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Park Officials Make Bid for Jordan Ranch : Land: Conservancy offers Bob Hope $16.7 million for the site. It says time is running out on the availability of federal money.

June 03, 1993|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State park officials are scrambling to strike a deal with Bob Hope to purchase his Jordan Ranch property in eastern Ventura County because of fears that federal money earmarked for the ranch may be lost next week to another parkland acquisition.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has offered Hope $16.7 million to purchase his 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch east of Thousand Oaks, said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy.

If Hope agrees to the Jordan Ranch deal, it would leave up in the air the future of his other mountain holdings and the fate of the giant Ahmanson Ranch housing project that is being planned for near the Los Angeles County line.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors in December approved the development of a 3,050-dwelling golf course community contingent on the sale or transfer of Hope's mountain tracts to park agencies.

The Jordan Ranch acquisition would fulfill part but not all of this condition. Under the supervisors' conditions, the Ahmanson development would not be able to go forward until Hope's 4,369-acre Runkle Ranch property near Simi Valley and his 339-acre Corral Canyon property in Malibu are under public ownership.

The proposed land acquisitions are part of an ambitious effort by state and federal park agencies to gain control of a large swath of undeveloped property that would preserve a wildlife corridor stretching from the mountains near Santa Clarita to the Pacific Ocean.

The conservancy's offer to Hope for Jordan Ranch was made over a month ago, but officials had declined to reveal details of the offer until Wednesday because of concerns that it would jeopardize negotiations.

Hope and his representatives could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Edmiston said that time is running out for Hope to accept the offer because there is a good chance that the National Park Service money will now go toward the purchase of the 314-acre Paramount Ranch in Agoura.

"If we want to get Jordan Ranch, we have to get it now because that money is not going to sit there," Edmiston said. "We're trying to make sure that Hope understands the situation."

The conservancy purchased the note on the Paramount Ranch property from Union Federal Savings Bank last year for $4.3 million. The state park agency has until the end of the month to pay the remaining $12 million for the land, Edmiston said.

Although the conservancy had planned to use a combination of local and state parkland money to complete the Paramount purchase, there is a chance that those funds will not be readily available, Edmiston said.

As a result, the conservancy may have little choice but to accept the National Park Service's offer to purchase Paramount Ranch, he said.

Edmiston said he would prefer that the National Park Service money be used to purchase Jordan Ranch. But he said if a deal is not struck immediately he will recommend that the conservancy's board of directors on Monday accept the park service's proposal to buy Paramount Ranch.

The park service would buy the property with money that it previously set aside to acquire Hope's mountain properties as part of the Ahmanson Ranch deal.

The $1 billion Ahmanson development would create a mini-city of 8,600 residents, while turning over 10,000 acres of mountain land--7,000 owned by Hope and the rest by Ahmanson Land Co.--to the National Park Service and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

The development deal has been stalled because Ahmanson Land Co., Hope and Hope's development partner Potomac Investment Associates have not been able to agree on how to split up profits from the project, sources said.

The National Park Service holds the linchpin for the deal because it would provide $19.5 million of the $29.5 million that Hope would get from park agencies for his three ranches.

Tired of waiting for the Ahmanson partners to reach a final agreement, the park service in April withdrew its $19.5 million from an escrow account.

David Gackenbach, regional superintendent of the park service, said he wants to move ahead with the Paramount Ranch acquisition because he is concerned that his agency's leaders might decide to redirect the money to buy parkland elsewhere in the nation.

"It's time to get on with using this money," Gackenbach said. "We're already being eagle-eyed by Congress, which is interested in using this money for other land acquisitions."

However, he said the National Park Service is willing to purchase Jordan Ranch with the money if Hope accepts the offer to sell before Monday.

"We're still interested in Jordan Ranch, but time is running out," he said.

In the event Hope agrees to sell Jordan Ranch, Edmiston said that the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy would go back to Union Federal Savings Bank and negotiate a high-interest deal to forestall the Paramount Ranch purchase until a later date.

He said the property would be purchased with money derived from Proposition A, a Los Angeles County bond measure, and Proposition 117, a statewide initiative that directs some taxes for parkland acquisition.

Meanwhile, Gackenbach declined to give the specific amount that the park service had offered for Paramount, but said it was between $10 and $15 million.

He said if the acquisition went through, leftover money could be used to help acquire a portion of the 640-acre Broome Ranch on the outskirts of Thousand Oaks.

Times staff writer Myron Levin contributed to this story.

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