20-Year Battle Over Triangle Ranch Ends in Conservation Victory

Triangle Ranch, purchased in phases one through four over the last three years 

The 320-acre Triangle Ranch, located off Kanan and Cornell roads in the unincorporated Agoura Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains, will finally be in public hands after a 20-year battle to stop residential development on it. The total purchase price for the land was $28.075 million—reduced from the agreement originally approved in 2017 for $30.5 million.

The land connects to 500 acres already owned and managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). It was originally slated for a development with as many as 81 houses back in the early 2000s. In 2005, the developer’s plans were revised from 81 to 71 houses because of public opposition and environmental concerns, which continued.

Finally, in 2017, an agreement was reached for the landowner to cancel the development and sell the property to the joint agencies, both overseen by Joe Edmiston, in four phases over the next few years.  The first three phases of the purchase were completed in 2018, but the final phase four did not happen until just last month because of delays in state funding. On Oct. 18, at the most recent SMMC board meeting, it was confirmed that the necessary funds for the final installment were available and authorized to be used in completing the acquisition.

Each purchase effectively served as a puzzle piece connecting a patchwork of SMMC/MRCA owned public land along Agoura Road on either side of Kanan Road, with phase four the final piece creating a contiguous stretch of open space.

State Senator Henry Stern and Assembly Member Richard Bloom both worked to obtain state funding to acquire the last remaining parcels of Triangle Ranch by submitting a budget request for $14.5 million from the state’s general fund, according to Agoura Hills Tomorrow

A letter of support signed by 10 former Agoura Hills mayors attested to the ecological significance of the Triangle Ranch land.

The property “contains blue line streams and significant undisturbed native vegetation,” the letter stated. “It is prime habitat for mule deer, bobcats and mountain lions, as well as all of the other myriad species native to the Santa Monica Mountains … on the east slope of Ladyface Mountain.”

The mayors stated their support for preserving the land, saying the planned residential development would block wildlife migration corridors to and from the Liberty Canyon wildlife connector—the overpass currently under development—and would add scores of automobile trips to the area, impacting the official Kanan Road fire evacuation/disaster route from Cornell and Malibu. They pointed out that Triangle Ranch contains a section of Medea Creek, which is within the Malibu Creek watershed, and any development on the east slope of Ladyface Mountain would drain directly into Malibu.

In March 2020, Malibu City Council sent a similar letter of support to Stern and Bloom, requested by then-council member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner.

The first phase purchase, completed in March 2018, consisted of 60 acres between Kanan and Cornell roads that included a critically important creek and habitat for the endangered Western pond turtle. The acquisition was funded with grants from various propositions.

In phases two and three, 110 additional acres were purchased in September 2018 with a number of funding sources including the Agoura Hills City Council, the Hilton Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Board and Measure 68 funds. An application to apply for Measure 68 funds for the fourth phase was approved just one day before the Woolsey Fire began in 2018. Three years later, the purchase is finally complete.

The entire property is listed as a “Significant Ecological Area” and described as key habitat for a large number of protected animals and plants, including a half-dozen federally listed species. But the fact that it’s home to one of the most genetically diverse populations of the federally protected Pentachaeta lyonii wildflower sealed the deal for Prop 68 funds. The sunflower-related species blooms from March through August in grasslands, and only occurs in the Santa Monica Mountains.