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L.A. Suit to Target Ahmanson Project

January 16, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to file a lawsuit to block the 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch development, alleging that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors failed to require adequate studies of the project's effect on traffic, air quality and water before giving its approval.

The suit, which may be filed as early as today, also will claim that the Ventura County Planning Commission violated state open-meeting laws by going to the development site, one by one, without any public notice.

Councilman Dennis Zine said the city will show a united legal front with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Calabasas City Council, which also have decided to sue.

Ahmanson Ranch is slated to be built near Calabasas just west of the Los Angeles County line.

"The project will create more gridlock on the 101 Freeway and in the west San Fernando Valley," Zine said. "The quality of life of the Valley is at stake."

Tim McGarry, a spokesman for Ahmanson developer Washington Mutual, said the allegations are without merit. He said the review process took 2 1/2 years and was "scrupulous and detailed."

"It's ludicrous to say that there was a rush to judgment," he said.

Deputy City Atty. Keith Pritsker said he will file a suit asking a Superior Court judge to set aside the Ventura County approval as flawed and order new environmental studies.

Pritsker said the lawsuit will maintain that a traffic study done in 1992 is outdated and needs additional work to examine how the project would affect traffic on the Ventura Freeway and streets in the west San Fernando Valley.

The suit also will allege that Ventura County has failed to assess adequately the problem of groundwater contamination after tests of one well on the property found perchlorate, a toxic chemical.

If there is extensive contamination, it could block the project because state law requires any developer of a project of more than 500 homes to demonstrate that there is a water supply adequate to support the project.

The City Council added a new issue to the mix Wednesday, when it allowed the suit to claim that the Ventura County Planning Commission violated the state open-meeting law when members visited the site, one at a time and without public notice, to hear from the developers.

"It's even more outrageous because Calabasas had asked them to notify the city if they do any site visits so they could go along," Pritsker said. "They did it in secret."

McGarry said a Ventura County Superior Court judge recently ruled that there was no violation of state open-meeting laws after Calabasas sued over that issue.

The Ventura County counsel's office said that Washington Mutual is paying to defend the board, and that the Board of Supervisors will monitor the case.

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