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U.S. Buys Hope’s Jordan Ranch for $16.7 Million : Parks: Action adds 2,308 acres to the Santa Monicas recreation area. Fate of related projects is unresolved.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After more than five years of intense and ever-shifting negotiations, officials said Thursday that the National Park Service is purchasing Bob Hope’s 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch in the Simi Hills east of Thousand Oaks.

The $16.7-million acquisition represents a milestone for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service that is stitching together a network of mountain parks and trails in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

“This is the single largest acquisition within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy who helped engineer the deal. “And it is the crown jewel.”

Acquisition of Jordan Ranch pushes National Park Service holdings within the National Recreation Area to about 20,400 acres--well on the way to the goal of 35,00 acres in federal ownership.

Although the purchase of Jordan Ranch has long been a priority among park agencies, it leaves unresolved the fate of the giant Ahmanson Ranch housing project, at the western end of Victory Boulevard just over the Ventura County line from Los Angeles, and two other Hope properties tied to that development.

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In December, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved the 3,050-unit golf course community, on the condition that the development partners turn over 10,000 acres--most of it owned by Hope--of mountain land to park agencies. This includes Jordan Ranch and two other Hope properties--Runkle Ranch northeast of Simi Valley and Corral Canyon in Malibu.

But that deal stalled when the Ahmanson Land Co., Hope and his development partner, Potomac Investment Associates, began squabbling over how to split profits from the deal, or cover each other’s losses if pending lawsuits killed the development.

The agreement announced Thursday separates Jordan from the larger parks-for-development deal.

But under the conditions laid out by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the Ahmanson Ranch project still cannot proceed until Hope’s other two properties become public parkland. Ahmanson has 2 1/2 years to transfer the other properties to park agencies.

Edmiston said Hope will receive $16.7 million for the rugged, oak-dotted Jordan Ranch within the next few days. He said the Park Service’s check and the deed to the land are in escrow, which could close today or Monday.

“I’ve got Bob Hope’s “No Trespassing” sign in the back of my truck,” said Edmiston, who toured the property with his wife late Thursday.

Edmiston credited Gov. Pete Wilson, Ventura County Supervisor Maria E. VanderKolk, Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) and David Gackenbach, regional superintendent of the National Park Service, for putting together the deal.

Gackenbach could not be reached for comment.

VanderKolk, the county official most involved in the acquisition of Jordan Ranch, said she was so thrilled at hearing the news Thursday that she and a staff member did the cha-cha in her office.

Edmiston said that a formal announcement of the Jordan Ranch purchase would either be made today or Saturday to coincide with the visit of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Babbitt is scheduled to meet with state and federal park officials, possibly at Jordan Ranch, to discuss a wide range of issues regarding the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

VanderKolk said it is up to Ahmanson to come up with the money to buy Hope’s 4,369-acre Runkle Ranch and the 339-acre Corral Canyon. “I think they’re prepared to do that if they have to,” she said.

But VanderKolk said Ahmanson’s main concern now is dealing with nine lawsuits filed against its development. Los Angeles, Calabasas and Malibu have demanded high payouts to settle suits. In addition, Los Angeles County has demanded $20 million for road improvements before it will drop its suit.


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