The city of Simi Valley (from the Chumash word, Shimiyi ), located in the eponymous valley, is situated in the southeast corner of Ventura County, California, United States. Located from Downtown Los Angeles, Simi Valley is part of the Greater Los Angeles Area. The city is adjacent to Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and the Los Angeles neighborhood of Chatsworth. The city's 2013 population has been estimated at 126,181, up from 111,351 in 2000.
The city of Simi Valley is surrounded by the Santa Susana Mountain range and the Simi Hills, west of the San Fernando Valley, and northeast of the Conejo Valley. It is largely a commuter bedroom community feeding the larger cities in Ventura County to the west and the Los Angeles area and the San Fernando Valley to the east.
A study done by the University of Vermont ranked Simi Valley as the fifth-happiest city in the United States. According to crime statistics by the FBI in 2013, Simi Valley is the seventh-safest city in the U.S. with a population of 100,000 or more. The U.S. Census Bureau of 2012 reported a median household income of $87,894, which is higher than the California median of $70,231 and the national average of $62,527.
Simi Valley was once inhabited by the Chumash people, who also settled much of the region from the Salinas Valley to the Santa Monica Mountains, with their presence dating back 10,000-12,000 years. Around 5,000 years ago these tribes began processing acorns, and harvesting local marshland plants. Roughly 2,000 years later, as hunting and fishing techniques improved, the population increased significantly. Shortly after this sharp increase a precious stone money system arose, increasing the viability of the region by offsetting fluctuations in available resources relating to climate changes. The native people who inhabited Simi Valley spoke an interior dialect of the Chumash language, called Ventureño.
Simi Valley's name derived from the Chumash word Shimiyi, which refers to the stringy, thread-like clouds that typify the region. The name could have derived from strands of mist from coastal fog that move into the Oxnard Plain and wind their way up the Calleguas Creek and the Arroyo Las Posas into Simi Valley. The origin of the name was preserved because of the work of the anthropologist John P. Harrington, whose brother, Robert E. Harrington lived in Simi Valley. Robert Harrington later explained the name: “The word Simiji in Indian meant the little white wind clouds so often seen when the wind blows up here and Indians living on the coast, would never venture up here when those wind clouds were in the sky. The word Simiji was constructed by whites to the word Simi. There are other explanations about the name Simi, but this one was given to me by my brother who worked over 40 years for the Smithsonian Institution and it seems most plausible to me”.
Three Chumash settlements existed in Simi Valley during the Mission period in the late 18th and early 19th century: Shimiyi, Ta’apu (present-day Tapo Canyon), and Kimishax or Quimisac (Happy Camp Canyon west of Moorpark College). There are many Chumash cave paintings in the area containing pictographs, including the Burro Flats Painted Cave in the Burro Flats area of the Simi Hills, located between the Simi Valley, and West Hills and Bell Canyon. The cave is located on private land owned by Boeing, formerly operated by Rocketdyne for testing rocket engines and nuclear research. Other areas containing Chumash Native American pictographs in the Simi Hills are for instance by Lake Manor and Chatsworth.
Under Spain and Mexico
The first Europeans to visit Simi Valley were members of the Spanish Portolà expedition (1769-1770), the first European land entry and exploration of the present-day state of California. The expedition traversed the valley on January 13–14, 1770, traveling from Conejo Valley to San Fernando Valley. They camped near a native village in the valley on the 14th.
Rancho Simi, also known as Rancho San José de Nuestra Senora de Altagarcia y Simi, was a Spanish land grant in eastern Ventura and western Los Angeles counties given in 1795 to Francisco Javier Pico and his two brothers, Patricio Pico and Miguel Pico by Governor Diego de Borica. Rancho Simi was the earliest Spanish colonial land grant within Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The name derives from Shimiji, the name of the Chumash Native American village here before the Spanish. It was one of the largest lands, but later when Mexico became independent from Spain, land was handed out much more freely. The Simi Adobe-Strathearn House, later the home of Robert P. Strathearn, served as the headquarters of the rancho.
José de la Guerra y Noriega, a Captain of the Santa Barbara Presidio, who had begun to acquire large amounts of land in California to raise cattle, purchased Rancho Simi from the Pico family in 1842. A few years after Jose de la Guerra’s death in 1858, the rancho was sold to the Philadelphia and California Petroleum Company headed by Pennsylvania Railroad president, Thomas A. Scott. When no great amount of oil was discovered, Scott began to sell the rancho. In 1887, a portion of the rancho was bought by a newly formed company, the Simi Land and Water Company. The small colonial town known as "Santa Susana del Rancho Simi" throve in the late 19th century and had a Spanish-speaking majority, but since then many Anglo-Americans have arrived to settle. Farms, orchards and groves dominated the valley's landscape until the 1970s.
For a brief time, its postal address was known as Simiopolis, though it was soon shortened again to Simi by 1910. The first public school was built in 1890 in the northeast but was torn down in 1926. There was also a great deal of destruction caused by a flood in 1952. The city incorporated as Simi Valley in 1969, when the area had only 10,000 residents. In 1972, Boys Town West was founded in the eastern end of Simi Valley. The youth camp/home facility is based on an older larger one in Boys Town, Nebraska.
Santa Susana Field Laboratory
The Santa Susana Field Laboratory located in the Simi Hills, was used for the development of pioneering nuclear reactors and rocket engines beginning in 1948. The site was operated by Atomics International and Rocketdyne (originally both divisions of the North American Aviation company). The Rocketdyne division developed a variety of liquid rocket engines. Rocket engine tests were frequently heard in Simi Valley. The Atomics International division of North American Aviation designed, built and operated the Sodium Reactor Experiment, the first United States nuclear reactor to supply electricity to a public power system. The last nuclear reactor operated at SSFL in 1980 and the last rocket engine was conducted in 2006. The SSFL has been closed to development and testing. The site is undergoing investigation and removal of the nuclear facilities and cleanup of the soil and groundwater. The Boeing Company, the US DOE and NASA are responsible for the cleanup.
In July 1959, the Sodium Reactor Experiment suffered a serious incident when 13 of the reactor's 43 fuel elements partially melted resulting in the controlled release of radioactive gas to the atmosphere. The reactor was repaired and returned to operation in September, 1960. The incident at the Sodium Reactor Experiment has been a source of controversy in the community. Technical analysis of the incident intended to support a lawsuit against the current landowner (The Boeing Company) asserts the incident caused the much greater release of radioactivity than the accident at Three Mile Island. Boeing's technical response concludes the monitoring conducted at the time of the incident shows only the allowable amount of radioactive gasses were released, and a Three Mile Island-scale release was not possible. The case was settled, it is reported, with a large payment by Boeing. In September 2009, The U.S. Department of Energy sponsored a public workshop where three nuclear reactor experts shared their independent analysis of the July, 1959 incident.
The Santa Susana Field Laboratory also hosted the Energy Technology Engineering Center. The center performed the design, development and testing of liquid metal reactor components for the United States Department of Energy from 1965 until 1998.
The Santa Susana Field Laboratory includes sites identified as historic by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and by the American Nuclear Society. The National Register of Historic Places listed Burro Flats Painted Cave is located within the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, on a portion of the site owned by the U.S. Government. The drawings within the cave have been termed "the best preserved Indian pictograph in Southern California."
Rodney King trial
On November 27, 1991, Judge Stanley Weisberg of the California Court of Appeals selected Simi Valley as the venue for the state case against four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. The officers (Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Brisenio) were accused of using unnecessary force in a March 3, 1991 beating of an African-American motorist "Rodney" Glen King. The case known as the Rodney King Trials was based on footage recorded on home video by a bystander (George Holliday). The now-famous video was broadcast nationally and globally and caused tremendous response because the beating was believed to be racially motivated. Selecting Simi Valley as a venue for the trial is believed to be motivated by the predominantly white ethnic make-up of the city at the time.
On April 29, 1992, a Ventura County jury acquitted three of the four officers (Koon, Wind, and Brisenio) and did not reach a verdict on one (Powell). Many believed that the unexpected outcome was a result of the racial and social make-up of the jury, which, reflecting the area's population demographic, included ten whites, one Filipino, and one Hispanic. None were Simi Valley residents. Among the jury were three who had been security guards or in military service. The acquittal led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and mass protest around the country.