30 November 2008

Canyon Crest Appeal Continues This Tuesday, 2 December!

The above photo was taken by me this morning from the North Ridge Trail of Chino Hills State Park and shows the area where the proposed 165- home luxury Canyon Crest development would go between the water tanks at left and the Hill of Hope religious retreat at right. This spectacular vista with the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance would be permanently and irreparably destroyed by this ill-advised project. Therefore . . .
. . .at the regular Brea City Council meeting, this Tuesday, 2 December @ 7:00 p.m. in the Council chambers at the civic center, corner of Birch and Randolph streets, the appeal continues before the Council seeking to overturn the approval of this project by the Planning Commission.

As I've stated before, I'm told that the portion of this meeting dealing with Canyon Crest will allow for public testimony on fire issues in light of the Triangle Complex fires that ravages tens of thousands of acres from Corona to Diamond Bar, including much of Carbon Canyon (and the site of Canyon Crest.)

Should this be the case, this is another opportunity for Brea residents and others to register their opposition (or, conversely, support) for this project with special emphasis on the fire risk. During the previous public testimony period before the council, a number of persons spoke about the devastation wrought in the eastern canyons of Orange County (Silverado, Trabuco, Santiago) and others spoke about other risks associated with building in wildland areas (including mudslides, which are a real factor now that the plant material often holding slopes together has been largely eviscerated throughout the canyon and adjacent areas.)

I've been told, as I also stated previously, that, before the fires, there was said to be a 4-1 or, at best, a 3-2 vote preference in support of the project and against the appeal, although this is hearsay!

Regardlessly, it is essential that those concerned about what this project (whenever it might get built given the growing economic crisis and disastrous state of the housing market) portends, along with 202 other approved or proposed homes on the Chino Hills side, for the future of Carbon Canyon.

If you care about the canyon, please come and lend your support or speak to the council about why this project is poor public policy, not just for the fire risk, which is now on everyone's minds, but because of the issues of traffic, open space habitat, and pollution which still form the justifiable basis for denying this project, as well as more general concerns such as infrastructure management problems, future water supply, and just overcrowding and overdevelopment of our region.

Olinda Oil Field History: United States Geological Survey Bulletin, 1924

In 1924, the United States Geological Survey, a division of the Department of the Interior, issued Bulletin 768, Geology and Oil Resources of the Puente Hills Region, Southern California by Walter A. English, with a section of chemical character of oil by the same Paul Prutzman who authored the California State Mining Bureau bulletin from 1913 covered in my last Olinda oil history post.

In the description of the "Brea Canyon and Olinda Field," the bulletin notes that there were nine companies developing the field, that most had been in control of their properties for some years, and that there was none of the spectacular activity as those in the boom oil zones of other regional fields (such as Huntington Beach, Signal Hill, Santa Fe Springs, and other bigger, more productive areas.)

It was also stated that determining the exact geological formations that characterized the Olinda field was difficult because of the fact that "the wells are old and the records imperfect, and the dips are so steep and the geology so complicatged that the oil zones probably do not in all places conform to the [geological] structure." Moreover, it was observed that "wells can produce from more than one zone, and the divisions are therefore of less importance" than in other fields. These zones had different names to describe their varied qualities, but the point is that Olinda seems to have been an anomaly in not having an obvious pattern of geological conditions for the pooling of oil below ground.

Also of significance is the fact that the lower the wells were located, the more the productivity, although this also meant that the wells had to be dug far deeper in the bottom lands of Carbon Canyon. At the east end of Olinda, in addition, the gravity of the oil, a measure of its quality, was far higher than in other sections of the same field. It is also worth noting that this deeper zone included, at the far western end, the famed Birch well #5 [see my post on the strange career of A. Otis Birch, namesake of the major Brea street], which had, by 1923, produced 5 million barrels of oil and, after a dozen years, was still yielding 200-300 barrels per day.

Finally, English wrote that "the field ends abruptly toward the east at the valley of Olinda Creek [now known as Carbon or Carbon Canyon Creek.] The writer suspects that there is a cross fault down this valley . . ." which would prevent the accumulation of crude.

One of the many plates that came with the bulletin was a map and panoramic photos of the Brea Canyon (second photo) and Olinda (first photo) field areas. Included with this post are some details of the map, with property boundaries for the various oil companies and numbered well sites, and copies of the photo.

Source: Geology and Oil Resources of the Puente Hills Region, Southern California, Walter A. English (Washington: Government Printing Office,) 1926. Courtesy of the Homestead Museum.

Firestorm in Carbon Canyon, Part VIII

This morning I took a five-hour excursion into the hills south of Sleepy Hollow to see the extent of the fire damage in those uninhabited areas. Labor Day I'd gone on a hike in some of these same areas, but, unfortunately, lost dozens of photos I'd taken, which would have made for a striking before and after. There are some images, though, from an early July walk I'd taken in the eastern end of Soquel Canyon that are on the lower part of the blog.

As far as today's trip was concerned, a few things stood out: first, the damage in Chino Hills State Park is as significant as was described in yesterday's Los Angeles Times article, which noted that, not only was 95% of the park burned, but that fires occurring too frequently can inhibit native plant regrowth and encourage invasive, non-native species incursions. At the same time, a good set of winter rains will bring a profusion of new growth come spring, which, obviously, is true throughout the canyon. Second, the fires appear to have largely jumped over the more easterly portions of Soquel Canyon, leaving many relatively untouched areas staying green, although there was some undergrowth burning with lower sections of trees scorched, while the narrower western portions were almost completely burned. Third, circumstance seems to have played as much a part in the sparing of Chino Hills-specific neighborhoods (Sleepy Hollow, Mountain View Estates/Cañon Lane, Western Hills Oaks, and others) as fire management plans and practices, given the patterns of burn more detectable from the hills above these communities between Carbon and Soquel canyons. Finally, the incredible views from these hills on a relatively clear day are powerful arguments for preservation of as much as the surrounding hillland as possible for a whole bunch of reasons.

I'm adding to this post some of about 150 photographs I took today as I walked from Sleepy Hollow to Olinda via Soquel Canyon, up to the North Ridge Trail of the state park and eastward to an access road; then down to Soquel again and eastward to a road leading up to the hills dividing the latter from Carbon Canyon near Vellano and then westward back to Sleepy Hollow. Descriptions from top to bottom:

1: In a small depression along Soquel Canyon Road, there was a small hole (bottom) where you can see the orange glow of embers burning and smoke rising from it. This was the only area where I saw any activity at all of hot spots and it was surprising to see this two weeks after the fire!

2: Looking east at the top of Sleepy Hollow showing the proximity of the fire to homes.

3: From the ridge south of Sleepy Hollow overlooking that neighborhood and, in the distance, Oak Tree Downs and Oak Tree Estates. Further out are the San Gabriel Mountains and snow-capped Mt. San Antonio (Baldy)

4: The west end of Soquel Canyon from the canyon bottom. Burned areas were most of the hillsides to the north (right) and mainly the upper portions of the south (left) indicating the fire jumped across the canyon in this area.

5: Chino Hills State Park looking southeast from the North Ridge Trail.

6: Charred sections of the park near Gilman Peak.

7: Olinda from the park's North Ridge Trail.

8: State park property in Soquel Canyon looking west. In this narrower portion of the canyon, the fire burned most of the hillsides and bottomland.

9: A charred sign on the ground demarcating state park and private property at the west end of Soquel Canyon.

10: More burned areas in the west end of Soquel Canyon.

11: Further east, in the wider section of Soquel Canyon, here was a relatively untouched area at the canyon's bottom.

12: Charred southern slope of the hills between Soquel and Carbon canyons.

13: A sliver of undeveloped land burned in upper Sleepy Hollow just yards from homes.

14: A burned hillside just above homes in upper Sleepy Hollow.

29 November 2008

Olinda Oil Field History: California Mining Bureau report of 1913

In 1913, the California State Mining Bureau issued Bulletin 63, Petroleum in Southern California, compiled by Paul Prutzman. This comprehensive summary of oil producing operations included descriptions of fields and wells from Ventura County to Orange County and included a chapter on the "Fullerton Oil Field."

It was noted, though, that "the title Fullerton is ordinarily applied to the entire group of wells lying along the lower reaches of Brea Cañon, and on the hills to the east . . . [which] are known as the Olinda wells" it was stated that, because the terrain was no different in Olinda and Brea Canyon to that extending out to the Sansinena field, in what is now La Habra and La Habra Heights, all of the area between Olinda and Sansinena should be considered one field, called Fullerton.

At any rate, it is interesting to note that the Bulletin referred to "the town of Olinda", a distinction some people took issue with [see my earlier posts from oral histories of Olinda residents.] It is also noteworthy that, in the discussion of Brea Canyon oil activity, the discussion of the work of the Birch Oil Company (formerly the Menges Oil Company) included a description of eight wells, five producing and three in process. As was mentioned in my previous post about the strange life of A. Otis Birch, namesake of Birch Street in Brea, it was well 5, which came into production in 1911, that made his fortune. In June 1912, when the report in Bulletin 63 was issued, wells 6-8 were drilling.

In Olinda, there are discussions of the activities of several oil companies. These included:

Delaware Union Oil Company (formerly Graham Loftus Oil Company before 1911) having 37 wells of which 26 were producing, five abandoned and six drilling;

Syndicate Petroleum Company, although it was stated that their one barren well was on the west side of Brea Canyon;

Union Oil Company (Sansinena and Stearns tracts--these being the areas actually between Olinda and what is now La Habra and La Habra Heights), consisting of 53 wells, 36 of which were producers, ten abandoned, and severn drilling;

Puente Crude Oil Company, in the northern reaches of Brea Canyon toward modern Diamond Bar and Walnut with two wells drilled in 1895;.

Columbia Oil Producing Company, in Olinda proper, with 22 wells, including 19 producers and three drilling;

Industrial Oil Company (before 1910 being the Fullerton Consolidated Oil Company) with a unverified report that in July 1912 the land was sold to West Coast Oil Company and with 29 oil wells but an unknown status as to producing, abandoned, or drilling wells;

Petroleum Development Company, owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company, and which had 65 wells, including 8 drilling, 3 abandoned, and 54 producing;

Fullerton Oil Company, with twelve wells, all producers;

Puente Oil Company, with 43 wells, including 25 producers, 15 abandoned, and 3 drilling, although it was noted that the first 16 wells were drilled on a lease basis by Columbia Oil Producing Company before 1903;

Continental Oil Company, with one abandoned well full of "sulfur water";

Soquel Canyon Oil Company, with an abandoned well drilled in 1900;

Rob Roy Oil Company, with a dry hole drilled in 1904 at the forks of the Carbon and Soquel canyons near present Hollydale Mobile Home Estates;

Iowa Oil Company with two abandoned wells; and

Olinda Land Company, formerly the Olinda Crude Oil Company, with about ten wells, two of which were producers, five abandoned, and three others apparently drilling.

After this reporting were several pages of analysis of the qualities of selected wells in the general Fullerton field.

The photographs above are sections of a large fold-out panorama photograph by the West Coast Art Company in the frontispiece of the book and, although the image is simply captioned Fullerton Oil Field it is almost certainly the Olinda portion of the field given the topography, particularly the hills in the background where the Olinda Alpha landfill and those above Olinda Ranch are located.

Source: Petroleum in Southern California, Paul W. Prutzman, comp. (Sacramento: Friend Wm. Richardson, Superintendent of State Printing,) 1913. Courtesy of the Homestead Museum.

28 November 2008

Firestorm in Carbon Canyon, Part VII

There are plans to have a meeting at Western Hills Golf Course to discuss the recent Triangle Complex fire that affected Carbon Canyon and, I suppose, Chino Hills generally, moderated by the local fire chief and city officials. I'm all for that and definitely would want to be there and it has been said that community officials want to hear from residents about their experiences.

There will, I'm sure, be some people who, as was the case at the briefing I attended on the Monday evening before we were allowed to return home, will criticize officials for not doing enough or not being there at a certain location at a particular time to fight the fire or who really feel that citizens should stay and assist in fighting the fire and maybe some of it is warranted in isolation.

But, looked at in context, it bears remembering that a great many firefighters risked their lives to protect the various communities in the canyon and that placing blame achieves nothing, even if it is completely fair to point out missed opportunities, mistakes, and offer substantive suggestions without questioning motives or making unfair and misplaced accusations.

Moreover, the comprehensive fire planning that has taken place over the last fifteen years or so, planning that was all but non-existent in 1990, went a long way toward the successful defense against the fire.

I would like to hope, however, that there will be some discussion about a few essential points:

1) this fire started miles and hours away, which gave essential lead time to implement the defense plan;

2) if this fire had started in the canyon with the conditions of severe drought, low humidity, strong winds, and high fuel content in plant materials, the results would have almost certainly have been disastrous;

3) almost all homes lost in this fire did not exist 20 or 25 years ago and in some cases much sooner;

4) the intrusion of suburban development in wildland areas is a policy decision that portends catastrophe in wildfire situations, and

5) there has to be a limit to what should be built in the canyon, not because of NIMBYism, but because of inherent risk to natural disasters, as well as other significant effects relating to traffic, loss of natural habitat, pollution, declining infrastructure and other issues.

As soon as a date for the meeting is announced, I will post accordingly and, hopefully, there will be sufficient publicity elsewhere to assure a good attendance.

Meantime, here are some more photos from my excursion yesterday morning in the Brea side of the canyon:

1) The canyon up which is the proposed entrance road to Canyon Crest just east of the burned-out Manely Friends stable and house.

2) The canyon bottom west of Hollydale Mobile Home Estates.

3) A burned out abandoned car and other debris at El Rodeo Stables.

4) Looking south toward the confluence of Carbon and Soquel canyons.

5) Burned arundo at the La Vida Mineral Springs property (is this an opportune time to try arundo mitigation before it quickly springs back?)

6) Charred hillside south of Hwy. 142 near La Vida--a prime candidate for mudslides this winter?

7) Scorched "Manely Friends" sign lying on the ground at the entrance to the destroyed stables east of La Vida.

8) This is where the proposed main entrance to Canyon Crest will go, just east of "Manely Friends."

9) Carbon [Canyon] Creek on the north side of Hwy. 142 just west of Sleepy Hollow.

10) An ironic happy face spray painted on a rock with burned vegetation behind it, north side of Hwy. 142 a little west of Sleepy Hollow.

11) A view of the south side of Hwy. 142, west of Sleepy Hollow, showing absorbent material placed at the base of the hills throughout the canyon to mitigate mudslides. Rainfall, though at about 1 1/2 inches, was not hard enough to trigger mudslides--FOR NOW!

27 November 2008

Firestorm in Carbon Canyon, Part VI

After twelve days of closure, Carbon Canyon Road was fully reopened last night. Early this morning, I headed out to survey the Brea side of the canyon and see for myself what had been described to me as a scene of devastation. As much as you're told of something like this, you can't get a grasp until you're actually there and not just driving through, but stopping and walking, surveying the scene, taking it all in. Actually, the only way to adequately convey it is to either see it for yourself and words can't do it justice. I'm not all that sure my amateurish photos can, for that matter, but let me post some to try and give some visual imagery to a truly astonishing path of destruction and a potent symbol of the inherent clash that ensues when suburban development meets wildlands. Finally, this is Thanksgiving and there is plenty to be thankful for, naturally. But, scenes such as those I saw this morning lead me to believe more than ever that further development (aside from individual or small home construction) in the canyon should be banned, given climate, traffic, pollution, infrastructure maintenance, and other issues, not to mention the sorry economic situation we're in. From what I understand, the Brea City Council will reopen public testimony concerning the fire at Tuesday's board meeting (this is 2 December @ 7 p.m.), but is not likely to revisit the Canyon Crest proposal until possibly the 20 January meeting, because of reorganization for the next year (deciding on mayor, mayor pro-tem, etc.) and other matters.
Photo descriptions, from top to bottom (as with all photos on blog posts, you can click on the image to enlarge it and then scroll up/down and across to see greater detail):
1) A charred emergency call box eastbound on Hwy. 142 in Brea before entering Sleepy Hollow.
2) Sign at Olinda Village thanking responders for their brave work during the fires.
3) Gated entry to road leading into the hills north of Hwy. 142, just west of Olinda Village.
4) Chino Hills State Park area south of Hwy. 142 with a sign about areas "Closed for Plant Rehabilitation".
5) Chino Hills State Park area just south of Hwy. 142.
6) Carbon [Canyon] Creek heading west towards the junction with Soquel Canyon Creek and just south of Hwy. 142.
7) Looking east at the west end of the La Vida Mineral Springs property into Carbon [Canyon] Creek.
8) La Vida Mineral Springs property looking east where the old bridge was leading to the hotel and including Carbon [Canyon] Creek. Note the bridge piling base.
9) La Vida Mineral Springs property looking west from the parking area towards the extant water tanks.
10) Area just east of La Vida Mineral Springs looking west. Note that shoots of arundo, which totally burned throughout the Brea side of the canyon, but which is already returning and which can grow several inches per day.
11) The burned out house at the horse stables just east of La Vida Mineral Springs. One the few home losses in the canyon, but witness to the devastation that fire can bring.
12) The stables and other portions of the stable property mentioned above.