23 October 2014

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #16239

Before 6 a.m. this morning, there was a crash in Sleepy Hollow that appears to have involved a single car, a Chevy Monte Carlo SS (meaning, hefty horsepower for racing through the canyon, if that's what happened) though no details are known.

Down at the corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Rosemary Lane, a Sheriff's car stood watch as a tow truck loaded the badly-damaged, probably totaled, coupe onto the flat bed.

As the photos show, the front end was crushed in, primarily on the driver's side, and it looks like the airbag was deployed.  The car was facing eastbound during towing, so it is assumed that was the direction in which it was heading when the journey ended.

A young guy, probably in his early twenties, was the driver, but, other than these vague bits of info, nothing else can be said about what may have happened.

19 October 2014

Another Ramble in the Hills Above Carbon Canyon

Rock Canyon looking southeast towards Soquel Canyon and, at the top of the hills in the distance, Chino Hills State Park.  This area could be totally altered by the Hidden Oaks development for water runoff from the proposed 107-unit housing tract now in application with the City of Chino Hills.
This afternoon, another short hike was taken with a longtime resident who has a strong interest in preserving trail access in Carbon Canyon because of the remarkable physical, natural, and scenic features of this remarkable place.

Notably, while there is an established trail system in Chino Hills, including some fine ones off of Grand Avenue, Chino Hills Parkway and other locations where the views are excellent, there are no public trails of any significance in Carbon Canyon, which offers unparalleled experiences not found elsewhere in the city.

A crater from the removal nearly two decades ago of a massive old oak tree bulldozed for an aborted precursor to Hidden Oaks--many of these dot the destroyed landscape when some 2,000 trees were levelled by a developer who then abandoned the project, leaving the disturbed property behind.
Today's jaunt was above Sleepy Hollow and then slightly east to the area now slated for development as "Hidden Oaks," which is being processed as a 107-unit gated community high on the ridgetops between Carbon and Soquel canyons.  Though it has been said here before that the project is entitled and, consequently, virtually assured of approval by the city, that was evidently in error.

There still has to be, once a plan is submitted to and reviewed by the City of Chino Hills, a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which will raise the matter of significant adverse impacts to the environment that could affect the approval of the project.  EXCEPT, that the City could (and, in fact, almost certainly would) impose Statements of Overriding Consideration (SOCs) that would provide grounds for approval based on perceived benefits to the city (though not necesarily the canyon) from the project that would override those impacts revealed in the EIR.

What appears to be a soil-testing area for the Hidden Oaks project.  This fairly flat ridgetop area would contain the 107 houses in view of Chino Hills State Park, on the hilltops in the distance and, as a windswept area with steep canyons to its south, would be susceptible to significant fire risk.
For example, the recently-approved Madrona project of 162 houses on the Brea side of the Canyon just over the county line from Sleepy Hollow was issued an unprecedented three SOCs by the city council (which, by the way, established a new precedent that the city will have to contend with in future developments.)

Moreover, the impacts that will be brought to bear by the Madrona, Canyon Hills, and Stonefield projects, totaling 262 units, will not be considered under the Hidden Oaks project when the EIR is done, because those projects are not completed.

These flags are other indicators of ongoing testing at the project site.
This last point is significant, because the EIR will measure traffic levels, for example, but only those based on measurements of traffic taken at the time.  Yet, there will be 262 houses coming at some point in the future, involving something on the order of 2,600 daily car trips and these won't be part of the EIR because the homes aren't built yet.  Naturally, this applies to other considerations (destruction of oak and walnut woodland habitat, being a key one.)

Another area of concern for Hidden Oaks is not just trails and the massive amount of cut-and-fill involving huge tonnage of dirt hauled out and brought in for fill, but also the matter of where water runoff from streets and other elements of the development is being directed.  The land in question is some 500 acres from Carbon Canyon Road all the way south into Soquel Canyon, so the plan evidently is to dump the runoff into Soquel Creek.

Somewhat obscured by felled trees, tangled vines, walnut trees and other plant material, the impressive upper fall of Rock Canyon has a rock face of some 40 feet in height that, in wet years, provides a spectacular waterfall experience.  This winter might provide above "average" rainfall, so this could be a beautiful site in coming months.
Moreover, the route could well go through one of the prettiest spots in all of the Carbon/Soquel canyons area, a stunning little place called "Rock Canyon," by a long-time rancher, Bill Friend, who recently passed away and whose cattle have grazed in these canyons via leases for many years.

Today's walk took in the sylvan scenes of Rock Canyon, even with the extreme dryness of our long-term drought, and despite the brutal clearing of the Hidden Oaks property when it was approved for development nearly twenty years ago and some 2,000 trees, including majestic oaks, were bulldozed before the developer went bankrupt and the project died (that's another sore subject--letting someone destroy on that scale without reasonable assurances, like a bond, that they could actually carry out the project!)

The creek in Rock Canyon descends steeply and narrowly as it moves southeast towards Soquel Canyon.  The cattle trail at right winds through and along its banks.
Rock Canyon descends from the ridgetops in a steep southeasterly direction with three distinct waterfall areas.  The tallest, having a rock face of some forty feet in heights, is spectacular, when there is water, that is.  At the moment, being bone dry and somewhat covered in vines, trees and shrubs and fallen dead plant material, its majesty is somewhat shrouded, but still evident.  Further down are two smaller falls that, while not as remarkable as the uppermost, are still pretty spots with large boulders that provide a nice splashing and crashing during good rainy years.  Even in this drought, there is still weeping and seepage of water at these several falls and plant material is using this water to maintain what growth they can.

The canyon terminates by joining Soquel Creek, which runs along the northern edge of Soquel Canyon and even that watercourse, which usually has at least some flow most years, is totally dry, at least at the confluence with Rock Canyon.  As noted above, the project's acreage includes a portion of Soquel Canyon and even climbs a bit of the southfacing hill, the other side of which is Chino Hills State Park.

The creek at Rock Canyon as it terminates at Soquel Creek in Soquel Canyon.
In fact, that is another lamentable aspect of Hidden Oaks.  Not only would it destroy some of the most picturesque landscape in Carbon Canyon, among many other impacts, but its position on the ridgetop between Carbon and Soquel canyons would make it highly visible from the state park, totally defeating the purpose of having a protected wildland area that would allow hikers, bikers and equestrians to get some respite from urban encroachment.

There is another consideration:  overgrazing by cattle, especially in the midst of this terrible drought, is dessicating the landscape, here and throughout Carbon Canyon.  This was noticed in the last significant rain when eroded soil poured onto Carbon Canyon Road just west of Chino Hills Parkway for the steep, denuded slopes below the "maternity hotel" perched on the ridgetop.  That didn't just happen and the problem will be found elsewhere in which cattle continue to graze where the plant material has diminished.

Soquel Creek, which usually has some water in it but is, of course, dry during this debilitating drought, as it moves westward from the confluence with Rock Canyon creek.
Hidden Oaks, like Madrona and other developments, is part of the relentless march of suburbia that continues to swallow up Carbon Canyon and diminishes, defaces, demeans and destroys more of our oak and wildland woodland habitat. At some point, the very reasons most people move to a place like Carbon Canyon are being compromised, often fatally, reducing it to something unrecognizable and far less appealing.

Then, there is the worsening traffic, increased fire risk, excessive use of water and everything else that makes tract developments like this anachronisms, relics of a time now gone when it was thought that massive building could go on seemingly indefinitely.  Yet, instead of adjusting to changing realities in our environment, the same framework continues to be applied.  That framework is faulty and failing, but so long as the developers make money and governments serve as willing accomplices, then it will still hold sway, leaving the reckoning to those who come along later.

Another pretty spot along Rock Creek even in the driest of situations.
For the time being, there probably won't be any building at Hidden Oaks for at least a few years yet.  It is also possible the owners will look for that tentative tract map to be approved, thereby raising the value of the land and giving return on their investment, and then sell the property.  Obviously, economic uncertainty continues, as well, so it may be that another downturn is somewhere in the near future and delays could ensue.  The same would likely happen if another catastrophic fire like the Freeway Complex blaze of November 2008 takes place--and it will, some day.

Those who enjoy walks like those taken today have time, but it's fleeting.  The fellow hiker on today's trip has enjoyed this walk for some forty years and the prospect of losing access to Rock Canyon is a tough one to contemplate.  Practical considerations are leading him to push to public access through a trail through Rock Canyon while also working to move the runoff to another location and in another way.  Hopefully, at the very least, these worthy goals can be realized.

A view from the Hidden Oaks site northeastward towards Carbon Canyon and, in the distance, the San Gabriel Mountains.  Views like this lure developers, home buyers, and preservationists as competitors vie for their vested interests.
In the big picture, though, the questions become more pressing:

How many more houses can be built in Carbon Canyon before it is no longer what attracts most who live there?

How much worse can the traffic get (and it is getting worse, as anyone who drives Carbon Canyon Road during commuter hours can attest, despite the traffic studies paid for by developers that suggest otherwise)?

How much more water will be taken that we increasingly can't afford to provide for these projects?

How much more of a fire risk will there be on these wind-swept ridgetops with steep canyons ideal for driving fire upslope?

How much longer will local governments continue to operate in an outdated fashion when it comes to large housing tracts in the urban/wildland interface?

Are these questions continuing to be rhetorical?

18 October 2014

Bacteria to the Future with Carbon Canyon Water Lines

The strange saga of bacteria-infected water lines newly laid for the forthcoming Canyon Hills housing development of 76 units in the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon near Sleepy Hollow continues.

As reported in today's Champion by Marianne Napoles, the lines showed unacceptable bacterial levels back a few months ago and the City of Chino Hills ordered chlorine-laced flushing of the lines to try to remove the bacteria.  Repeated efforts, leading to the runoff of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water (this during a worsening, serious drought) into Carbon Creek, failed to address the problem.

Consequently, it is now reported that the city is targeting the four areas of the lines that were sampled for bacteria detection and that the discharged chlorinated water will be collected by a water truck, though what will be done with it was not stated.

The location on Canyon Hills Road just north of Carbon Canyon Road where some 370,000 gallons of chlorinated water used to flush bacteria-infected water lines recently laid for the 92-unit Canyon Hills tract, to be located at the left where the remnant of the concrete Ski Villa slope sits, was discharged into Carbon Creek.
Moreover, according to city engineer Steve Nix, the amount of water used for flushing will be reduced for reasons of conservation, although Nix also said that the actual number of gallons used has been overstated by the city.  Based on the reading of a meter installed at the project site, 370,000 gallons have been expended instead of a city-estimated 700,000.  It is not clear why such a variance exists between the estimated and actual numbers.

Further, Nix stated that the figure of 1.4 million gallons said to have been used in the initial flushing was probably higher than actual, though that latter figure was not provided.  Still, it was agreed by the city that 1.4 million gallons could be used for the effort to remove the bacteria.

Quoted as saying that, "we want to get through this process, everyone is anxious," Nix said that the lines would be infused with chlorine, allowed to sit for five days, and then be flushed at the four sampled spots this coming Friday, the 24th.

A detail of the above scene.  This Friday the 24th, a new flushing at four sampling locations will be conducted.
It is easy to wonder what would have been done if this issue hadn't been brought to the attention of both the city and the paper, now that there has been a change in tactic and, especially, in the reduction of water use "for conservation purposes," as expressed in the article.

It is also strange that the actual amounts of water used for flushing has been dramatically lowered--even though, given the drought conditions we face, any massive water use like this should be evaluated and scrutinized.

So, it will be interesting to see what will be reported by Napoles in next week's edition of the Champion.

16 October 2014

Carbon Canyon FEMA Grant Project Nearing Completion

With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an extensive project to remove plant material, thin trees and bushes, and create firebreaks has been coordinated by the Chino Valley Independent Fire District with collaboration from CalFire, the state fire agency.  As the project moves towards its end of November extension deadline, CalFire crews have been working the tough terrain off of East Road in the southwestern corner of Sleepy Hollow, as shown here Monday.
Underway for a couple of years now, an extensive program of brush removal, firebreak creation and other fire mitigation measures, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is now approaching completion, just weeks before a final extension expires.

Coordinated by the Chino Valley Independent Fire District, in collaboration with CalFire, the state fire protection agency, and other partners, the mitigation project is within the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon and involves brush clearance, thinning of plants and trees, firebreak creation and other elements.

Crews have worked basically from Carriage Hills to Sleepy Hollow on the south and Sleepy Hollow through Oak Tree Estates on the north and in other areas on the canyon perimeter.  In some cases, workers have battled hot, dry weather, tough plant material, and steep hillside location to do the tough work needed to complete the project.

This photo taken on Monday shows a crew of CalFire workers perched on the steep slopes of the hills above the southwest portion of Sleepy Hollow as they complete the important mitigation project.
Just this week, CalFire crews were in probably the most difficult location of all:  the very steep hillsides in the southwest part of Sleepy Hollow, off East Lane and Rosemary Lane.  The photo here shows the tough terrain these dedicated workers had to deal with this week.

As today's 25-acre plus fire at the Chino Hills entrance to Chino Hills State Park demonstrates, the threat of a major fire is just about always present in our changing environment, considering climate change, drought, continued development encroaching on hazardous wildfire areas, and more.

Consequently, this work represents a vital effort to do what can be done to mitigate the effects of wildfires in Carbon Canyon and also shows just how far fire protection measures have come over the years.  Kudos to everyone involved in this project for doing their best to assist in making Carbon Canyon as protected as possible against wildfire damage.

15 October 2014

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #16141

Just sitting here on the computer a few minutes ago, when the familiar roar of a speeding car, the skidding as it tried to negotiate a curve here Sleepy Hollow and then the sounds of crashing were heard in short order.

Walking down to Carbon Canyon Road and then a little east of Rosemary Lane, there are two late-model cars sitting on the south side of the highway, one of them with a blown-out tire and probably other damage and three young men, in their late teens or early twenties, milling around with flashlights.

On the side of the road, where there is a dirt embankment about six or eight feet high, the tire marks are visible climbing the slope to where the remnant of a rock wall projected out and was hit by the vehicle.  The car then drove down the road a couple hundred feet or so before it came to a halt along the narrow shoulder.

The driver and his friends, who a neighbor said were racing through the canyon, were walking down the road with their flashlights looking for something--probably whatever common sense they once had.

This has become something of a consistence occurrence in a decade of living in Carbon Canyon and being right on the road gives a little extra experience to the regular displays of dangerous driving that happen along Carbon Canyon Road.  In most cases, the speeding and skidding don't lead to an accident, but sometimes they do.

Damage from a recent accident on Carbon Canyon Road east of Olinda Village, in which a car heading westbound skidded across the road and hit the guardrail.  
Not long ago, someone heading westbound on the highway, just east of Olinda Village took a curve too fast, skidded across the opposing lane and put a good-size dent in the guardrail there. Other recent instances of skid marks, mostly on the Brea side, show people miscalculating and over-correcting, but not actually hitting anything.

The sheriff's department was called, basically because of the close proximity of the disable vehicle to the roadway as a fairly regular stream of cars are making their way east into Chino Hills and there could be a hazard.  Wonder if the responding officer will ask what happened and what kind of answer there'll be.  The call in did mention that there was racing going on--the roar of the engine, the skidding and the crash were pretty clear indicators.

In all likelihood, the car will get towed and repaired and the youngster will be at it again very soon.

14 October 2014

Chino Hills Historical Society Presentation Last Night

Last evening's talk at the Chino Hills Community Center for the Chino Hills Historical Society by Champion owner and publisher emeritus Allen McCombs was filled with great photos of the Chino Valley from the 19th century to the very recent past and punctuated with interesting anecdotes and stories about the people and places of the area.

McCombs came to Chino in 1956 fresh from a three-year stint in the Navy and with a journalism pedigree and training, purchased the Champion, which continues now in its 127th consecutive year under the original name and still very much a viable paper (even in this technological period), thanks largely to his leadership.

His talk covered everything from Antonio María Lugo, grantee of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in 1841, to the creation of Chino in 1887 by Richard Gird, to early landmarks and significant residents in that town, to the development of Chino Hills in the last quarter century, and much else.

The one-hour presentation covered a lot of ground and some of the best parts were when McCombs shared his personal connection to people, buildings and locales, with some of the more humorous and telling recollections coming during the question-and-answer period after the formal part was concluded.

There is no one in the area with more knowledge of the community's development and, while McCombs has shared much of this through his paper and, specifically, his "Rolltop Roundup" column, there is clearly a great deal more information that has not been made public yet.   Hopefully he'll do so because he is one of the last living links to the small-town Chino Valley which predominated until probably the 1960s or 1970s.

It was fun to hear the stories and see the images--preserving as much of the remarkable store of historical material McCombs possesses becomes that much more important because we'll not see the like of him again in the Chino Valley.

The next presentation for the Chino Hills Historical Society is slated for Monday, 9 February 2015 when the focus will be on the archaeological work done in the area over the years.  That should be an interesting presentation on the unearthing of the previously-buried history via artifacts found at building sites in the valley.

13 October 2014

A Little History of Laband Village in Chino Hills

The last post concerned some of the history of the people behind the name of the Gordon Ranch subdivision in Chino Hills and now is a similar excursion into Laband Village.  This community abuts Gordon Ranch to the north, starting off of Chino Hills Parkway between Eucalyptus Avenue and Grand Avenue and extending past Grand and into the hills to the northwest.  As with the Gordons, there is some interesting history about the Laband family.

The Labands, an Ashkenazi Jewish family, hailed from what was then the city of Breslau in Prussia, which was an independent nation before being incorporated into a unified Germany in 1871.  After the German empire collapsed in World War I, the region became Poland and the city's name changed to Wroclaw.  This blogger has maternal ancestors, the Levys, who were also from Breslau.

One of the more famed of the Labands, Paul Laband, was a professor of international law, was a major supporter of the unified Germany, and wrote many important and influential works before his death at Strassbourg in 1918.

Born in Breslau in 1900 was Walter Hermann Laband, who came up in the banking trade in his native city but developed contacts throughout Europe and especially in Amsterdam in Holland.  Starting in the 1920s he began to make trips to New York as part of his business and, by the end of the decade, he was hired by a prominent Wall Street firm, Maurice Wertheim and Company, to work for them by facilitating stock transactions in Europe, principally London and Amsterdam, through companies acquired from Colbin and Company

In September 1929, Laband was a party in the first trans-Atlantic telephone stock transaction between his firm and a Milan bank.  Several weeks later, however, the stock market crashed in New York ushering in the Great Depression.  Fortunately for Laband, his firm had disposed of all of its bad stock prior to the collapse.

Walter Hermann Laband and his second wife, Katharina Steinweg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1932.  From the Amsterdam City Archives and the Red Een Portret Web site.
Laband was married first to Ruth Hilde Steinlitz, from whom he was divorced in 1931.  In August of the following year in Amsterdam, he was wed to Katharina Steinweg.  Notably, while Laband was born Jewish, he was obviously not observant, as Katharina was a Roman Catholic.  The union bore a daughter, Kathleen, and a son, Stephen, and, in 1939, as the Second World War erupted, the Labands left for England, settling in the town of Sevenoaks.  Just several months later, Katharina Laband died a few weeks shy of her 33rd birthday.

Laband continued working for Wertheim & Co. until 1946 when he retired, taking with him about a quarter of the company's stock and providing the gift of a week's pay for each employee of the business.  Interestingly, according to an obituary for this last wife, Francine Lombard, he was working as an intelligence officer for the British Army at Versailles in France after the conclusion of World War II.

Francine, who was born in 1920 and grew up in Versailles, studied at the famed Sorbonne university in Paris and was a MASH unit nurse during the final assault of Allied forces into Nazi Germany as the war came to a conclusion.  The obit mentioned that, after their honeymoon, the couple relocated to the United States, settling in, of all places, Covina.

Walter Laband then formed General Air Conditioning, a firm that may well have been financed with the stock he took with him from Wertheim & Co.  The use of air conditioning was starting to expand exponentially in the post-World War II era and General Air became one of America's largest and most successful firms, operating offices all over the United States.

General Air's plant was located near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Interstate 710, but it was incorporated in Florida in 1953, for obvious reasons of tax advantages, with its offices in Jacksonville.  Clearly, the company made a significant fortune for Laband, whose wife, Francine, was a director.

The couple, who had three children of their own (Stephen, from the first marriage, died after an accident in 1951 while still a teen), purchased 400 acres in the southeastern corner of what is now West Covina near Grand Avenue and Cameron and lived on a large home there.  Within a few years of settling in the area, the Labands bought a large estate and property on a promontory overlooking Lake Arrowhead.

The Labands quickly became prominent in their new home, with the couple being active with Intercommunity Hospital, now part of Citrus Valley Health Partners, which offers a Laband Award honoring major supporters; Casa Colina, a rehabilitation center that was started next to Boys Republic here in the Chino Hills area before it moved to Pomona in 1960 and at which there is a Laband Building; Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, for which the couple endowed the Laband Art Gallery in 1984 and also supported the Kelly Art Gallery; and very active involvement in the Roman Catholic Church.  The couple each were knighted by the Church and served as regents and associates at Catholic universities, he at Immaculate Heart and she at Loyola Marymount.  The Walter and Francine Laband Foundation was formed in 1961 to support their charitable endeavors and dissolved in 2012.

Walter and Francine Laband at the opening of their Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles, 1984.  The photo is from the university archives' Web site.
It may have been because of their involvement at Casa Colina, when it was still in Chino/Chino Hills, that the Labands purchased a ranch on what was the former Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, just north of the Gordon Ranch discussed in the last post.  It hasn't yet been learned when the property was acquired, how large it was, and what was done with it (presumably, cattle raising), but it remained in the family until the late 1980s.

As the Chino Hills area became part of a major planning effort by San Bernardino County in the late 1970s and early 1980s and then the real estate market became red hot by the end of Eighties, the Labands benefited mightily.  Newspaper reports from October 1988 revealed that 89 acres of the ranch were purchased for a staggering $18 million by Fieldstone, a Newport Beach-based builder and that Riverdale Management was overseeing a planned community of 1,700 units, now known as LaBand Village (curiously, the spelling of the family name is everywhere else "Laband.")  Notably, just a short time after the Laband Ranch sale, the real estate market, grossly overheated and overvalued, tanked, leading to a depressed market which lasted through most of the 1990s.

Less than a year after the fabulous windfall in the sale of Laband Ranch, on 1 July 1989, Walter Laband died at the age of 89.  His widow lived until 2010 when she died at the same age.  Their large West Covina home, on a 2.44 acre parcel, as the rest of the 400 acres were sold off over their years for residential development, was sold in 2012.

There is an interesting little footnote to the story of the Labands.  Before he married Francine and while still in the banking industry in Europe, Walter bought bonds from the Republic of China that were backed by gold reserves and, allegedly, the full faith and credit of the government.

It is said Walter Laband began buying Chinese-issued bonds in 1913, but that would have been when he was only thirteen years old, unless a relative made those transactions for him, and continued for twenty-five years until the late 1930s.

Then came World War II and the Japanese invasion of China, followed by the campaign of Mao Tse-Tung and the Communists which led to the 1949 revolution that ushered Mao to power.  Nothing was done by the Chinese on these bonds until the People's Republic formally disowned any responsibility for the bonds as being from a previous government.  By 2008, when CBS News covered the issue, 15,000 persons were due an estimated $260 billion, so some of them took their complaint to Congress.

Part of the effort was to show members of the House of Representatives that the bonds included, in four languages, wording that bound the Chinese government "and its successors" to pay bondholders what they were due for their 5% interest payments over time.  Among those who went to Washington was Pierre Laband, son of Walter and Francine, who said in the CBS piece that his father needed the payments to "make ends meet," which, given the Labands very successful lifestyle, seemed a tad overstated!  In any event, the issue remained unresolved.

Like its neighbor, Gordon Ranch, Laband Village is generally viewed as a collection of tract houses and other residences, along with the Laband Shopping Center, as part of a new city with little history, but there is actually some interesting history behind the names of these communities within Chino Hills.  As the city approaches its 25th anniversary in 2016, that history can be an interesting part of the celebration.