A decision this week by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors may signal the first significant breach in the 19-year-old county guidelines banning growth on rural land preserved for agriculture and other open-space uses.
By a 4-1 vote, the board Tuesday allowed two firms to proceed with studies of the impact of 10,000 to 15,000 additional residents on the Cheeseboro Canyon area in the eastern end of the county.
The decision gives developers of the Jordan and Ahmanson ranches the right to apply for county permission to change the open-space zoning of the two properties now in effect. Supervisor Susan K. Lacey cast the sole vote against the projects.
The two project developers, Potomac Investment Associates and H. F. Ahmanson & Co., made a combined presentation of their respective development proposals, which would bring 4,500 new homes, a professional-level golf course and retail and industrial centers to the largely rural southeastern corner of the county.
Only 100 Homes
Present zoning on the properties, which span more than 12 square miles, allows fewer than 100 homes, according to county planners, who recommended rejection of the projects.
The board's vote was the first hurdle for the two developments, which still face numerous public hearings over the next two years before they can be built.
Support for the projects, which would conflict with a variety of county policies that prohibit development in such open-space areas, came from an unusual mix of development interests and environmental groups, including the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Ventura County Economic Development Assn.
Developers have offered, in separate proposals, to give a combined 4,605 acres for use as parkland in exchange for $2 million and 60 acres of the Cheeseboro Canyon federal parkland. Those deals would triple Cheeseboro Canyon Park to about 6,700 acres, local park Supt. Daniel R. Kuehn said in support of the developments.
The developers said their two projects would also earn the financially troubled county between $8 million and $11 million a year in tax revenue.
That infusion would help a county battered by the effects of cuts in federal and state aid, which now make up about half of its $500-million budget. Bolstering a sagging tax base is sufficient reason to ease the county's established growth restrictions, some officials contend.
"What has changed is, the county is broke," said Supervisor James Dougherty, who represents the part of the eastern county that includes Simi Valley and Moorpark. "It was good planning to force development into the cities, but from an economic point of view, it is a disaster. If there is a way that any project might bring a positive cash flow to the county, that might make a difference."
Supervisor Madge Schaefer, who represents the area, said the board was compelled to allow the developers to proceed with economic and environmental studies "because of the potential for public open space."
Schaefer told Potomac Investment Associates, developer of the Jordan Ranch project, that she wants a reduction in the number of homes proposed for the 2,300-acre property. Potomac has proposed building about 1,550 homes in a private, gated community that would include a golf course good enough for professional tournaments.
The Jordan Ranch property is north of the Ventura Freeway, east of Oak Park and west of Cheeseboro Canyon Park. It is owned by entertainer Bob Hope, who has sold Potomac an option to purchase it.
H. F. Ahmanson & Co., owner of Home Savings of America, has proposed building 3,000 homes, retail stores, a 3-million-square-foot industrial park and a 200-room hotel on the Ahmanson Ranch property east of Cheeseboro Canyon Park, between Bell Canyon and Hidden Hills.
Developers welcome the decision.
"I think it's great," said Dick Fausset, vice president of Told Corp. "It's a win-win situation. The economic benefit to our county is going to be significant, and the location is ideal because it is hillside, and the land is not agricultural."
Opponents who spoke during the four-hour public hearing said the parkland exchange offered by the developers is not enough to compensate for the added traffic, congestion and air pollution that the projects would bring.
Lacy said in opposing the developments that the county should await the conclusions of a county committee now studying the impacts of future development in similar open-space areas.
Last Friday, county planners recommended that the board reject both projects.
"On the face of it, the projects appear to be inconsistent with the board's policies," said Bruce Smith, a Planning Department supervisor.
Last year, Home Savings representatives offered to create a new city out of their Ahmanson Ranch proposal to keep within the county's policy of restricting growth to cities. The firm is expected to repeat that offer, county officials said.