Big development gets bought out

  California has agreed to buy the site of one of the most controversial housing projects ever proposed in the state — and to preserve the land as open space.

Since 1986, a series of home builders has tried to develop the 3,000-acre Ahmanson Ranch, north of Los Angeles on the Ventura County line. But the potential loss of one of the last remaining expanses of undeveloped land and endangered species habitat in the L.A. area touched off a welter of legal challenges (HCN, 4/9/01: How green is this growth?).

In 1992, the developer and local governments reached an agreement to set aside 10,000 acres of open space to compensate for 3,050 homes and two golf courses planned for the ranch. But another round of challenges this year convinced the ranch’s owner, Seattle-based banking company Washington Mutual, to sell out.

“Hundreds of people came forward to be involved and to volunteer. It was people power,” says Mary Wiesbrock of the local nonprofit Save Open Space, which, along with other groups, waged an Internet campaign against the $287 billion company. “The World Wide Web is a great equalizer.”

The ranch will be managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a regional open-space preservation agency. The $150 million needed for the buyout will come from Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion water and parks bond passed last year (HCN, 10/14/02: Around the West, the hot races to watch).