Ventura County Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer said Saturday that she will use her position as chairwoman of an area planning agency to support the annexation of Bob Hope’s Jordan Ranch by the city of Simi Valley.
She supports the proposal, she said, because the annexation seems to be a way to get Hope to complete a land swap that would turn over 5,700 acres of parkland to the public.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this swap goes through, and if Simi Valley is part of that, I’m going to” favor the annexation, she said in an interview.
Schaefer is chairwoman of a five-member Local Agency Formation Commission, a state-created countywide agency that Simi Valley asked last week for a quick ruling on Jordan Ranch annexation.
If preliminary approval is granted in September, a second LAFCO vote would still be required after a lengthy city review.
Usually, the planning agency votes on annexations only after a city studies a plan and decides it is sound. But Simi Valley said it wants an early ruling so it won’t waste money on a review if there is no chance of LAFCO approval.
Hope has asked Simi Valley to annex his ranch because the County Board of Supervisors, which now has jurisdiction over it, has indicated that it will not approve a 750-house subdivision there.
Spokesmen for Hope have said his offer to turn over 5,700 acres of parkland to the National Park Service, in exchange for an access road to Jordan Ranch and $10 million, hinges on government approval of the subdivision.
For Schaefer, the annexation issue represents a revisiting of a heated debate in her unsuccessful campaign for reelection last spring.
Schaefer had been the potential swing vote on the Board of Supervisors for the ranch development. But in June she was narrowly defeated by long-shot challenger Maria VanderKolk, whose opposition to the development was the focus of her campaign.
In an interview Saturday, VanderKolk criticized Simi Valley for pressing for LAFCO’s conceptual approval of the ranch annexation. And she said Schaefer was misusing the county’s growth-review process.
“She’s got to start paying more attention to the citizens,” said VanderKolk, who will replace Schaefer in January. “I was elected primarily because of this slow-growth issue.”
VanderKolk said that by voting on the annexation at the beginning of the city’s review of Hope’s proposal, LAFCO would be changing time-tested procedures for no good reason.
“This is precedent-setting,” said the supervisor-elect. “And the developers are doing it because they don’t want me to have anything to do with this project. They’re trying to bulldoze this project through when the people have said they don’t want it. And that’s just wrong.”
Supervisor John K. Flynn, also a member of LAFCO, agreed.
“I’m disturbed that it’s even coming before LAFCO,” Flynn said. “I think it should have run its course before the county, with the supervisors making the decision.” The supervisors’ vote on Jordan Ranch is set for January.
The land-use agency’s approval of annexation next month would “send a strong signal that our minds are made up without all the material that needs to be reviewed,” he said.
Simi Valley is asking LAFCO to allow annexation of a property outside the city’s designated sphere of influence, which is contrary to the agency’s countywide plan, Flynn said. “This is a significant decision, and to preliminarily say that it’s OK isn’t right.”
Port Hueneme Mayor Dorill Wright, a third member of the area planning board, said that while LAFCO has never granted preliminary approval on annexation requests, he is familiar with the process through his work as a member of the California Coastal Commission.
“When you give conceptual approval, there is some expectation of being able to do something . . . beneficial to the property owner,” Wright said.
Schaefer said the preliminary screening requested by Simi Valley is similar to the process used by Ventura County to let developers know quickly whether their projects have any hope of approval.
“At LAFCO, we’ve never been asked to do this before,” she said, “but the question is, why go through this expense to taxpayers and to the developer if conceptually there isn’t a go.”
Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton has said his city wants a preliminary ruling to avoid a costly review that ends in denial.
Schaefer, quiet on the Jordan Ranch issue for two months, said she is again speaking out because an environmental group, Save Open Space, criticized both her and Simi Valley at a press conference Friday.
Members of the group said Schaefer should not vote on the Jordan Ranch issue as a member of LAFCO because her views have been rejected by the voters.
Schaefer described Save Open Space, a 150-member group that recruited VanderKolk to run against her last March, as “a single-minded radical group that doesn’t represent people who have a reasonable, rational view about the environment.”
“They look at fire and all they see is flame,” she said. “They don’t see heat and they don’t see light. It’s easy to not have any vision, to just look at today. And that’s what they’re doing.”
VanderKolk, who is on vacation and did not attend Friday’s press conference, responded: “It’s not single-minded and radical to be concerned about our environment. It is the mainstream. I think my election proved that.”
The Jordan Ranch issue, especially the Hope land-swap proposal, has divided not only Schaefer and VanderKolk but many others in the environmental community.
Under the proposal, the National Park Service would exchange 59 acres needed for an access road to the Jordan subdivision for 1,100 acres of the 2,308-acre ranch. In addition, Hope is donating and selling 4,600 acres to park agencies for a below-market $10 million.
The swap is described by supporters, including the Sierra Club’s Southern California Conservation Committee and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, as the best deal possible considering the shortage of public money to buy parkland.
But it has been denounced by critics--including the Wilderness Society--who say that Jordan Ranch should be preserved as open space because it is within the boundaries of a national recreational area.
Hope has asked Simi Valley to annex not only Jordan Ranch south of the city but 3,945 acres of Runkle Ranch northeast of it.
Simi Valley officials are concerned that if they are unable to annex the Hope properties, Blind Canyon, part of Runkle Ranch, will be sold to the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts and be turned into a landfill. Hope’s attorneys have said that would be the case.