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Another Chance to Hear the Applause : If Bob Hope acts today, a major park-land deal will be completed

In late 1991, Bob Hope won a well-deserved round of applause for his promise to sell more than 7,000 acres of Santa Monica Mountains property to the public in exchange for development rights at another location. Now, a year and a half later, the park-land deal could die unless he acts today. We hope he does.

Acquisition of the Ventura County property would preserve for the public one of the few remaining oak-dotted savannas, or plains, in Southern California. The property also includes mountains, once home to the California condor, and a number of native plant species and American Indian cultural sites.

Hope’s agreement to preserve this land as open space would complete the area’s wildlife corridor, permitting native deer, bobcats and mountain lions to roam along 35 unbroken miles from the Santa Susana Mountains to the ocean.

Under the agreement, Hope would receive $29.5 million from state bonds and federal appropriations for three parcels he owns: the Jordan Ranch in the Agoura Hills; Corral Canyon, Malibu’s lush coastal canyon, and the Runkle Ranch. The Santa Monica Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint federal-state agency, would help manage the property as open space.

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In exchange for Hope’s agreement, the Ahmanson Land Co. got a go-ahead from Ventura County supervisors to develop a mini-city on its ranch in the Simi Hills west of Los Angeles County. Hope will get a share of profits from the Ahmanson project.

Although the complex deal has widespread support, not everyone is happy. Some cities, including Calabasas and Los Angeles, and environmental groups are concerned about the additional traffic the Ahmanson development would generate--it would include a commercial center, government buildings and two golf courses--and they are continuing to press for greater mitigation, such as wider roads and more street lights.

These efforts, along with the illness of Hope’s attorney, have stalled the deal, which was to have closed by Jan. 15. If Hope does not close escrow today, the $19.5 million that the National Parks Service has committed to the land purchase could be withdrawn.

If the Ahmanson mini-city project is delayed, Hope could see his profits much diminished, dampening his enthusiasm for the park-land sale. But if the legendary entertainer, now nearing 90, holds to his 1991 commitment, he will add a jewel to the crown of his legacy to Southern California.

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