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Ahmanson Project's Fate May Remain Clouded for Months : Development: The Jordan Ranch sale was a key accomplishment. But the other plan can't proceed until nine lawsuits and landowner Bob Hope are dealt with again.


With the sale this week of Bob Hope's Jordan Ranch to the National Park Service, officials said Friday that the burden now falls on the Ahmanson Land Co. to deliver two other Hope properties to park agencies if it wants to build a giant housing project in eastern Ventura County.

Under conditions set by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors last December, the $1-billion Ahmanson Ranch project--which would create a mini-city of 8,600 residents just west of the San Fernando Valley--cannot go forward until Hope's other mountain tracts become public parkland. These include the 4,369-acre Runkle Ranch northwest of Chatsworth and the 339-acre Corral Canyon tract in Malibu.

But the Ahmanson project's fate--as well as the purchase of any more Hope properties--may be put on hold for months, while the developer weighs the potential impact of nine lawsuits filed to block the project.

Los Angeles County and the cities of Los Angeles, Calabasas and Malibu are among those filing suits, which contend the project would cause environmental damage, snarl traffic and strain other public services.

"Obviously, the lawsuits are the next issue," said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy who helped engineer the $16.7-million Jordan Ranch purchase disclosed on Thursday. "Those have to be resolved in some relatively favorable fashion to Ahmanson or else they're not going to go forward."

Ahmanson officials released a short statement Friday saying they were pleased with the Jordan purchase and are working "diligently to pursue resolution of the litigation that has been filed in connection with . . . the Ahmanson Ranch plan."

Mary Trigg, a spokeswoman for the developer, said officials would have no further comment.

Ventura County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk, the county official most involved in the Ahmanson Ranch deal, said she does not expect Ahmanson to make offers for Hope's other properties until the pending lawsuits are settled.

Otherwise, she said, the developer would run the risk of paying millions of dollars to Hope and then have lawsuits kill the project.

Nonetheless, VanderKolk said she thinks the Jordan Ranch acquisition moves the development deal forward because Ahmanson at least will not have to come up with the money to purchase Jordan Ranch. She said the developer was faced with that prospect if the National Park Service, which was under pressure to spend the money, had purchased other property.

The Park Service had signaled its intent to buy the 314-acre Paramount Ranch property in Agoura on Monday, using money that had been set aside for Hope properties.

"I think it's an optimistic step," VanderKolk said of the Jordan Ranch purchase. "I think it places emphasis back on what is good about this deal. It gives people a feeling of security, that we're serious about acquiring all of these properties as parkland."

Hope's price on his remaining mountain holdings has never been disclosed.

Although it was widely reported that Hope would accept a below-market $29.5 million for the Jordan, Runkle and Corral properties, that apparently was to be the contribution by park agencies alone. The total price would have also required a large payment from Ahmanson.

To proceed with its project, Ahmanson will have to meet Hope's still undisclosed price, less the $16.7 million the National Park Service paid for Jordan.

Hope spokesman Ward Grant said Hope "is happy this is settled, and now he's gone fishing." Grant declined to discuss Hope's price for the remaining properties.

Meanwhile, the purchase of Jordan Ranch represents a major acquisition for the Santa Monica National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service that is stitching together a network of mountain parks and trails in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

"Jordan Ranch is a very critical parcel" because it represents another key swath of protected wildlife habitat, said David Gackenbach, superintendent of the National Recreation Area. The 2,308-acre tract abuts the 2,150-acre Cheeseboro Canyon tract, which is already part of the National Recreation Area.

Gackenbach said that the Jordan Ranch acquisition preserves a key part of the wildlife corridor that runs from Simi Valley to the Pacific Ocean.

He said it could be four to six months before Jordan Ranch is opened to the public. A resident now living on the property must be given 90 days notice to vacate, and additional time may be needed to move some cattle off the land.

Mary Wiesbrock, president of Save Open Space, an environmental group critical of the Ahmanson project, said Friday it was through the efforts of her organization that Jordan Ranch will not be developed.

Until two years ago, Hope was trying to build a golf course and luxury housing development on the sprawling tract.

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