Nearly 10 years to the day after Ventura County supervisors first green-lighted the Ahmanson Ranch development, a former supervisor who secured parkland to make the deal more palatable returned Tuesday to endorse the controversial project.
At a hearing Tuesday on a new environmental study of the stalled $2-billion housing development near Calabasas, Maria VanderKolk told the county Board of Supervisors that the Ahmanson Ranch project was a visionary deal that preserved open space while easing the region's housing shortage.
When elected supervisor in 1990, VanderKolk was a fresh-faced 25-year-old who campaigned on the promise to save scenic mountain land in Ventura County. Two years later, she worked with then-Gov. Pete Wilson to broker a compromise to set aside 10,000 acres around Ahmanson Ranch, but allow the 3,050-home project to proceed. Branded by her onetime allies as a traitor who sold out to developers, VanderKolk left office in 1994 and moved to Colorado.
Enduring more jeers Tuesday, VanderKolk said she came back to Ventura County -- at her expense, she said, not the developers' -- to remind supervisors that the project compromise was initially heralded as a win for environmentalists and developers.
State officials called it the parkland deal of the century. But in recent years, a pack of public officials have torn the project apart; former President Clinton phoned in his objections to the board chairman Tuesday.
Said VanderKolk: "I started this, and I feel a duty and obligation to finish this."
The hearing opened at least 16 hours of testimony on the sufficiency of developer Washington Mutual Bank's plan to protect an endangered frog and flower.