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Water Agency Plans Ahmanson Workshop

Housing: State panel will discuss possible revision of permit granted to developer for proposed Simi Hills project.


A state water agency will hold a public workshop Monday to review a 1996 water quality permit crucial for the planned Ahmanson Ranch development in the Simi Hills near the Los Angeles County line.

Heal the Bay and several other environmental groups have requested an opportunity to address the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board regarding the developer's permit, said Dennis Dickerson, executive officer for the water board.

"Obviously this is a high-profile issue," Dickerson said. "And this just gives the board an opportunity to hear directly from members of the public and from Ahmanson to see how their various issues interact."

At issue is whether the permit should be altered because it was granted before the finding of endangered wildlife on the project site, and action granting the permit failed to consider several water quality issues, said Mark Gold, a spokesman for Heal the Bay. Opponents want the developer's permit to reflect more conditions that would require the project either be changed or reduced.

"Some of the issues need to be addressed because they weren't targeted as issues in 1996," Gold said. "But a million different changes have occurred over the last five years."

Among the biggest changes since the Ahmanson Ranch project's permit was approved six years ago were the discoveries of the San Fernando Valley spineflower and the California red-legged frog. The flower was presumed extinct before project officials found it sprouting in the area in 1999, and the frog was placed on the endangered species list in 1996.

Gold said the new homes and two planned golf courses would also generate new fecal bacteria and pesticide that would affect the Las Virgenes-Malibu Creek watershed.

But officials for Washington Mutual, the project's developer, said the meeting is premature because they already have plans to modify conditions outlined in the permit. Those changes include a reduction in the amount of wetlands in Malibu Creek that developers plan to fill, from 7 1/2 to 4 1/2 acres.

"The public would be better served if we first modified the permit to reflect those changes," said Tim McGarry, spokesman for the Seattle-based bank.

Dickerson said the workshop will help the board decide whether a public hearing should be held later, so a vote could be taken on whether the existing permit should be revoked.

The hearing is the latest chapter in a continuing battle over Ahmanson Ranch, sharply opposed by Los Angeles County officials who contend the 3,050-home development would clog traffic in the San Fernando Valley.

Ventura County supervisors first approved the project in 1992. But the development has been plagued by lawsuits from environmentalists, politicians and neighbors who contend the project represents unwelcome sprawl.

Critics also demanded a supplemental environmental report--due out next month--that will outline steps needed to protect the spineflower and red-legged frog. The updated report will also reexamine transportation, air and water quality issues.

Opponents continue to push for a new environmental impact report. But Ventura County officials contend the current report is adequate.

Despite the numerous setbacks, the Ahmanson Ranch developer hopes to meet a 2003 groundbreaking date.

Monday's workshop will be held at 6 p.m. at UCLA's Bradley International Hall.

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