09 December 2017

Wildfires, Development Planning and Carbon Canyon's Future

As wildfires have been raging through the greater Los Angeles area in recent days, there is renewed discussion about the continuing problem of building homes in and very near wildland areas.

An editorial in yesterday's edition of the Los Angeles Times by Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute takes on the issue of planning for development in the face of the increasing threat of fire.

This follows two recent articles in the same paper about the role of wind in wildfires and on new research concerning Arctic ice melt and increasing high pressure systems that will send rain emanating from systems in the Pacific north and away from our area causing more drought.

Halsey began his piece by noting that, while major wildfires are a natural element of California history and life, "the destruction of our communities is not."  The result is that
Many of the political leaders we elect and planning agencies we depend upon to create safe communities have failed us.  They have allowed developers to build in harm's way, and left firefighters holding the bag.
He continued noting that tough questions need to be asked "about the true cost of expanding the local tax base with new residences in high fire hazard zones."  He lamented "the same conversation over and over again . . . laced with non-sequiturs and focused on outdated, ineffective solutions."

Halsey pointed out that there are many cited reasons for the recent explosion of huge wildfires in forest and wildland areas:  too many dead trees (there are many killed from pest infestations exacerbated by drought); climate change (it does play a major role, but there are fires that can't be blamed on this); and fire policies of suppression that allow for more chaparral to grow, though he noted that's the only way these tough plants grow naturally.

He observed that clearing habitat, such as brush and trees, are a standard planning tool, costing huge sums, but houses still burn anyway.  This policy inspired a recent bill in the House of Representatives calling for more logging in the western United States—a cynical view is that this is an excuse to reintroduce logging as a political ploy rather than represent an attempt to deal with wildfires!

Halsey wrote:
While vegetation management such as fuel breaks and prescribed burns can help during non-extreme fire events, they do little to suppress extreme events . . . we need to protect communities from fires that actually do the damage.
He continued that what this means is to look at fire policies as social, not natural, because building homes in wildland areas introduces the former into the latter and changes the conditions that lead to conflagrations.

Halsey cautioned that:
Planning agencies need to push back against pro-development forces in government, whose willingness to build in known fire corridors borders on criminal neglect.
Then, more locally, stricter fire codes for new developments calling for elements like external sprinklers for eaves and roofs (as is done in Australia, another area hit by frequent wildfires) and retrofitting older structures and more "proper defensible space regulations" are called for.  He wrote that "such policies would cost significantly less than the $9.4 billion [in] wildfire-related claims submitted statewide as of Friday."

Halsey pointed to CalFire, the statewide fire agency, and its policy of addressing vegetation management, rather than looking at protecting property and life.  He noted that the local mountain communities of Big Bear City and Idyllwild have adopted the use of better roofing and venting systems with grants from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).  Notably, FEMA grants were used for vegetation clearance around neighborhoods in Carbon Canyon, but Halsey would certainly recommend foregoing that for the retrofitting done in those cities.

He concluded by observing that "trees, shrubs, grasses, or homes will all provide the necessary fuel for a wildfire.  It's part of California's story."  He linked wildfires with other natural disasters, suggesting:
As we do with earthquakes and floods, our goals should be to reduce the damage when wildfires arrive, not pretend we can prevent them from happening at all.  That mindset starts at the planning department, not the fire station.
 What this trilogy of pieces in the Times demonstrates is that the risk of wildfire in our region and, specifically in Carbon Canyon, will only increase.  Those of us already living here have to be contend with the consequences and which will only worsen as climactic conditions change and as more housing is built in the area.

As the Hidden Oaks development, proposing 107 houses south of Carbon Canyon Road and across from the 76-unit Hillcrest now being built, and more projects are forthcoming, it is apparent that, while fire supppression and and fighting policies and procedures have been improved in many areas, the intensity and frequency of wildfires have also increased.  Planners need to take this into account and elected officials need to be more educated when confronting the immense lobbying power of groups like the Building Industry Association.

With valleys and plains just about fully developed, the only open areas left to developers are foothill, canyon and mountain areas that are the areas that burn most often and hardest.  Current Canyon residents confront mounting challenges of traffic congestion and fire risk and the need for planners and officials to adequately address these issues is greater as the canyon faces greater risk.

05 December 2017

Future Droughts and Effects on Carbon Canyon

A Los Angeles Times front-page article from today by Evan Halper has the headline: "State's droughts may get a whole lot worse."

Advanced modeling research by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California suggest that:
California could be hit with significantly more dangerous and more frequent droughts in the near future as changes in weather patterns triggered by global warming block rainfall from reaching the state.
This is postulated due to increasing melting sea ice in the Arctic leading to stronger high-pressure systems in the Pacific Ocean causing wet air to move to the north rather than to California.

Estimates are that, within 20 to 30 years, as much as 15% less rainfall could be experienced and, with the last drought wreaking havoc to our agricultural economy and causing major problems in other way, even California, "the state most proactively confronting global warming is not prepared for its fallout."

A study published in Nature Communications observes that the Arctic is going to be ice-free in the summer and the resulting changes in precipiration patterns means that, though the average drop in rainfall would be up to 15%, some years would be considerably less and other more.

Lead scientist Ivana Cvijanovic commented, "the similarities between what will happen and the most recent drought are really striking."  The work of Cvijanovic and her colleagues was federally funded and, as Halper observed,
The findings contrast starkly with Trump administration policy on warming, which ignores the mainstream scientific consensus that human activity is driving it.  The administration has been working aggressively to unravel Obama-era action on climate change, withdrawing from the Paris agreement which seeks to limit its impact, dismantling restrictons on power plant emissions, and signaling it will relax vehicle mileage rules that are a crucial component to addressing global warming.
Other climate scientists note that the latest study is one of several "that have signaled a connection between the ice melt in the Arctic and the building of atmospheric ridges affecting California.  Michael Mann of the Earth Science Center at Pennsylvania State University stated, "the impacts of climate change may exceed our adaptive capacity.  The leaves only mitigation—doing something about climate change—as a viable strategy moving forward."

Stanford's Noah Diffenbaugh noted "the change is dramatic, and it is taking place faster than had been projected by climate models."  He went on to observe that making a concrete connection between ice melt and effects on rain and snow fall in California is a significant milestone.

In fact, Cvijanovich suggested that, if there hadn't been so much melting in recent years, our recent mega-drought might have been avoided, though the model she worked on only addresses future impacts. [Note:  because of a comment raised below, here is the text of the article from which the previous sentence was based: But the atmospheric patterns leading to that drought had all the characteristics of those that can be triggered by Arctic sea ice melt, Cvijanovic said, raising the prospect that California might have dodged the latest drought — or at least not have been hit as hard — if not for the large amount of ice that has already vanished.]

She concluded:
There is lots of research to be done. Hopefully we do it in time to allow people to plan for whatever may be coming.
As for Carbon Canyon, what will be comng, provided the modeling proves prescient, is both longer and drier drought conditions providing more fuels for wildfires, like the latest ones in the last couple of days including the massive Thomas fire in Ventura County that is raging out of control, and flooding and mudslides, worsened by burned slopes, during heavier rainfall years.

Coupled with the recent Times piece on the role of wind in the rapid spread of wildfires, this article is another stark warning for local officials whose responsibility is for jurisdictions like Carbon Canyon and for state and federal leaders more broadly.

The more knowledge we (or, at least, some of us) obtain about climate change, the more pressing the need for mitigation becomes.  This week's high winds and the much higher than average temperatures continue to be an issue with respect to the fire risk in the Canyon, but a Fire Watch staff member was seated this morning in a chair outside his vehicle on eastbound Carbon Canyon Road west of Olinda Village.  This program, funded by The Irvine Company, provided an observer a couple of months ago during the recent firestorms in the Anaheim Hills/Corona area, so it's good, at least, to know someone is literally watching.

29 November 2017

Carbon Canyon, Wind and Wildfire Risk

In the wake of October's devastating wild fires in northern California, the Los Angeles Times from last Friday the 24th had this lead headline on its front page: "Fire policies sidestep key factor: wind."

Bettina Boxall's article goes on to discuss a realization made by University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass's realization after studying a pair of high-resolution weather models on 8 October when the conflagration broke out: "Oh my God, look at he winds?  What if people were paying attention to this? What could they have done?"

Boxall continued:
As California puts more people and houses on one of the planet's most flammable landscapoes and the grim list of deadly wildfires grows longer, some experts say it's time to take stronger steps.  Among them: Ban development in wind corridors where wild lands repeatedly burn . . .
As Alexandra Syphard, a research scientist with Conservation Biology Institute notes:
In Southern California, every single year the conditions are there for a severe wildfire.  You have Santa Ana wind conditions every year.  You have summer drought every year, high temperatures.
Alex Hall, an atmospheric sciences profesor at UCLA, added:
There are certain corridors where the winds tend to travel.  We also have the ability to predict event by event where the winds are going to be the strongest. 
But with wind mapping and forecasting not shown in the wildfire policies of the State of California, the problem becomes, as Syphard expressed it:
I often hear people say that if we construct our buildings correctly and put enough defensible space around it, then we don't need to worry about where you put the houses.  But they don't necessarily fireproof your house.  You can see that by some of the houses that burned in recent years.
Despite the passage of law five years ago that requires local jurisdictions to include wildfire risk when updating general plans and approving housing projects, Boxall wrote, "there appears little inclination to place especially fire-prone areas off limits to development."

What then followed is a quote from Mitch Glaser, assistant administrator for the regional planning office in Los Angeles County: "we have to consider property rights."  He went to say that, while changes in the layout and size of housing projects are made, no denial of an application was made because of the risk of fire.

Boxall continued: "The building continues even in areas where it is virtually guaranteed that a wind-whipped fire will roar through sooner or later."  She also noted that in France there are new regulations that ban development in hazardous fire zones in the southern part of the country.  A natural resources advisor with the University of California cooperative extension system told Boxall, "it's not terribly popular.  But they do have the ability to make that happen."

This takes the matter then to local jurisdictions and land-use planning.  Richard Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute, commented:
Local municipalities are so concerned about their tax base and private property rights and making money that they're not addressing the real risks.
He recommends barring development in high-risk locations or, if it is done, then requiring residents to sign waivers that they forego fire protection, though he followed by stating "I don't know if politically that's ever going to happen."

The article also addressed above-ground power lines and the addition of weather observation stations on poles or requiring that lines be routed underground (which is a significant expense and, in some cases, difficult with terrain).  Shutting off power for public safety reasons was also discussed.

Notably, what San Diego Gas and Electric has found in its monitoring of wind in a county that has been heavily affected by wildfires in recent years is that "it turns out the county's strongest winds don't blow through passes or canyons, as previous thought . . . [and there is] remarkable variability in wind strength across relatively short distances."

In 2014, a new program with that utility, the U.S. Forest Service and UCLA was launched and the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index is intended to rank threats based on weather and moisture in vegetation.  At the end of October, "one of the strongest Santa Ana events in years hit Southern California" and the ranking was high, just below the worse of extreme.

For Carbon Canyon, this article has great relevance.  While District 12 of CalTrans on the Orange County side of the canyon put up signs several years ago noting an extreme fire hazard, this designation was not made for the San Bernardino County side by District 8.  A wildfire, however, won't heed the sign difference and stop burning at the county line.

Moreover, while San Diego's experience is that the strongest winds may not be in canyons and passes, that in no way suggest that these areas don't funnel high winds and pose great risks.  They certainly do, as most recently was demonstrated in another pair of destructive Santa Ana Canyon fires in September and October and as the history of wildfires has shown in Carbon Canyon (1929, 1958, 1978, 1990 and 2008 being just the worst of many such conflagrations.)

A United States Geological Survey video "Living with Wildfire," which was the subject of a post here a few years ago, warns of high winds at upper elevations as well as gullies and other natural features serving as funnels for winds up from canyons to those plateaus and ridges on adjacent hills.

Private property rights, property tax revenues and other factors will continue to influence decision-making at the local level, but these will be dwarfed by the financial and human cost of catastrophic wildfires, the intensity and frequency of which are growing.

Our local officials in city and county government and in fire-fighting will continue to face these issues and articles like this as well as the USGS video, in addition to mounting studies of wildfire conditions and causes, will, hopefully, bring more needed attention to a growing problem.

After all, most of the remaining undeveloped land in our region are in our canyons and hills—precisely those areas most in danger of extreme wildfire risk.  The Hillcrest project of 76 units is slowly progressing on the north side of Carbon Canyon just east of Sleepy Hollow and the subdivision is surrounded by wildfire-prone areas with many homes at the ridge top and plateaus where winds are strong, carrying embers well over the defensible spaces put into the project.

Across Carbon Canyon Road, directly south of Hillcrest, the proposed Hidden Oaks, of over 100 units, will soon be heard by the city's planning commission and council.  Again, the project is sited on hillsides, plateaus and ridges with steep topography to Soquel Canyon on the south and Chino Hills State Park (98% of which burned in 2008) beyond that.  Many home sites are, once more, in higher elevation with strong winds.

It is likely that city staff will cite private property rights, future revenue, and improvements in planning for fire as reasons for approving the project, even as our knowledge of the issues with the risk of wildfire grows.  Unfortunately, prospective buyers will not be made aware of that risk and will be lulled into a sense of false security when they move into these new subdivisions.

27 November 2017

Carbon Canyon's Cabin Eats Restaurant

The latest restaurant to operate in a spot that has had several over the years in the largely-empty Olinda Village shopping center is Cabin Eats, which opened within the last few weeks.

It's a pretty sparse interior with plastic folding chairs, basic folding tables and not much in the way of decor.  A TV sits high in the corner and there are a couple where there is outside seating.

The restaurant is advertised as being open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day and offers Mexican and American food. The menu has breakfast and lunch sections, though, for some reason, there is no separate dinner portion. 

Going there last night, our group of three had nachos, a veggie burrito with red sauce, and cheese enchiladas with mole, along with a Caesar salad.  American selections include fish and chips, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a variety of burgers and the breakfast menu will be worth a visit, as well.  Drink are sodas and water with no alcohol served.

The food was pretty good.  The salsa served with the chips was pretty tasty and had a little kick to it.  The mole was good, as well, and the others liked their selections.  

Overall, it didn't measure up to the food at Sol de México, which operated there for a number of years before the short-lived Stone's Smokehouse, which was decent, or, going further back, the excellent Las Redes (anyone remember the name of the pretty good Italian place that was there for a minute or two maybe a dozen or so years back?) but it was still enjoyable.  

The server was good at checking in to see how things were going and the chef said hello and thanked our group for stopping in, so that was nice to see.

As our group discussed, the question is how long this or any other restaurant can survive in a shopping center, built in 1964 when local centers were more sustainable, which looks older and shakier with each passing year.  There were no other patrons last night during our visit and it will take a steady, regular stream of clientele to keep the business afloat.

So, let's hope enough people give it a try and like it that Cabin Eats can get established, but the restaurant business is tough as it is and the location makes the challenge that much greater.

26 November 2017

David Purington Reminiscences of Sleepy Hollow, Part One

Well, given that we just celebrated Thanksgiving and the last post here was about something provided by a neighbor, this is an opportune time to move to another Sleepy Hollow-related set of posts, with material provided by another neighbor--with thanks given to both!

These items consist of typescripts by Purington and appear to have been done in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  There are a total of ten of these related to Carbon Canyon history and they will be bundled together in sets over coming months.

They'll be presented through scans of the originals, cropped and touched up to enhance readability.  An occasional note will be added when needed to help clairfy certain portions of the accounts.

We're starting with a four-page piece titled "Sleepy Hollow: Some Water Development and Family History" that seemed the best way to start the series, because it gives some background on the community from its founding in 1923, two years after Purington's father bought the land, up to the date of writing in 1978 when he was planning for development of a ranch he had in Sleepy Hollow.

To better read the pages, click on them to see them in an enlarged view in a separate window.

Note 1: The Oak Grove and Joe Tatar's (originally called Ichabod's) Restaurant is the area on the north side of Carbon Canyon Road, where the Party House Liquor Store building is located.  In this document, Purington mentions that he built the building on this property--this appears to be the now-shuttered store building.

Note 2:  The original Purington house and the community church are across from the eastern intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Rosemary Lane.  The first water well was near the house along the creek.

Note 3:  The original plat map of Sleepy Hollow, from 1923, is on file with the County of San Bernardino and was reproduced on this blog.

Note 4:  Lookout Ridge is the area at the top of the northern portion of Sleepy Hollow, north of Carbon Canyon Road.

Note 5:  The tennis court, swimming pool, and area where the 4th of July picnic and stockholders' meeting was held was between the Purington place and the current liquor store property, along the creek on the north side of Carbon Canyon Road.

Note 6:  Known also as "Tidwell Oaks", the store and restaurant were located where the parking area for the Sleepy Hollow Community Center is situated at the east intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Rosemary Lane.

Note 7:  When Purington mentions existing water reservoirs (or tanks), the one on the south side of Sleepy Hollow at the top of the hill was removed a couple of years ago by the City of Chino Hills.  There is still a tank at the top of the hill on the north end.

Note 8:  In discussing acquiring water outside the community, Purington mentions the land of Mrs. Anderson across from Western Hills Golf Course.  This was formerly the Oasis Country Club and is now the Western Hills Oaks subdivision, established in the mid-1960s.  Purington wrote a separate essay about the water supply for Sleepy Hollow, which will be posted soon.

Note 9:  Purington's discussion of the Sleepy Hollow Volunteer Fire Department is expanded upon in a separate essay, to be posted later.  The Fire Hall, on a lot assigned to the local water district, became a community building where the current Sleepy Hollow Community Building is situated south of Carbon Canyon Road on Rosemary Lane.

Note 10:  Purington's home, destroyed in the big canyon fire in 1958, was situated below Lookout Ridge on the north side of Sleepy Hollow.  He mentions the remodeling of the original family home, which, again, still stands next to the highway.  Members of the Stearns family still live in the canyon.

Note 11:  Purington's pointed criticism of the water supply in Sleepy Hollow continues to be an issue, with varied pipe sizes throughout the community, though there have been marked improvements in the last few years.

25 November 2017

A Different Kind of Tagging in Carbon Canyon

Usually, mention of tagging on this blog has had to do with occurrences of graffiti sprayed on signs, guardrails and, especially, the gradually crumbling original water tank of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort (which, since Thanksgiving was just two days ago, has, thankfully, remained free of such embellishment in recent months.)

The tagging referred to here in this post, though, has to do with an interesting little discovery made a couple of months ago by a neighbor of mine here in Sleepy Hollow.  While working on the steep hillside on his property, he unearthed a metal ring with six tags on it.

Though the ring and tags were dirty, rusted and pitted, the tags have on one of the faces the stamped wording: "B.O.U.H.S. / 55 / WOOD / SHOP."  It seems pretty obvious that the tags were used by the woodshop classes at Brea-Olinda Unified High School in 1955, probably for tagging trees (almost certainly the oaks that abundantly grow in the canyon) that were desired for wood for the class.

Whether the woodshop teacher or a student lived in the house next to which the tags were found or whether there were trees on the property that were identified for tagging isn't known.  The house had an initial part that goes back to the early days of Sleepy Hollow in the 1920s with a 1950s addition.

Anyway, my neighbor thought it was a cool little find, so he passed it on and this post does the same, even if it's just a little element of our canyon's history.

11 November 2017

Tres Hermanos and Potential Public Use

Today's Champion has an article by Marianne Napoles on Tres Hermanos Ranch, located in Tonner Canyon just north of Carbon Canyon, and the continuing controversy over its potential future uses.

Napoles repoted that "The City of Industry reiterated its commitment to use the 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch for open space, public use, and preservation purposes" following last week's determination by the state's Department of Finance that it would not act on the sale of the ranch to the city for $41,5 million. 

Further, it was observed that Industry stated "it is not proposing a 450-megawatt solar facility" on the property, with documents suggesting the possibility of one up to that size.  This was confirmed in a statement made by Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley, who told the paper that document he'd seen indicated that the project "could be up to 450 megawatts, but there are various numbers in various documents."

Paul Philips, city manager in Industry, was quoted as saying "we will collaboratively with interested stakeholders and residents to ultimately create a space for people to enjoy."  A restrictive covenant was part of the sale that would only allow for the three stated uses cited above.  Philips went on to say that there will be a plan for Tres Hermanos coming in the near future.

Officials in Chino Hills and Diamond Bar continue to express the belief that their lawsuits challenging the legal validity of the sale will be upheld in the courts, with Chino Hills council member Peter Rogers referring to "this shroud of secrecy" about Industry's plans keeping the city "vigilant in seeking information that defines this project."  Hensley added that "when you [Industry] are constantly working to hide the facts from the public and are untruthful when you are caught, it results in a lot of mistrust and confusion."

Diamond Bar City Manager Dan Fox stated that the sale, executed, in his view, "so Industry could have more cash to develop a massive solar generating facility is clearly inconsistent with" the long-range property management plan for the Successor Agency to the City of Industry Urban Development Agency.  The argument is that the sale should have been for the maximum monetary value for the benefit of public entities like the two cities.

To further explain their positions, Chino Hills and Diamond Bar have added pages to their web sites, with the former offering this page and the latter presenting this one.  The City of Industry has posted this press release on its website in the aftermath of the finance department's announcement.