2003-10-02 / Family

Ahmanson Ranch stays protected

and John Loesing
The Acorn Newspapers
By Michael Picarella

and John Loesing
The Acorn Newspapers

The state of California and Washington Mutual Bank announced an agreement Wednesday that will stop the development of the controversial Ahmanson Ranch mini-city in eastern Ventura County.

Several state agencies will pull $150 million from Proposition 50, a statewide water bond measure, to pay the bank for the property.

Dignitaries including Gov. Gray Davis and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer made the announcement at an afternoon news conference on the rolling chaparral site just north of Calabasas and east of Oak Park.

"Putting the Ahmanson property into public ownership is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Davis said.

Opponents have been fighting Ahmanson Ranch in and out of court from the time the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved the project a decade ago. The county gave final okay to the first phase of the 3,050-home development last December, but a new round of litigation immediately ensued.

The state plans to preserve the ranch as open space, protect endangered species and other flora and fauna, create hiking and biking trails, and possibly convert an existing dwelling into a nature education center, officials said

Money for the acquisition would come from Proposition 50, a statewide water bond measure that will generate $3.4 billion. About $300 million of that amount, according to sources, is for watersheds and wetlands in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The California Wildlife Conservation Board voted Tuesday to allocate $135 million in Prop. 50 money toward the sale. Previously, the state’s Coastal Commission contributed $10 million. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy earmarked an additional $5 million.

Washington Mutual purchased Ahmanson Ranch from Home Savings of America in 1998. At that time, the property was said to be worth at least $300 million.

Completely developed, real estate experts estimated the project could have been worth as much as $2 billion.

Despite the lofty figures, Ahmanson opponents remained confident the sale would proceed.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy had the property appraised at $170 million. In subsequent negotiations with Washington Mutual, the state agreed to purchase the site for $150 million.

The acquisition goes to the state Public Works Board for approval on Oct. 10. Escrow is expected to close about 60 days afterward.

Washington Mutual wasn’t available for comment.

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