Certification of Ahmanson environmental report on hold

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Actor Larry Hagman joins roster of stars who oppose the development, which include ‘West Wing’ actor Martin Sheen and co-chair of Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch Rob Reiner.

By P. G. O’Malley/Special to The Malibu Times

On the same day the Ventura County Environmental Report Review Committee (ERRC) voted 4-1 to continue its decision on whether or not to certify the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for Ahmanson Ranch, former Malibuite and actor Larry Hagman announced he’s co-chairing opposition to the development among Ventura County residents.

The 3,050-home development has wrought concern from critics over environmental effects of the project. Water and air quality, and the increase in traffic on both the 101 Freeway and Malibu Canyon / Las Virgines Canyon roads, are issues that critics say have not been effectively addressed in submitted environmental studies.

The ERRC vote came at a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 14, which was called to give the public an opportunity to comment on the county’s response to testimony taken over the course of the last six months on the draft SEIR. The delay gives agencies such as the Los Angeles Water Quality Review Board and the State Department of Fish and Game additional time to review the county’s response to testimony the agencies offered to the draft document. The committee is scheduled to reconvene on Oct. 30.

The two-week delay could be critical for developer Washington Mutual, which has plans to break ground on the combined housing-golf course development sometime next year. Once the ERRC certifies the report, it sends it on to the Ventura County Planning Commission and the county Board of Supervisors. Washington Mutual is said to be anxious to complete this process before Jan. 1, when project opponent Linda Parks replaces Supervisor Frank Schillo on the county board. Schillo is on record as supporting the development.

Washington Mutual spokesperson Tim McGarry said he had no comment on the committee’s decision.

“The county is the one to comment on the technical adequacy of the SEIR,” McGarry said.

Opponents to the project cheered the committee’s move on Monday, following requests to allow various public agencies with permit approval over the development time to review the county’s response to their comments on whether or not the SEIR adequately protects the San Fernando Valley spineflower and California red-legged frog, two rare species that triggered this supplement to the original 1992 Environmental Impact Report. The preliminary draft of the SEIR was first circulated for public comment in February of this year and generated some 4,000 pages of public testimony.

Hagman made his announcement at a press conference at the Ventura County Government Center sponsored by Los Angeles County-based Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch. Appearing with Hagman were Roma Armbrust, co-chair of the Ventura County Wetlands Task Force, Thousand Oaks businessman Larry Janss, Ojai City Councilmember David Bury, Ventura City Councilman Brain Brennan, attorney Ed Masry, the mayor of Thousand Oaks, and Susan Lacey, former Ventura County supervisor who voted against the Ahmanson Ranch project in 1992. Hagman, a former resident of the Malibu Colony, called for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to halt the development.

“I moved to Ventura County years ago to get away from the traffic, pollution and congestion of Los Angeles,” Hagman said. “It’s time for our county supervisors to listen to the people and say no to development that’s going to make our community look like Los Angeles.”

With most of the public agencies absent-and although traffic was not a focus of the draft SEIR-the bulk of Monday’s public testimony concerned increased traffic and congestion opponents associate with the project. And although the county contends there is no need for a new traffic survey to clarify conditions on the Ventura Freeway and surface streets in the area, Supervisor-elect Parks was on hand to call on the committee to commission a new study to document the cumulative increase in traffic other speakers insisted was obvious. Heal the Bay President Mark Gold charged the county had not fairly acknowledged his organization’s comment on water quality in Malibu Creek.

“We know this because nothing in the mitigation measures has changed,” said Gold.

According to the ERRC vote, public regulatory agencies that have not yet responded to the county’s comments have been given until Oct. 22, which allows the county planning staff and its consultants a week to review the agencies’ comments and recommend whether the committee should certify the document or send it back to the drawing board.

Correction: Last week we reported that a Washington Mutual study completed in 1992 concluded the Ahmanson Ranch development would generate 60 additional vehicle trips a day through Malibu during peak commuter times, as opposed to a Los Angeles County traffic model, which estimates an additional 1,000 vehicle trips a day on both Malibu Canyon and Kanan Dume roads. Washington Mutual did not undertake the original 1992 study, but as part of the 1992 EIR compiled by Ventura County and its consultants, and subsequently published as representing the independent view of Ventura County. Washington Mutual did not acquire H.F. Ahmanson & Co. until six years later in 1998, when it purchased the locally based Home Savings and Loan.