01 January 2009

Winter in Carbon Canyon (and some New Year's Thoughts)

From a little before Thanksgiving until about a week ago, we in Carbon Canyon were experiencing about a cold and wet early winter. Temperatures were generally in the 50s during the day, down below freezing a few times at night and rarely climbing above 40, and we've had between 4 and 5 inches of rain, more than the "normal" level of rainfall for this time of year. A view of the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains over a clear inland basin from the hairpin turns near Carriage Hills adds a nice backdrop to these seasonal conditions. The photo above at left is a view of the San Gabriels from Sleepy Hollow and the one at right is of a Sleepy Hollow home covered with morning frost, both taken in mid-December.

There is, however, a little dilemma in that a good dose of rainfall, combined with heavy snowpack in the Sierras, means a dent will be put into the drought that has lessened reservoir capacity severely over the last couple of years.

The threat of heavy winter rains, though, also means a stronger likelihood of mudslides in the steep canyon walls charred by the Freeway Complex fires that roared through the canyon in mid-November.

On the other hand, another subpar year of precipitation will continue the severity of the drought and could very well lead to water rationing in 2009. Neither of these is an enviable outcome for any of us who live here, but the latter is of larger concern in context. In the meantime, there is no forecast for rain over the next several days and we'll just have to wait it out and see.

At any rate, there is green growth returning to the burned areas and let's hope the City of Brea is able to secure funding to try to significantly reduce, if not completely remove, the insidious invasion of arundo that has steadily and relentlessly marched through the Orange County side of the canyon over the course of the last couple of decades.

Another steady and relentless threat (and one that is about as hard to fight as arundo) is continued development. The economy has certainly put a complete halt to any thoughts of actual construction for the forseeable future, BUT the plans continue to secure those all-important tract maps, which are essentially good forever, for housing developments that will have an enormous impact on the canyon.

As has been amply covered in this blog, the Canyon Crest development on the Brea side (165 houses on large lots) poses the single biggest threat. The Triangle Complex fire led to an unplanned public meeting and an equally unplanned request by opponents to reconsider the Environmental Impact Report with regard to public safety issues engendered by fires such as the November blaze. As matters stand now, the next consideration of the project will come at the 20 January city council meeting. This will at 7 p.m. at the council chambers in the civic center at the southeast corner of Birch and Randolph streets.

Meantime, there is Pine Valley Estates, a 98-unit development, north of the Western Hills golf course in Chino Hills that is only a fraction completed at the moment, so, while the wait-and-see process continues, the scraped hillsides stand testament to the power of the faltering economy on new housing construction.

A little to the west, the 76-unit Canyon Hills project site, with homes slated to go in between Sleepy Hollow and Oak Tree Downs in Chino Hills has changed owners, but this project has been approved so it appears that, whenever economic feasibility warrants, this development will be pursued.

Finally, there is Stonefield, comprising 28 units, east of the golf course and in a pocket of land beneath the hairpin turn at the highest elevation reached by Carbon Canyon Road in Chino Hills. The Planning Commission is due to make its examination of the Draft Environmental Impact Report and consider the project's merits any time now.

This means that there could potentially be 367 houses, well over 1,000 persons, and nearly 4,000 daily car trips (added to an already overburdened two-lane state highway not intended or built to accomodate the load) that, if built, will forever change the and, in fact, significantly erode the viability, attraction, and uniqueness of the canyon.

It is at times like this, when economic woes override almost any other consideration, that housing projects can get approved when government officials know there is no opposition.

Resolutions aside, let's hope that 2009 brings us no innocent victims of the reckless drivers who treat Carbon Canyon Road as a personal race course (and are about as hard to fight as arundo and housing tracts); the water we need to avoid rationing, even if it means mud slides in the canyon; and the resistance we need to avoid approving any more housing projects that will make our canyon less livable.

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