08 August 2008

Hills for Everyone: Support Local Grassroots Activism

Over decades, developers have had plenty of opportunities to buy open land, build their projects, make very healthy profits and then go back for more. Whenever opposition arises because of environmental concerns, traffic issues, school enrollment impacts, water availability questions, and so on, the hue and cry from developers and their supporters is "private property rights must be protected." Well, to a degree, that is true (although it's not unlike the argument that tax cuts skewed disproportionately to the upper class is necessary because it was lead directly to job creation and investment--well, we saw where that argument has led us.) Sure, we don't need government unfairly seizing private property by eminent domain, unless the project has a proven public need and if the property owner is given fair market value for their land. Moreover, if a reasonable project can be built without major environmental impacts (not to mention a financial burden, long term, on the city or neighborhood) and has real, demonstrable benefit, so be it.

On the other hand, to allow developers to have unrestricted access to building projects and especially when local governments pave the way by overriding unavoidble significant adverse (count 'em, three, that's three adjectives) environmental impacts, is not protecting the rights of everyone else. In the case of Canyon Crest, the 165-home project proposed for the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon it is not only casting away these legitimate concerns, but downright overriding the wishes of the citizens of Brea, the very people to whom the planning commission, city staff, and the city council are supposed to serve.

I've hashed over this before and there's no need to be (slightly) overly repititious, so I'll turn my attention to making a pitch for Hills for Everyone, a true grassroots organization that has done remarkable work in preserving open space and trying to mitigate the worst excesses of overdevelopment in our area. Their biggest victory is, undoubtedly, preserving 12,000 acres of land, much of it intended for an airport (yes, an airport), in the Chino Hills. Chino Hills State Park is a valuable area of open space, passive recreation, and habitat preservation amidst a veritable sea of tract houses and other development.

Given just how impacted our area has been (look at our pollution, our horrific traffic, our water supply issues, overcrowded schools, etc.) the relative small area of the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor, covering areas from Whittier on the west to Corona on the east with links to additional areas such as the Cleveland National Forest, Irvine Ranch National Natural Landmark, and the various projects of the Emerald Necklace along the San Gabriel River are investments in the future. Canyon Crest is, however, only one of several threats to the laudable goal of preserving the Corridor.

In their new "Special Report," Hills for Everyone reasonable, rationally, cogently, and, yet, pointedly provides examples of where citizen activism has prevailed over the well-funded and well-connected network of developers, home builders and trade groups, and, yes, politicians who may actually have received some significant donations from the above.

In Whittier, La Habra Heights, Chino Hills, Yorba Linda, and Brea, there have been significant victories achieved in the face of threats. In addition, however, to Canyon Crest, there is, most notably, the Shell-Aera plan for 3,600 (can I repeat that? 3,600) units over 3,000 acres in unincorporated Los Angeles and Orange counties, adjoining La Habra, La Habra Heights, Rowland Heights, Diamond Bar, and Brea. This massive project was proposed in 2003 and, though an EIR was slated for almost a year ago, it is still unfinished. Because Los Angeles County ruled that the project was not compliant with its environmental standards, Shell-Aera (professing to be community-minded) then sought to wave that away by seeking annexation to Diamond Bar. Diamond Bar is, by the way, a city that has had a little problem with finances because it is almost exclusively residential, has little commercial/retail tax revenue, and, yet, wants to pile on a few thousand more residences. The city's remarkable success, however, as a base for city politicians to move into state and national positions of a highly conservative and "business friendly" nature (Gary Miller and Robert Huff, for example, though we should leave Jay Kim out of it, shouldn't we?) probably means that their embrace of a pre-annexation and pre-development agreement signals their complete disinterest in a balance of development and preservation. How much open space is there is Diamond Bar, anyway?

There was a recent development, in that Attorney General Jerry Brown (I know, I know) recently let Diamond Bar know that there will be an expectation that, should Shell-Aera get their way, the project must comply with AB32, a bill to reduce greenhouse gases contributory to global climate change (which may well be unpopular in DB). The hard, cold reality is that, as bad as Canyon Crest is and as important as it is to try and stop it, Shell-Aera looms like a colossus over anything else in this area.

Folks, give Hills for Everyone a few minutes of your time @ HillsForEveryone.org and, if you are stirred by what they have to say, bookmark the site, send them a few bucks, and give some of your time and effort to fighting these projects that are archaic, outdated, unsustainable, and just plain bad for our overdeveloped region. Enough is enough! To find a real grassroots organization at the local level that works positively, constructively, and foresightedly (is that a word?) to preserve, rather than alter (or, perhaps, destroy), this is it for this area. They deserve the support of anyone who truly cares about the balance (oh, that word again) that we need to maintain, especially as global climate change renders the old paradigm increasingly obsolete and we need to develop new strategies for adapting to the new realities.

That's the kind of development we should be fighting for!


Canyon Native said...

Thanks for your support of Hills for Everyone. Indeed, this is a worthy grass-roots organization. With help from people like you, there could be sufficient funds to battle fairly against the well-funded developers. Keep up the work and the good writing about Carbon Canyon.

Canyon Native

Paul said...

Thanks "Canyon Native,"
There are just so few examples of strong grass roots organizations around here that do the kind of environmental preservation/conservation work that "Hills for Everyone" does. They need our support and let's hope that more of that will be coming to counter Canyon Crest, Shell/Aera and others.