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Offer by Ahmanson Land Co. Is No Bargain : Ventura County and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy should take the opportunity to dump the one-sided development deal. Now is the time to stop using public money on a fiasco.

October 02, 1994|SUSAN GENELIN | Susan Genelin of Sherman Oaks is regional representative for the Endangered Habitats League and chairs the Dixie Canyon Park Committee of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn

The much-ballyhooed deal to allow the giant Ahmanson Land Co. to develop its ranchland at the eastern end of Ventura County appears to be eroding. The public benefits, questionable in the first place, are sloughing off, leaving only the development and all the damage it will do.

Ahmanson intends to build a city of 3,050 homes, 400,000 square feet of commercial space, 300 hotel rooms, two golf courses, schools and its own city hall on 2,800 acres where Ventura County meets Los Angeles County. The problems, like traffic, will be sent east and south to L.A. County.

In exchange for Ventura County's permission to build on the prime acreage, the company agreed to donate 2,600 adjoining acres best suited for mountain goats to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. It also agreed not to begin grading until another four canyons are in public ownership. None of the owners of the four chosen canyons are signatories to this agreement--they don't have to sell.

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In the rush to get "free" parkland from Ahmanson, the conservancy has already spent most of its agreed-upon cash allotment on two of the four canyons, leaving itself unable to buy the others.

And Ahmanson revealed recently that it too is probably unable to purchase the remaining ones, which as a practical matter is its responsibility now that the conservancy has spent virtually all of the $29.5 million pledged in the agreement. Ahmanson is now asking the county for more time and has suggested that more public money may be the answer.

Nonsense. The cash shortage is a blessing. It provides the conservancy and Ventura County with an opportunity to dump the whole one-sided Ahmanson deal.

It was never a good idea to begin with.

Why should the conservancy, an agency charged with protecting the natural values of our mountains, use public money to help Ahmanson build its environmentally destructive mini-city? Why should public money help Ahmanson develop the headwaters of Malibu Creek, one of the few remaining riparian areas in the mountains, with its rare grasslands, precious oak woodlands, golden eagle forage and wildlife habitat connector between natural areas of the Santa Monica Mountains and Los Padres National Forest? Why should the conservancy participate in water pollution that two golf courses and urban runoff will introduce all the way to Santa Monica Bay?

As envisioned, the Ahmanson development will destroy the remaining rural character of the largely light-residential west end of the San Fernando Valley. Any hope of even keeping traffic from getting worse on this part of the Ventura Freeway--already graded F by Caltrans--would be lost, with more than 17,000 additional daily trips at Las Virgenes Road. Besides seeing neighborhood streets turned into thoroughfares with traffic, noise and fumes, the public will have to pay for any attempts by Los Angeles County to ameliorate this traffic nightmare. Ahmanson has no such obligation.

The public has already paid millions of dollars on two inflated parkland purchases to facilitate this ill-advised project.

The conservancy spent $10 million on part of Liberty Canyon next to the Calabasas landfill, which has inadequate safeguards against polluting leakage from old toxic pits. It spent another $16.5 million on Jordan Ranch, which is worth far less. Since there is no access route to the property, no development could have been built. Even now the public cannot get on this public land because of the same access problem. Ahmanson has paid not a penny toward either purchase.

Now Ahmanson attorneys say Ahmanson may not, itself, be able to purchase the two remaining canyons, Runkle Ranch and Corral Canyon, from entertainer Bob Hope. If public agencies have the money to buy them and lack the will to refuse, the project will go forward.

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A better solution would be for various agencies to stiffen their spines, for Ahmanson not to build its city, and for all of Ahmanson Ranch to remain in its natural state until the public can buy it.

The remaining two properties are so far from Ahmanson Ranch that most neighbors never heard of them before the conservancy promoted the land deal. In return for them, those living around Ahmanson Ranch would forfeit the quality of living they have so carefully nourished and protected for years. And it all has been engineered by a conservancy which the residents did not elect and which does not appear to be concerned about them.

The conservancy board is to hear a report Monday night by Executive Director Joe Edmiston on his efforts to work a new deal. I hope he tells them that Ventura County is refusing to grant an extension. Now is the time to stop using public money to promote this fiasco.

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