Arguments From Ahmanson Critics to Be Heard Today : Courts: The plaintiffs are seeking to overturn Ventura County’s 1992 approval of the project near Simi Valley. A key issue involves parkland.


Opponents of the $1-billion Ahmanson Ranch project--which would create a mini-city in the rolling hills south of Simi Valley--will get their day in court today.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Barbara Lane will hear oral arguments on nine lawsuits filed by Los Angeles County and the cities of Los Angeles, Calabasas, Malibu, and several environmental and homeowner groups.

The plaintiffs are seeking to overturn Ventura County’s 1992 approval of the project, arguing that the development would cause enormous environmental damage, snarl traffic and strain public services in the neighboring communities.


One of the central issues in the case is whether 10,000 acres of dedicated parkland included in the Ahmanson deal outweigh the project’s environmental impacts.

“If you don’t know how much it’s going to cost the city of Los Angeles to mitigate all of the traffic impacts, then how can you say the parkland is an overriding consideration?” said attorney Rosemary Woodblock, who is representing the environmental group Save Open Space. “You have to know specifically what you’re overriding.”


Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said that whatever the outcome, the case will probably be appealed. The conservancy hopes to acquire thousands of acres of parkland in the deal.

“Unless there is some kind of side agreement in the appellate process, it could end up in the California Supreme Court,” Edmiston said.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved the 3,050-dwelling golf course community near the Los Angeles County line on the condition that Ahmanson Land Co. and its partners turn over to state and federal park agencies 10,000 acres of mountain land, much of it owned by entertainer Bob Hope. So far, only about 3,000 acres--including Hope’s 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch--have been acquired as public parkland.

Ahmanson expects to donate another 2,633 acres, and it must still deliver two other Hope properties--the 4,369-acre Runkle Ranch northwest of Chatsworth and the 339-acre Corral Canyon tract in Malibu--to complete the deal. Under its agreement with the county, the developer has about two years remaining to acquire Hope’s land if it wants to go forward with its development.


Ahmanson, concerned how its profit margin from the planned development will be affected by the lawsuits, has put its plans on hold until the case is resolved.

Edmiston said he is concerned that the lawsuits may prompt Ahmanson to try to back out of its original development-for-parkland deal.

“Twenty years from now, nobody will give a damn if there are another 500 or 1,000 extra cars” on the Ventura Freeway and surrounding surface streets, he said. “But they will care if we lose this opportunity to gain thousands of acres of parkland.”


Supervisor Maria K. VanderKolk, the county official closest to the deal, said she is confident that the judge will find that the environmental impact report on the planned development meets all state and county regulations.

“I don’t think she will rescind” the board’s approval of the report, VanderKolk said. “It’s certainly possible, but I don’t think very likely.”

If the judge finds no major problems with the report, VanderKolk said she believes that the Ahmanson project will go forward as planned.


But should there be any drastic changes to the Ahmanson development resulting from the court’s ruling, “then the entire economic plan and development of the project will be completely blown away and we’ll have to start all over again,” she said.