On day one, pro and anti-development forces face off in Ventura

By Michael Collins

Ventura County Reporter – December 12, 2002

Battleground Ahmanson Ranch
Battleground Ahmanson Ranch

Over two hundred people crowded the Ventura County Board of Supervisors Hearing Room and two overflow quarters in the Hall of Administration on Dec.10 as the long and arduous battle over Ahmanson Ranch commenced its final legislative struggle. The room was filled with folks sporting “Build It! YES. Ahmanson Ranch” Day-Glo green badges or, alternatively, red “Stop Washington Mutual” stickers.

“There won’t be any personal attacks on anyone, especially the chair,” quipped Supervisor and board chair John Flynn, as the unusually congenial four hour meeting began. “We want to hear the facts,” he said. “We will have full disclosure.”

The meeting began with a presentation by Ventura County’s senior planner, Dennis Hawkins, who signed off on the Preliminary Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR), which if approved, could give the green light to the massive development in eastern Ventura County. Hawkins claimed that the SEIR would protect the California red-legged frog and San Fernando Valley spineflower plant. He discounted claims that a new traffic study was needed since the 1992 analysis of potential gridlock that could result from the development was already adequate. Hawkins went on to assert that perchlorate contamination in well number one, targeted for use in irrigating Ahmanson Ranch, would not impact humans or the frog—but if it were deemed nasty enough, it would be cleaned. However, he didn’t specify the exact mechanism to accomplish that goal.

Next up to the podium was a team of Washington Mutual officials touting the development. Utilizing a sophisticated slideshow presentation, the WaMu crew proclaimed their good intentions, pointing out that they had promised to donate 10,000 acres of open space to the county, would create a 330-acre preserve for the threatened flower, wouldn’t harm the frog’s habitat and would use ‘reclaimed’ water for their golf courses. “We made a promise to ourselves to see this project through,” said one official. “The Ranch is award-winning on a local and national level.”

Not all were convinced. “It’s a great project but it’s in the wrong place and the impacts have not been mitigated,” Fran Pavley (D–Woodland Hills) told the Reporter. “There are water quality issues. We’re a lot smarter in understanding watersheds and impacts. I’m concerned that the EIR has not adequately addressed water quality not only downstream in Malibu Creek and the Surfrider Beach but water availability, as well, is a new issue that has come up regarding the contamination of perchlorate. I’m going to ask them to err on the side of cautiousness to make sure they have all the information in front of them, and to order new studies. Time should not be their enemy.”

Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, who represents 280,000 people in the West San Fernando Valley, publicly decried the potential traffic congestion impact that the Ahmanson Ranch would create. He noted to the Supervisors that while the 101 freeway in Ventura County has a center median that could be expanded to create additional lanes but that no such median exists in the San Fernando Valley part of the freeway.

Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) also expressed worries over traffic gridlock but seemed more concerned with possible pollution problems resultant from the Ahmanson Ranch plan. “That’s probably the main reason I’m here today,” she told the Reporter. “I’m very concerned about this really critical issue, perchlorate, which is a known carcinogen. It has tremendously negative impacts on adults and particularly on fetuses who are exposed to perchlorate. It’s a very dangerous toxic substance. The fact that it has been found and yet no full or complete discussion of what mitigation measures will be taken, what the source is or the extent of it, really concerns me. I think public health is a primary consideration and is not the consideration here in this project. And it must be done. We need to review it. We need the answers before going forward. It’s a matter of public health and safety.”

After the meeting, the Reporter spoke with Supervisor Flynn about the upcoming hearings on Ahmanson Ranch, to be held Dec. 17 and 18. When asked if the public would have a chance for additional comments at the meetings, Flynn replied “Yes they will if they submit a request for comment on our blue cards before 2:30 p.m. each day. Put that in your paper.” So we have. If you want to have a say in the battle over Ahmanson Ranch, you can attend the hearings Dec. 17 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Dec. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Hearings will take place in the Ventura County Board of Supervisors Hearing Room in the Hall of Administration at 800 N. Victoria Avenue in Ventura. For more information, call the County Clerk of the Board at 805-654-3361.