Governor Schwarzeneger Comes to the Aid of GOP Donor

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His office asks a state agency to reconsider its refusal to allow a developer to run a private road through AhmansonRanch park.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2005.

By Daryl Kelley, Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office has asked a state parks agency to reconsider a developer’s request to build a mile-long emergency access road across the Ahmanson Ranch preserve so a new residential subdivision can be constructed nearby, prompting protests from environmentalists and elected officials.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is now taking a second look at the request by Woodland Hills businesswoman and Schwarzenegger campaign contributor Faye Huang, who hopes to build 30 homes on 58 acres owned by her family at the western end of the San Femando Valley, abutting the new state park in neighboring Ventura County.

The state purchased the 2,900-acre Ahmanson Ranch in 2003 for $150 million from Washington Mutual Bank to prevent its development into a small city.

Joseph T Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy, said he initially rejected Huang’s request about six months ago, telling her attorney that he wouldn’t “touch that with a 10-foot pole” — partly because of the high-profile campaign by Hollywood celebrities and environmentalists to preserve the ranch. Huang did not offer financial incentives at that time, Edmiston said.

“Then the governor’s office indicated that the proposal could have very substantial benefits for the conservancy,” such as construction of bathrooms and picnic tables, he said. “And I don’t think there’s any question that if we can get the developer to improve Ahmanson Ranch, that’s a good thing.”

‘Nowhere in the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy system is there a private road through a state park.’

Billie Greer, head of Schwarzenegger’s Los Angeles office, referred questions about the proposal to Roy Steams, deputy director of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

“We’ve gone through quite a budget crisis, and there are times when it’s good to take another look and see if the state can leverage some private money.” Steams said. “So let’s judge the project on its merits: If it’s good, let’s pursue it; and if it’s bad, let’s forget it.”

Despite potential economic gain, Edmiston said the proposal had legal and environmental problems, including a state law that requires the developer’s money to go to the state general ftmd instead of the conservancy, and the potential environmental damage that construction and maintenance of the emergency road could cause.

Edmiston said he would ask the attorney general’s office whether the conservancy could legally receive nonmonetary contributions.

“Our other concern is that there’s a [creek] with substantial vegetation adjoining the current jeep track, and if they were to widen it, they’d have to do quite a bit of grading,” he said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists and elected officials in Ventura and Los Angeles counties have reacted to the proposal with skepticism and outrage.

“I think it would be very tough for the conservancy to allow the ranch to be used to justify a significant-sized subdivision,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the Huang property.

County Fire Department regulations require two roads into the proposed subdivision, Yaroslavsky said, and it now has one — Kittridge Street.

The development site is bordered on three sides by two Los Angeles city parks and the Ahmanson Ranch state park, he said. The city has refused to let Huang build across its parks.

Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, in whose Ventura. County  district  Ahmanson Ranch is located, compared the developer’s proposed access road to “a camel’s nose under the tent,” inviting more development.

“The entire Bell Canyon community would like a second access road through Ahmanson also, but the point is that it’s a protected state park,” said Parks, who is also on the conservancy board. “Nowhere in the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy system is there a private road through a state park.”

Mary Wiesbrock, whose Agoura-based Save Open Space group led the fight to preserve Ahmanson Ranch, questioned the motives of the governor’s office for intervening on behalf of Huang and Latham & Watkins, the large law firm representing her.

“How much money has Latham & Watkins given the governor?” she said.

State records show that the-law firm contributed $11,300 last year to Schwarzenegger’s Califorma Recovery Team fund and. that lawyers from the firm contributed nearly $30,000 individually in 2003 and 2004 to Schwarzenegger funds.

Huang contributed $1,000 lastyear to a campaign ftmd sponsored by Schwarzenegger. She also contributed $2,000 last year to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, and $1,000 to the Republican National Committee. ;

Huang’s attorney, Donald P. Baker, said he never sought favored treatment from the governor’s office, or received any.