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‘Extinct’ Flower Found Blooming at Ahmanson Ranch

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In what could be a significant blow to the Ahmanson Ranch development, biologists have discovered a field of flowers long thought extinct as well as several endangered frogs on the project site.

A field of between 5,000 and 10,000 spineflowers was found late last month by a team of scientists commissioned by the developer to catalog the property’s flora and fauna.

The flowers were found on the southern slope of the Laskey Mesa, where developers have planned to locate more than 650 homes and a sprawling country club.

Four juvenile red-legged frogs were also found in the property’s wetland area. The development site is near the Los Angeles County line and would include 3,050 housing units, two championship golf courses and a retail complex when completed.

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Citing the recent discoveries, environmentalists said they will demand that a new environmental impact report be conducted for the Ahmanson Ranch development.

“This is going to prove to be a major stumbling block” for developers, said Mary Weisbrock of Save Open Space. “What this proves is that the Ahmanson Ranch property is an irreplaceable resource that should be made parkland.”

A spokesman for Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc., which owns the 5,000-acre property, said it is too early to speculate on how the finds could affect the development.

Ahmanson officials have contacted a number of federal, state and county authorities and passed on information about the recent discoveries.

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“We don’t know what will happen,” said Washington Mutual spokesman Adrian Rodriguez. “What it does mean is that we’re going to be working with the appropriate authorities to mitigate the [project’s] impact.”

The spineflower was last seen in 1940, growing on a hillside in the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley, biologists say. It is thought to have been a victim of uncontrolled sprawl that paved over the Valley in the middle part of the century.

The field of flowers was found on a portion of land that Washington Mutual had planned to develop first.

Ground is scheduled to be broken on the Ahmanson Ranch project in the summer of 2001. But that time frame could be pushed back if authorities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Fish and Game, require completion of major mitigation efforts first.

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Since losing a string of lawsuits, opponents of the project have raised various issues to try to derail the massive housing project.

They have said the area is contaminated with radioactive and chemical waste from the nearby Rocketdyne testing facility. Some have even claimed that the area is a landing zone for alien spacecraft.

Project opponents hope the recent discoveries reignite debate over whether the property is suitable for development.

“We needed this,” said Cynthia Leake, vice president of the Ventura County Environmental Coalition. “It just goes to show that so much that has been done on this project to date, like the [environmental impact reports], have been wrong.”

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But Rodriguez said that Washington Mutual has no plans to abandon the development. He said the developer will pursue the project in the most environmentally sensitive manner available.

“We acknowledge this and want to be sure that we do everything we can to protect what’s there,” he said.

Meanwhile, Weisbrock promised to keep battling the developer, saying her group plans to file as many as five lawsuits against Washington Mutual to preserve Ahmanson Ranch.

“We’re going to keep fighting this until they’re on their knees begging to sell,” Weisbrock said.

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