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VENTURA COUNTY

County to Survey Cities About Traffic Panel

Transportation: The proposed regional body would address problems along Ventura Freeway from the Valley to Santa Barbara County line.

October 09, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County supervisors agreed Tuesday to explore whether cities along heavily traveled stretches of the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles and Ventura counties are willing to form a regional authority to deal with traffic problems.

On a 4-1 vote, board members authorized Supervisor Frank Schillo to meet with representatives of eight cities to gauge their interest. Los Angeles County officials would also be asked to participate, along with several regional transportation boards.

Under a plan unveiled by Schillo last week, the proposed authority would rank traffic-reduction projects and help pay for them through a fee levied for every house built near the Ventura Freeway between the San Diego Freeway interchange in the San Fernando Valley and the Ventura/Santa Barbara county line.

"This could provide a pot of funds to reduce traffic on the freeway, to widen the freeway or to help pay for other mitigations," Schillo told the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

A regional board--especially one that has its own funding--could also wield more political clout in influencing what steps the California Department of Transportation takes to alleviate growing freeway congestion, Schillo said. The Thousand Oaks-based supervisor said there are several studies underway.

Officials in Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Calabasas have already indicated interest, said Schillo, adding that he will send formal invitations to all the targeted agencies this week.

The other cities are Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura.

Some officials, however, are already voicing skepticism. Matt Middlebrook, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, dismissed the proposal as a tactic to take the spotlight off calls for a new traffic study for the 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch housing development.

Hahn has condemned environmental studies done on the proposed subdivision near Calabasas as incomplete and called on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to authorize a new study.

"This seems like an effort to detract from the need to do a new and complete traffic study on Ahmanson," Middlebrook said. "We hope the supervisor will act responsibly, listening to our concerns and join us in demanding a new traffic study."

A spokeswoman for Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch agreed that nothing short of a new traffic study will satisfy opponents of the housing project.

"Schillo's been getting pressure from his constituents to vote for a new study, and this is an attempt to deflect attention from that issue," Tsilah Burman, the spokeswoman, said. "It's a way for him to seem as if he's doing something."

Supervisor Steve Bennett was the only board member to vote against Schillo's participation in the talks. Bennett, an Ahmanson critic, said he supports the concept of addressing traffic problems on a regional basis. But voting with the majority would have sent the wrong message, he said.

"We have very different philosophies and positions on Ahmanson Ranch, and I didn't feel comfortable implying that he was speaking for me in these early negotiations," Bennett said.

Even if the joint-powers authority is formed, Ahmanson Ranch's developer, Washington Mutual, would not be required to pay any extra traffic mitigation fees because its development agreement has already been approved.

Nevertheless, Washington Mutual officials have suggested they would voluntarily pay additional fees--but only if other developers are required to do the same. A per-house amount has not been decided, but Schillo suggested it could be as much as $10,000.

With the exception of Bennett, Schillo's colleagues were generally supportive of his idea. Supervisor Judy Mikels acknowledged the money raised by a regional authority probably would not be enough to cover the cost of major improvements.

But it could make a dent, she said. "You're not going to come up with enough money locally to widen the freeway.

"That would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But certainly we can come up with the local matching funds."

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