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Ventura County

Hahn Denounces Ahmanson Project

June 19, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn announced his opposition to what he called the "unwise and harmful" Ahmanson Ranch development proposed in Ventura County, threatening Tuesday to sue the developer because of concerns about traffic and pollution.

Hahn repeatedly said Tuesday that the housing development by Washington Mutual bank would harm the neighboring San Fernando Valley and that he is determined to block the $2-billion "mega project."

The mayor has been eager to show his concern for the Valley as a campaign to secede the area from Los Angeles has gained momentum.

"Unlike the developers of Ahmanson Ranch, I listen to the people right here in the Valley," Hahn said over the drone of nearby freeway traffic, as he spoke in the parking structure of a Sherman Oaks shopping mall. "I'm listening. City government's listening."

Building 3,050 homes in the Simi Hills near the Ventura County line would add 45,000 car trips each day to already-congested freeways and roads connecting the project to Los Angeles, Hahn and Ahmanson's other opponents maintain. Those additional cars would pollute the air and, in turn, the water.

"The developers get the profits," Hahn said. "People in L.A. get the headaches."

In a letter Tuesday to Washington Mutual, Hahn urged the Seattle-based bank to study anew the environmental effects of building a community of 10,000 people. Instead, Washington Mutual should sell the ranchland to a conservancy to preserve it as open space, Hahn wrote.

The mayor's threat to "seek all legal remedies" to prevent the project drew whoops and cheers Tuesday from about two dozen Ahmanson Ranch opponents, including actor-director Rob Reiner and L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine.

The city of Calabasas already has sued to block the Ahmanson Ranch development. But Los Angeles, Hahn said after the public event, is "the 800-pound gorilla."

Washington Mutual is standing firm on its plan to break ground next year, spokesman Tim McGarry said Tuesday.

The project's environmental study is up-to-date, the courts have upheld the development as sound and the site is not for sale, he said. Blocking construction would only worsen the region's housing shortage.

"Through this entire process we have listened, and community input has made a difference in the final form of the project," McGarry said. "But now is the time to build the project."

McGarry labeled Hahn's opposition to the Ahmanson Ranch project a "political decision," but then backed off, saying, "I'm not going to speculate about the mayor's motives."

In making his announcement Tuesday, Hahn took little political risk by joining the long list of politicians, environmentalists, celebrities and homeowners who have spoken out against the development.

Although Hahn has no jurisdiction over Ventura County development, his opposition may influence Washington Mutual, said Ventura County Supervisor-elect Linda Parks, who opposes the project.

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