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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Board Split on New Traffic Study for Ahmanson Ranch

November 16, 2000|ANNETTE KONDO and TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With state and Los Angeles County officials questioning their projections, Ventura County leaders on Wednesday were grappling with whether to do a new study of the traffic impact of the controversial Ahmanson Ranch project.

The traffic projections used by Ventura County supervisors in approving the 10,000-resident project were under review after Los Angeles County officials said the figures understate by up to 20% the impact on the already-crowded Ventura Freeway.

Ventura County supervisors contacted Wednesday were divided on whether a new study was needed and what it might trigger.

Supervisors Judy Mikels and Frank Schillo believe an updated study should be performed.

Mikels said new numbers, if significantly higher, could mean another battle in court. "I'd hate to see it end up in court, but it probably will," she said.

Schillo also sees the potential for another court challenge, but said he had "asked specifically the last time that we make sure we have an updated study on traffic included in the supplemental report."

But Supervisor John Flynn opposed a new study.

"I think you can drag these things out for such a long time; it's a good strategy [for opponents]," Flynn said. "But I just think we need to finally make a decision and bring this to a close."

Ventura County officials were also considering Wednesday a request by state Department of Transportation officials who want the county's original 1992 report updated.

While not accepting any of the new traffic estimates, Ventura officials said they are reviewing the projections to determine if a follow-up environmental report, now being conducted, should include an updated traffic study.

"If it comes to that conclusion, we will do a new study," said senior Ventura County planner Dennis Hawkins. The Ventura County public works agency will decide the matter, Hawkins said, and decide "whether they think there is a new significant impact."

Tim McGarry, a spokesman for Washington Mutual Inc., the developer of Ahmanson Ranch, said he is confident that Ventura County and other agencies will determine the most accurate and complete data.

Traffic projections have long been a contentious issue between supporters and opponents of Ahmanson Ranch, a project proposed for just inside Ventura County's eastern border with Los Angeles County. Last month, Ventura County announced it would prepare a supplemental environmental impact report.

In response, Los Angeles County, which has consistently opposed the project, citing the impact on air quality, traffic, and other factors, asked for updated traffic projections.

Los Angeles officials sent their own projections to Ventura County, covering traffic through 2010. Those numbers had tens of thousands more car trips than what the Ventura County 1992 environmental impact report estimated.

For example, along the Ventura Freeway between Lost Hills and Las Virgenes roads, the 1992 Ventura report estimated 218,000 average daily trips in 2010. Los Angeles County, however, projects 274,000 average daily trips.

Ventura County, Hawkins said, decided to seek another opinion and asked Caltrans for forecasts, which sent projections for the year 2020.

But those numbers, Caltrans now says, unknowingly omitted Ahmanson Ranch. Caltrans also said its projections came from the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

So where does that leave Ventura County, which now has multiple sets of traffic projections to mull over?

"We assumed Caltrans would have the best information, but it turns out Caltrans uses SCAG numbers, unbeknownst to us," Hawkins said. "We could extend the traffic model another 10 years to see if it makes a difference."

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