By Michael Picarella
Acorn Staff Writer
Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn has joined the battle against the Ahmanson Ranch project north of Calabasas in Ventura County. He criticized Washington Mutual’s 3,050-unit development at a town hall meeting at Taft High School in Woodland Hills last Saturday.
The anti-Ahmanson rally was to begin at 11 a.m., but most people didn’t show up until after 11:30 due to traffic congestion on the 101 Freeway. Washington Mutual opponent and actor-director Rob Reiner blamed the late start of the meeting on gridlock.
Imagine 45,000 additional cars a day to the already existing traffic trouble on the 101, Reiner said. Shortly after he began speaking, Hahn arrived—held up on the 101 Freeway—to announce that he was part of the Ahmanson Ranch battle.
"I’ve been listening to the people out here who say, ‘We can’t deal with this kind of traffic congestion,’" Hahn said. "I have come out against this proposal because they haven’t done the work necessary to convince me that this is a good project."
Washington Mutual cannot solve the problems it’s going to create, Hahn said. "I am committed," he said, "we will do everything in our power to stop Ahmanson Ranch."
Hahn is a lifelong resident of Los Angeles who was elected as mayor in June 2001.
Hahn has set giant goals for himself and the city, including making L.A. the safest big city in America. He’s now added another full-size commitment to his plate, to stop Ahmanson Ranch development.
Some San Fernando Valley residents criticized the mayor by saying that Hahn only joined the battle against Washington Mutual because he’s trying to regain favor with Valley voters. His opposition to Valley secession hasn’t been popular with many residents of the Valley. But some secession advocates are opposed to development and might support Hahn for his newborn Ahmanson involvement.
"I am committed to keeping (Los Angeles) together," Hahn said in the past of the secession matter. Some people in favor of the Valley becoming its own city showed up at the town meeting last Saturday with "Yes on F" signs to promote the proposed split from L.A.
"His timing is impeccable," said secession supporter Hector Zepeda of Sylmar. Zepeda said he thinks Hahn joined the Ahmanson Ranch battle to gain popularity with voters.
"(Hahn) never comes to the Valley," said Rickey Geleb of Encino. Since the secession issue has come up and since he’s lost some supporters who are in favor of secession, Hahn has tried to make it up to them by starting many street and intersection projects in the Valley that have been needed and ignored for 40 years, Geleb said.
Carolyn Smith of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley said she thinks Hahn’s interest with Ahmanson Ranch is sincere.
"He hasn’t changed his opinion," Smith said. "He’s just slow to come out."
Washington Mutual opponents were happy to see Hahn join the fight. He received a huge applause.
Many business leaders in the Valley want to see Ahmanson built, Hahn said. " But I’m listening to the people. And the people don’t want this project. We don’t need to listen to big business. We need to listen to people that will be impacted by this project."
Hahn said he doesn’t think the freeways, streets or the environment can handle the development of Ahmanson Ranch. He promised to keep Washington Mutual from making a big mistake, he said. The mayor would be willing to join a lawsuit against Ventura County if the Ahmanson project moves forward, sources said.
Hahn wasn’t available for questions afterward. He was immediately escorted out through the Valley secession supporters and rushed off the campus.
Washington Mutual officials have yet to comment on Hahn’s position in the Ahmanson Ranch battle.