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Ventura County Sites Get Open Space Status

Development: Conservancy accepts parcels as part of deal to build Ahmanson Ranch project. Foes sue to halt the transfer.

September 25, 1998|COLL METCALFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — After more than a decade of on-again, off-again negotiations, false starts and bitter legal feuds, two rustic parcels of land were declared public open space Thursday as part of a deal to develop Ahmanson Ranch.

But the announcement by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy touched off yet another round of legal battles, with opponents filing a new lawsuit that says the conservancy failed to test the properties for contamination from the nearby Rocketdyne field lab.

With the transfer of the final two pieces of land, conservancy officials announced that they had officially assumed stewardship of nearly 10,000 acres of open space--a move required as part of the Ahmanson Land Co.'s agreement to develop the billion-dollar mini-city along Ventura County's eastern border.

"What's significant about this isn't just that we're saving this land from development," said Joe Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy. "It's that we're preserving the integrity of the Santa Monica Mountains."

The transfer of the Runkle Ranch and Corral Canyon, as well as other property acquired earlier, completes the developer's requirement to dedicate the land to the conservancy to be forever protected and maintained as public open space.

Together, the parcels will create a stretch of untouched land running from Los Angeles County into Ventura County and spreading from the coast to the mountainous interiors of both counties.

Before beginning work on its 3,050-home development east of Oak Park, Ahmanson Land Co. must receive various building permits from Ventura County.

But the land transfer represented the final hurdle that the company faced in trying to take the development from the drafting table and making it a reality.

Despite the fact that Thursday's transfer was a foregone conclusion, it struck a hard blow to critics who have lobbied long and hard to have the Ahmanson Ranch development stopped.

"Certainly things have gotten more narrow and there aren't as many avenues left to attack this project," said Vince Curtis of Save Open Space. "But we're going to file this lawsuit and win."

Curtis and attorneys representing opponents of the project contend that the conservancy should have conducted soils and water tests to ensure the properties are safe before assuming ownership of the land.

Conservancy officials say that the tests were conducted and that the properties are safe.

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Ahmanson Ranch Project

The final pieces of a deal between developer Ahmanson Land Co. and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy fell into place Thursday when the developer announced it was turning over Runkle Ranch near Simi Valley and Corral Canyon in Malibu to the parklands group. The deal, which in total provided the conservancy with more than 10,000 acres of land, needed to be fulfilled before the developer could continue with its proposed Ahmanson Ranch resort community.

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