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Protective Status for Simi Site Advances

* Environment: Agency approval of a purchase plan could lead to Rocky Pointe at the foot of Santa Susana Pass becoming a preserve or park.


SIMI VALLEY — An 11-acre parcel that is home to seasonal ponds, endangered plants, oak trees and rare bird species is a step closer to being protected from development.

Known as Rocky Pointe, the property at the foot of the Santa Susana Pass has long been coveted by environmentalists, and ranks No. 1 on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's land purchase wish list.

The agency's board last week approved a multi-staged purchase agreement that eventually could lead to the property becoming a nature preserve or park, including the 60-foot-tall, 70-million-year-old rock formation for which it is known, said chief planner Paul Edelman.

The conservancy, which is getting financial and fund-raising help from nearby residents, needs to raise $300,000 by July 31 as the second payment on the property's total purchase price of $1 million. The conservancy already has bought part of the land for an undisclosed price. A third payment will complete the purchase, Edelman said.

The big rock on the site became a Ventura County landmark in 1999 when Santa Susana Knolls residents mounted a drive to protect it from being blasted away to make room for road widening. The road project was scrapped, but the rock will forever remain a piece of county history, said Kim Hocking, a county planner.

The conservancy has agreed to pay for half of the land with funds from Proposition 12, passed by voters last March. The rest of the money will have to come from local fund-raising or other agencies, Edelman said.

Uri Gati, a Beverly Hills developer who owns the land, had hoped to build 14 single-family homes, but he said he is willing to sell the property. For five years he has been unable to get his project approved by the city, Gati said.

"I'd like to make my expenses go away," he said.

If the $300,000 doesn't materialize, Edelman said the conservancy still will own the two most sensitive lots on the property, which could at the very least act as a buffer to any housing development.

Sybil Scotford, one of the residents who has led the effort to prevent the land from being paved over, called the news wonderful and said she already has begun lobbying local, state and federal officials for the needed funds.

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