In 1987, the Jordan Ranch developers first proposed acquiring the southwestern corner of Cheeseboro Canyon to connect their project with the Ventura Freeway.
They were initially rebuffed by Dan Kuehn, former superintendent of the recreation area, and by Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary Susan Recce.
But PGA attorney William Fairfield went over their heads, apparently at the suggestion of Fairfield's one-time law partner and former Reagan Interior Secretary William Clark. In an April, 1987, letter in which he mentioned Clark's name three times, Fairfield urged William P. Horn, then the assistant interior secretary in charge of the National Park Service, to reconsider.
Horn told Park Service officials to give the idea another hearing. In 1988, after the proposal was sweetened to include large donations of land, Kuehn and regional director Albright announced they favored the concept.
Under the current proposal, the Park Service would get 864 acres of the Jordan Ranch in return for the 60-acre swath of Cheeseboro. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency that helps acquire land for the recreation area, would get 305 more acres for $2 million, including part of scenic China Flat at the northern end of the ranch. Of the 2,407-acre Jordan Ranch property, more than 40% would wind up in public ownership.
Critics contend that the trade would despoil existing lands that cost the government dearly and would intensify pressure on Ventura County officials to rezone Jordan Ranch, allowing the massive development to go forward and further degrading the park.
They also have questioned whether a trade for 864 acres is truly a windfall, arguing that zoning approval for the development probably would not be granted unless the developer donated significant gifts of open space.
They also contend that public acquisition of Jordan Ranch may still be possible if the land swap and rezoning are rejected.
Othmer claimed that the Park Service and Conservancy have come off looking "like another special interest." He said their position seems to be: "No matter what the scale of the proposed development, it's OK with us because we've got ours."
For the agencies to sign off on the deal is appalling, said Hellman of the Wilderness Society, "because we think we can win this thing, and you don't deal when you can win."
"I'm trying to figure out what they're talking about," retorted Gackenbach. "What are we going to win?"
If the exchange is not made and the road is not built, and low-density estates are built on the ranchland instead, there would be no assurance of any public access to Jordan Ranch, Gackenbach said.
"I think the public agencies are in this for what we can get for the public domain . . . and that's everybody within the United States," Gackenbach said.
The Wilderness Society sounds like "a general 50 miles back from the front," Edmiston said.
"My sympathies are 100% with them," but their position "is absolutely unrealistic, and I have to look at it from the standpoint of the trenches," he said.
As for some day acquiring the whole tract, Edmiston said, he is "open to listening to all this, but I don't know how you get Bob Hope's assent unless you come bringing money."