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Cost of Ahmanson Ranch Study Triples


Mounting opposition to the 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch subdivision near Calabasas has tripled the cost of an environmental study that must be approved before the project can break ground.

Initial estimates put the study's cost at $100,000. But Ventura County officials have received 6,000 pages of public comments, far more than the 75 pages they anticipated.

County officials say it will cost an additional $200,000 to respond to concerns raised in those comments. Supervisors today will decide whether to approve the increase to Rincon Consultants, the Ventura company hired to do the environmental impact report.

Developer Ahmanson Land Co. would be required to reimburse the county for the additional expense and has agreed to do so, said Thomas Berg, director of the county's Resource Management Agency.

A spokesman for Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank, which owns Ahmanson Land Co., declined comment.

The flood of comments reflects intense controversy surrounding the project. Approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in 1992, the project was stalled for years by a series of lawsuits.

In 1999, Ahmanson biologists discovered rare frog and flower species at the 2,800-acre site, prompting supervisors to order a follow-up environmental study. That report, released in February, concluded that the California red-legged frog and the San Fernando Valley spineflower would be harmed by the development but that protective measures could be taken to minimize the damage.

In a series of public hearings, critics have challenged the study as inadequate. Opponents say protections outlined for the endangered species fall woefully short and contend that other environmental factors, such as increased traffic, pollution and water runoff, need more study.

County staff, working with Rincon Consultants, must now respond to the extensive comments, said Bruce Smith, chairman of the county's Environmental Report Review Committee. The report will then return to the committee for approval before working its way back to the Board of Supervisors.

Supporters say the project is sorely needed because housing is in short supply in Ventura County. Its construction would pump $2 billion into the local economy.

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