace, and City Hall, located at 401 Hillcrest.

In late 1983, a group of Thousand Oaks business leaders and the Ventura County Taxpayers Association launched an effort to scale back the redevelopment plan. [10]

  • They also questioned the City’s decision to consider the five-mile stretch of Thousand Oaks Boulevard as “blighted” when the section contained more than a dozen high-priced developments including the luxury Westlake Plaza Hotel and the western regional headquarters of Prudential Insurance and Exxon Corporation.[11]
  • At the time, critics called the actions of the Thousand Oaks City Council, which doubled as the city’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA), as the “greatest scam ever to hit Ventura County,” although they quickly added he had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.[12]
  • A Ventura County District Attorney investigation ensued, and while the City was cleared of wrongdoing, the DA’s office did claim that the plans were a “striking example of how an aggressive city staff can legally subvert” state law.[13]

Questions of Culture

In 1984, there were two ballot questions presented to voters on the plan.

Critics of the plan started a petition drive to force a vote on the downtown plan, asking “Shall the City of Thousand Oaks or its agencies spend public monies to build a Cultural Center in the City of Thousand Oaks?”[14]

  • This became Measure A

The Council put a competing question on the ballot, asking: “Should the City of Thousand Oaks pursue the development of a Cultural Center if (1) the site for the facility is donated without cost to the City; and (2) only existing or projected redevelopment funds pay for the construction costs; and (3) a private endowment fund is established to offset any potential operating shortfalls?”[15]

  • This became Measure B

The advisory questions resulted in a mixed message about the cultural center’s future:

  • Measure A failed by a 38–62 margin,[16] indicating that the public did not support spending public money on the cultural center’s development.
  • Measure B passed 61–39, [17] indicating that public would support the center only under certain conditions.

In 1986, cultural center proponents put a specific proposal before the voters to gain support.

  • The June 1986 advisory question, on the ballot as Measure C, asked the voters if they supported using $22.3 million in redevelopment funds for the construction of an 1,800-seat main theater, 299-seat theater, 15,000 square foot museum, classrooms/workshops, and high school satellite feeder theaters on regional school sites. [18]
  • It also highlighted a location for the center either at city-owned Los Robles Driving Range or donated land at the Oaks Mall, and a funding plan for operations.[19]
  • The voters rejected the proposal; 54% cast ballots in opposition to Measure C.[20] [21]

Jungleland

Despite these public votes, city leaders who supported the center pressed ahead with different plans, using eminent domain to acquire the current Civic Arts Plaza property (the old Jungleland site), spending time and resources on years of litigation, settling on a purchase price of $17.9 million for the land in 1990. [22]

  • This now changed the Council’s focus for developing a new downtown area at Jungleland
  • The land for the cultural center was no longer “donated without cost to the City.” [23]

The City and its RDA eventually spent $63 million to build the Civic Arts Plaza and government center itself with plans that never materialized for a science center on the property.[24]

The Lakes

After first negotiating with and then rejecting a development agreement with Kilroy Industries in 1997,[25] the City and its RDA entered negotiations with Caruso Affiliated Holdings in 1999.[26] [27]

  • The development agreement with Caruso was finalized in 2000. [28] [29] [30]
  • The agreement allowed Caruso to lease the 7.5 acres to the east of the Civic Arts Plaza for the Lakes project, negotiating a deal granting free rent for 55 years with four 10-year lease extensions.[31]
  • To continue the economic viability of the project, the plans were revised to add options for a cinema and parking structure, [32] reduced parking space requirements, [33] and more recently allowing for residential units on the site.[34]
  • The Planning Commission recommended denial of the project in 2004, finding that the project “did not adequately address the protection of the oak trees, General Plan consistency, parking and air quality impact, and that a further study of traffic, geology, hydrology, and utilities be conducted.” [35]
  • The Council approved the project in 2004. [36] [37]

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[1] Resolution 64–19, City of Thousand Oaks, approved November 17, 1964.

[2] CHB Resolution 1, City of Thousand Oaks Cultural Heritage Board, approved May 6, 1997

[3] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, January 31, 1967.

[4] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, January 16, 1968.

[5] Bidwell, Carol A. (1989). The Conejo Valley: Old and New Frontiers. Windsor Publications. p. 58.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Willman, Martha, “Thousand Oaks Civic Center: City Will Dedicate Architectural Gem”, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1973.

[8] Quinn, James, “Thousand Oaks Edges Forward on Cultural Center,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1984.

[9] Quinn, James, “Cultural Center Plan Hit as Tax Diversion,” Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1983.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Quinn, James, “D.A. Clears City’s Redevelopment Tactics,” Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1983.

[14] Quinn, James, “Thousand Oaks Edges Forward on Cultural Center,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1984.

[15] Resolution 84–198, Thousand Oaks City Council, July 17, 1984.

[16] Resolution 84–297, Thousand Oaks City Council, November 20, 1984.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Resolution 86–26, Thousand Oaks City Council, February 11, 1986.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Omestad, Thomas, “Part of Defeated Arts Measure Thousand Oaks Rejects Votes on School Theaters”, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1986.

[21] Resolution 86–168, Thousand Oaks City Council, July 1, 1986.

[22] Pascual, Psyche, “New Council Member at Odds With Colleagues”, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1990..

[23] Resolution 84–198, Thousand Oaks City Council, July 17, 1984.

[24] Pascual, Psyche, “New Council Member at Odds With Colleagues”, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1990..

[25] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, January 7, 1997.

[26] Chan, Cecilia, “Plans Progress for New Center”, Los Angeles Daily News, August 1, 1999..

[27] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, July 27, 1999.

[28] Resolution 2000–159, Thousand Oaks City Council, July 25, 2000.

[29] RDA Resolution 216, Thousand Oaks Redevelopment Agency, July 25, 2000.

[30] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, July 25, 2000.

[31] Disposition & Development Agreement between the Thousand Oaks Redevelopment Agency and T.O. Civic Arts LLC, Attachment №5, Section 3.02..

[32] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, July 23, 2002.

[33] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, October 21, 2003.

[34] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, February 9, 2021.

[35] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks Planning Commission, February 23, 2004.

[36] Minutes of the Thousand Oaks City Council, March 9, 2004.

[37] Ordinance 1424-NS, Thousand Oaks City Council, adopted March 23, 2004.

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Mic Farris

Mic Farris

I help people and computers make better decisions. Find me on Twitter at @MicFarris and LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/micfarris