City leaders building a better Agoura in 2017



The improved economic picture in 2017 gave builders all the reason they needed to dust off old construction projects in the city and get them back on track.

The first component in the long-awaited Agoura Village plan for the area south of the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, Cornerstone, finally gained traction.

The mixed commercial and residential development calls for 35 housing units and almost 70,000 square feet of commercial space atop a hillside at the intersection of Agoura and Cornell roads.

Fraught with environmental concerns, Cornerstone won narrow approval by the Agoura Hills City Council in March, but a month later became stalled when a lawsuit filed by a group called Advocates for the Environment alleged the development would destroy a scenic knoll at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills and require the removal of 29 oak trees. Some 95,000 cubic yards of soil would have to be moved during grading, leading to harmful environmental impacts, the suit said.

And the city fought with Agoura Village opponents on another front last year. Residents objected to a bridge proposed by the city that would span Kanan and Agoura roads and connect the various components of Agoura Village. City officials agreed to nix the idea.

Wildlife bridge

Another type of bridge made news in 2017.

Fundraising efforts began in earnest for the proposed Liberty Canyon wildlife bridge, a 101 Freeway overpass in Agoura Hills that is supposed to help the diminishing mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills to expand territory and spread their genetic diversity. Without more room to roam, scientists say, the local cougars could be extinct within 50 years.

But skeptics doubted the proposed $60-million bridge could be built with mostly private money, as promised. As the planning continues, 2018 will serve as a test on whether adequate private funds can be raised and the bridge built without dipping into taxpayer pockets.

Rope-a-dope

The City of Agoura Hills took a stand against pot in 2017, even though the drug was legalized for recreational use in 2016’s statewide voter referendum.

The City Council cited a state law that allows municipalities to deny marijuana businesses licenses if they so desire. Agoura Hills, and Calabasas and Westlake Village as well, stand opposed to all marijuana sales inside their borders.

In May, residents opposed a pot shop that wanted to open its doors in Oak Park. The Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council said no to the dispensary, stating that such a business would be inconsistent with a bedroom community centered around families and schools.

Cold cases

In March, Agoura Hills resident Gary Haw, the founder of a chain of local tanning salons, was found guilty of five felony counts of committing a lewd act on a child in a case that was 15 years in the making.

In July, convicted drug dealer John Creech avoided a first-degree murder conviction and death sentence when a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in the 2012 killing of Gavin Smith, a Calabasas resident who had worked at 20th Century Fox.

Before his murder, Smith was last seen at the home of his Oak Park girlfriend, who also happened to be Creech’s ex wife. Oops.

The murder case garnered national attention.

Power play

Not as dramatic but equally important came news last year that residents in Agoura Hills, and Calabasas, will be able to choose how they buy their home electricity from now on.

With the approval of the Los Angeles County Community Choice Aggregation Program, residents were given the option to drop Edison and buy their electricity instead from a publicly-run consortium of green power providers that is supposed to save money and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Earlier in the year, Calabasas became the first L.A. County City Council to join the green power aggregate. Agoura Hills signed on in November.

Scuttle the shuttle?

The city approved continuation of the Kanan Shuttle running by agreeing to pitch in $25,000 of the $400,000 cost of the annual funding needed to keep the fixed-route bus service in operation. The Kanan Shuttle, an important transportation tool for students and other non-drivers, has been operating since 2013.

Famous people

Renowned author Daniel James Brown was the star of the Agoura Hills 2017 One City, One Book event, during which he discussed his best-seller, “The Boys on the Boat.”

Hubert Geza Wells of Westlake Village, a star in the animal-training world, wrote an autobiography last year, “Lights, Camera, Lions,” about his career handling critters large and small for the movie industry.

And Olympian Deena Kastor served as grand marshal for the 2017 Reyes Adobe Days festival in Agoura Hills in October. Kastor, who grew up in Agoura Hills, is the American record-holder in the marathon and half-marathon, and set records in other distance events as well.

Looking ahead

Last year, Agoura residents completed an online survey and many said the city needed some spiffing up, including the continued removal of old billboards. Traffic topped the list of complaints.

Approved last year for work in 2018, a major landscape improvement project will give a face lift to the major thoroughfares in the city. Kanan, Reyes Adobe and Liberty Canyon roads have been earmarked for beautification. Thousand Oaks Boulevard, from the westerly city limit to just east of Carell Avenue, will also be improved.

The new mayor for the coming year is Bill Koehler, who replaced Denis Weber at the city’s Dec. 5 council reorganization meeting.

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