12 February 2019

Tres Hermanos Ranch Solar Farm Project Details Emerge

Today's San Gabriel Valley Tribune has a remarkably detailed article about the efforts of William Barkett to complete a deal to build a solar farm project at Tres Hermanos Ranch, owned by the City of Industry since 1978 and the subject of an agreement signed last week with Chino Hills and Diamond Bar to share ownership and future uses of the 2,500-acre ranch.

Jason Henry's piece goes into the ins and outs of Barkett's attempts to parlay the project into producing enough revenue for his San Gabriel Valley Water and Power so that he could repay debts to in-laws that reportedly have ballooned to about $3,500,000.

The loans, totaling some $2 million were made between 2005 and 2007, but Barkett and his wife, a former trustee at U.S.C., have only repaid about 25% of that debt and interest has driven the principal to the current amount.  In 2017, Barkett wrote checks totaling $75,000 from SGVWP towards that debt.

Lisa Barkett's sister and her husband have filed suit to recoup their losses and court filings claim that the Barketts "have filed multiple fraudule bankruptcies to avoid creditors" and have created "a false appearance of wealth and success" through manipulation "of universities, charities, and even farm workers."  Shell companies and transfers of ownerships were, allegedly, tools to avoid the taking of assets and the consequences of foreclosures.

A portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch looking southeast from Diamond Bar, March 2018.
The Barketts were said to have promised large donations to Fordham University and a church at U.S.C. so that their names as donors would attract creditors, but it was reported that once donor lists were published, payments to those charitable endeavors were halted.

William Barkett then reputedly approached the City of Commerce to convince it to challenge the sale of Tres Hermanos to Industry so that the solar farm project could have a hope of proceeding, but Commerce, once the news came to light, tabled discussion even as the ranch's sale to Industry was approved.

Industry, which paid $20 million to Barkett and SGVWP, has been seeking an audit on those funds, but the company has refused to provide details, citing that it can do what it wants with its money.  In late 2017, issues came to light with the lack of detail for invoices submitted by the company to the city.  The lease between the two entities, however, only required the firm to pay back funds if the project actually started.

Meanwhile, Barkett has amassed overall debts of some $50 million through an array of failed business deals and the article reports that he has evaded personal responsibility by assigning assets to others so that there was essentially nothing for creditors to obtain even when judgments, including a $43.5 million one in 2012, were obtained by court order.  He has been described, moreover, as "extremely litigious" and has threatened legal action against the three cities for last week's agreement and against the Tribune if it published details of his legal conflict with his in-laws.

05 February 2019

Tres Hermanos Ranch Joint Partnership Agreement Reached

As reported in today's San Gabriel Valley Tribune, an agreement has been reached between the cities of Chino Hills, Diamond Bar and Industry in which the former two cities, by jointly paying a little above $4 million (Chino Hills kicking in almost $3 million and Diamond Bar the remainder) with Industry providing $37.5 million, will share ownership of the 2,500-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, situated in Tonner Canyon just north of Carbon Canyon.

The arrangement brings to an end a protracted legal battle between the Tres Ciudades over the fate and future of one of the last remaining large tracts of undeveloped land in the region.  The ranch, created by William Benjamin Scott, an oilman; William R. Rowland, son of the original grantee of nearby Rancho La Puente and a Los Angeles County Sheriff and oilman; and Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, was sold to the City of Industry in 1978 by a Chandler family company.

Ideas for a massive reservoir and a huge solar farm, the latter more recently proposed, have been discussed over the years, but, after signing a deal with a firm to work on the solar farm, which brought litigation from Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, Industry terminated the agreement.  The solar farm proponents are not giving up, however, and have now threatened all three municipalities with lawsuits.

The Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, which existed for years but met irregularly, will be revived, wll be granted ownership of the ranch, and there will be seven seats on the administrative body.  Three will be appointed by Industry and two each by the other cities.  After Industry formally approves the sale tomorrow, the Authority is scheduled to hold its first meeting on Thursday.  Any approved uses of the ranch will need at least one vote from a member whose city is in the area where the project would be built and two votes from Industry.  If the latter was to leave the Authority, the other two cities would have the option of acquiring their portions of the land—about 700 acres is in Diamond Bar and the rest in Chino Hills.

Much of Tres Hermanos Ranch looking southwest from Diamond Bar, March 2018.
Mayor Carol Herrera of Diamond Bar heralded the agreement as "an incredible opportunity . . . to ensure it remains a valuable open space resource in our cities and region for decades to come."  This refers to a provision in a deed restriction that the ranch is to be dedicated only towards "open space, public use or preservation" and the agreement now stipulates that there are "no proposed new uses, new improvements, or major alterations contemplated on Tres Hermanos for the foreseeable future."  It was also agreed that the three cities would share the cost of maintaining the property.

Industry City Manager Troy Helling called the deal a "reset," observing that "this is one way of showing that we're here to be good neighbors" because Chino Hills and Diamond Bar "have a right to say what happens to" Tres Hermanos because the ranch is in their domains.  The City's mayor Mark Radecki stated that

the value is in what the land means to the people of this region, to the wildlife that use it as a corridor, and in what our communities can accomplish together to protect the special environment that has been preserved.
Notably, the kickstart to the reset came from outgoing Chino Hills City Manager Rad Bartlam's suggestion that he and Helling have lunch so that a partnership, not the continuation of adversarial relationships, could be pursued.  Bartlam added that the intent is to maintain as much of the existing open space as possible and that "there is a possibility of opening the land to the public."  There would have to be some mitigation done, including what to do with Arnold Reservoir, a body of water visible just south of Grand Avenue, which bisects the ranch.  Bartlam was quoted as saying that "all the focus is, for the most part, on protecting Tres Hermanos."

Despite the fact that Industy's lease with the solar farm's developer, San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, ended at the end of 2018, that company has pursued a deal that would have the City of Commerce try to buy Tres Hermanos from the successor agency of the former City of Industry redevelopment agency, the Urban Development Agency.

William Barkett, a lead figure at the solar farm firm, indicated that the company would "seek relief for all money amounts and other benefits that would have flowed to" his company if Industry had followed through with the previous arrangement and that all three cities would be targeted.  Bartlam responded that this was expected, but did not deter the municipalities from following through to make the deal and establish the newly constituted Authority.

Stay tuned for future developments!

03 February 2019

Carbon Canyon History Talk Tomorrow Night in Yorba Linda

Tomorrow night, I'll be giving a PowerPoint-illustrated presentation on the history of Carbon Canyon at the Yorba Linda Public Library.

The free talk is at 7 p.m. and covers a number of historical elements of the Canyon from oil at Olinda to tourism at La Vida Mineral Springs to the little-known Camp Kinder Ring, a Jewish youth camp, to the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope religious retreat and more.

Artifacts having to do with these aspects, including photographs, maps and others will also be brought and displayed.

So, if you have about an hour and don't mind braving whatever rain will be dropping (and which is much appreciated these days), come down to the Yorba Linda Public Library and hear about some of the fascinating history of Carbon Canyon.

Hope to see you there!

20 January 2019

Brea 265 Development Adjacent to Carbon Canyon In The Works

Perhaps you've seen in recent weeks and months the removal of oil well rigs on both sides of Lambert Road just west of Valencia Avenue a little west of Carbon Canyon. 

Aera Energy, LLC, a subsidiary of Shell, which has been drilling and extracting crude oil in the Olinda field for over a century, is making plans to redevelop about 265 acres (hence the name) of its land, on both sides of Lambert and both sides of Valencia, for a housing project that calls for somewhere between 1,100 and 1,165 units.

These include about 300 low-density, 275 medium-density, and 590 high-density dwellings, though the numbers on the same page in a chart and in the text are off by 65 total units.  There are 18 acres designated for parks and passive recreational uses and about 56 acres of open space.  For road, another 26 acres are contemplated.

An aerial map showing the location of the proposed 1,100-1,165 units Brea 265 project slated for land owned by Aera Energy, LLC (a subsidiary of Shell) on oil lands just west of Carbon Canyon.
Of the nearly 200 wells drilled on the project site, 110 of them are still producing, but only about 500 barrels of crude a day are being extracted.  All of the activity will end once the entitlements are in place for development, though there are elements of the plan that call for some recognition of the historical use of the land for oil development.

Thanks to a Carbon Canyon resident for sending info on this and who rightly expresses concern for traffic impacts on Carbon Canyon Road.  There are two main entrances to the project site--one on Valencia Avenue going both directions between Birch/Rose on the south and Carbon Canyon/Lambert on the north and the other on both sides of Lambert, west of Valencia.  A secondary entrance will be just a bit west of that.

Well, over 1,000 units means a few thousand cars that will be entering and exiting roads that already have some heavy usage during the morning and afternoon/evening commutes.  With additional traffic signals on Valencia and Lambert, it is to be expected that there will be significant impacts to volume and flow.  Obviously, traffic studies, including the above-mentioned Canyon resident's request to include previous studies of Carbon Canyon Road, will indicate what those impacts will be.

For more details on the Brea 265 project, here is the brochure.

13 January 2019

Carbon Canyon Road Study Phase 2

At last Wednesday evening's City of Chino Hills Public Works Commission meeting, a detailed explanation and discussion for the second phase of a study on future improvements to Carbon Canyon Road was the bulk of the proceedings.

Initiated by the City with cooperation from the City of Brea and District 8 of CalTrans, the study examined current conditions and provides a diverse menu of options for making those enhancements to the state highway for safety and traffic flow improvements.

Nadeem Majaj, the City Engineer, began by providing an overview of the study, noting that there has been more accomplished in the last year-and-a-half in terms of analyzing and preparing for Highway 142's future than at any time in city history.  He added the complexity involved because the road goes through two counties, cities, and CalTrans districts, but that cooperation is better know than ever before.

A representative from the consulting firm that carried out the study reviewed traffic volumes (which are high with low "levels of service" at many intersections along the highway), areas where a range of safety enhancements can be added, and other issues, but paid particular attention to the question of large trucks, because the prevailing goal is to seek an unusual ban on those vehicles whose "kingpin to rear axle" length is over a desirable size.

A couple of years ago, CalTrans, after significant input from the City and community because of mounting concerns over the growing use of a road not built for larger vehicles, implemented a signage program that advised trucks over 50' in length to avoid the road from Valencia Avenue in Brea to Chino Hills Parkway.  Although only 1% of vehicles traversing the highway are large trucks, they can be very problematic during period of high volume posing dangers and risks because of frequent opposing lane crossing.

Being purely advisory, however, nothing could be done other than to have tickets issued for truck drivers who crossed over double yellow center lines, particularly at locations such as the S-curve at the summit of the highway in Chino Hills.

This, in fact, was among the most interesting of the study elements.   Video cameras were placed at two locations along the S-curves so that the navigation of large trucks through this area could be visually documented.  Two examples were particularly striking, as they show large semis going so far over the centerline that they nearly took up the entire opposing lane in doing so.  These were both during afternoon "rush hour," really "rush hours."

For many of us who travel SR 142 on a regular basis, this is something we've witnessed a number of times.  Just last Monday afternoon, I was heading westbound and a truck with a flatbed loaded with cars swung into my lane as it headed east, forcing me to almost stop and then move to the right to avoid being hit.

This is an original ink drawing transferred onto wood and shows Carbon Canyon Highway (State 142) looking west towards Brea from Sleepy Hollow and done by my very talented next-door neighbor, artist Lena Sekine (https://www.etsy.com/shop/lenasekine).
The City of Chino Hills, with agreement from the City of Brea, is aggressively advocating for CalTrans to prohibit all large truck traffic through Carbon Canyon on the state highway.  This is a rare occurrence, though it has happened.  So, once District 8 reviews the data and if it agrees that this should be pursued, it will make a recommendation to headquarters in Sacramento.  This could take a while, if that's the route (!) the department wants to take, so we'll see.

As for traffic flow, there is a preexisting study in the works for a traffic signal, which would be the first on the Chino Hills portion of the roadway, at Canyon Hills Road.  With the in-progress development of Stonecrest, the 76-unit housing project north of the state highway, and a proposed 107-unit Hidden Oaks to the south, this is the intersection that fits state standards for signalization.

Other intersections, such as at Rosemary Lane in Sleepy Hollow, Canon Lane at Mountain View Estates (and across from one entrance to Oak Tree Estates and Oak Tree Downs), and Azurite Drive at Summit Ranch do not have enough volume from those communities to warrant signals by those standards.  Signals cost about $300-350,000 each.

There are, though, other possibilities for managing traffic through the area, including refuge and acceleration lanes to enter the highway, such as exists now at Feldspar Drive out of Summit Ranch and at the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center in Brea; lanes to make turns off the highway and onto side streets; channelizers, basically plastic barriers placed in the middle of roads to slow traffic down; and solar-powered speed "feedback" signs that post speed limits and the actual speed of vehicles (though these are recommended for rotation so that drivers don't become too acclimated and then ignore these signs).

Costs for these improvements range from $5-7,000 for channelizers, $7-10,000 for speed feedback signs, and $10-15,000 for refuge and acceleration lane additions.

A big concern for parents of school-age children is the fact that many drivers don't stop on both sides of the highway, as required by law, when buses stop to pick up students.  Improvements could include widening the area of these stops and having better signage.

Considered more long-term was a proposal to reopen the curve that was part of Carbon Canyon Road before Chino Hills Parkway existed going north at that intersection and using that as a "free right turn" lane to keep traffic moving more smoothly as drivers head onto the state highway portion of Chino Hills Parkway towards the highway's terminus at the 71 Freeway.

Another long-term possibility is widening the two-lane portion heading west from Chino Hills Parkway to allow for more vehicles to enter Carbon Canyon Road and not backup onto both directions of Chino Hills Parkway.  While this latter could run from $750,000 to $1 million, there was no estimate given for the "free right turn."

Discussion by commission members and public comment, of which there were several, interestingly seized on the "free right turn" concept, though it was listed as a long-term fix, but also advocated for the collector/refuge lanes, speed feedback signs, bus stop improvements.  Traffic signals were received with more mixed feelings, because, although there would be relief for those entering the highway from adjoining neighborhoods, the slowing down of the much larger volume on the roadway, which is only going to increase with rapid housing development to the east, was a concern.

One concern expressed by commissioner Bob Goodwin, who worked in trucking, is that measurements could vary depending on how the driver shifts the container or trailer being pulled, while a community member also noted the importance of weight.  Another point made by a resident who owns horse property is that there are several people like him in the canyon who have long trailers for transport of animals and this led to mention of passes or decals exempting them from any prohibition of longer vehicles, though he also wondered if shoulders on the S-curve could be widened to accommodate these vehicles.

A commission membe Ryan Kleczko, who was a county sheriff's deputy who worked in Chino Hills, talked about speeds in the canyon and this led to some discussion about perceptions of who drives faster where and when.  For example, he argued that people drove slower in Sleepy Hollow than elsewhere, which to an extent is true in absolute speed, but not necessarily for recommended speed and for conditions. 

Most accidents outside rush hours, in fact, tend to happen at curved portions as some drivers race for their adrenalin fix.  Sleepy Hollow has had many accidents in the very curvy area in its vicinity.  One commenter, in fact, is the property owner of 43 years at the S-curve where more accidents happen than virtually anywhere else in the canyon, who talked about the impacts on him and his property and called for a guardrail there.

The bottom line with dangerous driving is that, while improvements are welcome, there is no substitute for human patrols.  Acknowledging the higher costs of having deputies and CHP officers physically present, especially at late night/early morning hours, this is when most of the worst behaviors take place. 

Something has to be said also about parsing the difference between a reported accident and ones that aren't (something Goodwin rightly noted), but also between a reported accident that's a fender-bender and one that involves significant damage of vehicles and state and private property, much less injury or death.

In any case, the cities of Brea and Chino Hills will have to issue resolutions for changes, such as the proposed ban of large vehicles (though the question of resident horse-owners has to be considered), and then CalTrans will have to deliberate, as the managing entity for the state highway.  We'll see where this goes in upcoming months, but much credit goes to the City of Chino Hills for devoting the resources to this and to Brea and CalTrans District 8 for their cooperation.

12 January 2019

Tres Hermanos Update from the Los Angeles Times

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times has a lengthy article on Tres Hermanos Ranch and the current state of affairs at the 2,450-acre property, named for its orignal three owners, Harry Chandler, publisher of that paper; oilman William B. Scott, and William R. Rowland, son of the half-owner of Rancho La Puente, a Los Angeles County sheriff and oil magnate.

The article reviews the debates over the future of Tres Hermanos, including the proposal to build a solar farm on the tract while environmentalists and others want to see preservation of the property as part of a wildlife corridor connecting the Puente and Chino hills ranges to the Santa Ana Mountains and for passive recreation.

As a consulting biologist, Dan Cooper, told writer Louis Sahagun:
Tres Hermanos is the most significant expanse of grassland habitat left in the Los Angeles Basin—that much we know for certain.
For the article, City of Industry's City Manager Troy Helling took Sahagun, a Times photograper, and others on a tour of the ranch, which is rarely available for people to see.  Helling told the group the City's approach to the ranch has changed after a change in administration.

A view from March 2018 looking northeast from recent housing developments in Brea ino the southern end of Tonner Canyon and Tres Hermanos Ranch, where the "missing middle" of the connection of the Chino Hills (right) and Puente Hills (left, where thousands of homes have long been planned) are bisected by the 57 Freeway at upper left.
He stated that Industry wants to settle ongoing legal issues with the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar and "partner with them on a plan that will benefit our communities and the wildlife that lives here."  He added, "But I wouldn't blame anybody for not believing that," given recent history, including the solar farm issue.  Helling concluded by noting, "we're working with a clean slate, and we want to be good neighbors."

Claire Schlotterbeck, long a champion for preserving open space and having passive recreation in the area, noted that access has been restricted but stated that video footage reveals a landscape "teeming with an abundance of species," though she remains cautious about the ranch's future, observing "Lord only knows what comes next out there."

Among the most recent developments is an attempt by the City of Commerce, another industrial city close to Los Angeles, to seek purchase of the property as it apparently is willing to partner with the firm that Industry hired, then fired, to build the solar farm.  A spokesperson told the Times that company's goal "is to use about 30% of Tres Hermanos for renewable energy and leave the rest for open space."

A biological consultant, Alyssa Cope of Sage Environmental Group, recently hired by Industry to review the ranch, told Sahagun:
Tres Hermanos is an extraordinary landscape—and it could be even better.  The more biodiversity, the healthier the habitat.

31 December 2018

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #58: A Rare Photo Attributed to Carbon Canyon, ca. 1910s

This is a great and very rare cabinet card photograph that looks to be taken in the early part of the 20th century and is simply labeled "Carbon Cañon."  It is interesting that the Spanish form of "cañon" with the tilde over the first "n" is used, which almost seems like a Latino or at least someone well-versed in the language wrote the inscription.  Otherwise, there is no information about the scene, the people, or why the photo was taken.

It shows a large hay wagon parked on a dirt road with a gent at the top pulling a bale to the fourth layer with the previous ones laid in a cross-hatch pattern.  Three other workers stand or sit next to the wagon and one of the workers, holding his face in his right hand, sits on a sack of an unknown product, of which there are stacks, largely covered in canvas.

These sacks rest against a plain wood fence and in the distance to the left below some hills is a large structure, probably a barn.  Behind the wagon are harnessed horses unhitched, probably, from the vehicle and other horses are further in the distance.  In front of the wagon at the lower right are two buckets.  Note the number 37 placed under the wagon on the negative.

Click on the image to see it enlarged in a separate window.
Most intriguing, potentially, is on the right.  It appears that the road has been cut partially into the low hillsides and this cut is buttressed with horizontal boards kept in place by vertical posts.  Behind the worker at the right, who leans against a front corner of the wagon, are stacks of what might be wooden forms. 

Could this be Carbon Canyon Road in construction and maybe the ranch workers were loading hay and grains to take either to Chino or towards Orange County?  The road was built through from Chino to Brea in 1914-15, so the timing appears to be reasonable given that cabinet cards were common from the 1880s to the 1920s or so. 

Unfortunately, we're not likely to get any answers to these questions, but, if this is Carbon Canyon, it is a very unusual document of the area a century or more ago.