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Ahmanson Foes and Proponents Debate Report

Growth: The two sides square off at a Ventura County committee hearing on the project's environmental study. Final vote on it is expected this fall.

April 18, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An escalating fight over the proposed 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch subdivision moved to a Ventura hearing room Wednesday, with warring factions offering reasons why an environmental study should either be approved or thrown out.

More than a dozen opponents attacked the study as flawed because it does not update 10-year-old traffic projections for the planned mini-city at Ventura County's southeast boundary near Calabasas.

Studies of wildlife and water quality, particularly runoff that would reach Malibu Creek, are also inadequate, opponents charged.

Larry Horner, representing U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), said an estimated 45,000 car trips a day generated by the project is probably understated.

"We've got gridlock everywhere in Southern California, and that is unacceptable to the congressman," Horner told the county's Environmental Report Review Committee.

But an even larger number of supporters told the panel that the analysis is thorough and should be approved.

Wearing neon-green stickers that read, "Yes, Build It," several noted that the development has gone through a 15-year review process in Ventura County.

Scott Tepper, a Hidden Hills real estate attorney, said Ahmanson Land Co. has done a good job designing the project and has abided by all laws and regulations in getting it approved.

He criticized another speaker's contention that the developer has ignored contaminated soil.

"This is a smoke screen that has been raised before and litigated to the Court of Appeal," Tepper said. "It's a false set of facts."

Wednesday's four-hour session was the first in a series of public hearings that will be held in coming months as the environmental study works its way to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. Although the board approved the project in 1992, developer Washington Mutual Bank hit a snag in 1999 when its biologists found a rare flower and frog in the rolling, oak-studded hills.

The discoveries prompted Ventura County to commission a supplemental environmental impact report, required under state law when significant new information emerges.

Released in February, the report said the project would harm the frogs and flowers but that safeguards could reduce the problem to acceptable levels.

Supervisors must approve the report before construction can begin.

The six-member Environmental Report Review Committee is made up of county planning and technical staff. Wednesday's meeting will be followed by another session May 1, where more public testimony will be taken.

If the technical committee finds that the supplemental report complies with state law, it will next be reviewed by the county Planning Commission. The Board of Supervisors will be the last to weigh in on the supplemental study, possibly in the fall, officials said.

The project has withstood more than a dozen lawsuits over the past decade, most filed by opponents. But opposition to the 2,800-acre residential, retail and office development has gained strength in recent months as high-profile activists revived a campaign to stop it.

Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, co-chaired by Hollywood director Rob Reiner and HBO executive Chris Albrecht, has vowed to halt the project.

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