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Bob Hope Land Deal Clears Way for Ahmanson Ranch

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Ahmanson Land Co. ended years of negotiations Friday when it closed a deal with entertainer Bob Hope, securing the last two properties needed before construction can begin on a $1-billion mini-city.

After almost a decade of on-again, off-again discussions, Home Savings of America, Ahmanson’s parent company, has purchased Hope’s 4,369-acre Runkle Ranch near Simi Valley and 339-acre Corral Canyon parcel near Malibu. Within a month, Home Savings will turn the properties over to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy as public open space.

“This is undoubtedly the single most important acquisition of open space in the history of the Santa Monica Mountains,” said Joseph Edmiston, the conservancy’s executive director. “It’s a significant advance and a fair trade-off for the Ahmanson development.”

Representatives of Hope and Home Savings remained tight-lipped about the deal’s specifics, saying only that it was an equitable settlement.

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However, others close to the project said Hope would receive a substantial sum for the properties as well as a cut of the development’s profits as it is built out over the next 20 years.

Edmiston said the purchase represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a county trying to save its bucolic hinterlands from unchecked development.

Although hikers have had access to Runkle Ranch, which will be renamed Rocky Peak Park, since 1990, the deal will allow the conservancy to enhance its programs there and expand the ranch’s recreational attractions.

Pending the results of a November bond measure, Edmiston said the group plans to build more trails through Runkle Ranch and add more docent-led hikes and tours.

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There are also plans to build a parking lot at the Rocky Peak Road trail head and to provide access from the San Fernando Valley to the property’s 800 acres in Los Angeles County.

Friday’s acquisition also will save Blind Canyon, which is within Runkle Ranch, from use as a landfill by Ventura and Los Angeles counties, Edmiston said.

“All this will take some time and planning, but it’s on the fast track,” he said.

For Corral Canyon, the conservancy has already set aside about $50,000 for a creek-side trail, a small parking lot and restrooms.

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Edmiston said the Corral Canyon improvements would be completed by midsummer.

“Basically, this deal really opens the way for us to make these areas a fantastic place for recreation,” Edmiston said.

The purchase places an additional 4,700 acres under the conservancy’s control. Environmentalists point to the land as a buffer between the urban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley and the wrinkled, chaparral-dotted hills of eastern Ventura County.

Even with its associated open-space bonanza, the Ahmanson Ranch project has had its share of detractors.

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Vince Curtis and Mary Weisbrock of the conservation group Save Open Space, waged a bitter legal fight against the massive project, contending it would do irreparable harm to the environment.

They argued it would pollute the headwaters of Malibu Creek, interfere with wildlife corridors in the Santa Monica Mountains and open Ventura County to even more development.

For much of the last decade, the controversies surrounding Ahmanson have focused on open space and land use, with scant attention paid to how the project and its 10,000 residents would affect the local economy.

In a word, Mark Schniepp, director of UC Santa Barbara’s Economic Forecast Project, said Ahmanson will be “big.”

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It will include 3,050 homes, a 300-room hotel, two schools, golf courses and 400,000 square feet of commercial space.

Schniepp said Ahmanson will mean jobs for hundreds, if not thousands, of workers, who in turn will buy everything from tons of lumber and concrete to roast beef sandwiches.

The new homes, he added, will go a long way toward rectifying an imbalance in the local housing market. A housing shortage has driven up prices of both new and resale homes over the last six months.

“In the long term, the project looks like it will feed local economies because of so many new residents,” Schniepp said. While construction will strengthen the Ventura County economy generally, the project will also bolster commerce in communities like Thousand Oaks, Calabasas and Simi Valley, Schniepp said. “The people who move in, they’re going to need things like furniture, clothes, building supplies and groceries. . . . That kind of activity is something that won’t go away, but will remain constant,” he added.

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Ahmanson Ranch Deal

The linchpin to the 1992 deal allowing a 3,050-dwelling resort community on Ahmanson Ranch was the dedication of roughly 10,000 acres of public parkland. In a new agreement reached with entertainer Bob Hope, the Ahmanson Land Co. has purchased 4,369-acre Runkie Ranch near Simi Valley and his 339-acre Corral Canyon parcel in Malibu and will turn them over to park agencies. Ahmanson itself will deed 2,633 acres of its ranch to the public. Park agencies earlier acquired from Hope two mountain properties-the 2,308-acr Jordan Ranch near Oak Park and 300-acre Liberty Canyon near Calabasas-for about $26 million.


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