30 October 2008

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #8

Here is another great old shot of La Vida Mineral Springs, taken obviously from some higher elevation point, and from the same series and date of an earlier real photo postcard I highlighted on 20 August (Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #4). This could either be in the 1920s or into the 1930s and postcard aficionados note that the stamp box on the reverse is of the 1925-1942 period.

Now, just about center of the photo, behind a tall tree are some water tanks, one of which is in the same area (and maybe the same tank) as a remaining tank with the name of the resort still, though faded, on the face. To the left is a long structure with a two-gabled roof that might be where some of the pools and soaking areas where. At the far left of the gable facing the photographer you can make out the "LA" in the resort's name. The buildings closer to the photographer are much smaller and might be other areas for mineral baths, especially the two with the benches sitting next to the lattice work. The white colored structure with two doors could be restrooms or storage and there is, obviously, a steeel playground set for the kids next to that. The walkway leading from the small structures past the playground and toward the east is, I believe, still present. If I understand correctly, those small buildings sat right about where the La Vida Cantina later was built and which was the last operating part of the site before being closed several years back. The broad area in the foreground is the unpaved parking area. Note, as well, the relatively bare hills with some scrub and brush and a few small trees and take a good look at what Carbon [Canyon] Creek looked like (see behind the playground) before arundo donax invaded in recent years!

Given that there are some references suggesting that the resort was bought in 1932 by a former boxer named Rosenbaum, who drew heavily for visitors from the Jewish community in Los Angeles, it may be that these postcards (the one shown earlier, this one, and two more that I'll post later) came from that time period. It is, however, also possible that these date earlier and are from the William Newton Miller ownership.

As always, any and all information about La Vida and my fractured attempts at documenting it are welcome!

This is item #2008.9.1.1 from the Carbon Canyon Collection.

Canyon Crest and the Million Dollar Question

A Brea resident present at the city council's special meeting on the Canyon Crest development appeal handed me some copies of a post from an Orange County Register blog called "OC Watchdog" dealing with allegations that the Shopoff Group, the developer of Canyon Crest, offered $1 million to Hills for Everyone, one of the major opponents of the project, to cease its fight against it.

According to Hills for Everyone's executive director, Claire Schlotterbeck, "an intermediary for the Shopoff Group offered me, as a Hills for Everyone, representative, $1 million for 'an acquisition or for using it any we wanted to use it' -- if we 'went away." Schlotterbeck says she took the offer to the board, which unanimously rejected it. Further, she has stated, even though the offer was not illegal and Hills for Everyone was not in a position "to make a decision on the Canyon Crest project," that she would take out a sworn affidavit to counter any question of her account.

After project rep Brian Rupp denied the accusation and Shopoff Group president William Shopoff accused Schlotterbeck of libel and slander, the Watchdog blogger got hold of Shopoff and said, "This is interesting if you want to hallucinate. It never happened. Our firm never authorized it." Shopoff, however, did follow up that: "I believe a conversation may have taken place with an intermediary [which is the exact word used in the quote attributed to Schlotterbeck above] but nobody here authorized it." Moreover, Shopoff has attorneys evidently looking into potential legal action, to which Schlotterbeck has replied "It's not libel, because the defense for libel is the truth. It did happen." She went on to state that the incident took place on 4 July, that there were two persons present (one "a political consultant type") and that, hold on to your hats, "the other was a city council member." The Watchdog evidently tried to get names, but wrote that "she won't name names publicly right now." With that, the post concludes with the question: "Messy business, this democracy and capitalism stuff, isn't it?"

I've never posted a comment to any blog posting before and have probably only read a half-dozen blogs before (not including this one), but I did put in a response after six others were posted, a couple taking shots at Schlotterbeck for living in a housing tract in Carbon Canyon that used to be the kind of open space she is now trying to protect. I really don't have the inclination to get into cyber shouting matches, so came up with this response:

The question here is not about attacking anyone (Claire Schlotterbeck, William Shopoff, or members of the Brea city council or planning commission), it is about the legitimate differences of opinion about the viability of the Canyon Crest project. This is a subjective question to be answered by Brea’s elected officials. As Brea’s city attorney clearly stated last night at the council’s special meeting, the basis exists for denying or approving this project. The council has to decide whether adding to an already overburdened Carbon Canyon Road, removing a significant portion of a rapidly-vanishing plant and animal habitat, and contributing more emissions to the most polluted area in the United States, can be mitigated and overriden by the fiscal and material benefits offered by the Shopoff Group to the greater benefit of Brea. While concern was expressed at last night’s meeting about the fact that regional impacts (mainly traffic) are larger than local ones, we should live in context not isolation. With three other Carbon Canyon housing projects in process or in the pipeline on the Chino Hills side (totaling over 200 houses), not to mention massive housing development plans in the Inland Empire, the future of the canyon is the issue. We can’t “buy out” Claire Schlotterbeck or anyone else, myself included, who lives in the canyon and would like to limit its growth because of the significant impacts, but we ought to understand the regional and local issues before it’s too late to respond in a reasonable, rational and respectful way.

To which, one of the commentators who had taken Schlotterbeck to task responded:

Gee Paul, I guess we know where you stand on this issue! Next time scan your Hills For Everyone membership card and use it as your avatar! You are right…this is not about attacking anyone, even though when I lived in Brea (HFE) attacked me for voicing my opinions, ask Debbie. This is about property rights. You own a property, you drawn plans to develop it and then the city changes the zoning (with the advise of certain environmental group) and you lose the money you spent on the property or the earning potential of the property. Property rights vs. environment? Being that we live in a capitalist system and not socialist, property rights should win. This is not about the “greater benefit of Brea” (socialism). This is about being able to retain or increase value in the land you rightfully own (capitalism). Once again “where does Claire live?” has it right. If the city can prevent The Shopoff Group from developing their land then they can easily take Claire’s (and yours) and turn it into a nature preserve or a park. Besides the developers are not stupid…they are capitalists, they have something of value…others want it and will pay for it. What you want does not matter to them because you have nothing to offer them. The issue is not going away until they develop their land.
As I said, I'm not going to respond directly to the commentator because my interest is not in blog jousting, but this person has clearly and concisely identified one of, if not the biggest, issue involved in the Canyon Crest controversy: "Property rights vs. environment."

Meantime, whatever comes out of the "$1 million question," the decision to approve or deny the Canyon Crest project really has nothing to do with it. That has to come on the project's merits. The "greater benefit of Brea" is actually what was stated last night by the city attorney who told the council that the issuance of the "Statement of Overriding Considerations" is not predicated on a one-to-one matching mitigation of each significant impact. Rather, the council has to decide if the sum of the considerations is greater than that of the impacts so that the larger community of Brea benefits more from the project than what its impacts are. I'm not trying to diminish the issue of the $1 million "offer" or its potential ramifications in some other forum, but would prefer to stick to the question of Canyon Crest's fate at the hands of the city council.

Canyon Crest Special Meeting, Part One

Well, I messed up and thought that the special Brea City Council meeting on the Canyon Crest appeal was at 7 p.m. last night, when it was actually at 6 p.m. Then again, maybe it didn't matter all that much when I walked in a 6:45, because, 3 hours and 15 minutes later, the council had gotten through four of the eleven items for discussion. I still don't know what I missed, though I suspect it was a very lengthy excursion into the minutiae of construction grading following introductory remarks and ground rules. I've decided not to make any substantive comments until the process is complete which could very well swallow up two more four-hour sessions, but did want to say that of the three signficant, unvoidable, adverse impacts, only one of them was dealt with last night, that being traffic. The problem for future meetings is one of scheduling. The next council meeting is election night and all they can do is announce the contination of the Canyon Crest discussion until a later date. This is complicated by the fact that two council members will be away each of the next two weeks. The closer it gets to Thanksgiving and, then, Christmas, the harder it will be to get those dates established. As I said, I don't want to provide much commentary until I can hear everything (provided I can even make upcoming meetings) and then take it all in. So, stay tuned . . .

28 October 2008

Canyon Hills Proposed Development Property Sold!

According to Chino Hills council member Ed Graham, in his regular column in the recent issue of the community newsletter The Butterfield Stageline, there is a new owner for a 137-acre parcel in the Canyon planned for development. Developer D. B. Horton had already received approval from the city for a 76-home project called Canyon Hills on the site, north of Carbon Canyon Road and west of Canyon Hills Drive. Mr. Graham, however, stated that the property had been sold by Horton to an unnamed buyer and that the deal and a photo of the land appeared in an article in the Wall Street Journal. So, for those of you who might be a little concerned about the fact that there are now FOUR, count 'em, FOUR housing developments in process or in the pipeline, totaling over 350 potential houses and some 3,500 additional car trips on an over capacity Carbon Canyon Road, within the Canyon--keep your eyes and ears peeled for more developments (ouch) on this project. Naturally, the abject state of the economy will keep progress on any of these tamped down for the time being, but once that tract map is approved, the proposed project can basically be developed at any time in the future. Pine Valley Estates is sitting dormant right now, Canyon Hills is approved and Canyon Crest and Stoneridge are being considered. The Canyon will not be anywhere near as livable as it is now if more development is approved. So, stay aware and vigilant, folks! Developers have the law, loopholes, lots of dollars, and political influence going for them. Defenders of the canyon have to rely on community support, publicity, and, perhaps, assistance from environmental groups and empathetic legal counsel, but community support must come first!

Stonefield Housing Development Public Comment Period Ends Thursday!

The 28-unit Stonefield housing project, proposed for a hillside portion of Carbon Canyon to the east of Western Hills Golf Course and west of the hairpin curve on Carbon Canyon Road, is now in the midst of deliberation that will lead to a hearing before the Chino Hills Planning Commission, tentatively on 16 December. Meantime, the official public comment period ends this Thursday the 30th. This project, a microcosm of the Canyon Crest project on the Brea side of the canyon, has two identified significant, unavoidable adverse impacts in the Environmental Impact Report (air quality and aesthetics), the former of which can only be reduced 15% in mitigation measures from a level of pollution that would be 40% above the already low standards set forth by the AQMD and the latter of which CANNOT be mitigated AT ALL, according to the environmental consultant who did the EIR. Consequently, this project should be a no-brainer and be rejected unanimously by the Planning Commission. Given the heightened interest taken by Chino Hills officials regarding the Canyon Crest project and recent concerns expressed (although I heard a staff member from Chino Hills tell the Brea Planning Commission on 22 April that all objections had been met, so something changed between then and now!), I would think rejection would be simple. BUT, council members, commissioners, and staff still need to hear from concerned citizens on this one. Send your comments to Senior Planner Betty Donavanik at bdonavanik@chinohills.org by the end of the business day on Thursday, the 30th. I'm sending mine tonight!

Canyon Crest Special Meeting Tomorrow!

Tomorrow night, the 29th, at 7 p.m., the Brea City Council will hold a special meeting concerning the Canyon Crest housing project proposed on the north side of Carbon Canyon. This meeting will allow council members to ask questions about the project and, perhaps, make a decision on this very important issue that could alter the canyon's scenic quality forever. As has been frequently discussed on this blog, this 165-home development is wrong for so many reasons and, in fact, any future tract-style development ANYWHERE in the canyon is ill-advised because of traffic on Carbon Canyon Road, the need to preserve rapidly dwindling open space habitats, and other issues. Although the Planning Commission voted for approval in June, it was by a narrow 3-2 margin, and the fact that there is no unanimity within the city structure for this project is reason for hope that the appeal will be upheld by the Council. I plan on being there tomorrow night and hope that everyone who cares about the future of the canyon will, as well.

27 October 2008

Carbon Canyon Crime Capsule #3: A. O. Birch

OK, technically this doesn't relate directly to Carbon Canyon, but Birch Street comes within a short distance of reaching the canyon and the story of its namesake Albert Otis Birch is so wild, I just had to write something about it.

I'm sure there are a lot of people thought the street was named for the tree, especially because there are many other "tree" streets throughout Brea, but some years ago when I was doing research on Walter P. Temple, an oil man and developer in the 1920s, I learned that one of his investment partners was A. Otis Birch, who also had a background in oil.

A little research has come up with the following: Birch was born 8 October 1871 (the day, incidentally, of the great Chicago fire) in a little town in western Illinois called Cuba. His father, Albert William, was a native of Vermont who went to Zanesville, Ohio as a young man before migrating to Cuba with his father, William, a New York native who was a merchant. Albert, born in 1841, enlisted, just after the breakout of the Civil War, in the Illinois Infantry Volunteers, serving in two different companies and making his way from Private to First Lieutenant, before being mustered out in Lousiana in 1866. Soon after returning home, Albert married Louisa Berry. One of their three children (the others were Henry and Emma) was the future oil magnate of Brea, who I'll refer to as Otis Birch. Albert appears to have followed his father in the mercantile trade and served as the "Worshipful Master" in the Cuba Masonic lodge. But, in the 1870 census, when he was only 29, Albert listed himself with the occupation "Merchant Ret.", evidently meaning "retired." Was he badly injured or did he contract a serious illness in the war? Had something else happened to him? In fact, his decision to relocate all the way to far-flung southern California may have been motivated by poor health, as the Los Angeles area was well-known for its healthy climate in those days (certainly not now!)

Whatever the reason, the Birch family made its way to a new Los Angeles County town called Santa Ana. Once a township composed of several Spanish and Mexican-era ranches granted to the likes of the Yorbas and Peraltas, the Santa Ana area had been largely consolidated under the ownership of Massachusetts native Abel Stearns, a late 1820s settler of Los Angeles and one of its early merchants. Stearns amassed huge landholdings by the 1860s and was the county's wealthiest person, but flood and drought and the resulting economic downturn led him into serious financial difficulties. By 1870, the "Stearns Ranchos" were subdivided and placed on the market for sale, as Los Angeles experienced its first boom. Santa Ana was created by William H. Spurgeon in 1869 from lands he bought from E. M. Ross. Within four years, the Birch family settled in the new town. Otis Birch was then two years old and was soon an orphan as his father, Albert, died in 1877. Louisa, the widow, moved in with her sister Sarah and her husband George Minter, whose 1877 house still stands today next to a park the Birch family donated to the city for its first park, still known as Birch Park today. There is also a Birch Street that runs south from downtown through Costa Mesa and into Newport Beach.

Otis took up the business of farming on his father's lands. In 1899, he married Marguerite Estelle Conaway and the two were childless, although after his sister Emma Smith died in 1906, he and Estelle (as his wife was known) raised the two daughters, Louise and Ruth. Also, in the late 1890s (soon after the 1889 creation of Orange County) oil was discovered by Edward Doheny in the Olinda area and this lured Birch and others to create the Menges Oil Company (Marion Menges, born in Indiana, was a dentist in Santa Ana and lived two households from Birch in the 1900 census) based in Santa Ana and explore the area near Olinda, specifically at the mouth of Brea Canyon. There, the Menges Oil Company obtained some land, later called Birch Hills, and drilled some wells. Success was limited, however, as the company's land was initially considered a little too far west from the better wells of Union Oil.

In 1911, however, a decade the Menges Oil Company hit it big with its well #5, which, for a time, was the biggest producing well in America and brought great wealth to Otis Birch. In fact, by 1910, even though he built a palatial house in Brea, he'd left Orange County and moved into the Highland Park neighborhood area Los Angeles. During that decade and subsequently, Birch also branched (pardon the pun) into new businesses, including the formation of the Great Republic Life Insurance Company and the Birch-Smith Furniture Company and Birch-Smith Storage Company. Birch also began to solidify a partnership with his father-in-law, Benjamin Conaway, in a large 20,000+ acre ranch in Yolo County, northwest of Sacramento. By 1920, the Birches and Conaways were living together in South Pasadena, where the Birches lived for some 50 years. Times were evidently very good during the Roaring 20s, as the value of the home the two families lived in was valued at $50,000 in the 1930 census, at a time when the average house was under $10,000. Notably, Birch did not identify himself as an oilman in this census, but rather as a furniture merchant with his Birch-Smith company in downtown Los Angeles. In the meantime, his Great Republic Life Insurance Company, of which he was President, was a great success and Birch formed a syndicate, including Walter P. Temple (founder of Temple City and descendant of early Los Angeles settlers) and others, to build a large office building in Los Angeles at Eighth and Spring streets. This structure is just now opening a new phase of its life as the "Great Republic Lofts," part of a massive conversion of old downtown commercial buildings into loft-style housing.

Birch's rapid rise to wealth did not come without its price, though. In 1914, for example, he was sued for $1.5 million by several investors with the Menges Oil Company, who claimed that he convinced them that the company's wells were not highly productive (before #5 came in and made Birch an estimated $3.5 million) and that they should sell their stock to him. Naturally, the fabled #5 was brought into production, producing 2,600 barrels of oil a day and generating some $1.5 million of revenue per year, and the investors accused Birch of misrepresenting the status of the company. In fact, it was stated that Birch told the investors that he was planning to buy property in Bakersfield when the plaintiffs alleged he had no plans to do so. Moreover, the Menges Oil Company was dissolved and a new firm, the Birch Oil Company, created, evidently to prevent the plaintiffs from having legal recourse in the matter. Birch, however, won the suit and another 1921 lawsuit involving his Birch Oil Company.

Many years later, in the 1940s, Birch was sued by the IRS over the Yolo County land he controlled with his in-laws under the Birch Oil Company banner and that company's attempts to reclaim swamp land and develop it. Consequently, the company spent some $2 million to develop portions of the ranch and took on debt through bonds, payable to an reclamation district formed by the county. In 1926, Birch bought out his in-laws and his nieces were partners in the venture. In 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, Birch complicated matters by forming the Birch Securities Company and Birch Holding Company, within which the bonds were placed, because they were to mature starting in 1935 and continuing to 1943. Birch's problem, however, was the norhing was paid on the principal of the $2 million indebtedness and a 6% interest rate payable twice a year was accruing. Therefore, in 1935, Birch issued new bonds as a refund on the original for the same $2 million amount with the maturation to commence in 1945. Another problem: Birch and his wife, in the early 1940s, "received back" interest on their bonds when this was paid to the county treasurer and claimed this as tax exempt and not part of their income. Hence, the interest of the IRS, which claimed that this "received back" interest was not tax exempt and that over $200,000 worth of deductions were involved. Fortunately for them, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor.

In yet another example, Birch was sued in state court over the rental of the downtown Los Angeles property that housed his storage company, stemming from a 1928 agreement for a 99-year lease. After 1934, however, Birch stopped making the monthly payment and, even after he negotiated a new agreement, he discontinued payments two years later. Basically, the plaintiffs accused Birch of fraud in misrepresenting his financial status as he renegotiated his lease with Birch claiming that he owed substantial sums to his cousin, Ella Minter (recall that the Birches lived with the Minters after Albert died in 1877) and that this indebtedness compromised his ability to pay the lease. Notably, this case included the information that "up to 1930 Birch as a man of considerable wealth and was engaged in many profitable enterprises. From 1926 to 1929 his net worth was over $3,000,000, and his net income over $100,000 a year. After 130 Birch became financially involved and his assets began to shrink in value, although at no time did his status approach that of insolvency." It also developed that Birch began to borrow money from cousin Ella "to assist him in his financial difficulties" as the Great Depression worsened. Other court information showed that Otis Birch was well invested in the stock of such companies as Lyon Storage Company (still a major storage and moving business), Pacific Crest Cemetery, Citizen's National Bank, and Western State Life Insurance Company, amounting to between $60,000 and $100,000, a large sum in those days. Most telling in terms of the facts of the case is that the court majority believed that Otis Birch, his wife and his cousin conspired to create an illusion of Birch's debt to Ella Minter in order to secure more favorable terms for his renegotiated lease, which even then he defaulted on his monthly payments. In the 3-2 decision, the majority ruled that the slightly less than $10,000 judgment would go against Birch. Given Birch's several journeys through the California court system, it would appear that he had not only established a significant level of wealth, but also devised ways to try and protect himself as matters got bad during the Great Depression.

Birch, however, seems to have stayed out of the public eye for about fifteen years after the 1951 IRS case, when he was, by the way, already 80 years old. In 1965, however, everything changed. By then, Otis and Estelle Birch were in their mid-90s and in failing health. The two still lived in South Pasadena, but were unable to care for themselves, while their nieces assumed control of their maintenance and support. Consequently, a nursing service was contacted and a woman named Pearl Choate hired to care for the Birches. Choate, by any reasonable modern standard, would not be allowed anywhere near the Birches or anyone else in a nursing capacity, for that matter. She was born in Texas in 1907, had been married six times (all to well-off older men), and had served prison time in the shooting death of one of them. Incidentally, Pearl, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds, claimed self-defense in the killing of this aged husband. Despite her claim, she was convicted of murder and sent to prison, earning her release in 1963.

Very shortly after Pearl began working for the Birches, she and the couple vanished in June 1966. When the nieces investigated, relatives found that the three had been in Mexico before surfacing in Pearl's home state of Texas and her hometown of Odessa. Shortly afterward, Marguerite Estelle Birch died at age 93 in October 1966. Three weeks later, Pearl Choate took Otis Birch to Altus, Oklahoma and the two were married in a car parked outside a Justice's Court. Birch was laying on a mattress because he was too weak to walk into the court. Still, Birch's nieces and others secured a hearing to determine whether the aged capitalist was being coerced by Pearl. Because he was totally deaf, Birch had to be asked the salient question by having it written down for him to read through a large magnifying glass. The question was "Is Peal Birch holding you against your will?" His answer, "No, she's not."

With that, the two were released and went on to live in a trailer in Odessa and then another in Dallas, which is where Albert Otis Birch died in March 1967 at the age of 95. Later that year, Pearl was arrested on a charge of intent to commit murder in a rent dispute with a tenant in an apartment building she owned (presumably paid for from the Birch estate, which a late filed will provided for almost all of Birch's money to go to Pearl.) Subsequent civil litigation ensued as the nieces, the ones raised by the Birches 60 years before, sought to challenge the will. In 1970, however, the court ruled in Pearl Choate's favor.

Although it had been stated in the press that Otis Burch was worth some $200 million, though it was not stated what the basis for the estimate was, it turned out that there wasn't even enough money left to pay a $4,666 funeral bill for Birch. What is unknown is just how much money or property was left to Choate. There are many who think that Pearl was a classic serial killer, a woman who married older men when they were vulnerable, gained control of their finances, and then killed them off. According to the coroner, however, Otis Birch died from natural causes (circulatory collapse and chronic ingestive heart failure "brought on by old age.") Still, it is obviously strange that Pearl ran off with the Birches and in quick order secured control of whatever Otis's financial situation, which was not explained, consisted of.

It was a strange ending to a long and eventful life for a man who was one of Brea's big success stories in the oil industry. How many drivers use Birch Street from Valencia Avenue on the east to just past Brea Boulevard in the new downtown area and know anything at all about the thoroughfare's namesake and his fascinating life story?

Added, 17 June 2013:  here's a link (click here) to a fascinating investigative article in the Saturday Evening Post  from about 1967 that gives great detail of the Pearl Choate/Otis and Estelle Birch story.

23 October 2008

Stonefield Housing Development Draft Environmental Impact Report

The Draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Stonefield housing project, consisting of a gated 28-home, executive development of 4-5,000 square foot homes on 10-20,000 square foot lots analyzes a standard set of criteria, including water, traffic, climate change, biological resources, air quality, aesthetics, conformity to the general plan, and others. Anyone who has examined these documents knows they are lengthy, written in often very technical language (EIR-speak) and can be confusing with terminology.

After a while, though, you tend to know where to look for key information relative to impacts as defined by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and mitigation to reduce or offset those impacts. You also are looking for those mitigation strategies that would lead a government entity to issue the "Statement of Overriding Considerations" (SOC), a gaping loophole in CEQA that provides a rationale for a government to approve a project, even if the impacts are determined to be signficant, adverse, and unavoidable.

I'm going to focus my remarks on four key issues: two of which were identified as having significant impacts and two which were not. To start with the latter, water supply was not seen as a significant impact because the future prediction of water supply is speculative. Meaning: we don't know for certain that rainfall and snow pack levels leading to reservoir levels will be low. Therefore, in essence, this line of argument is that we shouldn't really take water supply into account at all, unless, I imagine, we are in a severe drought with mandatory water rationing. The problem with this argument seems simple: any future predicting is speculative. Chino Hills' sales tax and property tax revenue is speculative; knowing the enrollment of children in our local schools (which has a direct bearing on government funds) is speculative; traffic counts which could dictate law enforcement and maintenance strategies is speculative; almost anything related to planning for the future is, indeed, speculative. Given that climatologists routinely argue that we are in a prolonged drought cycle, knowing that dry years have greatly outnumbered average or above average years, understanding that reservoir levels are generally well below capacity, and seeing that we are now in a voluntary conservation mode, with mandatory rationing a very strong likelihood for next year if we don't get a significant amount of rain and snow: why can't a moratorium be put into place until such time as reservoir and supply levels are back to an acceptable level? Let's not forget how big these homes and lots are (double most homes in the city.) What are some of the mitigation measures proposed to reduce water use? Drought-tolerant plants, CC & R mandates for pool and spa covers, Energy Star appliances and the like. The question is: is this enough for homes and lots this big, given where we are at with our water issues?

OK, now for traffic. This is determined to not be significant because of the small number of houses, cars, and estimated daily car trips (268/day) being insignificant as to the overall level of traffic on Carbon Canyon Road. A letter-grade system is assigned to roadways and criteria established for these. So, for example, a "D" is considered a high level of traffic, with heavy congestion and delays. Yet, this rating is acceptable. The question is: is it desirable? Also, let's not forget, although it's easy to when looking at an EIR because it examines a project entirely in isolation rather than taking in context, that there are three other canyon housing projects in the pipeline (ranging from on the cusp of approval to in process) and the total of number of homes there exceeds 300. That means almost 3,000 car trips per day on a road that is already rated "F", the lowest rating, at rush hour periods. The EIR traffic study here shows that most ratings fall within "D", with "E" and "F" ratings pretty common, depending on what intersection the readings are at. Despite the fact that there is no signficance identified, the EIR goes ahead and recommends mitigation: namely, traffic lights at the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Canon Lane and Canyon Hills Road, further west of the project. A light at Fairway is not feasible because of road curvature and sight lines. Yet, are traffic signals true mitigation. Does the presence of these actually improve flow, reduce congestion, and make the commute easier? The answer is a resounding NO! What it does is to allow drivers on Canon Lane and Canyon Hills Drive the ability to negotiate turns onto Carbon Canyon Road (I understand why that would be good for the relative few who would benefit, because I have to do the same thing, but wouldn't have the benefit of a light!) Just look at Grand Avenue and Peyton Drive, where the Shoppes development has just been completed. Several new sets of lights have been added, but they don't assist in getting drivers through more quickly, NOR are they designed to do so. They do slow drivers down and increase the time to get through the area, but that's because they're needed there. To go back, however. If Stonefield does not have significant traffic impacts, then why are mitigation strategies recommended, especially ones that do not mitigate, but exacerbate, the problem? The truth is: any additional traffic, no matter how small it might seem in isolation, is an unnecessary and unacceptable burden on an already over impacted Carbon Canyon Road, a road not designed or built for its level of traffic. Period.

Now, to air quality. Simply put, there is a relative short-term (3 months, 6 months?) period of heavy grading, but a process which will create nitrous oxide and particulate matter pollution exceeding the already-low standards established by the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the Air Quality Index (AQI). In this area, the suspended particulate matter of 10 microns in diameter or more level is already 2x the state standard and ozone levels are also double the federal guidelines (which, again, are lax as they stand now). The levels of pollution generated by the Stonefield project will surpass these low standard by 40% on nitrous oxide and by 70-75% on one level of particulate matter (the other, a 2.5 microns or less diameter level, is a small amount over the threshold.) For 24-hour particulate matter, which would dissipate within one day, the threshold for effects within 73 and 50 meters (why are they using metrics when almost no one else does?) are quite severe, even if temporary. As to mitigation: there are several offeerings: having diesel oxidation catalysts on vehicles to reduce pollution by 15% (except that the project will exceed low standards by 40%); proper maintenance of vehicles subject to AQMD inspection (provided these inspections will actually take place regularly during the grading process); turning vehicles off when not in use; using electrical rather than diesel hookups for power tools (which should already be standard practice!); and the kicker: a traffic control plan for safe detour. On this last one, two simple words: TO WHERE! How can you possible have a safe detour for massive grading vehicles in Carbon Canyon? By the way, imagine the traffic impacts of these huge babies when they're hauling dirt to and from this project. The long and short of is this: these mitigations, poor as they are in most cases, will only be able to reduce pollution by 15%, when the project is 40% over our low standards. ERGO, this criteria cannot truly be mitigated. If it cannot be mitigated, it cannot be approved (theoretically).

That takes us to the last issue: aesthetics. There are several criteria: scenic vista, scenic resources along a state scenic highway, existing visual character, overall impact. Bascially, the project would completely fill in a natural landform within the canyon and then build the homes atop this manufactured area, to a point where some lots are actually slightly higher than the roadbed for Carbon Canyon Road. Consequently, there would be changes in landform, views and the scenic quality of the canyon permanently. Here is how it is expressed in the EIR: the project results in "permanently altering the scenic character" of the canyon. What is proposed is to "soften" the appearance via trees and hardscape (walls with nice rock facades, etc.) to make the place have a "pleasing appearance." Talk about speculative! When the project refers to open space, this includes manfactured slopes, access points, and streets (the latter two amounting to 5.68 acres or 20% of the open space!) The manufactured slopes would be highly visible in grading and then "landscaping would help blend the proposed houses into the natural surroundings." Actually, the correct way to put this should be: "the natural landscape will be obscured and compromised by artifical landscaping and the visibility of homes and hardscape." Incidentally, it is noted that, in 2004, CalTrans denied a Chino Hills request for a scenic highway designation. The reason: the canyon's natural scenery has already been compromised. Obviously, building this project right next to the road will doom that potential designation forever. The salient point with aesthetics is simply and bluntly expressed in the EIR, because it has to be: THERE IS NO MITIGATION AVAILABLE FOR ANY OF THE CRITERIA DEEMED SIGNIFICANT. So, what this means is that there is no way to alter the sigificant, unavoidable, adverse impacts of this project when it comes to the aesthetic character of the canyon.

WHICH IS WHY WE LIVE IN THE CANYON. We live here because we appreciate its rustic beauty, greenery (most of the year!), open space (what's left of it), changing landform, and many other qualities. If you have a project that openly admits that it cannot mitigate a significant affect of a quality that is essential to the canyon's existence, how in earth can this proect be approved. Well . . . let's see what the city does with this when it comes to the possibility (probability, certainty) of a "Statement of Overriding Considerations." I'd like to believe this is a straight-forward issue: two impacts are either not at all or not fully mitigatable (is that a word?). Therefore, the project should be rejected. Thanks, however, to the black hole-sized loophole that is the SOC, don't be at all surprised if the city comes up with a reason to approve.

That's where the concerned citizen comes in. Next Thursday, 30 October is the deadline for public comment. Send them to Betty Donavanik at bdonavanik@chinohills.org. Attend the Planning Commission meeting, tentatively scheduled for 16 December. Make your voice heard, if you care about the canyon.

17 October 2008

Stonefield Housing Project Community Meeting Summary

Last night at the council chambers of Chino Hills City Hall, a community meeting was held concerning the proposed Stonefield housing project (project site above looking west from Carbon Canyon Road at the hairpin turn), a gated 28-home community of homes in the 4,000 to 5,000 square foot range on lots that run from a little under 10,000 to just below 20,000 square feet. In this respect, Stonefield is definitely a microcosm (under 1/5 smaller in scope) of Canyon Crest in the gated, luxury housing market.

There were about two dozen persons in attendance, although half of them were city staff, developer representatives and the "environmental consultant," a term that I find disingenuous because it suggests that you have someone who is environmentally-conscious, when, instead, this person is a city or developer hired contractor who completes the environmental impact report. I would love to know just how often these consultants come back with a report that, in essence, says, "I believe this project is not feasible for this site and should not be developed." I'm going to go out on a limb (of a tree that will be hacked down for these housing projects) and suggest that it almost never happens.

Just like when unavoidable, significant, adverse impacts are identified (as with Stonefield) in the California Environmental Quality Act, it almost never happens that governments (cities, counties, states) will then, in essence, say, "We believe that there are no ways to mitigate these impacts or that the mitigation measures proposed are not even exchanges, therefore we are declining to issue a Statement of Overriding Considerations." Now, if I can be proved wrong and if someone can show that there is a regular occurrence of EIRs that recommend discontinuing projects or that government entities accept unavoidable, significant, adverse impacts and refuse to issue SOCs, then so be it. The reality is: mitigation measures for these impacts are almost always like trading or buying carbon offsets and credits, in which corporations and wealthy individuals can assuage their guilt for massive carbon emissions by buying credits or trading offsets. They attempt to paper over the problems by promising to promote alternative benefits. As bad as climate change is, however, and as terrible as our local pollution is, there is almost never a way to adequately mitigate air quality. Yet, human beings are so easily able to rationalize and justify their actions and state government conveniently provided a massive loophole in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), that it has become virtually a matter of policy for governments to issue their SOCs and not have to worry about justifying it in anything more than a shallow, surface-level manner, because there is no accountability to a higher authority.

Unless, unless, there is a massive citizen outpouring, intense media attention, and other reactive measures that force a bright light onto the inadvisability of a project. Then, there is a chance for denial. Sadly, there is not nearly as likely with a "small" project like Stonefield, as compared to, say, Canyon Crest. But as some community members reminded us last night, the Pine Valley Estates project within the canyon isn't coming together as promised. This just isn't in turn of the project's stalled status because of the economy and housing market standstill, but because promises with respect to hillside and ridge protections wound up being compromised.

The meeting largely consisted of the "environmental consultant" explaining that, of the eight criteria analyzed in the draft EIR, two were found to be unavoidable, significant, adverse impacts: aesthetics and air quality. On the former, there were four criteria of concern: 1) open land views; 2) grading and vegetation removal as pertains to the proximity of the project to Carbon Canyon Road as a "potential scenic highway"; and 3) and 4) relating to different aspects of visual character. On air quality, the concern was with construction grading. I haven't examined the CD copy of the EIR that I received last night, so won't comment yet on the specifics. Needless to say, city staff will be presenting mitigation measures and recommending a Statement of Overriding Considerations and we'll see what is being proposed.

There are two other issues, however, that have great bearing on this and any other project in the canyon: traffic and water. Again, I'll have to look at the EIR to see why traffic (the study was conducted in September 2007) was considered not to be a major impact, but suspect that, because there are 28 proposed home with about 90 residents and about 280 car trips per day, none of this is considered significant. In isolation, that would appear to be true. Once again, though, Carbon Canyon Road is "F" rated, it is beyond its designed capacity. There is no way to widen it to accommodate more cars. Consequently, any addition of traffic, no matter how small it seems out of context is simply unacceptable. Mitigation measures will not make the problem better.

Now, there will be some explanation in the EIR about how there is sufficient water supply for this project (again, 4-5,000 square foot homes on 10-20,000 square foot lots means roughly double the Chino Hills home average and, therefore, about double the water use.) But, if we're being asked to voluntarily conserve water and are looking at the very likely probability of forced rationing next year should rainfall and Sierra Nevada Mountains snow pack not be far above average in coming years, why shouldn't there be a moratorium on new housing construction?. Besides, supplies from the Sacramento River delta to southern California are being cut by court order and a federal mediation over the Colorado River dispute among California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah has not, to my knowledge, been worked out yet. And, if some climatologists are correct, and we're in the midst of a 20 or 30 year drought cycle, it would be sound public policy to issue a moratorium until our reservoirs and rivers such as the Colorado, almost all of which are well below capacity, are at a healthier level.

There was some significant commentary at the meeting, mainly offered by four or five persons who live in nearby homes, such as in Carriage Hills, or adjacent properties off Carbon Canyon Road. Their comments were focused on views, lighting, and, especially, safety pertaining to Carbon Canyon Road. There was also a fair amount of time devoted to the fact that the bowl-shaped terrain that characterizes most of the property will be filled, compacted and graded so that much of the development would be very near, at, or, in some cases, above the level of Carbon Canyon Road, which raises legitimate questions as to view, significant settling and movement, and safety should cars careen, as they've been known to do (though not as often as some speakers suggested), off the highway and into the immaculately manicured yard or well-appointed living room of one of these luxury houses. I am actually bothered by an overmanipulation of natural landforms, so that the quality of the canyon setting is seriously compromised by man's misguided desire to "conquer" nature.

This includes plans to "bury" a drainage course that runs from the site into Carbon [Canyon] Creek, a course that the project engineer stated was for runoff from the Carriage Hills tract above the Stonefield site. The fact is that course follows a natural pattern of runoff in the hills and any transformation of it would be affecting the natural quality of the canyon that draws people to live there in the first place. Sure, pipes would be laid under a bedrock of dirt to direct the runoff to the creek downstream at the golf course, but can anyone seriously suggest that hacking away at even a relatively small portion of a drainage course that leads to a natural creek (even if its contents aren't natural, consisting of runoff with who knows what floating in it) is an enhancement for the canyon? Now, the Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Fish and Game were, in the Chino Hills Champion anyway, said to have to approve this request to "bury" the course, but at the meeting city officials and the environmental consultant suggested that it wasn't a matter of approval, but of recommending mitigation so that the "burial" could be conducted in the right way from an engineering standpoint.

Engineering nature proves to be a lot trickier and less benign than it is passed of as, which segues to my next point. The project engineer stated, as they all do, in response to a comment from a resident, that the cutting, filling, grading, and compaction would be done so that the danger of slippage and failure of hillsides would be unlikely to occur. All that needs to be said to that is: look at all the recently-built hillside homes in Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills, Laguna Beach, Malibu and other places and then go and find out what project engineers and geotechnical consultants said about the durability of these "manipulations" of inherently unstable hillside environments. And, who gets sued when these areas experience slides and red-tagged homes? The city.

To conclude, the project engineer was blunt: this development would not commence in 2009 as originally projected and he was pretty clear in saying that they would not build until is was economically feasible to do so. There is a statute requiring that final map be issued within a certain time frame (three years, I think) from the date of approval, but, once that map is certified, it's apparently good for good. This means that, whatever happens with traffic, water, funding for schools and other infrastructure, the project is viable at any future time and the land is much more valuable for resale with that approved tract map behind it.

The fundamental issue is unresolvable: Carbon Canyon Road is far beyond capacity, any additional traffic introduced by new housing developments within the canyon exacerbates the problem, and a mitigation "trade-off" doesn't address the problem. For this reason, there should be a moratorium on all future large-scale (aside from the occasional individual home within an established subdivision or on a discrete property) development.

As for water, until we have a situation where water storage is not far below normal, as it now is, and in which current residents are being asked to voluntarily curtail water use or forced to restrict it, there should be a moratorium on projects anywhere where these conditions exist. It is terrible public policy to permit further development in this scenario.

The problem: state law is crafted precisely to favor development and the massive loophole of the Statement of Overriding Considerations in CEQA facilitates that imbalance. When private property rights (not, to borrow from the recent presidential debate, of a "Joe the Plumber" variety, but rather of conglomerates and well-funded and heavily capitalized individuals) run roughshod over societal impacts, something has to give. Why should it continue to be the rest of us who have to deal with the further negative impacts of sprawl and overbuilding precisely as resources and infrastructure diminish?

Coming soon: a further commentary on the EIR.

And, don't forget: public comment on Stonefield concludes 30 October with the Planning Commission public hearing tentatively scheduled for 16 December.

15 October 2008

Community Meeting for Another Canyon Housing Project!

I've alluded to the possibility of this project a couple of times before and made brief mention of it in my remarks to the Brea City Council last week, but it turns out this project is not merely a future proposal, but one that is in the works now!

Stonefield is a proposed 28-home gated community on 35 acres off the north side of Carbon Canyon Road, east of Fairway Drive, from which there will be two access points, just on the western side of the horseshoe curve that negotiates the highest point on the Chino Hills side of the canyon. A few months back a brush fire blackened most of this area (see photo above showing a significant portion of the property in question).

In a Chino Hills Champion article headlined "Meeting Focuses on Disputed Project" from last Saturday's paper, which, because of the Columbus Day holiday, I received in the mail today, we learn that there will be a community meeting TOMORROW NIGHT, Thursday the 16th, at Chino Hills City Council chambers at 2001 Grand Avenue (entrance off Civic Center Drive, west of Chino Hills Parkway and south of Grand Avenue.)

The draft environmental impact report has been completed and the city has allocated $180,000 for it. Notably, there was a $60,000+ amendment to that contract to provide more data on climate change, traffic, air quality, and noise studies.There was an earlier community forum on this project and, as expressed by the Champion: "During a contentious meeting in February, approximately 30 residents chastised the city for allowing more homes in the canyon, and vowed to organize the community. They raised concerns about quality of life, traffic, water and sewer [issues], air quality, and obstruction of views." The paper also pointed out that the developer "calls for removing a drainage course, and permission is needed from the Army Corps of Engineers and the [California] Department of Fish and Game." This refers to the drainage that feeds into Carbon [Canyon] Creek, the watershed that empties into the lake behind the dam at Carbon Canyon Regional Park. It would be very interesting to know what the views are of the ACE and Fish and Game folks. Also of note: An excess of 300,000 cubic yards of soil will be moved around on the site.

Now, although it would be great to have a larger turnout at this meeting and hear from people concerned about another proposed development (whatever the state of the economy might or might not currently allow) in an already overcrowded and overdeveloped canyon, the public comment period does continue for another two weeks and concludes on Thursday, 30 October.

So, if you cannot make the meeting tomorrow night, send an e-mail or letter to the city Planning Department, City Council, City Manager's office, or somewhere in the city and let them know what you think. I cannot imagine there will be an outpouring of support for this project, so for those who are concerned about the future of the canyon, make a stand!

10 October 2008

Carbon Canyon Interactive Google Map, Redux #3

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

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #7

A few days ago I retold the tale of the 1958 capture in Sleepy Hollow of a murder suspect named Lester Dean Bonds, who fatally shot Officer Russell Grower of the Ontario Police Department in a vacant ranch house in Soquel Canyon.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a resident on his way home stopped in at the Sleepy Hollow Cafe and heard about the manhunt for Bonds. That evening, Bonds was found in this person's house and was eventually nabbed there.

There are two images here: a photograph of the front facade of the structure, which looks like a log cabin with high interior ceilings, dormer windows on the roof and an attachment at the right that looks like it may have been an addition; and the postcard made from the photo. The caption reads "SLEEPY HOLLOW CAFE -- Good Food -- Beer -- Wine -- Carbon Canyon Rd., Chino, Calif." On the reverse of the postally unused card is the name of National Press, Inc. of North Chicago, Illinois, the publisher of the card.

The font type, the crinkled edges of the photo, and the very small portion of a car at the lower left of the photo would indicate a late 1940s or early 1950s date for the card, several years (or a decade, perhaps) before the Bonds manhunt. It is difficult for me to see where this structure was located. Behind the oak tree that is next to the cafe there appears to be a house up on a hill and there are trees in the background, but I really can't tell anything more. If there is anyone who has information on the Sleepy Hollow Cafe, I'd love to hear about it.

These are items 2008.7.1.1-2 of the Carbon Canyon Collection.

09 October 2008

Carbon Canyon's Greatest Hits #1

Here's another new feature that concerns my attempts to document all of the ways in which errant drivers leave their mark on Carbon Canyon Road. I'm sure that these incidents happen because sunlight gets in their eyes, or they're marveling at a deer on the side of the road (alive, hopefully), or the beauty of the Canyon overwhelms them, or because those darn lines in the middle of the road don't stay straight, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's more likely speed, alcohol and/or drugs, talking on the cell phone, arguing with someone in the car, or many other possibilities.

Now, today's item is a real doozy. The good folks in Summit Ranch are justifiably proud of their neighborhood (watch soon for a "Neighborhoods of Carbon Canyon" feature on SR) so a beautiful new gateway sign (the latest thing now in community pride) was put up in spring 2007 at one of the entrances to the development at Feldspar and Carbon Canyon Road. Literally within weeks, the sign was plowed through. As was the case with the original, its replacement took months to get completed and now stands unblemished. For the time being, that is!

This photo was taken on 9 August 2007 and it should be noted that the sign is probably 20-30 feet from the corner so the driver must have been going pretty fast, which also seems obvious from the impact point on the sign! At least it wasn't made of copper and then stolen as happened with some city gateway signs that cost tens of thousands of dollars and were gone within days of being installed.

Canyon Crest: Did Mayor Schweitzer Bogey the Hole on a Fundraiser?

I didn't mention this in my summary of last night's Brea City Council meeting concerning the appeal of the Canyon Crest housing project because I wanted to focus on citizen comments at the hearing, but there was an interesting matter that came up during the regular public comment session in the Redevelopment Agency portion of the meeting.

In short, a citizen expressed concern that a mailer for a golf tournament fundraiser to support the city museum had Mayor Don Schweitzer's name on it as a major supporter and gave the information that RSVPs were to be directed to Brian Rupp, the Shopoff Group's project director for the Canyon Crest development proposal. While the resident plainly stated that she was not accusing the mayor or anyone else with intentional wrongdoing, she questioned how it looked in terms of appearances. The City Attorney was asked to give his views on the matter and said there was nothing illegal, which is all very true, about the mailer. Then, after each council member rushed to defend the Mayor, an interesting distraction occurred. Some council members actually stated that, because they were all heavily involved with non-profits, any suggestion of impropriety that would lead to calls for recusal on matters involving those groups would render much city business impossible.

On the face of it, it all sounds reasonable. But, there's a fundamental and obvious problem with the argument. The Shopoff Group is a for-profit business with a potentially lucrative deal of a highly controversial nature pending before the council. As a commentor on this blog noted, the chairman of the board of the city museum is also the chair of the Planning Commission, which earlier this year narrowly approved (3-2) the Canyon Crest project. It just seems to me that there was a very simple and equitable way to have dealt with this.

The Shopoff Group has every right to be a contributor to the museum project (though we all know, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, that as soon as this project is quashed or when it is built, Shopoff will be gone, unless there's another project to be had in town). Why, though, did the RSVPs have to be directed through Mr. Rupp? For the sake of appearances, it would have been a more politic decision to have had someone else handle that.
After all, these kinds of issues wind up becoming, in many cases, fodder for media coverage that the parties involved too often would just have rather avoided. Incidentally, the Mayor publicly stated that, at no time during thhe planning for this fundraiser, did he talk to Mr. Rupp about the Canyon Crest project. I suppose we'd have to take him at his word and, not being a Brea resident, I'm really in no position to testify on that score.

Still, why bring unnecessary and preventable scrutiny? Why not keep a respectable distance between elected officials and parties interested in a highly charged matter now before the council (and only recently heard before the Planning Commission)? Why run the risk of putting forth questionable appearances?

Actually, what I'm more interested in was another statement of this resident that $1 million was offered by Shopoff to Hills for Everyone, a group at the forefront of the Canyon Crest opposition. Was this another "investment in community building" or, as was insinuated by this speaker, an attempt at bribery? If anyone out there is privy to this and cares to share it, I'd be interested to hear more (who wouldn't?).

The reality, though, is, whatever this fundraiser mailer might or might not mean, the council has to subjectively decide the appeal based on whether they feel Canyon Crest serves the citizens of Brea more than it does the Shopoff Group. Just as it probably wouldn't help Barack Obama to hammer away at John McCain's connection with the Keating Five scandal from 20 years ago, even if in defense of groundless attacks about his "palling" around with former Weatherman William Ayers, it probably does not help the Canyon Crest opposition to put too much attention on this mailer and its appearance of questionable associations and distract from the direct and very substantial issues about the absolute unsuitability of this proposed development for Brea and Carbon Canyon.

08 October 2008

Canyon Crest Project at Brea City Council, Round Two

Well, it appears there will be at least four, possibly five meetings of the Brea City Council relative to the controversial Canyon Crest project in Carbon Canyon. This 165-unit gated, "luxury" development would be built on over 350 acres on the north side of the canyon and dramatically alter it for a looong time.

After the appellant and applicant had a chance to address the council on 16 September, last night (a few hours ago, actually) was the time for public comment. Next meeting, Tuesday, 21 October will be a chance for the appellant and applicant to address the public comment, but, because a council member will be out, a special meeting for Wednesday, 29 October will be called for the council to ask questions of the two groups and possibly vote then, though that action could be delayed to another meeting.

Being that it's late, I'll make only some general commentary on the proceedings last night (a few hours ago, actually). First, there were surprise commentaries from folks outside the immediate area, including Yorba Linda, Hacienda Heights, and a sizable contingent from Silverado and Modjeska canyons. These latter were on message about wildfire risks in canyon settings and, even if we admit that a newer project like Canyon Crest would consist of homes better equipped to deal with fire, the sheer force of Santa Ana wind-driven fires and difficulty of access for emergency vehicles competing for space with evacuees are points that cannot be ignored. Nor did a new wrinkle that did not appear at the Planning Commission meeting or in the appellant's statements three weeks ago: the problem of obtaining fire insurance in high-risk zones, especially after last fall's devastating fires, such as the massive Silverado blaze.

Also surprising was that, by my count, there were 8 people who showed up to speak in support of the project. Still, it is worth noting that most had some business connection (a man who works with builders, a representative for Bobby McGee's restaurant, a business owner who spoke in favor of [unrestricted?] property rights), almost none of which spoke to any detail about why the project was so good, other than saying in very general terms that they approved.

This can be juxtaposed with the twenty-odd persons who spoke against the project, and, as was the case at the Planning Commission hearing, usually did so with great specificity and passion. One supporter basically invoked the "American Dream" as embodied in the desire to move up to better housing, as if that was the sole criteria for the dream! She also made sure to mention that she lived on hope that the economy was going to improve and trusted the council would also act on hope. I was also sure to remember the guy who invoked property rights and seemed to indicate that there should be no government-imposed limits. Now, I could be wrong about his message, because it was so vague and brief, but there has to be some limitations, otherwise Brea and most other cities wouldn't have general or specific plans, hillside ordinances, and other "socialistic" means to deny the poor property owner, especially insignificant, little entities like the Shopoff Group or, say, Shell/Aera, their birthright to unfettered development. As I said at the meeting, all you have to do is look at Moreno Valley (or most of Corona, or Menifee, or Temecula, or Murrieta, or . . .) to see what can happen when development is allowed to run amok. The stunning thing about Moreno Valley is that they've done this twice (first in the late 80s/early 90s.)

Finally, there was the local pastor who basically came right out and said that the council should only look to the staff for guidance on making decisions, implying that, because there are some citizens who can get unreasonable with elected officials (as if that never goes the other way around), the latter need not take heed of the former. It bears noting, however, that the opposition to Canyon Crest has uniformly behaved very well. Sure, there were some pointed comments, usually at the developer, and some cheering and clapping, but nothing like the free-for-alls that take place at lots of council meetings. As I said after the Planning Commission meetings, Brea residents were almost exclusively composed, reasonable, rational, substantive, respectful and just a real credit to their town.

But to have a man who stakes a claim as a real community-minded guy to just come out and say that the council should work exclusively with staff to make decisions is really stunningly misguided as to the role of the citizen in a democracy. Is it more efficient to make unilateral (or quasi-bilateral, if city staff are to be seen as separate from the council in the government hierarchy) decisions without consulting your citizenry? Of course. But, is that desirable? The answer ought to be: no, no, a thousand times no. This gentleman at least had some company this time, as he was the only supporter, if half-heartedly, of the project at the Planning Commission meeting.

When you take substance, depth, and specificity and weight the scale of the twenty or so opponents of Canyon Crest with the eight or so supporters, there really was no contest. The strangest of the support comments had to be the representative from Bobby McGee's, who made her proxy comments as briefly as humanly possible and promptly disappeared. The reason for the support: McGee's evidently believes the potential well-heeled residents of Canyon Crest will save the restaurant in its losing battle with Claim Jumper. Another supporter rested his argument solely on the idea that, in conflicts over housing developments like this one, the opposing issues will simply be resolved and that's more or less it.

So, if these were supposed to have constituted ringing endorsements for the project, in which supporters showed a real enthusiasm for the project and elucidated all the wonderful things this project was going to provide the city, than the vague, brief and uninspired comments offered are telling. By contrast, as I said above, opponents offered detail and passion, which, I suppose, would bode well for an upholding of the appeal.

Therein lies the crux and we'll have to wait through another six or so hours of meetings to see if the council is ready to make their decision. I just want to say again that the speakers who came in on a presidential debate night, no less, and gave of their time to offered mostly well-phrased, detailed, respectful and restrained opposition are a real credit to their city and community. Regardless of what the council ultimately decides, these citizens (in the true meaning of the word as involved) should be very proud of the work they've done.

Let's just hope that it is rewarded!

06 October 2008

Smart Car Caravan on Carbon Canyon Road!

As I write this, several souped-up coupes have roared by on Carbon Canyon Road through Sleepy Hollow with their modified tailpipes bellowing belligerently off our canyon walls. An apt introduction to an amazing sight on the road yesterday (Sunday) morning.

Literally, several dozen perky little Smart Cars, forming a phalanx of fuel efficient vehicles on their way somewhere to the east, rolled down the road. More and more of these French-made 106 inch, 2300 lb, 1 liter, 3-cylinder, 70hp midgets are appearing on our highways and byways.

It's easy to see why when it comes to mileage. The American models (which, of course, are less efficient than the European counterparts) are rated at 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. For eleven years, I drove a 1 liter, 3-cylinder, 55 (yeah, 55!) hp Geo Metro Lsi convertible that averaged over 40 mpg, so I've driven something somewhat comparable and survived (by comparison my Toyota Prius seems like a asphalt scarring behemoth with its 70hp gas engine coupled with a 44hp electric motor and Corolla chassis!)

What is probably scaring off a lot of folks from the Smart Car, though, is the fear that the car might be pulverized in an accident with a Chevy Aveo much less anything larger. The NHTSA rates the car at three stars for passenger safety, four for the driver, five for side impact front (wonder why there's no rating for the side impact rear :)) and three for rollovers. The IIHS has a good rating for crash offsets but nas not tested its "bumper bash" capabilities. (Oops, there go the coupes I just mentioned screaming back on CCR eastbound!) The vehicle does have driver, passenger and side airbars, traction and stability control, and four-wheel antilock brakes, so, at least for driving on streets, the car would appear to be worth consideration for most commuters.

Then again, if we reduced the number of gas guzzling monsters on the road, maybe the size of the Smart Car wouldn't be so much of an issue. The reality is: whether its the economy or global climate change (no matter the causes), Americans are going to have to make significant lifestyle adjustments in so many areas.

When it comes to transportation, the single passenger model is just way outdated anyway, so mass transit will have to be a bigger part of the solution. Meantime, we need to drive more efficient vehicles, be they internal combustion gas, hybrid/plug-in, compressed air, hydrogen fuel cell, whatever. In 1925, an oil industry trade magazine pointed out that, even though European cars were far more fuel efficient (see above on the Smart Car once again), Americans were not about to give up their desire for power. 80+ years later, little has changed, but it's going to have to.

That's why it was cool to see forty or so Smart Cars making a little/big statement on Carbon Canyon Road yesterday.

Canyon Crest Appeal Hearing Tomorrow Night!

This is it, everyone (who might be reading this)! Tomorrow night, Tuesday, 7 October @ 7 p.m. at the Brea City Hall council chambers is the second round of the public hearing for the appeal of the Canyon Crest housing development approval by the city planning commission.

I know the second presidential debate is on at the same time (I'll be setting my DVR for the debate), but this issue is of pressing importance to anyone who cares about Carbon Canyon. Public comment will likely take up the entire evening and it is time to impress upon the council that this project is not wanted.

The economic meltdown of the last several weeks has likely changed the dynamics of when this development is built, but, if the appeal is denied, there will be an approved project that can carry over far into the future. The developer may well sell the property with its certified tract map and approved plan and this thing could get built years from now.

With all due respect to former council member Bev Perry, who filed this appeal and who said that there may be a good project for the site, but this is not it: there isn't a good project for the site, ever! Developers have had enough of our region on which to build and we're now paying the price with traffic, overburdened schools and other services, and, now that we're in a drought, a dwindling water supply. How the council can ask its residents to cut water use by 10% and approve this water-guzzling project is beyond reason. So is adding another 1,650 cars that will take a road rated "F" for its overcrowdedness. So is removing 1,800+ trees in an oak and walnut woodland setting, of which too little has survived the ravages of nearly unimpeded development over decades.
The council should have the courage to side with its residents, who simply DO NOT want this project, and affirm the appeal, rather than align itself with a developer who only wants what those of its ilk desire: to make money (or sell the project to do so) and move on to the next development. The best interests of Brea are reflected in the reasonable, rational dissent of its residents not in the sweet nothings promised by the developer and the council needs to hear that.

Please show up and lend your support to those fighting this project!

05 October 2008

Chino Hills State Park Visitor Center Started!

For those of you who've driven down (or up) Carbon Canyon Road the last few weeks and seen the flurry of activity there next to the regional park, there is a Chino Hills Discovery Center being built for Chino Hills State Park.

Work actually began a few years ago with some clearing of old citrus trees, but has started again with the complete removal of trees and the general clearing of the land.

From what I can tell, the funding for the center, which is to accomodate up to 100 visitors, may partially be from Proposition 40, "The California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks and Coastal Protection Act of 2002" (don't you just love these legislation names?). In the act, there is some $12.5 million for "park entrance and facilities" that has been appropriated year to year since the act's passage and there is an one for that amount for the current 08-09 fiscal year.

There is, however, said to be some substantial funding from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in exchange for the California Department of Parks and Recreation providing an easement for an access road to the Diemer treatment plant, which is located on the crest of the hills above Yorba Linda. Because the city of Yorba Linda rushed through a development plan for housing on land formerly owned by oil giant Shell and its development subsidiary, Aera Energy Corp., the main access road used since for decades is now part of the housing tract, and, guess what? The neighbors are complaining! So, why not build another road over on the Carbon Canyon side, because, after all, no one lives there. We just have a public park and what's a little slice of that in the service of a precious resource like water (a mini example, perhaps, of the debate over drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge?)! Anyway, for more on the MWD road, check out the Hills for Everyone website (see the links bar of this blog.)

Other than that, I have been unable to find anything about the project on the California Parks and Recreation website, aside from the listing of appropriations for Prop 40 and a listing for a state parks interpreter job opening that mentions the center. There is also a vague mention of it on the website of the Chino Hills State Park support group, the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association.

I'm a little surprised that there hasn't been any significant publicity or information about the project in the media, which isn't to say that no one has tried to pitch it.

Incidentally, an interesting potential dynamic to the Discovery Center has been at issue at other state park projects in recent years, most notably in my experience, Pio Pico State Historic Park in Whittier. This is that, although there has been bond money to do "bricks-and-mortar" projects, such as new construction, restoration and preservation, and the like, we all know that Governor Schwarzenegger, as the budget crisis was worsening earlier this year, proposed shutting down dozens of state parks. What this means, as our economic downturn is finally being admitted now to be a recession and one that could last longer than any in our history, is that there may not actually be the funds to staff and maintain the work that's been done. This has largely been true at the Pico park and could happen at the Chino Hills Discovery Center, as well. This all, obviously, remains to be seen.

At any rate, the planned completion date is sometime in 2009, so, if all goes well on the construction, you should start seeing the "bricks and mortar" coming in fairly soon, dependent, I suppose, on whether our drought continues or not!

03 October 2008

Carbon Canyon Crime Capsule #2: 1958 Manhunt for Murderer of Ontario Police Officer

In February 1958, Russell Grower, a 34-year old Ontario police officer, was working with two detectives on a minor case of burglary, in which automobile tires were stolen from several service stations and hidden in, of all places, a vacant ranch house in Soquel Canyon. After the officers knocked on the door of the building, a man inside yelled "I haven't time to talk to cops" and then fired a shot from a handgun. Grower went down with a wound to the head and the detectives, from Pomona and Montclair, returned fire. The suspect, however, ran out the rear of the building and disappeared into the heavy brush. Two unnamed officers tried to track the murderer down but lost his trail after a mile.

By evening, nearly 200 officers from four counties descended on the area and sealed off any escape route convinced that the wanted man was hiding on the ridge separating Soquel from Carbon canyons. Initially, news reports indicated that the man "was routed out of a brush-covered culvert near a roadblock manned by Highway Patrol officers," which would obviously be Carbon Canyon Road, the state highway under the jurisdiction of the CHP.

Later, though, another article stated that he was found "in the home of Mrs. Lucille Squire" in Sleepy Hollow. The report continued that he'd entered the home about midnight "and apparently fell asleep in a first-floor bedroom." Mrs. Squire was said to have discovered the man, who had a .38 caliber revolver with him evidently stolen from the Soquel Canyon ranch house. The account concluded by stating that officers combing the nearby hills were called in and took the man into custody.

A third article, however, lauded the heroism of Bill Squires [the surname being corrected,] Lucille's husband, who had stopped in at the Sleepy Hollow Cafe earlier in the evening, asked why it was so empty, and was told that a manhunt was on for the murderer of officer Grower. This version stated that Squires went up the hill to his two-story home and that the family went to bed with nothing seeming amiss. At 11:30 p.m., however, Mrs. Squires woke her husband to say that she'd heard a sound in the house.

When her husband investigated, he found a man sitting on the living room couch smoking. According to this article, the figure was that of a man, bearded and slightly wild-eyed, his wet shoes and socks and pants lay on the floor, and he was covered by some clothing belonging to the Squires children. When Squires asked the man if he was lost, the reply was that he was tired. Thinking fast, he asked if the visitor wanted a beer, which required a visit to the community store a block away. While he hated to leave his pregnant wife behind to walk down the hill to the store, Squires thought this the only way to alert the authorities. After a few minutes, during which the police were called, he returned with the beer and engaged in small talk with the lean, wild-eyed intruder, who offered that he'd recently picked cotton in Mississippi and Texas. Ten minutes later, the police arrived and quickly captured the man. Nine hours had elapsed since the murder.

When caught, the suspect identified himself as Jeff Davis and said he was from Mississippi. There was no indication in the articles from the Los Angeles Times that anyone understood that the murderer was referring to himself using the name of the former president of the Confederacy during the Civil War! The suspect was then taken to Patton State Hospital, in San Bernardino for observation. When he signed in, he identified himself as Lester Dean Bonds, a 35-year old native of Mississippi and was raised in Arkansas, where he graduated in 1945 from a vocational school in Clinton (yes, Clinton, Arkansas!) some sixty miles north of Little Rock. It turned out that Bonds had been sent to Patton six years before for threatening a bartender and escaped in January 1953 before being captured in nearby Highland. In the course of that incident, however, he wounded two deputies by stabbing and using a boulder (yes, a boulder.) Bonds had, strangely, served in the intelligence unit of the Air Force before suffering a mental breakdown and being committed to a veterans' hospital and a series of other hospitals. After his release in 1954, he went back to Arkansas, but his mental illness continued and he was sent back to a veterans facility two years later. In the fall of 1957, he was released to his family's custody and then left their home and drifted back to California.

According to one source, Lester Bonds died at age 73 in 1986 in Alameda County in northern California, but there seems to be no information as to whether Bonds was convicted of the murder, which was then a capital offense potentially bringing a death sentence, or sent to a mental institution instead. Twenty-five years later, there would be another incident involving an escaped murderer in the Chino Hills area: the notorious Kevin Cooper case of 1983.

The information for this incident came from the online archives of the Los Angeles Times and from a Times blog by Larry Harnisch called the "Daily Mirror."

01 October 2008

Noise is Pollution, Too

I generally don't like to offer up too many "rant" posts in succession, as I seem to be doing now with the road closure and the Canyon Crest ones, preferring to mix in some history or descriptions of canyon neighborhoods and so on.

BUT, I have to say that last night (or earlier this morning) between 1:15 and 1:45 A.M., there were at least three times when cars came speeding AND roaring through the canyon. Now, this is hardly news to anyone who lives along or near Carbon Canyon Road. It happens on a regular basis.

But, it reminds me of something that I think too few people, including those in authority, think about: Noise is pollution, too.

Obviously when I moved here 4 1/2 years ago, I was aware that traffic was heavy, particularly during commute hours. I am also a light sleeper, which is my problem. Those first few nights, when the cars started to roll on through, starting at about 5 a.m., I couldn't sleep and really wondered if I'd made a bad decision moving to a house that sits right next to the road. Eventually, though, you get used to the traffic, when it is at a certain level of noise.

The problem is the heavy trucks, the cars with modified exhaust systems, and the motorcycles with the massive pipes. I've heard people, like a co-worker, insist that the latter need those pipes so they can be heard on the freeway and not be hit by inattentive drivers.

Sorry, that may be a nice fallback, but the truth is: people, whether they are driving cars, trucks, or motorycles, with loud exhausts have them because they like the sound. In many cases, I'm certain they enjoy making sure that everybody else can hear them loud and clear. The extra added benefit in the Canyon? The sound careens off the canyon walls and amplifies. And, yeah, it is my problem that I'm a light sleeper, that's something I have to deal with. Fair enough.

But, when some of these vehicles approach or even surpass the decibel level of, say, aircraft or factory equipment at full blast or the ravings of talk-radio prophets, that's a societal problem. Unreasonable noise is pollution and it has its effects. Maybe someday we'll have to transport ourselves around using electricity, air compression, hydrogen and other fuels that inherently have to be quieter.

But, I'll bet my bottom dollar (which, given where the economy is, may be all that I'll have left) that people will be clamoring and working really hard to modify their exhaust systems to replicate the good old days of roaring tailpipes so they can announce their presence to the rest of us. Something to look forward to.

And, to all of you who feel compelled to send us who live in the canyon your regards and compliments via tailpipe, thanks. And, make sure you get your hearing checked on a regular basis.