Fire and drought contribute to fury over possible new homes on Kanan
With main worry points that include inadequate fire evacuation routes and lack of water supply due to the drought, one elected official in Ventura County is urging caution over new residential development being discussed for Kanan Road in Agoura Hills.
In a letter dated June 15, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks asks the Agoura Hills City Council and Planning Commission to “give full weight to the concerns” of her constituents in Oak Park regarding how the addition of possibly hundreds of residential units on shopping center sites along the thoroughfare in western Los Angeles County could affect evacuations in times of disaster.
A required update to the housing element of the Agoura Hills General Plan for 2021-29 includes zoning changes to allow the conversion of three Kanan Road retail centers north of the 101 Freeway to residential.
Officials in Agoura Hills are eyeing more than 20 sites in all, but the ones drawing most scrutiny are:
Agoura Meadows shopping center, southwest corner of Kanan and Thousand Oaks Boulevard;
Twin Oaks shopping center, northwest corner of Kanan and Thousand Oaks Boulevard; and
Agoura City Mall, adjacent to Twin Oaks, also on the northwest quadrant of Kanan and Thousand Oaks Boulevard.
Agoura Hills officials argue in the housing element proposal that residential development trends in Calabasas, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks “provide numerous examples of redevelopment of commercial uses, offices and even school sites with residential and mixed use development, demonstrating that residential redevelopment is both feasible and preferable to many existing non-residential uses. The market conditions for residential development are equally strong in Agoura Hills.”
However, not everyone is on board.
“As you may be aware,” writes Parks, whose supervisorial district includes Casa Conejo, Lake Sherwood, Thousand Oaks and Oak Park, “there has been great concern voiced in the Oak Park community regarding the . . . proposal for rezoning three shopping centers . . . to multifamily housing.”
On May 31, the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council, an elected body representing more than 14,000 residents in the unincorporated Ventura County community, voted to send its own letters of concern to the city, with Parks’ serving as a cover letter of sorts.
“I ask that you give full weight to the concerns of this neighboring community when making critical decisions that affect them,” Parks writes.
In identical letters to the council and commission, the Oak Park MAC board urges the city “to reject consideration of zoning for multifamily residential development” at the shopping center sites.
“Kanan Road is a main entrance and exit for our community of 14,000 residents,” writes Jane Nye, MAC chair, on the board’s behalf. “We already experience traffic congestion and delays on Kanan Road. Adding approximately 5,000 additional daily car trips from over 500 potential residential units would impede evacuation in the event of wildfires and other emergencies, leading to life-threatening gridlock should a disaster strike.”
Agoura Hills Mayor Deborah Klein Lopez said the city’s hands are tied, and emphasized that no development is in the planning.
“We, too, felt the number of housing units assigned to us was too high, and we appealed the numbers. Unfortunately, we were denied. So we are left with some very difficult choices in a town that is 75% very high fire hazard severity zone. We welcome Ventura County’s partnership in reaching out to their state legislators as well, as these mandates come from Sacramento,” Lopez said in a statement to The Acorn.
Just how cut off from safety Oak Park can be was made clear during the Woolsey fire, which ignited near Simi Valley four years ago in November, and burned nearly 97,000 acres through to Malibu, destroying homes, leading to three deaths and forcing the evacuation of more than 295,000 people.
Oak Park’s key evacuation route—Kanan Road—became congested, a terrifying situation for many.
“Subsequently, in a study of evacuation routes by the University of California Institute of Transportation Studies, Oak Park was identified as ‘being within the worst 1% in the state when it comes to population-to-evacuation route ratios,’” according to the letter.
The group also invokes the Camp fire—California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection— in its plea to reconsider the Kanan Road options. Starting the very same day as Woolsey in the area of Paradise in Butte County, the Camp fire burned more than 150,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed some 19,000 buildings.
Compared to Paradise, according to the UC study, Oak Park “was noted as having greater numbers of people living in the highest fire risk zones, per lane of major roadway out.”
At that May MAC meeting, the group Preserve Evacuation Kanan Corridor presented the board with more than 1,000 signatures from residents concerned about the evacuation problems that could arise through the addition of dense housing on Kanan Road.
“Placing 24-hour-a-day multifamily residential with associated vehicle trips will threaten our ability to safely flee in the event of wildfires,” Nye writes. “While we appreciate that cities are under a state mandate to find new housing opportunities, it is not acceptable to place the Oak Park community at greater risk.”
The state Department of Housing and Community Development must approve the housing document and is in the process of considering revisions presented by Agoura Hills officials in February.
New development in the community, whether residential or commercial, also raises the question of where the structures will get their water from as the drought intensifies.
The City of Thousand Oaks recently gave the go-ahead for construction of a 420-unit mixed residential and commercial project at the former Kmart site on Hampshire Road in T.O.
Oak Park resident Michael Cowan wrote The Acorn and questioned the wisdom of the city’s decision.
“When current residents are being restricted and severely limited in their use of water, why in the world would you grant permission to build such a large development which will consume millions of gallons of additional water per day?” Cowan said.
“It is inconceivable to us that the current drought conditions were not given more consideration in the decision to construct such a large development,” he said.