Entertainer Bob Hope and a developer are offering free rides and refreshments to Simi Valley residents who attend a meeting in Ventura this morning concerning a proposal for the city to annex Hope's Jordan and Runkle ranches.
About 1,500 cards were sent offering rides to the meeting, along with coffee and doughnuts, Fred Maas, vice president of Potomac Investment Associates, said Tuesday. The firm has an option to buy the 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch for development.
Corina Antonucci, a volunteer at the Jordan Ranch Information Center in Simi Valley, which is operated by Hope and Potomac, said she had received 30 to 40 inquiries about rides by late Tuesday. She said at least one bus had been chartered to take people to the 9 a.m. meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission at the Ventura County Government Center.
Maas would not reveal the cost of the gesture by Hope and Potomac. "It's not a lot of money," he said. "It's very inexpensive."
The offer to provide rides to the LAFCO meeting is the latest maneuver in an aggressive campaign by Hope and the developer to drum up local support for the city to annex the entertainer's property.
In recent weeks, Hope and Potomac have taken out full-page ads in newspapers outlining some of the benefits that the city and the county would reap from the annexation. The ads feature a picture of a smiling Hope with an American flag in the background.
In addition, Hope and the developer have sent about 10,000 letters to residents explaining the annexation proposal and asking for support.
Maas said so far that Potomac and Hope have received about 1,500 responses to the letters and that about 25 or 30 were from people against annexation.
Maas said Hope and Potomac decided to offer rides to today's LAFCO meeting because they have heard that the environmental group Save Open Space, which is opposed to development of Jordan Ranch, has hired buses to take people to the meeting.
But Mary Wisebrock, head of Save Open Space, said the group had no plans to bus people to the meeting.
"We don't have the money to hire buses, although we are getting some people to car-pool in," said Wisebrock, whose group has taken out ads in newspapers opposing the annexation. She said the meeting will not be convenient for many of the groups's 250 members because they will be at work.
LAFCO is scheduled to meet in the Board of Supervisors hearing room to consider Simi Valley's request for an early opinion on the feasibility of expanding the city's sphere of influence to include the Hope property. City officials said they want to avoid the long and costly process of amending the city's General Plan, traditionally required before LAFCO takes action, if it appears that the proposal would be rejected.
The commission is scheduled to vote on whether to change its procedures for hearing such proposals and not on the issue of annexation.
Still, Maas said LAFCO's decision will give Hope and Potomac an idea of what the chances are for annexation.
Hope, fearing opposition to his Jordan Ranch development from the County Board of Supervisors, turned to Simi Valley in July with the annexation proposal. In addition to Jordan Ranch, Hope has asked the city to annex 3,600 acres of his Runkle Ranch a few miles northeast of Simi Valley.
Wisebrock said her group is opposed to development of Jordan Ranch south of the city because of the increased traffic and smog it would generate in eastern Ventura County and because it is tied to a controversial land swap involving federal parkland.
Under the land-swap proposal, the National Park Service would exchange 59 acres needed for an access road to the Jordan subdivision for 1,100 acres of the ranch. In addition, Hope would sell and donate 4,600 acres in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountains to park agencies for a below-market price of $10 million.