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Lockyer to Fight Project

Attorney general joins foes of Ahmanson Ranch as a friend of the court in their lawsuit.

February 26, 2003|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer will join the legal challenge of opponents of the Ahmanson Ranch housing project near Calabasas, seeking to force a new environmental study of the 3,050-home subdivision that Ventura County officials have twice approved.

In a letter to legislators opposing the project, Lockyer said he is concerned the 2,800-acre golf course community will have dire effects on endangered species, water quality and traffic on the nearby Ventura Freeway and on San Fernando Valley thoroughfares.

The project was first approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in 1992, but lawsuits and the discovery of a rare frog and flower stalled it for more than a decade.

A second, limited environmental study was ratified by supervisors in December, prompting another round of lawsuits from environmental groups and several local governments, including the city and county of Los Angeles.

"I have made the decision that my office will support the petitioners in their challenge to the approval of Ahmanson Ranch as an amicus curiae [friend of the court]," Lockyer wrote in a Feb. 18 letter distributed by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) on Tuesday.

Lockyer said he is particularly concerned that the early 1990s traffic study used by Ventura County is out of date, and needs to be revisited.

"We will work with the petitioners toward a resolution of this lawsuit that requires adequate environmental review and appropriate mitigation for environmental impacts associated with the project," Lockyer wrote.

Tim McGarry, spokesman for property owner Washington Mutual Bank, said Lockyer's decision changes nothing, and that the developer intends to build the $2-billion community that was once hailed as a model of intelligent growth.

"We respectfully disagree with Bill Lockyer," McGarry said. "Throughout this process, we have shown scrupulous regard for the spirit and letter of California's environmental laws and we will defend the project on that basis ....Building the Ahmanson Ranch community is the best use of this land, and that's where our efforts are focused."

Lockyer's decision was no surprise, because he said last summer that he intended to block the development if new studies failed to satisfy state environmental law. He has intervened to halt several projects for environmental reasons.

Lockyer's office represents three state agencies that voiced concerns about the Ahmanson Ranch plan. He has said that, instead of construction, he favors preservation of the ranch's grazing land and oak savannas through purchase by a public agency such as the state's Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

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