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Ahmanson Study Gets Preliminary Approval

Development: Ventura County committee finds no serious problems in the environmental analysis. Opponents will keep up the pressure.


Washington Mutual Bank, developer of the Ahmanson Ranch housing project, scored an early victory Wednesday when Ventura County officials gave preliminary approval to an environmental study of the 3,050-home subdivision, the first of several steps before the contentious issue returns to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

The county Environmental Report Review Committee unanimously agreed there are no serious problems so far with the environmental analysis.

The study must be approved before the subdivision, on the eastern edge of the county near Calabasas, can be built.

Committee members directed the planning staff to begin responding to 5,000 pages of comments received during the study's public review period.

When that is complete, the matter will return to the review committee for a vote on the report's technical adequacy.

Several other public hearings are expected in coming months as the environmental document works its way to the Planning Commission and, finally, the Board of Supervisors.

Meanwhile, high-profile opponents are stepping up a behind-the-scenes campaign to defeat the project.

Hollywood actor-director Rob Reiner lobbied Supervisor John Flynn last week at the politician's Oxnard office.

Reiner is chairman of Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, a coalition of celebrities, environmentalists, politicians and homeowners who oppose the project.

Flynn said the Friday meeting lasted about 20 minutes and that Reiner outlined his reasons for opposing the project.

Reiner also expressed his belief that Washington Mutual will eventually bow to mounting pressure, abandon the project and sell the chaparral-covered acreage for parkland, the supervisor said.

Although Flynn said he was not pressed about how he would vote on the project, he offered his opinion to Reiner anyway.

"I explained that I voted for this project in 1992 and it would be very difficult to change that position," said Flynn, who is seen as a swing vote on the issue.

A spokesman for Reiner confirmed the meeting but said he won't discuss whether the activist has had private sessions with other supervisors who will be voting on the project, possibly by year's end.

"It is quite clear that the other side has hired teams of lobbyists throughout the region," said spokesman Chad Griffin. "Rob and other coalition members are doing what they can to make their case."

The project was approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors 10 years ago, but construction was delayed by years of litigation and the discoveries in 1999 of a rare flower and frog in the rolling hills.

Ventura County ordered a follow-up environmental study. Released in February, the report concluded the project would harm the red-legged frog and the San Fernando spineflower but that safeguards could reduce those effects to acceptable levels.

The hearings being held now are to determine if the supplemental environmental study should be approved. Although Wednesday's decision was a setback for opponents, they vowed to keep the pressure on.

"We are many months away from getting [the issue] before the Board of Supervisors," Griffin said. "Our camp will move aggressively to convince the Board of Supervisors and Ahmanson Ranch that it's not in their interest to do this project."

Ahmanson Ranch officials have said the 2,800-acre ranch property is not for sale and that they intend to break ground next year.

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