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Ventura County Supervisors Approve Ahmanson Project

Development: The plan for 3,050 homes on land bordering L.A. County is opposed by Save Open Space, but group's pleas for further study went unheeded.

November 25, 1998|PAMELA J. JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Los Angeles County supervisors rebuffed their Ventura counterparts Tuesday and approved a massive land development near their common border, Ventura County supervisors were rejecting similar complaints from across the same boundary.

Despite strong opposition from neighbors in the west San Fernando Valley, supervisors in Ventura County pushed forward with a controversial 3,050-home development at Ahmanson Ranch.

Opponents of each project, primarily from the neighboring county, have raised similar concerns over increased congestion, pollution and lack of water.

The Ventura County vote was 2-1, with Supervisors John Flynn and Kathy Long absent. They were making an unsuccessful plea to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to deny the massive 21,615-home Newhall Ranch housing development.

The lone dissenting vote in Ventura County was Supervisor Susan Lacey, who said she recognized parallels between Newhall and Ahmanson.

"The irony is not lost on me that here we are begging supervisors in Los Angeles not to 'L.A.-ize' Ventura County," Lacey explained. "And here are residents of our sister county to the south asking us not to do the same thing to their communities."

On Tuesday, opponents argued that the soil at the 2,800-acre project along the L.A.-Ventura border contains toxic chemicals.

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Representatives of the Save Open Space organization showed supervisors a study conducted by a Santa Paula chemist who found traces of toxic chemicals such as arsenic, magnesium and sulfur in soil samples at the site.

The group maintains that chemicals from the adjacent Rocketdyne field lab, a former testing facility for rocket engines, have seeped through the soil into ground water and pose a danger to the public.

Members of the group, composed mainly of San Fernando Valley and Agoura Hills residents, paid $2,886 to have the study completed earlier this month.

"We want to make sure that no baby or hiker who is playing or hiking on the dirt there gets ill," Save Open Space director Mary Wiesbrock told supervisors. "You are the lead agency who can determine whether this goes through. You need to protect the public."

Wiesbrock asked for further study before moving ahead on the housing project, which would include 400,000 square feet of commercial space, a 300-room hotel, two golf courses and two schools.

"You will be liable if a child gets leukemia," Wiesbrock said. "Please, people's lives are at stake."

Woodland Hills attorney Rosemary Woodlock said Ahmanson Land Co. has the right to extract up to 260 million gallons of water per year from the 10,000 acres of open space the company was required to dedicate to a conservancy, which will be protected as open space as part of the development deal.

According to the land transfer agreement, Ahmanson Land has exclusive rights to the water and may construct pipelines or wells on the property, Woodlock said. The company also has the right to sell the water or water rights to anyone, she said.

Chairwoman Judy Mikels was unmoved by the soil study.

"It's been dumped here at the last minute without certification and without expert comment," she said. "We need to stay on track and stay focused."

She said the county can conduct a soil study when the developers design the blueprints for a housing project, a process that could be completed by summer.

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The main access to Ahmanson Ranch is through western Los Angeles County. The main access to Newhall Ranch is the Golden State Freeway in Los Angeles County, although building will extend to within an eighth of a mile of Ventura County.

The primary legal challenges to Ahmanson Ranch have been resolved in favor of the developer.

In contrast, Ventura leaders vowed Tuesday to begin a legal challenge to Newhall Ranch, a process that could take years.

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