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Group Protests Ahmanson Ranch Development

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 300 demonstrators waved placards and signs at passing cars Saturday urging drivers to honk their horns in support of a noisy protest against the Ahmanson Ranch development and landowner Washington Mutual Bank.

A coalition of groups from Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley lined the corner of Victory Boulevard and Platt Avenue from 11 a.m. to noon.

Demonstrators chose that branch of Washington Mutual because of its proximity to the planned residential project in Ventura County.

“Victory [Boulevard] will be the gateway to the ‘new city,’ which is only about a mile away,” said Joe Behar, head of the West Valley Community Coalition.

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Home Savings of America, the former owner of Ahmanson Ranch, was acquired by Washington Mutual in October.

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The proposed 3,050-home development, which was approved by the Ventura County Supervisors in November, will include a 400,000-square-foot retail and commercial space, a 300-room resort hotel and two championship golf courses tucked along the Los Angeles County line.

The completed project will spread over 2,400 acres, with its main access through western Los Angeles County.

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Los Angeles County officials and community activists fear that much of the traffic and pollution from the development will dump into Los Angeles County while Ventura reaps the property and sales tax revenues.

The project calls for permits from Los Angeles County, including a permit to remove oak trees. Protesters want to use the permit application process as a trump card to halt the project.

“Without those permits, they can’t proceed,” Behar said.

On Saturday, residents of Bell Canyon, Agoura Hills and Oak Park added their voices to groups such as Save Open Space and the Chumash Indian Dolphin Dancers of Westlake Village. The Native American group performed a ceremonial ritual and burned sage on Washington Mutual’s front step.

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“They’re billionaire bullies if they destroy this land,” said Mary Weisbrock, an Agoura Hills resident and Save Open Space director.

At one point during the protest, bank security staff called police, who told demonstrators to move from the parking lot, which is private property, to the sidewalk.

Management at Washington Mutual declined to comment, but staff members handed letters to customers explaining the bank’s position.

“We respect those who hold opposing viewpoints, including their right to peaceful assembly,” the letter said. “However, a critical task facing this region is to balance the housing needs imposed by inevitable growth with the need to preserve open space for future generations to enjoy. The Ahmanson Ranch shows the way to achieving that balance.”

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