02 December 2008

Canyon Crest Appeal Public Comment Reopened

Well, it looks like it will be at least February before the Brea City Council will make a decision on the appeal to the approval of the 165-unit Canyon Crest housing project for Carbon Canyon (the photo, taken last Sunday, shows the project site at the right of the water towers, which are the white dots about 1/3 of the way from left, as seen from Chino Hills State Park, west of Gilman Peak.)

At tonight's council meeting, public comment was reopened on the hearing due to the recent Triangle Complex fire and its relevance to the Canyon Crest proposal. There was, earlier in the session, a lengthy report by the city manager and fire chief on the fire, part of which started at the Olinda Alpha Landfill very near the western end of the Canyon.

When the comment period started nearly two hours into the meeting, there were considerably fewer speakers than at those held previously by the Planning Commission and the Council. On the other hand, whereas there were some, if tepid, shows of support for the project before, there was no one to look at the bright side of Canyon Crest in light of the fire, except, obviously, for the representative of the developer. In his case, the insistence was that the fire-resistant materials on the homes, the defensible space due to buffering and fire-protection zones, and the idea that staying in the home (aka "sheltering in place") in lieu of evacuating was safe made Canyon Crest perfectly suitable for the location that now looks like, as has often been said, a "moonscape." Evidently, the site looked much the same after the June 1990 fires, as well, so what future Canyon Crest residents could, by his argument, look forward to, every ten or twenty years, is the appealing visual of having their lovely 4-6,000 square foot homes potentially intact while thousands of surrounding acres are utterly charred.

Maybe the Shopoff Group, which is actively looking for a buyer for the property, should advertise on their web site with the tag line "Carbon Canyon Fire Sale!" Can't you imagine the sales brochures for these homes pitching the incredible safety features of these homes that will (likely) survive when all the beautiful open space that is supposed to be an amenity is burned and blackened by wildfires that do occur periodically? Or hyping the concept that, if evacuation was not possible because the only two access points were blocked off, residents could stay inside (that is, "shelter in place") safely as walls of flame and blankets of smoke swirled around them? Wouldn't you rush out to drop $1.4 million or so for a house in an area that has a history of being prone to large wildfires?

As has been stated often enough before, there were homes, despite the Shopoff rep's pitch, in Yorba Linda that were "fire resistant" with adequate fire protection zones that burned anyway. These were on higher elevations where the wind was fiercer, allowing for the heat of highly combustible plant materials to literally smash into the homes and set them alight.

As it turns out, just a few hours before the meeting, Hills for Everyone, one of the leading lights of the opposition movement, submitted a request for a review of the EIR in light of the fires, which, theoretically, could lead to a supplemental document, a new hearing before the Planning Commission and, potentially, a new appeal. What to some could be a prudent and reasonable revisitation of the project given the experiences of the Triangle Complex firestorm could, to others, be seen as an imprudent and unreasonable delay tactic.

Because of the recent delivery of the request, the documents need to be circulated to staff, council, environmental consultants, and the applicant. City staff will have to then make their recommendation to the council, which will, in turn, decide if there is a need to take the process back for supplemental EIR review.

In all likelihood, the next step will be taken at the 20 January 2009 meeting (hmm, isn't there something else kind of important happening that day somewhere in Washington, D. C.?) On top of this, the Council has still only gotten part of the way through its laundry list of issues to address with the applicant and staff, so, as was stated above, it will be February at the earliest before anything definitive will be forthcoming.

Meantime, enjoy the holidays and let's see whether we'll have enough rain to put a dent in the drought and expose the burned areas of the Canyon to mudslides or not enough so that the drought will be significantly worsened and we'll likely experience mandatory rationing come next summer.

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