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LOOKING TO BEAUTIFY THE ARROYO SIMI VALLEY CONSIDERS LANDSCAPING WATERWAY AFTER IGNORING IT FOR DECADES.

Byline: ERIC LEACH

Staff Writer

SIMI VALLEY - For more than a century, it has meandered through town -- sometimes as a trickle, sometimes as a torrent.

While some residents have enjoyed Arroyo Simi's natural beauty, many more barely know of its existence. Either way, it has continued its 12-mile run from Corriganville Park to Moorpark in relative obscurity, hidden behind strip malls.

Now, community leaders are launching an effort to give the arroyo a face-lift.

"There is a ton of potential down there. It's really quite charming," said Simi Valley City Councilwoman Barbra Williamson, who rides her bicycle there regularly and has been pushing for the project to beautify the arroyo. "We want to incorporate parks into the setting of the arroyo, where mothers can go with their children, where you can go for running, walking and bike riding."

A task force made up mainly of officials from the city and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District is working with a consultant to prepare some beautification proposals.

"At this point it's kind of a collage of ideas," said Jeff Ferber, a landscape architect and principal with the RRM Design Group, hired by the city to work on the project.

Officials hope to hold a public meeting in about a month to show some concepts to local residents and get their ideas.

Right now Arroyo Simi doesn't appeal to as many people as it could, with homes, parks and businesses backing up to the waterway, rather than banks decorated with lush greenery and colorful landscaping, Ferber said.

"You have decades and decades and decades of people turning their back to the arroyo," he said. "It's not very friendly right now. You don't have the sense it is inviting."

He spoke to city officials at a recent planning meeting and offered improvements -- pedestrian bridges, walkways, stairs and overlooks, including one featuring cascading water near the old Pioneer Cemetery.

He showed how parklike walkways could be extended off the arroyo to Simi Valley Historic Park and along Tapo Canyon Creek, which leads past Sycamore Drive Community Center into a historic neighborhood around the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

He also suggested expanding the nearby Rancho Simi Community Park to reach out into the arroyo and said the old hospital property across the arroyo at Erringer Road could be developed commercially to face the waterway.

In the 1800s, developers hoping to lure investors from back east portrayed the Arroyo Simi as a beautiful river full of big fish and enough water to float a paddle-wheel steamer.

The early settlers, however, found the arroyo to be a nearly dry creek bed most of the year and a raging torrent during winter rains.

Because of development, there is now almost always a little water running through the arroyo, which can still turn into a rush of whitewater during storms.

Flood-control experts have spent millions of dollars trying to create a safe channel for the arroyo so it won't overflow its banks and flood homes and businesses.

Ventura County Watershed Protection District officials have warned there are still spots that could be inadequate to handle what is called a "100-year flood," or one that has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year.

Safety will continue to be the first priority, officials said, but much more can be done to make the banks of the river more inviting, including some relatively low-cost improvements to parks, and walkways that could be built with already-available funding.

"Once you start creating an awareness of the arroyo, people will care more about beautifying it," Williamson said.

Some residents who live along the arroyo might be opposed to the beautification effort out of fear that it might attract crime, city officials said.

But Ferber said studies show that crime rates go down rather than up in neighborhoods with such projects because the trails result in more members of the community watching out for each other.

"There are a lot of schools and parks with potential for connecting those public places to the arroyo as a kind of necklace," he said. "It makes it easier that the Arroyo Simi is not a concrete (channel) like the Los Angeles River. The bottom is natural."

While some parts of the Arroyo Simi are lined with rocks to stabilize the slopes and have concrete grade-stabilizers along the bottom, other parts look almost completely natural, with sandy bottoms and plants and trees along the shore.

The Arroyo Equestrian Center, Vista Del Arroyo Park, Frontier Park and Rancho Simi Community Park are some of the recreational facilities already situated along the arroyo.

Improvements have to be affordable, Councilman Steve Sojka said, but they can also be imaginative, stirring community interest in the arroyo as a gathering place, Councilman Steve Sojka said.

"The potential is huge," he said, "but a lot of people don't even know about it."

eric.leach@dailynews.com

(805) 583-7602

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) A bicyclist rides on a path along the Arroyo Simi where boulders and concrete control the water. Simi Valley is considering beautifying the waterway.

(2 -- color -- ran in Simi edition only) Simi Valley City Council members, from left, Barbra Williamson and Steve Sojka, along with Director of Environmental Services Al Boughey, listen to a proposal to turn Arroyo Simi into a parklike community gathering place.

(3 -- ran in Simi edition only) Although much of the Arroyo Simi is lined with concrete and boulders, other sections look relatively pristine. Some city officials want the waterway beautified.

(4 -- ran in Simi edition only) "Before" and "after" renderings presented to the Simi Valley City Council last month show the potential for overlooks as part of an Arroyo Simi beautification proposal.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 2007
Words:959
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