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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Ahmanson Ranch Foes Pin Hopes on New Supplemental Impact Study

November 19, 2000|ANNETTE KONDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Ventura County officials agreed to update part of the Ahmanson Ranch environmental study last month, opponents of the housing project buckled down for a new fight.

They knew the revision--prompted initially by the discovery of two endangered species at the site--offered a new opportunity to poke holes in the original 1992 environmental study. It was a chance to derail the 3,050-home project because of its impact on the environment, water and schools.

The scope of the new study is broad--covering everything from wildlife to schools. After the contract for the new study was signed in early October, a consultant hired by Calabasas succeeded in convincing Ventura County, which approved the massive housing project, to also redo its air-pollution studies.

Los Angeles County also weighed in, pressing for new traffic projections, contending the 8-year-old figures are no longer realistic and understate the impact of the project on the already congested Ventura Freeway. Then last week, Caltrans also urged an update of the 1992 traffic report.

Ahmanson Ranch opponents have long fought for an entirely new environmental impact report.

"It just doesn't make sense to have the public look at this old EIR and compare it to the supplemental," argued Katherine Stone, a land-use attorney for Calabasas, which is fighting the project with its own arsenal of experts and data. "The old EIR is in three volumes."

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No decision has been made as to whether more current traffic projections will be added, said Dennis Hawkins, a Ventura County senior planner. However, he said amendments to the contract with Rincon Consultants, which is writing the supplemental report, can still be made.

The director of Ventura County's Resource Management Agency can still decide on those additions to the study, Hawkins said. Even with air quality being added as a new subject, the study is still expected to be done by early 2001.

Ventura County supervisors appear to be divided on broadening the scope of the study. Supervisors Judy Mikels and Frank Schillo both said traffic projections should be updated.

But supervisor John Flynn said he opposed the idea, saying additional research would delay the project and that "it's a good strategy for opponents."

As the follow-up report is being developed, the contentious battle over the proposed 10,000-resident project will boil down to a fusillade of data, projections and charts.

Opponents of the project, which is proposed for a hilly site along the Ventura County-Los Angeles County border, said they will keep pushing for a broader study. And the most strident voices are still insisting on a comprehensive new report, rather than a supplement.

"If we can't get that, we can take this supplemental EIR and have it deal comprehensively with an awful lot of topics," said Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). "We want disclosure and comprehensive information on how this will impact today's and tomorrow's traffic, today's and tomorrow's water quality."

Mary Wiesbrock, a longtime activist and director of Save Open Space, said she is worried that the health aspects of the project and the impact on Malibu Creek will be overlooked.

And Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district is expected to bear much of the traffic and other effects of the development, said he expects Ventura County officials to carefully consider all requests.

"I would think they are certainly morally obligated and politically obligated to get the best and most current information possible," he said. "If [the '92 study] is based on old or flawed information, Ventura County should take this opportunity to fix it."

The call for a supplemental environmental study was triggered last year by the discovery of two rare species on Ahmanson Ranch land--the California red-legged frog, federally listed as threatened, and the San Fernando Valley spineflower, once thought extinct.

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Opponents lost a stiff fight in which they sought an entirely new environmental report.

Still, the supplemental study now underway will cover many topics, including water runoff and its effect on water quality; the impact on the tidewater goby, a fish listed as federally threatened that lives in the Malibu Lagoon; updated grading plans; natural gas and oil pipelines on the project site; sewage treatment/disposal and its impact on the Malibu Creek watershed and the Tapia water plant treatment programs; and impact on schools.

The scope of the new study, however, does not satisfy Ahmanson foes.

Calabasas, for example, recently called on a consultant, Marc Chytilo, an attorney specializing in air-quality issues, to drum up a convincing argument for Ventura County to restudy air quality issues.

It worked.

Chytilo explained how the 1992 environmental report relied on an air-quality analysis that was actually done four years earlier. He also showed that after the report was approved, both Los Angeles and Ventura counties adopted new, more stringent sets of air-quality plans.

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