2013-11-14 / Front Page
Community celebrating 10-year anniversary of Ahmanson Ranch
Open space preservation will be honored at Nov. 17 event
For more than a decade spanning the turn of the millennium, a small group of people, mostly women, stood up to one of the nation’s largest banks to block the development of a new city in the pristine hills of eastern Ventura County.
The environmentalists won that battle in 2003.
On Sun., Nov. 17, the public is invited to join community leaders and open space advocates to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the acquisition of Ahmanson Ranch, now known as the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.
“It will be a day to share with the public the grassroots effort that saved the land, and commemorate the largest parkland acquisition in the Los Angeles-Ventura County region,” Parks said.
The celebration will take place between 1 and 4 p.m. at the Ranch House, just north of Mureau Road in Calabasas, and will include exhibits, family hikes, a trail naming and a tree planting.
Exhibits will include the original 3-D model of the city that was going to be built at Ahmanson Ranch and video footage of the volunteers who stopped it.
Many of the people who were instrumental in preserving Ahmanson Ranch, including then-Gov. Gray Davis, will join the celebration. Movie producer Rob Reiner, who also worked to oppose development of the ranch, will be the master of ceremonies.
In the late 1980s, Washington Mutual Bank proposed building 3,050 homes, two golf courses and a shopping center on 2,600 acres of land in southeastern Ventura County, north of Calabasas near the Simi Hills.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved the project in 1993, and the county gave its final OK to the first phase of the development in December 2002.
But a group of local residents, who garnered support from celebrities, environmentalists and politicians, fought to stop development of the mini city, which would have eliminated wilderness areas separating the Las Virgenes and Conejo valleys from the western San Fernando Valley.
Faced with overwhelming political opposition and no guarantee of obtaining the necessary construction permits, Washington Mutual sold the land to the state state of California in 2003.
“Our quality of life is better because we have over 5,000 acres of open space that cleans the air we breathe, instead of a massive development creating thousands of tons of air pollution, and adding 46,000 car trips a day to our roads and the 101 Freeway,” she said.
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy said 2,983 Ahmanson acres were purchased for $150 million. The deal was made possible by the watershed protection provisions of Proposition 50, a state bond measure approved by voters in November 2002.
Conservancy funds in the amount of $5 million, plus a grant of $10 million from the State Coastal Conservancy, and a grant of $135 million from the state Wildlife Conservation Board were used to buy the property.
“There is little doubt that the long fight against the proposed Ahmanson Ranch development remains the most important land-use battle in the history of the City of Calabasas,” Calabasas City Councilmember James Bozajian said.
If it had been built as planned, Ahmanson City would have adversely and forever changed the region’s character, said Bozajian, one of the leading politicians in the Ahmanson fight along with former Calabasas councilmembers Dennis Washburn and the late Lesley Devine,
The parkland is part of a critical wildlife habitat and corridor between the Simi Hills to the north and the Santa Monica Mountains to the south.
In 1987, when Ahmanson first applied for its general plan amendment, actor Bob Hope sought to develop Jordan Ranch in Palo Comado Canyon between Old Agoura and the Simi Hills.
With 1,850 luxury homes and a PGA golf course, Jordan Ranch was a scaled down version of Ahmanson, but it still raised the ire of environmentalists.
“What got people’s attention was that Jordan Ranch had no access. They wanted to take 59 acres out of Chesebro Canyon that was already parkland, to build a four lane highway,” said open space advocate Ginger Pollack of Oak Park.
In 1989, Wiesbrock and a small group of local residents, mostly housewives, formed the nonprofit group Save Open Space to preserve wilderness at the east end of the Conejo Valley.
The group succeeded in protecting first Jordan Ranch and later Ahmanson Ranch.
“It was people-power that did it. It was the power of grass roots,” Wiesbrock said.
More work ahead
Today, Save Open Space is working to stop development on the former 71-acre Heschel School property in Chesebro Meadows, near Old Agoura and not far from the Ahmanson and Jordan ranch sites.
The property was recently sold to a housing developer who plans to build 15 ranch-style homes on the site.
According to Wiesbrock, the area is vital for the survival of mountain lions.
“We’ve been working to save that meadow since 1990. Even though the city (of Agoura Hills) made a deal with a developer, we’re not going to stop—we never give up,” Wiesbrock said.
The 1990 California Wildlife Protection Act requires the state to set aside $30 million a year for wildlife habitat protection and related purposes until 2020.
With on eye on these and other resources, Wiesbrock is expected to continue her long quest for open space protection.