30 September 2008

Canyon Crest Appeal, Part II

A week from fifteen minutes from now -- Tuesday, 7 October at 7 p.m. -- the Brea City Council will hold part two of its public hearing on the appeal of the Planning Commission's approval of the Canyon Crest housing project, composed of 165 luxury homes on the north side of Carbon Canyon, stretching from Olinda to the county line.

At the 16 September meeting, two weeks back, the appellants (Brea residents) laid out their case, followed by the respondent (developer Shopoff Group.) This meeting is scheduled to hear public comment, which is the opportunity for anyone to lay out their views in a five-minute timeframe.

As I stated previous to the last meeting, this is it, the last chance for interested parties to speak their mind (hopefully, respectfully, rationally, and responsibly) before the council either approves or denies the appeal. This ill-conceived project will transform this canyon forever and turn a necessary buffer against the massive sprawl that has become the Los Angeles megalopolis (doesn't that sound like a creature from a 1960s Japanese monster movie, like Godzilla & Rodan vs. Megalopolis?) into another sacrifice of open space and potential parkland to feed the twin-headed beast of private property rights and rampant real estate development.

The only hope here is for a significant opposition to state clearly, unequivocally and politely that this project is not wanted. After all, there's still Shell/Aera to battle on the "western front" of Brea next to Diamond Bar, where a massive project many times larger than Canyon Crest is proposed and there are smaller projects either approved or pending on the Chino Hills side. Further growth in the Inland Empire will also put a strain on the Canyon, although the current economic meltdown will obviously significantly delay most or all of these projects.
So, hopefully there'll be a significant turnout and a clear mandate of the citizenry is made abundantly clear to the council. If you care at all about this project, take a few hours out of your busy life and attend the meeting or even speak: next Tuesday, 7 October @ 7 p.m. in the Brea City Council chambers at City Hall, corner of Birch and Randolph, adjacent to the Brea Mall and Embassy Suites Hotel.

Update on Carbon Canyon Road Closure

The 25 September crash that caused the closure of Carbon Canyon Road made a brief appearance in the pages of the Chino Hills Champion last Saturday, as follows:

Two people were injured in a head-on crash on Carbon Canyon Road Thursday night, prompting a 90-minute closure of the road . . .
The crash occurred at 6:16 p.m. near Rosemary Lane [this is intersection closest to the Orange County line]. One driver suffered broken legs and back pain and was flown to Loma Linda University Medical Center, fire officials said.

The second driver suffered cuts and was treated at Pomona Valley Medical Center.Sheriff's deputies are investigating the crash.

The next day I was talking to my father-in-law, who lives in Olinda Village and had to stop at a Brea police checkpoint turning cars around that were trying to get through to the Inland Empire. He told me that the officer there said that a drunk driver caused the accident. Now, this is hearsay, but it is something to remember if we hear anything more about the investigation of the accident.

By the way, when's the last time a sobriety checkpoint was conducted on Carbon Canyon Road in either Brea or Chino Hills? When's the last time there was a speed trap set at any time other than the specific times followed by the Chino Hills Sheriff's Department? When does the Brea P. D. set up traps?
Remember: the first priority of government and law enforcement is the protection of life and property. Given that the crime rates in both Brea and Chino Hills are low, it stands to reason that some extra attention given to the Canyon would be more than justified. I suppose when an innocent life is taken, that's when something will be done (kind of like when we don't address an economic crisis until the disaster has struck, rather than apply preventive measures), which means being reactive rather than proactive. I've tried sending e-mails, making calls, etc, but I've been pretty bluntly told that public group pressure is likely the only other way any attention will be paid by the people we pay to govern us. So, we'll see.

28 September 2008

Still Another Carbon Canyon Road Closure

Last Thursday, the 25th, a car accident occurred on Carbon Canyon Road in Sleepy Hollow near the Rosemary Lane intersection closest to the Orange County line that caused a complete closure of the highway for a couple of hours. This was almost the same location of the early July collision in which power lines were knocked down and the road shut down for fifteen hours. In my 4 1/2 years living in the community, I would say this has been at least the sixth accident in or near this intersection that I know of.

My conclusion, held for about 4 1/4 of those years? There's a problem! Yet, as I've stated before, there seems to be little recognition among our city fathers that such a problem does exist. Otherwise, there would be more enforcement in this neighborhood and at other points along the road. In the time I've lived in the Canyon, the level of enforcement has remained, so far as I can tell, exactly the same. This fact alone means that Chino Hills and Sheriff's Department officials believe that there is nothing out of the ordinary.

So, it was with some interest that, while I was up at Idyllwild over the weekend, I saw an article in their local paper, the Idyllwild Town Crier, concerning a motorcycle collision on the 19th in which a 20-year old Army soldier, on leave from Iraq, was riding with three fellow soldiers on State Highway 243 at the entrance to Idyllwild city limits when he sped through a 180-degree turn and crashed into another vehicle, which then run him over. His cycle continued to travel into a third car. Amazingly, the drivers of the other two cars were not injured. Incredibly, after one lane of the two-lane highway was opened over an hour later, the first car to go through was passed by a pack of six cyclists, which is against the law, because there is no passing in that zone. The driver of the car was quoted as saying, "[How can they] see one of their own dead and still drive like that?"

Two days before, just a short distance south on Highway 243, a car drifted over to the opposing lane and caused a collision in which three persons were injured. A witness said, "she didn't take the cirve right and just went into the other lane."

Now, Highway 243 is a different road with tighter curves and steeper grades and is, therefore, a more appetizing lure for drivers wanting that thrill of roaring through the mountain road to get that testosterone (yes, it is almost always a male, isn't it?) roaring. The connection to our little Highway 142 is, however, fundamentally the same. Drivers of souped-up cars, tricked-out trucks and revved-up motorcycles, solo or in packs, are getting their kicks using a public highway as their private proving grounds.

In readers' letters to the Town Crier I was surprised to see the suggestions of local residents as to how to combat the obvious growth in traffic accidents on their highway. One man suggested that there was a need for "frequent signs warning motorcyclists of the dangers of mountain roads." Isn't that something like slapping more warning labels on products that inherently are dangerous to ingest or putting a sign on a railroad track that says, "Warning! Trains are known to use these railroad tracks and may injure or kill you if you ignore the signals and gates and try to cross anyway because they're a lot heavier than you are and usually are driving much faster at this point"?

Here was a suggestion I found really stunning, considering the terrain up there (and this would definitely apply to a locale like Sleepy Hollow): "Widen the road . . . and straighten out the road . . . put stop signs on both sides of the road at the curve/corner . . . put up a sign indicating a very dangerous curve . . . put up a sign noting how many collisions/fatalities have been on that curve . . . put up a sign indicating that motorists/motorcyclists must slow down to 25/30 mph at the curve." First of all, the cost of widening and straightening mountain or hill roads would be either impossible or prohibitive in most cases, even if property owners were willing to sell their land to do it, especially these days with eternally tight budgets. Second, putting stop signs (or signals) at curves is an engineering impossibility in most cases. Finally, four signs? This reminds me of a point going northbound on Peyton Drive approaching Chino Hills Parkway, where there are three (yes, three) signs in succession warning that the right turn has to turn right. Why three signs when one should do? Could be it be because a sign is cheaper than actually having to have a patrol officer out there enforcing the ordinance? The fact is that signs can be ignored, but patrols and speed traps cannot be. One night I sat for a full twenty minutes and watched three patrol cars (why three cars when one should do?!) sit with their lights on in the parking lot of the Sleepy Hollow Community Center one Sunday night. Guess what? People slowed down, all of them. Not a one roared through as so many drivers are wont to do when they know that there is almost never any police presence in the Canyon, except for regular times on weekday mornings at about 9:30 a.m. and afternoons about 4 p.m., or so I've been told.

There was another interesting suggestion: "I think there should be a ban on the crotch-rocket motorcycles, as it does seem that there can't be a weekend that passes without at least one crotch rocket cutting off my son and me . . . or an actual crash involving one of these idiots on one of these bikes. It does appear that it could be narrowed down to the crotch rockets, as I have never had any problems with the Harley cruisers. Does anyone plan to do something about these deathly hazards." Well, this sentiment is certainly understandable, but, obviously, impossible to consider. If this writer wants to ban a certain type of motorcycle, he'd have to also support a ban on certain types of cars that behave in the same way.

I do have to say, though, that, while it is probably very true that it's the "crotch rocket" that races more often through the Canyon, there are hogs and cruisers that drive fast and pass unsafely, too. And, I will repeat what I've said in my other similar posts on this general topic: MOST CYCLISTS AND DRIVERS TRAVEL THROUGH THE CANYON SAFELY. It's the minority who blatantly treat it as their own obstacle course, regardless of other drivers on the road, those waiting to turn onto it, and those who live next to or near it.

Finally, the editor of the Idyllwild paper, Becky Clark, offered her own letter, titled "Dear Motorcyclist . . ." and I'd like to quote fairly extensively from it, because I think it is a very insightful and well-written piece.

It's becoming harder to hear about your fellow riders using our highways as speedways and dying. . . . Please, for your sake and the sake of innocent victims forever changed by your sport, don't use our mountain roads as racetracks . . . We care about you, motorcyclist, but more so, we care about who your racing friends don't care about: our lives, or families and our friends . . . Treating our highways as a racetrack is a selfish sport. If you die, your family and friends suffer immensely, but they view this as an isolated event. We, on the other hand, are noticing increased motorcycle crashes, and growing more concerned about your threat to our community with your recklessness. My friend's teen-ager is learning to drive on these mountain highways. When a group of your Ninja motorcycle friends sped past her on a double-yellow line this summer, she was startled and drove her vehicle off the road, crashing into a guard rail. Your friends never looked back. Maybe you, motorcyclist, are not like that. Maybe you are a responsible rider. Then maybe you know how to stop the dangerous, increasingly popular belief that our mountain roads are speedways.

The reality is: we could take that statement, change the recipient to "thrill-seeking motorist" to account for drivers of cars and trucks, amend "mountain highways" to simply "highways," print it the Chino Hills Champion, and it would sound exactly as if it applies to our local highway, Carbon Canyon Road, State Highway 142. Ms. Clark captures the fundamentals of the issue perfectly.
Private misappropriation of public highways for thrill-seeking is dangerous for everyone. Unfortunately, private citizens (as we see in the latest economic disaster) are prone to engaging in selfish, reckless, illegal behavior for all kinds of reasons. The onus, then, falls squarely upon the shoulders of government which, exists, first and foremost, for the protection of life and property and, incidentally, to check the greed, selfishness, ignorance and stupidity of its constituents. There's a fundamental duty being ignored here and playing roulette with the lives and property of other drivers and canyon residents is not a game local government can afford to play.

Roadside Memorials: An Addendum

I was surfing the web a few moments ago, looking for anything new about Carbon Canyon and came across a really interesting and touching memorial page for Barry Mir, a motorcyclist who was killed in a crash at Carbon Canyon Road and Old Carbon Canyon Road in Chino Hills in May 2007. A roadside memorial was put up by the family and remains there today (something I covered in an early August post about the two remaining roadside memorials on Carbon Canyon Road), but the web memorial has a stronger, more affecting impact as family and friends paid tribute to a young man who was only 21. I just felt like it would be a good thing for others to see, if for no other reason than to remind us that his fate could be that of many others on a road like Carbon Canyon Road. I'm going to follow this post shortly with a related one based on a recent incident on another state highway: Highway 243 in Idyllwild.

Anyway, here's the link for the Barry Mir memorial site: http://barrymir.memory-of.com/

24 September 2008

Early History of the Olinda Oil Field

Just as the Los Angeles region oil industry began to take off, a book called Petroleum in California: A Concise and Reliable History of the Oil Industry of the State was compiled and published in 1900 by Lionel Redpath. In his chapter on Orange County, Redpath likely became one of the first chroniclers of the new Olinda field. At the time, Redpath noted "the oil fields of Orange county are all located in what is known as the Fullerton district, by which more or less comprehensive name is meant the range of hills lying between the mouth of Brea canyon and the mouth of Soquel canyon, together with the territory lying farther east." In other words, Olinda (which was not yet known by that name) was the only operating oil field in Orange County at the turn of the twentieth century. The two images above come from the Redpath book, the one at left captioned "VIEW IN FULLERTON FIELD. SHOWING WELLS OF COLUMBIA AND FULLERTON OIL COMPANIES" and the one at right, "VIEW IN FULLERTON FIELD SHOWING WELLS OF SANTA FE, GRAHAM, LOFTUS AND FULLERTON COMPANIES."

In recent years, the author continued, "in the territory lying at the mouth of Soquel canyon, where are located a number of different companies, all of which are good producers, at least three valuable oil strikes have been found." While Santa Fe, Graham-Loftus and Fullerton Consolidated had made some discoveries at the west end of the field, 35 degree gravity oil, of a superior quality, had been found by Fullerton Oil and Columbia "a short distance further east."

The origins of the Olinda field come with intense interest in the region after the Puente Oil Company hit some successful pools of crude on the north slopes of the Puente Hills in present-day Rowland Heights during the 1880s. In 1892, the first successful producing wells in the city of Los Angeles were brought in by the duo of Charles Canfield and Edward S. Doheny. The latter used his equity from profits in the Los Angeles City field, just west of downtown (near the intersection of the 110 and 101 freeways) to try his luck in north Orange County. According to Redpath, Doheny's drilling was a mile west of the mouth of Soquel Canyon "in the winter of 1896 and 1897." Continuing, Redpath noted that:

Having found oil, he sold his lease on several hundred acres of land to the Santa Fe Railway Company, retaining for himself a share of the net proceeds. The first venture was rapidly followed by the Graham-Loftus, the Columbia, Fullerton Consolidated, Fullerton Oil, and Olinda companies, in the order named.

By the end of the decade, Brea Canyon was explored and it was written that Union Oil Company obtained almost all of the land between the Santa Fe field obtained from Doheny in what became Olinda and Brea Canyon. Moreover, before Union even began drilling, it was offered $1 million, a huge sum in 1900, for the property. Eventually, Union became the largest producer in the Brea-Olinda area--it seems like ancient history now that the very Modernist style office building for the company stood at the northeast corner of the intersection of Imperial Highway and Valencia Avenue. The only visible reminder of that company today is the Union Shopping Center along Imperial west of Kraemer.

There was a problem, though, for oil companies drilling in Olinda in 1900, before electricity was used to power the drills. Instead, boilers using water were relied upon and the quality of the water found in the field was insufficient. It took a contract with Anaheim Union Water Company, which operated further south to bring water via a pumping plant two miles from the AUWC main irrigation canal to a 15,000-barrel reservoir at the top of the hills, allowing gravity to bring the water to the oil drilling sites.

It is interesting to note that the average well 108 years ago went down 800 to 1200 feet in depth, a pittance compared to today's very deep drillers. The cost of each well was estimated at $3-6,000. Wages for workers averaged $1.75 per day for basic laborers to the more princely sum of $5.00 per day for drillers. In 1900, there were about 250 workers in the Olinda and Brea Canyon sites, with about a third having families living with them in tents and cottages. These numbers would grow significantly in later years as field exploration and production expanded. Redpath noted that "at the mouth of Soquel canyon, the Graham-Loftus and Santa Fe wells are on the north dip [end] and the Fullerton Consolidated wells are on the south dip." Fullerton Oil, Columbia and Olinda explorations were also on the north dip but in a different "strike"; that is, following oil formations further west than the other three companies. Basically, this meant that the formations in the areas were in an "anticline" in which the pattern is a convex one and dips on either side of the high end. Pools of oil would gather in these dips and be the best spot for drilling and extraction. Further east within Soquel Canyon, the Soquel Canyon Oil Company was sinking its first well, at the time of writing.

Redpath explained that, of the several companies working the Olinda area in 1900, the Columbia Oil Producing Company was the most successful in terms of heavy production and gravity quality. At the time, the company held 280 acres in ownership and 620 in lease and there were four producing wells of 200 to 300 barrels per day, a high output at the time, but paling in comparison to later yields in deeper wells. The price per barrel in 1900? $1.80! To show just how profitable the industry can be, production costs were estimated to be from 35 to 50 cents per barrel. It is worth noting that among the officers in the company was Harry Chandler, son-in-law of powerful Los Angeles Times publisher, Harrison Gray Otis, and who would later assume that position and become a major player in Los Angeles real estate, as well as publishing. As for Santa Fe, it was the first to develop the Olinda field and had sixteen producing wells in 1900. Soon after came Graham-Loftus, which had eight producing and two new wells and also had the distinction of the largest gusher to date. Its Well #2, brought into production in December 1899, produced 700 barrels a day from a 1,000-foot deep well. Graham-Loftus was purely in the extracting side, selling the crude to Union Oil Company for refining with the product conveyed by pipe lines over to storage tanks in Brea Canyon before shipment to the refinery. Fullerton Consolidated had two wells in production and two more in process. Fullerton Oil also had two wells producing about 100 barrels per day and planned to drill ten more wells soon. The total production of the Olinda field was then 26,000 barrels per month with Santa Fe bringing in 7,000; Columbia, 6,000; Graham-Loftus, 4,000; Fullerton Consolidated, 3,000; and Fullerton Oil, 2,000.

There was a new player being highly touted by Redpath: the Carbon Canyon Oil Company, which "among the many companies operating in the Fullerton field, none has started in a more substantial, business-like manner, and with more flattering prospects." The company had 160 acres in Carbon and Soquel canyons close to today's Olinda Village. Redpath wrote that "the two canyons, traversing this tract, expose some of the finest formations of shale and sand rock that are to be seen anywhere on the Coast, and if indications are to be trusted, the company will strike a marvelously rich flow." It was also noted that "two wagon roads" crossed the property. The company was also exploring on holdings in the present east Yorba Linda area; in Piru near today's Santa Clarita; and in Whittier. Capitalized at a half million dollars, the Carbon Canyon Company had W. F. West as President; E. G. Judson as 1st Vice-President; J. R. Greer as 2nd Vice-President; C. E. Price as Secretary and General Manager; and directors F. W. Gregg, G. M. Hawley and J. R. Westbrook. Another new joint venture was one between the Fullerton Crude Oil Company and the Cortes Crude Oil Company, each on adjacent 80-acre tracts but drilling the first well together.

Also noteworthy was the fact that the Santa Fe Railroad had already built a spur track from the south to bring crude into tank cars for quicker shipment to refineries elsewhere. This spur track existed for many years and will be the subject of a later post on this blog.

Well, Redpath's Petroleum in California was a very early look at what later became known as the Olinda oil field and there will be occasional posts on future documentation of the first Orange County oil field.

22 September 2008

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #6

Now, here's a classic later 1960s color postcard of the interior of the restaurant at La Vida Mineral Springs.

Look at the all of those period elements: the wood paneling on the booth in the foreground, which looks to have had the quilted vinyl seating; the faux brick wall in the back; the "repro" gas lamp ceiling light fixtures; the thin formica tables and matching dark wood with vinyl trimmed chairs; and much more.

Off to the right is what appears to be the bar with a jukebox in front of it and there's an upright piano next to the window. Best of all, though, has got to be the bright red carpeting, which is nicely coordinated with the light fixtures and the napkins on the neatly set table.

Dated as it might be by our sophisticated standards and taste, I have to say that the restaurant looks well maintained and would appeal to those into the retro scene. This postally unused card was made by Amescolor Publisher in Escondido, the same company that made the color exterior in my first posting of canyon-related historical artifacts back in early July.

This one, though, is slightly different in the design on the reverse, providing, for one thing, a five-digit zip code, which the other did not. This seems to indicate a later date. The font is also different, as is the stamp box. On the reverse is the printed text: "Colorful dining room and Cocktail Lounge / at LA VIDA MINERAL SPRINGS / CARBON CANYON / BREA, CALIFORNIA." Colorful it certainly was!

This item is 2008.6.1.1 of the Carbon Canyon Collection.

17 September 2008

Neighborhoods of Carbon Canyon, Part IV

As best as I can determine, Western Hills Oaks, which is a neighborhood emanating from Valley Springs Road south of Carbon Canyon, directly across from Western Hills Golf Course, was subdivided about 1970. The earliest dates I can find for homes in that subdivision date to 1971 and there are Los Angeles Times articles mentioning a "Carbon Canyon Hills" project late that year. Obviously, if anyone has any information about the origins of the community, I'd be happy to hear about it.

At any rate, this is a community of homes that run up Valley Springs and several tributary streets from Carbon Canyon Road to the first ridgeline of hills. Unlike Sleepy Hollow and Mountain View Estates, the 1920s-era subdivisions nearby to the west and on the same southern side of the canyon, this one has wide streets, although many of them, or many parts of them, are steep. Lots are also much larger, with a quarter of an acre appearing to be about the smallest and then sizes ranging to a couple of acres or more, in a few cases. The homes run from about 2,000 square feet on up with the earlier homes tending to be smaller and the newer ones much larger (following trends, naturally--did you know the average home square footage has about doubled since the early 1970s? I think the average then was 1,200 or something like that and now it's about 2,400, somewhere in that general range.) Being a steep hilly area, quite a number of homes are set back long distances from the road and there are many with excellent views.

The larger floorplans, bigger lots, wider streets, and, once you get up a few homes from Carbon Canyon Road, the sense of quiet and privacy make Western Hills Oaks a very desirable neighborhood, not, to me, unlike Olinda Village on the Brea side. During the height of what must now be called a bubble (as opposed to a boom) in the real estate market a couple or three years ago, homes here could not really be had for less than $700,000 or so. This has certainly changed and will probably drop significantly more as subprime foreclosures make way for adjustable rate reset foreclosures in upcoming months and years, but Western Hills Oaks has a lot of appeal for people wanting to enjoy a modicum of the rustic canyon lifestyle, but with many of the amenities of a tract-like subdivision. The difference here is that there are many custom homes and definitely not like later tracts in which there are three, four, or maybe five floorplans and a general sameness to the overall appearance. In Western Hills Oaks, as with its predecessors, a diversity of architecture as well as lot layouts and, therefore, landscaping look, predominates.

The only caveat I know of is that there has been some hillside slippage, although, admittedly, my knowledge of this comes from a house at the very top of the tract in which, I was told, the foundation had essentially cracked in two. Back in early 2004, when this home was for sale, it was for a song! Perhaps the foundation problems have been rectified.

There is one other item of note: Valley Springs Road is an emergency-only access point for Carbon Canyon Road closures, meaning that, in the event the road is inaccessible at points east (and north) of Western Hills Oaks, vehicles may be directed through a gate at the ridge above the tract and into the newly-developed exclusive community of Vellano to the south. This was a recent development as part of a new plan to provide for emergency mitigation on the Chino Hills side of the canyon.

All in all, Western Hills Oaks is a well-kept, desirable community of homes that, price-wise, is more or less in the middle range between the lower end Sleepy Hollow and Mountain View Estates and the higher end of Oak Tree Estates and Oak Tree Downs, with it being somewhat more expensive than Summit Ranch and less so than Carriage Hills.

16 September 2008

Canyon Crest Public Hearing, Part I

Well, most of tonight's Brea City Council was dedicated to the public hearing of the appeal by citizens against the Canyon Crest housing project proposal, passed in June by the city's Planning Commission by a narrow 3-2 margin.

The appellants included several speakers, all of whom did an excellent job of explaining their views on various issues, with the exception of one who spoke about the use of Olinda Drive in Olinda Village as a construction access and future permanent resident access road, even though those issues had been mitigated by city staff discussions with the developer long ago.

In all fairness, the representative for The Shopoff Group ably presented the applicant's side in terms of presentation style and staying "on message." Which is not to say that his view guarantees that the applicant prevailed, because, in truth, this is not a question of one or the other side having the facts supporting them.

This is not fundamentally an objective process, despite the general plan, Carbon Canyon Specific Plan, Hillside Management Ordinance, California Environmental Quality Act provisions, mountains of geotechnical reports, glossy portfolios, or PowerPoint presentations filled with charts, statistics and pictures of little kids. It is a subjective matter based on the use of data that can be interpreted however suits the argument presented.

At base, what this comes down to is: does the City Council believe that the merits of the project, abetted by the staff's recommendation (and the Planning Commission's divided assent) via statements of overriding consideration, trump the significant, unavoidable, adverse impacts from the Final Environmental Impact Report AND the will of the majority of Brea residents, as represented by those citizens who have participated in this near decade-long project?

The council can either uphold the appeal, citing any one or more of the three impacts, as well as drawing on the overwhelming support for the appeal by the constituents or deny it on the basis of these benefits, which include money for affordable housing, a new fire truck, money for schools, an offering of "executive" housing opportunities, and other "incentives" that add up to nearly $10 million. From the perspective of the council's decision-making process, there is no "right" or "wrong" here, it is a matter of deciding what matters to them most: the will of the residents or the benefits that they believe will accrue to the city.

As matters stand now, actual public comment has been continued until the next meeting, which is Tuesday, October 7 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. I had prepared my comments in advance, which I had not done at the Planning Commission meeting in April, but am now going to rework them based on what I heard tonight. It will also be very interesting to see how many of the speakers at that meeting will be for and how many against the project. So, if any of you out there are interested in this topic, mark down October 7 at 7:00 p.m. in your calendars or Palm Pilot or Blackberry and be part of the process. You can't be represented if your elected officials don't know where you stand, one way or the other.

I do have one other thing to say, though. It is an unfortunate reality that, in our system of government, development is almost completely under the domain of municipal or county (in unincorporated communities) governments unless the effects are of such magnitude that it runs into the opposition of such larger entities as the AQMD, CalTrans, State Fish and Game, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. Even then, these agencies can strongly recommend a course of action, but it is usually that local government that has the prerogative.

The reason this is a concern is because, especially in crowded urban environments such as ours, the effects and impacts are not purely local. Pollution from grading, for example, will not stay solely within the borders of Brea. Traffic impacts will affect a wide variety of people from many cities and towns. The loss of oak and walnut woodlands is a phenomenon affecting our entire region. Concerns over water (notably, the city has asked for a 10% voluntary reduction in water while staff has asserted in the Canyon Crest documentation that there is more than enough water available for the project) are actually concerning all of western America.

Yet, local governments are not obligated to take in the bigger picture. They have to observe their own laws, state and federal statutes and codes, and the like. But, if Chino Hills is planning on building 100 or more homes in Carbon Canyon, that has nothing to do, administratively, with Brea's plans for development. But, it should! When the developer's representative states that the project will only add 5% to the traffic on Carbon Canyon Road, it seems an insignificant number. Except that the road is already well beyond capacity for its intended use (and has an "F" rating for traffic crowding.) If our schools were overcrowed and new ones could not be built, would we say it's OK to add another 5% to the student body populations because, AFTER ALL, it's only a small percentage?

The lack of regional planning has resulted in overbuilding, crowded schools, overburdened freeways and streets, polluted air and water, and many other issues and, because of how our system is set up, THERE'S VERY LITTLE THAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT.

Again, however, the council does have a clear choice: it can uphold the appeal and support the mandate of its residents or it can override not only the significant unavoidable adverse impacts but the wishes of its constituency and deny the appeal and award victory to the applicant. So, now it moves on to October 7 and there is still every reason for opponents of this project to show up and register views. I cannot imagine there will, however, be many project supporters there, but who knows?

15 September 2008

Canyon Crest Appeal Hearing: 16 September @ 7 p.m.

I had hoped to get this post out sooner, in case there was anyone who might stumble upon it and be stirred to action, but, fortunately, there are a lot of people out there trying to get the word out. But, here goes . . .

The Brea City Council will hold its first appeal hearing tomorrow night, Tuesday, 16 September @ 7 p.m. on the 165-unit Canyon Crest housing project, proposed for a huge swath of the north end of Carbon Canyon.

It is essential that anyone who cares at all about maintaining the fragile balance in the Canyon come out and participate in this democratic exercise. If you are for the project, by all means go and show your support AND SAY WHY. And, if you are against the proposal, do the same. I suspect the VAST majority of those who will appear will be vigorously against Canyon Crest and, hopefully, have a much greater presence than the overwhelming representation of participants at the April planning commission meeting.

I won't go through all of the reasons why this project is wrong: go to http://www.stopcanyoncrest.org/ or visit Hills for Everyone at their website at http://www.hillsforeveryone.org/. Moreover, take the time to look at the data posted by the city at its website: http://www.cityofbrea.net/

Finally, if you're planning on speaking, whatever side of the issue you're on, please do so in a forthright, but respectful manner, showing consideration for all parties, those on the other side in the audience, members of the council, staff and other city representatives and for the developer and his staff, as well. Keeping cool, calm, collected and focused is the best way to effectively and efficiently get a message across. And, for those of us opposed to this project, this is the time to make our impact felt in just that way.

REMEMBER: tomorrow @ 7 p.m. at City Hall and the council chambers!

13 September 2008

1925 Los Angeles Times Article on Carbon Canyon Road

Here's another Los Angeles Times article that gives some context to my earlier post of the 1926 article and the connection of Carbon Canyon Road's paving to the new Los Serranos Country Club. (The above photo was taken in early July 2008 and shows the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Chino Hills Parkway.)

This 15 November 1925 piece is headlined Propose Beach Short-Cut and was submitted from Redlands the previous day:

[A] Project for a cut-off from all San Bernardino county points to Orange county beaches is under way in the Chino district, where it is proposed to build approximately seven miles of pavement through the hills of Carbon Canyon extending from a point south of Chino to the Orange county line. The new route would enter Orange county at a point about a mile north of Olinda.

The highway will be financed by an improvement district that will include a large section south of Chino city. Supervisor M. P. Cheney represents the county in the preliminary plans and while the road will be of special benefit to the west end of the county it is felt that it will be of great benefit to all sections.

The route specified in the original petition signed by property owners has been shortened a mile and a tenth and the signers are now giving their consent to this change. Either macadam or asphaltic concrete will be used in the construction.

The route would shorten the distance from practically every city in San Bernardino county to the Orange county beaches, the mileage being less than by either the Santa Ana Canyon or Brea Canyon.

It is interesting to note that the project would be paid for by an "improvement district," a new and increasingly common entity in 1920s southern California, used to pay for road improvements, sewers, water connections, gas lines, paved sidewalks, and other community amenities that were uncommon, but more and more desired. In the cases of unincorporated communities (such as Sleepy Hollow and existing areas within the canyon), these districts, also known as "assessment districts" could fall under the Mattoon Act, a state legislation that had a strange and highly controversial provision: if a property owner defaulted on his/her property taxes, the other owners in that district had to assume that burden and pay off that tax! Needless to say, this didn't go over well as the real estate market declined in the late 1920s and then the Great Depression hit after 1930. Today, there are Mello-Roos assessment districts that add to property taxes to pay for road construction and other amenities, not unlike the improvement district mentioned in this article. Fortunately, there is no Mattoon Act parallel today in this deteriorating housing market!

It would also be interesting to know what the requested route was in the original petition by property owners (and who these people were) and why the final routing was shorter by a mile and 1/10. It would seem obvious that cost was a consideration in changing the path of the roadway. At a later date, the path of the road, as built in the 1920s, was again changed to the current roadway. An earlier post on "remnant landscapes" in Carbon Canyon found some of the remnants of that earlier road, so those interested in that can check that out. Incidentally, there is a remaining section of the original approach to Carbon Canyon Road from Valencia Avenue in Brea, so someday I'll get a photo of that and do a little post on that "remnant landscape"at the west end of the canyon.

1968 Los Angeles Times Article About Rerouting Carbon Canyon Road!

One more historical (though more recent) article of interest from the Times appeared 20 October 1968 concerning the possible revamping of Carbon Canyon Road.

Although the talk at the time was tentative because it was described as being in the very early planning stages, it looked like there was serious consideration of straightening and widening the road. This would obviously have meant declaring eminent domain (a hot button issue in the last several years--more on that with the failed California Proposition 90 in a future post) and the destruction of housing in Sleepy Hollow and, perhaps, other locales along the route.

Quoted in this article was the Planning Director for the city of Brea, Harold Wilson, who prophesied that by 1993 there would be 25,000 car trips along Carbon Canyon Road each day. Wilson noted that population pressures for development necessitated the discussion for widening and straightening the road and gave the example of a closure of recently-opened 91 Freeway, which caused 42,000 car trips on Carbon Canyon Road. Said Wilson, "they were bumper-to-bumper and things were a real mess." Prescient as Wilson may have been, he had no idea just how much would change just about the time he was talking about.

In 1993, the housing market was slightly better than where it is now, but was, within a few years, to move into another hyper-inflated boom and traffic has gotten considerably worse (here's a plug once more for fighting the Canyon Crest housing project in the canyon--1,650 car trips a day more. Go to the 16 September meeting--a week from today!) The daily number of car trips is about 33,000 or so.

08 September 2008

1926 Los Angeles Times Articles on Paving Carbon Canyon Road

In the 16 May 1926 edition of the Los Angeles Times, an interesting short article appeared titled "Paving to Give Short Club Route: Carbon Canyon Road Will Shorten Auto Distance to Los Serranos Six Miles"

Los Serranos Country Club had just opened the previous year and obviously felt that publicity about the completion of the paving of Carbon Canyon Road would not just encourage faster access for those impatient city folks from Los Angeles (in their highfalutin' Packards and Pierce Arrows and their fancy suits and short flapper dresses flaunting their city ways to the poor yokels in Brea and Chino) trying to get out to the country for a round of golf (and probably a drink or two out of the prying eyes of police looking to vainly enforce Prohibition) but to consider buying a lot and building a country retreat at the accompanying Los Serranos subdivision (which included Lake Los Serranos, now within the grounds of the mobile home park of that name.) The article states:

The grading of the new highway through Carbon Canyon from Olinda to a point six miles south of Pomona has been completed and the pouring of the cement surfacing should commence within a few days."The completion of the Carbon Canyon highway will shorten the distance from Los Angeles to the Los Serranos Country Club by more than six miles and will make it possible to make the trip by automobile in about one hour," says H. C. Davidson, president of the Los Serranos Country Club.Carbon Canyon extends from Olinda to a point about six miles south of Pomona and affords practically a direct air line from Los Angeles to the property of the Los Serranos Country Club by way of Whittier Boulevard and the coast line route. It also opens up a long stretch of highway over which there is comparatively little traffic, which will reduce the running time between the club and Los Angeles by more than half an hour.

There are several interesting points here. First, the drive from Los Angeles would have previously meant taking a route through Lincoln Heights to Valley Boulevard and then driving through the southern portion of the San Gabriel Valley and into Pomona. Drivers would then turn south on Garey Avenue, which then ran through the Chino Valley, past what was called the George Junior Republic (now Boys Republic) and to the turnoff (now blocked by the construction of the 71 Freeway) that headed west straight to Los Serranos. Instead, travelers could take Sixth Street out of downtown, cross the Los Angeles River into Boyle Heights and connect to Whittier Boulevard. The "coast line route" probably involved making the transition to what is now Imperial Highway, although that has to be researched a little (more on that in a day or two), before getting to Valencia Avenue. As stated in an earlier post about Olinda, drivers took a curving turnoff just southeast of the present intersection of Valencia and Carbon Canyon Road/Lambert Road (Lambert not then existing, as far as I know) to enter the new paved road as of the spring of 1926.

Naturally, what is laughable 80 years later is the fact that, well before freeways, the drive of some 35 or 4o miles would take one hour in "comparatively little traffic" from Los Angeles to Los Serranos. H. C. Davidson's use of the term "highway" may not concern my last point, but there is no clear understanding that I've been able to find about when Carbon Canyon Road became a state highway.

According to the cahighways.org website, the categorization of the road as a state highway was not defined until 1963 as "Route 42 [redesignated Route 90, that is, Imperial Highway, in 1972] near Brea to Route 71 near Chino" and the familiar green signs with white lettering did not appear on the road until the following year. Yet, the site also says that Carbon Canyon was given an older designation as part of the pre-state highway system, when highways were called "Legislative Route Numbers" or LRNs. In this system, which existed from 1933-1963, Carbon Canyon Road was a link between LRN 176 [later State Route 42 and then 90, that is, Imperial Highway] near Brea to LRN 77 [later State Route 71] near Chino. I would like to confirm this, but it may be possible that the creation of the official state route 142 might have been linked to the connection of Carbon Canyon Road to the Chino Men's Prison, even though the road was recently (in the last few years) redesignated so that 142 now officially ends at the 71 Freeway.

So much to write about, so little time!

Olinda Oral Histories: Recollections of Carbon Canyon Road

In this third post based on the Pipelines to the Past publication, put out by Cal State Fullerton's Oral History Program back in 1978, remembrances of Carbon Canyon Road by former residents of the Olinda oil district (now that's the word I was looking for, rather than "town" or "community!) are highlighted.

Jack Gauldin, born in 1897 and a resident of Olinda until 1924, remembered that a former Orange County Supervisor named Jim Connally received a contract to put a modern unpaved road through Carbon Canyon in 1914 or 1915. Mr. Gauldin was sent out to the area where Union Station now is in Los Angeles, a section of town that had many livery stables, and rented two dozen mules and harnessing for the grading of the road. He further recalled that:

Well, the early days had a road through Carbon Canyon to Chino. They really followed the stream of water, in and out. . . so we went in there with teams of horses and mules. I think in the camp one time we had about twenty-seven men working. We would take some of the Mexican boys, or whoever was working for us, and we would shovel out a path up on a steep hill and work the picks and axes and cut a furrow. Then we would take one horse with a plow and plow it. We would drive the horse on this same furrow that was dug by pick and shove. Then we would plow this, and we used what they call a ‘V.’ That’s a board about ten feet long and one about three feet wide, or whatever width you’d want it. The first one was very narrow. You would take that ‘V’ and kick the dirt out and eventually you’d get it wide enough to where you could take two horses up and heavier equipment . . . I forgot how long it took us to put those few miles—I think six miles or something like that through there. Then we had to oil it heavily and put culverts in the streams and build bridges over the streams. In the real rainy weather we’d lose a bridge now and then. Somewhere in the 1930s or along in there, they moved the road up to its present location and put it into a macadamized road. But the first road was oil road, and about a two-lane road. There was an old gent by the name of Jim Williams who lived in there . . .” who wouldn’t allow the road through his property on the higher ground and told them ‘It’s all right to stay down in the canyon.

It turned out, however, that Williams relented on his demand and allowed the road to be built through his property. While it was not stated where this was exactly, a sidenote is that Mr. Gauldin also remembered that another canyon ranch owner was named Gaines and that his property included the area that is now Hollydale Mobile Home Estates in Olinda Village on the south side of Carbon Canyon Road.As you'll see in the next post, Mr. Gauldin's memory of when the "macadamized" (i.e., paved) road in its present alignment was a few years off, but, otherwise, his recollection is interesting.

Jessie Isbell, born in 1890, had a brief statement about the road:

Carbon Canyon was not what it is now. It was a winding, just barely two-lane road. Sometimes, if you had an extra big car, you’d have to pull off the road. You’d go around the curves and look down into the stream, quite a ways down, go up a little ways more and turn in another direction. It was just winding in and out, and to drive it at night was quite a drive. So, there were quite a few accidents.
It is also unclear whether she was talking about the 1914/15 oiled road or the paved road that came in later.

Check out the next post for another interesting historical description of the paving of the road and why it was done!

06 September 2008

Carbon Canyon Interactive Google Map, Redux #2

I'm reposting this periodically so it appears current for (potentially) greater access and I will make updates to the text boxes as information becomes available. I've set up a Google interactive map for Carbon Canyon that has placemarks (various icons for housing tracts, recreational places, historic sites, and others) that you can access and read information about concerning places of historical interest, notoriety, or distinctiveness within the canyon. If you have corrections and suggestions, please let me know. Here's the link and enjoy: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=108410844123352552312.00045245ba05b66a7ae66&ll=33.96301,-117.763996&spn=0.029401,0.052872&z=14

05 September 2008

La Vida Mineral Springs Founder William Newton Miller

According to a historical timeline of Orange County that I found online, La Vida Mineral Springs, Carbon Canyon's most significant spot, was founded in 1924 by William Newton Miller and a "son-in-law." After spending a little time doing some research, I came up with the following on Miller:

According to his World War I draft registration card, dated 5 June 1917, Miller was born in Ava, Missouri on 6 July 1889. When he reported for the draft, Miller was living in the Kern County oil town of Taft, where he was a driller for the Head Drilling Company. He was described as of medium height, slender build, dark hair and blue eyes. He was claiming the fact that he had two children as grounds for not being inducted into the military.

Miller's background in southwestern Missouri, specifically Douglas County, goes back to the mid-1850s. His grandfather, William M. Miller, a native of Tennessee, was a fairly prosperous farmer in Clay township in 1870, claiming real estate valued at $2,000 and personal property at $1,930. There were four children, including John T., born in July 1866, who was William Newton Miller's father. By 1880, when the Millers were in Finley township, the family had added two more children to the brood and John was old enough the work on the farm.

In about 1888, John Miller married a woman named Kate and began his own family, with William Newton being the eldest child. The other children were Joseph, Thomas, and Cassie. In 1900, the family resided at Benton township where John Miller had left farming behind and became the keeper of the Douglas County jail. At the time of the census, taken on 20 June, there were two prisoners being housed at county expense.

By 1910, however, John Miller returned to farming in a place that happened to be called Miller township, still in Douglas County. By then, Newton, as he was listed in the census, was old enough to assist his father on the farm. Notably, though, younger brother Joe was working as an oil field laborer. Within a few years, William Newton would take up that occupation, move to California, marry Minnie Myrtle Pugh (what a name!) and start his family in Taft. The two eldest children of William and Minnie were born in Taft, including daughter Lois (b. 1914) and son Glen (b. 1916). Not long after William Newton registered for the draft, though, the family pulled up stakes and headed south for Orange County. In December 1919, the third child, Ina, was born in Anaheim.

In 1920, the Millers owned and lived in a home at 506 N. Claudina in Anaheim, just a few blocks north of Lincoln Avenue and a block east of Anaheim Boulevard. William Newton's occupation was "Oil Company driller". Four years later, according to the online timeline, he opened La Vida Mineral Springs. The problem with the timeline account, though, is mention of a son-in-law. In 1924, Miller was only in his mid-30s and his oldest daughter just ten years old, so there is an error there. A search did not find any other William Newton Millers in Orange County (which would have been really surprising, given how sparsely populated the county was then.)

Although William Newton Miller worked for years as an oil field driller, he managed, during the 1920s, to move up in the world. By the 1930 census, he was an "oil producer" and had moved his family on a couple of blocks west in Anaheim to 521 N. Lemon Street, catty corner from Pearson Park. His self-declared value for the home was $15,000, about twice the price of an average home. It is worth noting that he had indeed found better digs, given that his neighbors included Charles Boege, Anaheim city treasurer and proprietor of a sporting goods store that still exists, and the Millers' next door neighbor, hay, grain and feed store manager Benjamin Karcher, whose nephew Carl soon would come from Ohio, work for his uncle and then launch the famous Carl's Jr. fast food chain.

According to some sources, the La Vida Mineral Springs resort was owned, by 1932, by a Los Angeles boxer named Archie Rosenbaum. This seems to explain why an Olinda oral history I recently referenced noted that La Vida was heavily patronized by Jewish residents of Los Angeles. Perhaps Miller was losing money as the Great Depression hit or simply wanted to get out of the resort business. Whatever the reasons, he and his family stayed in Anaheim, where his wife died in 1963 and where La Vida founder William Newton Miller died, age 85, in 1974.

Given that there were three children, I am assuming there are some descendants around. It would sure be great to know more about the Millers and especially find a direct link showing Miller's founding of La Vida. It would make sense that, as a member of the oil industry, especially if his producing yielded enough money to own a nice home in Anaheim and buy the land to create the resort (which itself was the site of oil speculating back in 1893, according to one source.) But, so far, there has been no specific evidence to show that Miller owned the resort. Perhaps further research will yield something!

04 September 2008

Carbon Canyon Crime Capsule #1: The Murder of Horace McKenna, Jr.

3 November 2016:  Terri Lenée Peake, who was Horace McKenna's live-in girlfriend at the hilltop ranch on the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon, published a memoir last year titled 6200 Carbon Canyon Road: My Life as a Penthouse Pet.

It was read quickly over the last couple of days and, whatever its merits are as a literary effort, the information Peake shares about her complicated life with McKenna, which ended when she left him not long before his 1989 murder, is often fascinating.

The story includes her difficult childhood, with a mentally ill mother who committed suicide (as did others in her family); her decision to get into the world of stripping and nude modeling, including the summit of her career appearing as a Penthouse Pet of the Month in 1987; her leaving dancing to marry, raise her two children, and work in movie theater management; and her long and challenging health issues due to breast implants.

Obviously, the heart of the book is her relationship with the mercurial McKenna, who could be terrifyingly abusive and also loving, though, Peake talks about the Carbon Canyon ranch, both with some fondness and some tough memories of feeling trapped physically and mentally.  There are a number of photos of the place in the book, including the property's entrance off Carbon Canyon Road where the ambush that killed McKenna took place.

Towards the end of the book, Peake mentions "a little local blog in Brea called the Carbon Canyon Chronicle" and its post about the murder.  She notes that the post "has since become the personal bulletin board for the old gang" who knew McKenna.

Specifically, Peake refers to the fact that "the editor of the blog commented that the depth and complexity of our feelings about Mac and his murder led him to become more objective and less judgmental" about the situation and quotes from below: " . . . there were human beings involved in this terrible incident . . . not cartoon characters, TV personalities, or film stereotypes, tempting as it might be to think of them that way."  This is followed by a link to this post.

Several pages are devoted to some of those who have posted comments, including John Sheridan, who turned himself in and served time in prison before being paroled several years ago.  The chapter in which this section is contained ends with Peake referencing her own commenting on the post four years ago and her statement about having "mixed feelings" about the aftermath and her not having "any anger left for anyone."  She concludes by saying "I can't imagine living that life again."

The book can be bought on Amazon for $5 in a Kindle edition and from $11 up for print and there are a few copies on eBay, but at much higher prices.  This is not a review, so there is no advice given here about whether it should be bought or not.  If the McKenna murder has any interest for you, though, 6200 Carbon Canyon Road is worth considering for the perspective Peake presents.

10 March 2014:  Yesterday, 9 March, marked the 25th anniversary of the slaying of Horace McKenna, Jr.  As was noted in a comment recently, the house in which McKenna lived was torn down several months ago as the new owner is building another residence on the grounds. 

Within the last few weeks there was a cable program on Investigation Discovery that covered the McKenna  murder (albeit, sensationally with all that entails).  A link to the program is here.

Finally, another blog has extensive coverage of the McKenna slaying and it can be accessed here.

Once again, this story has been, by far, the most visited on this blog and the comments have been many and fascinating.  This was not expected at all, but it has been very interesting to see the traffic and read the reactions about an event a quarter century old, but still notable in Carbon Canyon history.

Original post:

This incident had it all: sex, money, power, police officers turned strip club entrepreneurs and, naturally, violence. To think it has just about been twenty years since the murder of Horace "Big Mac" McKenna at his Carbon Canyon home is remarkable. Even more is how the case was solved a dozen years later when it seemed it just couldn't be cracked.

Horace McKenna and Michael Woods were former California Highway Patrol officers and, in the course of their work, developed enough knowledge of the world of strip clubs to become major players in the industry in the years after their very early retirement in 1977 from law enforcement. The two quickly rose in the strip club universe and, within only three years, were owners of the "Valley Ball" in Van Nuys, and "Bare Elegance" and the "Jet Strip" in Los Angeles and were wealthy, powerful men.

The partners, however, had significantly different personalities. Woods, a slight, medium-built man, was the quiet type, preferring to stay relatively low key at his large Westlake Village home. McKenna, on the other hand, lived large and loudly. He was 6'6", tipped the scales at near 300 pounds, and was an avid bodybuilder. At his home he had a fake Western town facade complete with a boot hill (which would prove ironic); owned Arabian horses and a stable of exotic animals, such as a Bengal tiger and tuxedo-wearing monkeys; and was driven around in expensive cars. There was one other common connection aside from their talent for running strip clubs: their competition for trying to fleece each other.

Matters worsened when Woods hired a young British man named David Amos as a club bouncer. Amos, who was almost as well-muscled and nearly as ambitious as McKenna, quickly rubbed the latter the wrong way, but had Woods' patronage. Soon, Woods and Amos were tighter than Woods and McKenna had been and something had to give.

In the meantime, a steady patron of the Woods/McKenna empire of strip clubs entered the picture. John Patrick Sheridan was a Irish-Chinese high school dropout from Agoura Hills in the western San Fernando Valley who dealt drugs and was an addict from his early teens. Out on bail on drug charges, Sheridan was a "stoolie" for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and their drug busting arm. When he became a drinking partner of Amos, Sheridan found himself on the other end of an interesting proposal in 1988. Claiming that McKenna had it in for him, which could well have been true, Amos implored his new friend to take on a job that would pay him nicely (in support of his drug and drink habit) and save the life of a pal. It was, however, more than likely that Woods was in fear for his life from McKenna and employed Amos to find someone to carry out the contract killing.It took a few months and even then cold feet set in, but Sheridan accepted his task. He was to lay in wait in the late of night at the Carbon Canyon Road entrance to McKenna's manse and execute a good old fashioned contract killing. In return, Sheridan was paid $25,000 and given a strip club job that, by his accounting, paid him about $3,000 a month.

Just after midnight on 9 March 1989, McKenna's driver, "Bible Bob" Berg, a placid born-again Christian, pulled off the road and got out of the car to open the gate. Berg then got back in when Sheridan jumped out from his hiding place and opened fire with an Uzi he had bought on the street for a little over a grand. The twenty-something bullets erupted out of the 9mm clip and ripped into McKenna's upper body. Berg, terrified, sped off to the house while Sheridan ran for his car. Later, from a convenience store payphone (remember, it was 1989!) Sheridan called Amos to report that his job was done.

UPDATE (19 April 2011):  A longtime resident of Carbon Canyon has related the fact that a motorcycle was found abandoned on its side on the north side of Carbon Canyon Road in Sleepy Hollow.  The recollections was that the cycle was concealed in some bushes at the driveway entrance to the McKenna residence and that the killer used it to drive over to Sleepy Hollow and make the call for the getaway car to shuttle him away.  It would appear that the "convenience store" was what is now Canyon Market, but long known as Party House Liquor #2.  It was also remembered that the automatic gate at the driveway entrance was in the process of being installed by McKenna with the suggestion that, had it been fully operational, the results may have been different.

It was a perfect crime: a remote area, no prints, no tracks, no witnesses to identify the killer or the contracting parties paying off their hit man. It should have been an eternal cold case. Not that anyone for a moment thought that Michael Woods and David Amos were free of suspicion. It was just that there was no evidence to link him to the slaying.

Sheridan, meantime, got his money and his job. Even though he spent two years in prison for a drug bust, he continued to work for Woods and Amos, who continued to make enormous sums of money, substantially pocketed before taxes, and live the high life. Amos, who fancied himself an actor, even partnered with Woods in making two low-budget films--well, just take a gander at these titles: "The Takeover" (1995) and "Flipping" (1997). Amos appeared in small acting roles in the two films (and even acted in three other films, including "Guns and Lipstick" (1995), "Fatal Choice" (1995), and "Dancing at the Blue Iguana" (2000)--all of whom appear to have had some palpable links to his world—and an episode of the television show "Conan" in 1998—while Woods served as executive producer. The first title may well have been chosen for a macabre reason, but the second turned out to be highly prophetic. As it turned out, the low-level Hollywood careers of both men proved less than successful and their strip club partnership also hit the skids when Amos suspected Woods of embezzling money from their business, threatened to take the matter to the authorities, and sought to wrest control of the empire from his former mentor.

According to Sheridan, however, his life took an unexpectedly human turn almost a decade after the killing. First, McKenna's bible-toting driver, clueless about Sheridan's role in the execution of his boss, told the hit man that McKenna's last words were: "Tell my mom I love her." Second, Sheridan's viewing of the autopsy photos of the deceased haunted him. Finally, God followed directly on the heels of a growing, gnawing guilt and Sheridan bared his scarred soul to a Roman Catholic priest.

In the late 90s, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer working for the Orange County District Attorney's office began to reexamine the case and aggressively interviewed people associated with McKenna, Woods, and Amos. The latter two, fearing that Sheridan might squeal, offered him $10,000 to stay quiet. Once Sheridan had found religion, however, there was nothing else he could do but go to the authorities and tell all.

A significant amount of work still needed to be done, however, to build an airtight case so, for most of 2000, Sheridan took the risky move of wearing a wire to force Amos to incriminate himself. It as a long process, but in late October, there was enough accumulated on tape to arrest Amos. He, in turn, immediately turned on Woods and put on a wire for a meeting with his partner. Once Woods began to get into ideas of how to further cover up his tracks, investigators had enough to collar him as left the meeting.

In September 2001, Michael Woods was indicted for first-degree murder with special circumstances, but the judge struck the special circumstances component, and Woods was convicted by an Orange County jury of first-degree murder in the hit on his old partner and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He did mount an appeal to the 4th Appellate District Court, claiming that his right to to call Sheridan as a witness was thwarted by the prosecution and that his right to counsel was undermined by the use of an informant (Amos) to incriminate himself. In their opinion, however, filed in July 2004 the appellate judges ruled that even though "we recognize the fact the prosecution's actions in this case forced Woods to detour his defense, and put on a different -- possibly less convincing -- case than he wanted" there was no reason to overturn the decision because "we find no misconduct on the part of the prosecution." As to the second argument, the court stated that "equally important, [we] find no diminution of Wood's Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights which rose to the level of constitutional error."

In the court transcript, it was revealed that the prosecutor informed the court of the intent to question Sheridan as a witness, but decided against it. When the defense team tried to introduce Sheridan as their witness, his attorney claimed that he had not completed his plea bargain terms with the proseuction and would, therefore, invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The prosecutor's stance that there would be no agreement executed until after Woods' trial was over led the judge to order a hearing over the crafty move played by the prosecutor. While recognizing that the prosecution had smartly carried out its plea bargain terms with Sheridan, allowing himself to avoid being called as a defense witness, he determined that there was no reason to, as the defense hoped, dismiss the case, declare a mistrial, or strike David Amos' testimony as contingent on Sheridan. The judge, however, did give the defense the option of using Sheridan's statements through the recollections of other witnesses, which Woods' counsel did make use of. There was another reason, however, for the prosecutor to develop the strategy of keeping the Sheridan plea bargain open until the conclusion of the trial. Simply put, the prosecution wanted to keep Sheridan available in case Amos decided to lie on the stand and protect Woods.

On the question of using Amos with a wire to incriminate Woods, thereby pushing the case from investigation to accusaion and necessarily triggering the "right to counsel" issue when Woods could not execute that right, because the police had already surrounded the restaurant where the wiretapped meeting took place and because they were already serving search warrants at his clubs and home, the court offered that "the undisputed facts establish Woods' Sixth Amendment rights were not violated." Namely, the court determined that the case was definitely still in the investigation stage when the Amos meeting was held and that accusation can only come in the formal presentment of charges in court.

Meanwhile, David Amos, for cooperating in nailing Woods, pled on the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to twenty years. He may well be released from prison in the next few years.

John Patrick Sheridan was given the same plea bargain as Amos and the same sentence. Married to a born-again former nude stripper and a father, Sheridan evidently saw his remarkable confession as a chance for redemption. In December 2001 he gave an interview to Fred Dickey, whose Los Angeles Times Magazine article "A Hit Man's Guilt" was substantially the basis, along with the Woods appeal transcript, for this post and who wrote an article memorable enough to stick in my mind the last seven years until I located it. Notably, Dickey wrote in his article that "Sheridan still can't explain why he did it, why he agreed to coldly aim an assault weapon at a fellow with whom he had no quarrel. Ask him the question a hundred different ways, and he cannot provide a single satisfying answer. Ultimately, an answer emerged: A screwed-up drug abuser committed murder primarily because he was a screwed-up drug abuser."

UPDATE (19 April 2011):  Recent comments to this post include one from someone signing in as John Patrick Sheridan and now released from prison.  He has also indicated that David Amos will be out at the end of April, while Michael Woods has had his most recent parole request denied.   Needless to say, perhaps, but this post has taken on something of a life of its own, being by far the most viewed post of any in at least the last year since analytics were introduced to the blog, and this includes the many comments, some very colorful and others conveying deeply personal feelings.  What this reflects is fundamentally an inherent interest that incidents like the Horace McKenna murder have with many people, especially those who know (or professed to) the principals involved.  As for this blogger, subsequent editing of the post, as well as comments in reply to others, have reflected some change in attitude about the incident and its aftermath.  That is, an interest in trying to be a little more objective in the telling and a little less judgmental than when this post first appeared.

Hearing on Canyon Crest Appeal to Brea City Council Set

OK, folks, for anyone who is concerned about the significant, adverse unavoidable environmental impacts and other effects of the 165 home, 367-acre Canyon Crest project proposed for the area north of Carbon Canyon between Olinda Village and Sleepy Hollow, here is some vital info:

The Appeal of Development Review (CCSP [Carbon Canyon Specific Plan]) No. DR 08-01, Vesting Tentative Tract Map No. TT 15956 and Final Environmental Impact Report No. EIR 02-01 has now been given a public hearing before the Brea City Council on Tuesday, 16 September at 7:00 p.m. in the Brea Civic & Cultural Center, Council Chambers at 1 Civic Center Drive (Birch and Randolph).

Former Brea councilmember Bev Perry and others filed this appeal not long after the Planning Commission by a 3-2 vote approved the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report back in the spring. There is now a prepared final EIR available for review with the Development Services Department, as well.

In bold on the mailed announcement is the simple boilerplate: All interested persons may appear and be heard at that time. Well, this is our chance everyone! The last opportunity is here in a couple of weeks for the public to make its views heard by the city fathers. The response at the Planning Commission was impressive, dozens of passionate and reasonable opponents of Canyon Crest countering one half-hearted offering of soft support. Let's make sure that we have an even greater turnout and let the council know that the narrow vote of the Planning Commission should not stand. Council members need to take the side of their constituents, the people who put them in their positions of responsibility and not to needlessly cater to the wishes of the Shopoff Group, the project developer.

Take the time to read the EIR and familiarize yourselves with the significant, adverse unavoidable impacts. If you are so inclined, fill out the request to address the council and do so in a pointed, determined, but respectful way. Make sure the council knows that this project is not wanted by the vast majority of residents. Let it be understood that a new fire truck, money to mitigate affordable housing and, especially, the mirage of the presumed prestige of luxury homes to burnish the Brea image are not worth it.

There has, simply put, been more than enough development in this canyon. Despite the shrill pontificating of so-called property rights advocates, the rights of the individual cannot trump those of the larger society. The airborne pollutants of a year's worth of grading (actually, likely to be longer as these projects often are), the removal of 1,800+ native trees (planting new trees in an artificial intrusion of a natural landscape does not constitute mitigation), and the addition of 5% more traffic (approximately 1,650 trips per day) on a road already beyond acceptable congestion levels and its intended capacity and rating an "F" grade are, individually, grounds for rejecting the project.

Yet, city staff advocated a "Statement of Overriding Considerations" to bypass the EIR-identified impacts because the fire truck, affordable housing offsets, and, most importantly, the dire necessity to close that unconscionable gap in Brea for "luxury housing," which has obviously deprived dozens of people of their unrequited desires and deferred dreams to live in homes that will use 3-5x the water usage of a typical Brea hovel, cry out for approval.

I know, I know, I'm getting a little sarcastic, cynical, and punchy at 12:30 a.m. But, this is an important milestone in Brea and Carbon Canyon history. The transformation in the canyon if this project were to be built (and there is, in all fairness, no guarantee that it will even if the council approves the project) would be enormous and irreparable. There would be no chance to go back and make things right. That chance is now. It's up to citizens and pesky tree-huggers and enviro-loonies like Hills for Everyone, that is, grass-roots activism at its best, to make this last push. Come on out and give your support for the fight against Canyon Crest on 16 September!

Check out: www.stopcanyoncrest.org for more info!

02 September 2008

The Wild[er] West End of Soquel Canyon

As a followup to my early July hike in rustic Soquel Canyon (the photo at the right was taken in July from a fire road), I decided to make another trek back this past Labor Day and explore the western end. Taking a route from Sleepy Hollow up a steep road to the ridge and then descending steeply down into the canyon, I turned toward Brea. Quickly, I realized that, unlike points east, the dirt road going west was not maintained and hadn't been cleared for quite a long time. At first, the roadbed was clear, just filled with weeds six feet tall or so. Not long after starting, I came across an old horse trailer with some wooden trellis work attached to it--which I had seen on my first trip in the canyon some three years ago. It was a good location with access down to the creek where some water was still located. Unfortunately, along the creek, on the embankment beside it and up near the trailer there was plenty of debris and trash, such as tin roofing, old tires, and others. Clearly, this area had been used to keep horses, but it had evidently been along time. Although I didn't climb up there, the hillside to the south had an old collapsed trailer and other debris, perhaps from the same period and owner, but long abandoned. The isolated area of Soquel Canyon provides some nice ambience, but also is a graveyard for decades-old detritus, sight unseen.

Soon after this dilapidated spot, the road becomes much less discernible. In fact, for most of the rest of the way, it was hard to track the road, except for the fact that the growth consisted of brown weeds, in contrast to the more defined green areas of brush and trees on either side. Sometimes, I was able to follow the very narrow cattle track that passed along the roadbed. There were several stream crossings, but most were dry, although in a couple of places water was still in the creek. At one point, I came to an area with a very spongy, low-lying grass and the area contained some water. Off to the left it appeared that a road climbed to the south, although it, too, wasn't maintained and had tall weeds covering it. This might be the Soquel spur trail that connects the small portion of Soquel Canyon that actually falls within Chino Hills State Park with the rest of the park. Obviously, the difference is that the Soquel Canyon section of the park has been left undisturbed and no one has probably had much access to it since it became part of the park. At least that's the impression one gets when passing through.

After about an hour or so of wandering, sometimes with false forays onto what I thought was the road or the right stream crossing, I finally came to the end of the formal road within the canyon at the base of Hollydale Mobile Home Estates in Olinda Village. There was a strong flow of water coming down along Carbon [Canyon] Creek, undoubtedly signifcantly supplied from runoff in the area. The road crossed this creek where it meets up with Soquel Canyon Creek, but was almost completely overgrown. I encountered a few cattle grazing amongst the very thick brush but was able to trace the road to a point. Finally, though, I had to give up and simply scramble up to an area recently graded in preparation for sale as residential land. Although Google, Yahoo and Thomas Guide maps show Soquel Canyon Road emerging from the canyon and climbing up to Carbon Canyon Road, you wouldn't know it now. The grading has also destroyed any indication of a road there, though if there was residential development on this parcel it would be directly across from Olinda Drive.

From there, I decided to make my way home by walking along Carbon Canyon Road and there is actually a pretty good flow of water along it, although it is hard to tell what is runoff from further upstream and what actually might be from springs that were much more in evidence in years past. In my recent post on oral histories from Olinda, one interviewee had noted that water was flowing in Carbon [Canyon] Creek year-round, all or nearly all spring-fed. I would venture to guess that runoff is probably a significant contributor to whatever is in there now. In the 1940s and before, that water was probably relatively clean, but I wouldn't touch the stuff now!

At one point, after climbing up to Carbon Canyon Road, I was tempted to turn back and follow what I thought was the Soquel spur trail up to the State Park. Some other time, perhaps.