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Judge Refuses to Block Ahmanson Ranch : Courts: Ruling says Ventura County complied with state regulations in approving environmental report on the planned $1-billion development.

March 05, 1994|CARLOS V. LOZANO and DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a crushing blow to opponents of the $1-billion Ahmanson Ranch development, a Ventura County judge ruled Friday that county officials complied with all state environmental laws in approving the mini-city that would be built on the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

In a 55-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Lane said that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors "did not abuse its discretion" in certifying the environmental impact report for the development.

Attorneys and government officials representing the nine plaintiffs who had sought to overturn the board's 1992 approval of the project said they are confident that an appeal will be filed with the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

"Our legal arguments have considerable merit," said Mark Weinberger, the attorney representing the city of Malibu. "They should have been upheld by the trial court and, certainly, review by the Court of Appeal is a possibility."

In addition to Malibu, Los Angeles County and the cities of Los Angeles and Calabasas, as well as several homeowner and environmental groups, joined in the lawsuit to block construction of the 3,050-home golf-course community.

The suit contended that the development's environmental impact report did not adequately address the project's effect on their communities. In addition, they argued that although traffic and pollution generated by the development would be felt most in Los Angeles County, Ventura County would reap most of the tax revenue and other benefits.

"We were surprised and appalled by the ruling," said Ken Bernstein, an aide to Los Angeles Councilwoman Laura Chick, whose district would receive the brunt of the traffic from the development.

"We feel that there were several significant issues unanswered by the (environmental impact report), in particular the potential traffic impacts on the western San Fernando Valley," Bernstein said. He said Chick will meet with a representative of the Los Angeles city attorney's office Monday to discuss filing an appeal.

In her ruling, Lane wrote that in approving the project, the Ventura County supervisors decided that the prospect of receiving nearly 10,000 acres of public parklands included in the deal, combined with the project's economic and recreational benefits, "outweighed the environmental costs."

"It is not the proper role of the courts to substitute our judgment for that of the people and their local representatives," Lane concluded in her ruling. "The court's 'limited function' is to assure that the public and its responsible officials have been fairly informed of the environmental consequences of their decisions before they are made. That was accomplished here."

Ventura County supervisors approved the project in 1992, on the condition that Ahmanson Land Co. and its partners acquire and turn over to state and federal park agencies 10,000 acres--most of it owned by entertainer Bob Hope. So far, only about 3,000 acres of that land--including Hope's 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch--has been turned over to park agencies.

Ahmanson, which has agreed to dedicate 2,633 acres as open space, must also deliver two other Hope properties to park agencies before it can go forward with its development. These include Hope's 4,369-acre Runkle Ranch near Chatsworth and his 339-acre Corral Canyon tract in Malibu.

Under its agreement with Ventura County, Ahmanson has about two years left to acquire Hope's land. The developer, concerned about the potential financial effect of the opponents' lawsuit, had put its plans on hold until a legal settlement was reached.

Mary Trigg, a spokeswoman for Ahmanson, said the developer was pleased with the judge's ruling and would wait to see if an appeal would be filed before moving ahead with its plans.

Steve Weston, an attorney representing Ventura County and Ahmanson in the case, said: "I hope that they will read the opinion and decide that further challenges are a waste of time and energy."

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