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Schillo Wants Builders to Pay for 101 Traffic

Transit: Supervisor calls on Ahmanson Ranch developer, along with others, to fund freeway improvements to ease congestion.


A Ventura County supervisor Tuesday called on Ahmanson Ranch developer Washington Mutual to pay an additional $30.5 million to fix congestion that the 3,050-home project would bring to the Ventura Freeway--but only if other developers are required to do the same.

Supervisor Frank Schillo said a new traffic study demanded by opponents would likely confirm that the housing project near Calabasas would cause new commuting headaches on the freeway. But a traffic study done in 1992 already shows a significant effect, Schillo said.

"This is an effort to say, 'Let's do something about the traffic rather than calling for more studies,' " the Thousand Oaks supervisor said.

Schillo's proposal calls for the creation of a regional authority made up of representatives from cities along the Ventura Freeway corridor, including Los Angeles, Calabasas, Westlake, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura.

Los Angeles and Ventura county governments would also have a say on the political body. The authority would collect sizable fees from developers with projects along the freeway and use the money to address traffic congestion, the supervisor said.

Though Washington Mutual's project has already been approved, and thus the company would be exempt from any new fees, the developer has indicated interest in voluntarily contributing money to the proposed joint powers fund, Schillo said.

The fee would be about $10,000 per home, or about $30.5 million in the case of Ahmanson Ranch, the supervisor said.

Washington Mutual would likely participate, but only if an agreement that is "fair and equitable" can be struck, said spokesman Tim McGarry.

McGarry noted that several regional studies of traffic on the Ventura Freeway are underway and that cost could be apportioned based on their findings.

Reaction to Schillo's proposal was mixed among the many public officials, cities and environmental groups that have lined up to oppose the project, which was approved in 1992 by Ventura County supervisors. Tsilah Burman, executive director of Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, called the plan a "smokescreen" by Schillo to deflect criticism from residents of his Thousand Oaks district that he has not pushed hard enough for an updated traffic study.

"How do you know what needs to be done unless you do the traffic study first?" Burman asked.

A spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, a project critic, said traffic on the Ventura Freeway is only part of the equation.

"Traffic on surface streets in the western San Fernando Valley is just as important," said Matt Middlebrook. Calabasas Mayor Lesley Devine called Schillo's proposal a "wonderful concept" that she is interested in pursuing.

At the same time, however, she questioned both the timing of the proposal and its practicality. Schillo's announcement comes a week after Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer stated concerns about the project and suggested that the state might bring a lawsuit to stop it, Devine noted.

The costs of freeway improvements are "staggering," she said, posing the question of whether a regional authority would be able to raise enough money to make a dent in easing traffic.

Debate over the project has intensified as Ventura County supervisors prepare to vote on the adequacy of a follow-up environmental study. It was ordered by supervisors after biologists found an endangered frog and flower species on the ranchlands.

The county Environmental Report Review Committee will vote to approve or reject the study on Oct. 9. It then goes to the Planning Commission, then the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

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