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State Earmarks Record Grant for Ranch in Santa Monicas

November 23, 1986|MYRON LEVIN | Times Staff Writer

A state agency Thursday earmarked $5.85 million for public acquisition of a scenic mountain tract in Ventura County, preventing its sale to private developers.

The state Coastal Conservancy board voted 5 to 1 to put up the money, its largest grant ever, for the 1,655-acre Circle X Ranch south of Newbury Park, which includes sweeping views of the coast and the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The board, which met in Sacramento, said another state parks agency must provide suitable repayment guarantees next month in order for the complicated transaction to go forward. Those guarantees will require that other state lands in the Santa Monicas be put up for sale unless voters approve within two years a state parks bond issue, from which the Coastal Conservancy would recoup its money.

The planned sale of the tract by the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America had touched off an unusual behind-the-scenes battle among the staffs of the Coastal Conservancy and the other parks agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Earlier this fall, the Mountains Conservancy, an ardent supporter of the acquisition, threatened to sue the Coastal Conservancy for not acting more quickly on the project.

In approving the grant, the Coastal Conservancy board rejected its staff's advice that half the money be provided and the land be purchased in phases.

But after Thursday's vote, Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Mountains Conservancy, expressed satisfaction that the agencies were able to "resolve their differences and, in this case, do something spectacular for the public."

Ed Jacobs, president of the Scouts' Los Angeles council, said the group is pleased that "this jewel of a piece of property" will be "available to the public to enjoy for years to come."

The Circle X Ranch, which runs along Yerba Buena Road adjacent to Point Mugu State Park, includes a bunkhouse and six campgrounds. There are 22 miles of hiking trails and fire roads on the ranch, which includes Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monicas.

The tract also includes about four miles of the proposed Backbone Trail, which, when completed, will connect Point Mugu with Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades.

The land actually would be owned and managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint venture of the Mountains Conservancy and the Thousand Oaks-based Conejo Recreation and Park District. Edmiston said the property would be available for group and individual camping and other outdoors activities.

The Scout council decided last year to sell the property to help finance development of its Cabrillo aquatic center in San Pedro.

The Mountains Conservancy, a Los Angeles-based agency that acquires parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains and in the hills ringing the San Fernando Valley, commissioned an appraisal, and the land was valued at $6.5 million.

The Mountains Conservancy had no money to buy the property. But lawmakers earlier this year inserted the purchase in the Coastal Conservancy's 1986-87 budget, provided the money could be repaid.

Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer Peter Grenell said the budget commitment prompted deep concern that his agency would have to forgo other planned projects.

At Thursday's meeting in Sacramento, Coastal Conservancy staff members advised their board to approve $3 million for purchase of a one-half interest in Circle X. Once the Mountains Conservancy repaid the $3 million, they said, the purchase could be completed.

However, board members decided to commit the full $5.85 million, on the condition that an acceptable repayment agreement is brought to them at their meeting Dec. 22.

According to Edmiston and Grenell, the Mountains Conservancy is to sell immediately some farmland in Camarillo that it recently acquired as surplus property from Camarillo State Hospital. That sale is expected to generate about $3 million for the Coastal Conservancy.

As a last resort, the Mountains Conservancy must also be prepared to sell its 557-acre Deer Creek Ranch property in Ventura County and part of its Wilacre Park property in Studio City to pay the balance, Edmiston said.

However, those sales will not be needed if voters approve a parks bond issue in 1988, or if other sources of money become available, Edmiston said.

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