21 August 2016

Chino Hills State Park Astronomy Event Was Far Out!

Last weekend's "Meet the Night Sky" event, sponsored by the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association and held at the Rolling M Ranch in the heart of the park, was a fascinating peek into the mid-boggling wonders of the size and complexity of the universe.

Led by Jeff Schroeder, who conducted the same program last year, the evening featured his illustrated presentation that put the size of the universe and the distances between components of it in terms of relative scale that could be understood.

Jeff Schroeder gives a fascinating talk last Saturday night on the size, scale and scope of the universe to a large crowd in the amphitheater at the Rolling M Ranch in Chino Hills State Park.

The talk also emphasized that, despite the amazing work that has been done in space exploration in recent years, our understanding of our universe is very limited.  Still, what has been learned is amazing in terms of coming to terms with our infinitesimally small place in an ever-expanding universe.

Before the talk, while it was still light and while there was still a good deal of air turbulence from our planet's surface heat that affected the clarity of the viewing, Schroeder had his home-built telescope set up on top of his Volvo station wagon, so that guests could get a still-remarkable view of the surface of the moon, which happened to be full that evening.  Schroeder's way of expressing the magnification was that the smallest item viewed through the scope was something on the order of several (5, perhaps) miles across.

Before Jeff's talk, guests could look through the large telescope, which he built himself and which was mounted on his Volvo station wagon, and get a good view of the surface of the moon, despite air turbulence from the surface heat here on earth.  After his discussion and when it was dark, views of Saturn, its rings, and two of the moons were visible--an experience few get to have.
Then, after his presentation, when it quite dark out, especially given the ranch's location, he directed his scope at the plant Saturn, which could be seen with its rings, as well as two of the planet's moons to the lower left.  For those of us who have never had the opportunity to see something like this, it was definitely worth the long wait in line.

This event is another example of just how valuable Chino Hills State Park (which was earmarked at various times for an international airport and a freeway, much less housing) is for our local area and how great it is to see the interpretive association put on programs that educate and entertain.  It was really a fun evening.

20 August 2016

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #19163

Why not make it two?

On the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road between the Carriage Hills and Summit Ranch subdivisions on the Chino Hills side of the canyon, a west-bound vehicle strayed off the roadway and mowed down a second of the directional signs designed to assist with negotiating the turn.

So, now its companion, flattened recently by someone going the other direction (and who had to cross the opposing lane to do so), has some company.

There are still a couple of these left, though we'll see for how long.

At least the sign a little further eastbound had some "leg surgery" and is standing straight and tall again (for now).

15 August 2016

Fire Threat in Carbon Canyon

As profiled ten days ago in the Los Angeles Times (click here) and reemphasized by the latest massive blaze in the Clear Lake area of northern California, this has been a notable summer for wildfires in California.

To the date of the article, 5 August, 223,600 acres, or some 350 square miles, had burned in 4,000 separate incidents, taking out 300 houses and killing eight persons.

Much of the state is susceptible to wildfires, given the length, severity and reach of the unprecedented drought that has gripped California for several years running.

Some people might be lulled into a false sense of security because of the good rain and snow that fell on parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains last winter, but much of California received very little precipitation--this includes southern California and our own Carbon Canyon.

The Erskine fire near Lake Isabella in Kern County killed two people and blackened close to 50,000 acres.  The San Gabriel Complex fire in the mountains above Duarte and Monrovia burned over 4,000 acres.  The Soberanes fire in Monterey County scorched about 54,000 acres.  The Sand fire near Santa Clarita claimed almost 40,000 acres.

Then, there are the hundreds of fires that range from under 10,000 acres and lower--in one week, there were 300 separate incidents recorded throughout the state.

Now, southeast of Clear Lake, in an area already hit by three major fires in 2015 alone, the Clayton fire has destroyed 175 structures in 3,000 acres.  The fire doubled in size yesterday alone and is only 5% contained.  Read the latest on that blaze here.

It is telling that, even with all of this activity, the statistics are dwarfed by what happened in 2008, when, by 11 August, there had been around 1.2 million acres burned in wildfires.

This was before the Freeway Complex fire in mid-November raged through much of Carbon Canyon sending a lot of us on a three-night evacuation, during which Sleepy Hollow was a sudden wind shift away from being significantly engulfed.

Plus, since 2010, a staggering 66 million trees have been killed by bark beetle infestations, which are exacerbated by drought conditions and those trees become bone-dry fuels ready-made for wildfires.

But, back to 2016.  There's a long way to go this year.  The fall Santa Ana season awaits.  Our region had another winter of about 4 inches of rain as the drought continues.  This summer has had some hot spells--today registered 106 in Chino Hills at about 4 p.m.  Dry plant material is everywhere.

So, we have to be aware of what is possible here in Carbon Canyon during this last half of the year.  2008 is possible again.

Meanwhile, housing developments in these parched hills, which are most vulnerable to wildfires feeding on those dry fuels and driven by winds at upper elevations, are being built and proposed with the possibility of several hundred new structures added.

There's a reason why CalTrans has placed signs on the Brea side reading "Entering Hazardous Fire Area."

Why the department doesn't have those signs on the Chino Hills side is puzzling.

Why our local, regional and state planners continue to act as if conditions have not changed when they work with housing projects is mind-boggling.

Why we hear so much about the demand for housing as if we had all the water in the world, didn't have the worst smog in almost a decade, had plenty of funds to pay for the infrastructure needed to support the new housing, and so on, is truly mystifying.

Why a proper sense of context and perspective continues to elude leadership when it comes to to development (though intense lobbying, builder-friendly statutes, and an evident weakening of regulatory controls come to mind) is bewildering.

Maybe we'll get lucky and escape without another major fire in Carbon Canyon this year?

Addendum, 16 August, 1:15 p.m.:  Another wildfire, the Bluecut, reaching 1,000 acres in within one hour, has broken out near Cajon Pass at Devore.  6:15 p.m.  The Bluecut fire is now pushing towards Wrightwood and has consumed almost 7,000 acres. 9:15 p.m.  This fire has exploded to some 15,000 acres and there are 82,000 people evacuated in 11 hours.

10 August 2016

Stonefield Stonewalling Stopped Stone Cold (Sort Of)

There is a little bit of good news on the Carbon Canyon housing development front, actually.

As reported by Marianne Napoles in last Saturday's edition of the Chino Hills Champion, Ausmas Properties, developer of the approved 28-unit Stonefield development, slated for construction between Carbon Canyon Road at the summit near the Carriage Hills subdivision and Fairway Drive across from Western Hills Country Club, is seeking yet another two-year extension, following two others, the number allowed by state law.

Seven residents spoke at the most recent Planning Commission meeting to point out that traffic has worsened significantly on Carbon Canyon Road since Stonefield was approved by the city council in 2009.

The assistant city attorney stated, however, that the project's contribution to that traffic is minimal and was concurred in this by the city's development director--in pure number-crunching terms this is true, except that Stonefield was approved with a stipulation that the developer pay for "traffic improvements" consisting of signals at Carbon Canyon and Fairway.

As we've found out since signals were installed at Olinda Village, largely to assist students to get to a school that was then closed down and moved, this "traffic improvement" only slows down the bulk of commuter traffic on the state highway, while providing some relief to the few vehicles that need access to it.  This, in fact, is the flip side of the assistant city attorney's coin (and that of the development director)--of which she only acknowledges one side.

As one resident astutely put it, "It's like saying we have a big leak in the boat, but this other little leak won't hurt."  A very fair analogy, especially when those steering the boat look at all of the leaks, like Stonefield (28 units), the in-process Canyon Hills (76 units), the soon-to-come-to-a-decision Hidden Oaks (107 units), and the not-yet-dead Madrona (161 units), in isolation as if there is no cumulative effect!

An Ausmas representative claimed that these mandated improvements were a major issue for the developer, yet it seems like 7 years is plenty of time to deal with that problem.  In other words, Ausmas either prepares to build accordingly because it has the financial wherewithal to do so, or it sells the property.

Wait, Ausmas actually is selling the property!  The representative didn't bring this up until it was pointed out by observant residents and then the question was asked by chairperson Gary Larson, who was also quoted as stating, "I'm tired of extensions.  I'm tired of developers blaming the recession."  Frankly, it was a bit surprising to read Larson's observation given the ease with which developers have been able to build just about anywhere in the city (and elsewhere, for that matter.)

Commissioner Mike Stover added, "At some point we need a 'have to use by' date.  If we wait long enough, there'll be another recession."

But, the most pointed remarks came from commissioner Stephen Romero, who decried a lack of transparency by staff, who didn't provide information to back up their statements, and then observed, "as projects come on board, at what point do we say that Carbon Canyon is a real problem?"  He aired his view that the canyon is a "death trap" which is being worsened by more development. Romero followed by noting, "it's getting worse, not better, so I have a real concern."

It's worth bringing up that a traffic engineer hired by Madrona's owner, the State of Idaho, after providing all of the mind-numbing data on traffic, then claimed, to a very audible chorus of groans, snickers and laughter from the audience at a Brea city council meeting, that traffic would go down over time.

Beyond traffic, though, there is the matter of water supply and fire risk in a hazardous fire zone with few exits for a growing amount of traffic and number of homes in the canyon.

After a 3-1 vote to reduce the 3-year request to 1-year, it was stated in the article that the question might appear on the agenda of the city council meeting, which was yesterday, so there may be more on this soon.

09 August 2016

Hidden Oaks and Not-So-Hidden Traffic in Carbon Canyon

While heading eastbound on Carbon Canyon Road this morning at a little before 8, it was observed that one of the owners of the Hidden Oaks property, proposed for 107 houses south of the state highway and directly across from the in-progres 76 unit Hillcrest project (yes, that's 183 more houses for a population of almost 800 people that will access Carbon Canyon Road from one intersection) was out at the entrance talking to someone . . . and smiling.

More than likely, the property owner wasn't smiling at the westbound commuter traffic that wound its way, as this blogger continued east, all the way back to Chino Hills Parkway, with a few small breaks in between the continuous line.

More than likely, the property owner, who told this blogger at a community meeting that he and his fellow investors all planned to live in their development and who would, if this were true (a cynic might suggest it was a line to placate opponents of the project) have to deal first-hand with the mounting volume of traffic, was smiling at the thought of the profits he envisions if he can get approval for the project and then sell the property for the expected increase in value that would accrue.

More than likely, the property owner will not be around if the project was built (again, this is a cynic's conjecture) and the traffic continued to get worse, on top of the fire risk for a project largely built on ridge tops where wind gusts are stronger, on top of the uncertainty of future water supply for what will be the same general type of "luxury" embodied in "estate homes" on large lots.

More than likely, if the property owner realizes his ambitions and makes his money from speculation (says the said cynic) and goes smiling all the way to the bank (or wherever the dollars flow), those of us still living in Carbon Canyon and dealing with the consequences won't be smiling.

08 August 2016

Hillcrest Housing Development in Carbon Canyon Coming Soon

It began life as a property that, in the mid-1980s, was granted a "negative declaration," meaning that it was not subject to an environmental impact report because it was considered "blighted" stemming from its days as part of the Camp Kinder Ring and subsequent recreational uses.

This also meant that, even though in 1986 conditions concerning Carbon Canyon's environment were at one level, the construction of Hillcrest, a 76-home community, in the Chino Hills portion of the canyon, was allowed to take place a full three decades later without any consideration for changing circumstances.

No consideration for much worse traffic (and it has considerably worsened just in the last few years), no consideration for changes in water supply, no consideration for the fire risk that led CalTrans on the Orange County side to declare Carbon Canyon a "hazardous fire area", no consideration for the continuing destruction of native oak woodland habitat.

Most likely, even if an environmental impact report had been done, issuing "statements of overriding consideration" that would bypass whatever significant, unavoidable impacts would be identified would have been a matter of course.

In any case, Woodbridge Pacific is nearing completion of the model homes for Hillcrest and has begun publicizing the project via email and a web page.  For example, the second email received by this blogger proclaims that the project "honors nature" by having "estate-sized residences individually sculpted into the tranquil canyon locale."

There are professionals who are paid a lot of money to write copy like that.  "Sculpted" connotes an artistic rendering of nature that has been honored by ripping out substantial portions of the landscape--maybe akin to destroying the village in order to save it.  Other well-chosen words stand out, such as "luxury," "exclusive," "elevated," and others.

What's missing and will always be absent from the high gloss and sheen of the promotional materials will be, for example, the "elevated" levels of traffic and the "elevated" risk of fire due to historic drought.  And, there will be no mention of the "elevated" use of water that homes from about 3,500 to 5,300 square feet on large lots will mean for a parched region that is facing greater uncertainty in water supply as that unparalleled drought continues.

Speaking of elevated, prices for Hillcrest are "anticipated from the $1,100,000s."  But, they might elevate even higher by the time sales start in upcoming months.  Then, we'll see where the economy goes after the elections.

At any rate, check out the early promotion on the Hillcrest web page here.

24 July 2016

Stone's Smokehouse Closed!

Stone's Smokehouse, the restaurant that operated in the former Sol de Mexico space in the Olinda Village shopping center in Carbon Canyon for only a year, has closed its doors.

According to a statement on Next Door Sleepy Hollow, the reason given by the owner of the restaurant was that the center's owner wanted $100,000 for fire sprinkler upgrades required by the City of Brea.

In addition, the restauranteur wanted to sell the business, but could not, evidently, get approval from the building's owner to apply the lease to any sale.

This blogger's experience at Stone's consisted of two visits for the all-you-can-eat fish and chips on Fridays and the food was decent enough.  Others suggested that the food was good, but the prices a bit on the high side, while there were some who raved about the place.

In any case, the fifty-two year old center is continuing to look the worse for wear and only has a few tenants (a dry cleaner/scrapbooking place, the electronic testing facility, and Carbon Creek Realty), so who knows what the fate of the complex will be, especially if the report of fire sprinkler upgrades are true.