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Ventura County

New Ahmanson Traffic Study Not Urged

Development: Report says the builder should do more to protect endangered species on the project site.


A new traffic study for the proposed 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch subdivision near Calabasas is not warranted, but developer Washington Mutual should take additional steps to protect an endangered frog and flower species during construction, according to a new report.

Rincon Consultants affirmed its earlier conclusion that the proposed suburb would substantially affect the California red-legged frog and San Fernando Valley spineflower, but that safeguards could reduce the loss to acceptable levels.

In a 4,000-page report that includes additional protection measures, the consultants recommend that no grading occur near the frog's habitat from January through May, the species' prime breeding period.

Surveys on frog and flower populations found during construction should also be monitored more closely and reported to state and federal authorities frequently, the report states.

Rincon Consultants, the Ventura firm hired by the county to conduct the supplemental environmental impact report, also recommended the developer protect burrowing owls. If the owls are found during their breeding season, the developer should consult with state Department of Fish and Game on how to protect them, the report said.

But, as expected, the report makes no recommendation for further traffic studies, something project opponents have insisted should occur because data are at least a decade old.

"That really shows it is a flawed document," said Tsilah Burman, spokeswoman for Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, an opposition group. "Not only have volumes changed, but the traffic patterns as well. We gave them significant new information and they ignored it."

The new community would produce an additional 37,000 vehicle trips a day on the Ventura Freeway and other major roads, according to the initial environmental study approved in 1992. That estimate still holds, Ventura County Senior Planner Dennis Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he will recommend that the county committee reviewing the report approve it and forward it to the Planning Commission for a second phase of public hearings.

After the planners' review, the study will be brought to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

A spokesman for developer Washington Mutual said the report proves the project has taken many steps to reduce the environmental degradation that would come with construction of homes, a shopping center, golf course and elementary school.

"We're very happy to see the process moving along," spokesman Tim McGarry said. "It's been close to two years for this supplemental review, and it adds to the already very extensive environmental and judicial review this project has had. It must be one of the most studied projects in the history of California."

At the request of project opponents, a water well near Ahmanson Ranch was tested for possible contamination from the nearby Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory. None was found, Hawkins said.

But comments during months of public hearing prompted Rincon Consultants, which conducted the study, to make additional suggestions to keep pollutants out of downstream watersheds.

At the golf course, for instance, fertilizers containing selenium should be prohibited, the report says. Application of nitrogen fertilizers should also be kept to a minimum, it said.

County supervisors asked for the follow-up study in 1999, after the endangered frog and flower species were found on the site.

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