28 February 2009

Carbon Canyon Road and Its Remnant Landscapes, Part 2

Back in early August, there was a post on this blog about remnant landscapes, focusing on parts of Carbon Canyon Road that are still left after the road was rerouted over the years.

Above is a photo of a portion of the old Valencia Avenue as it curved into Carbon Canyon Road before Valencia was moved west and Lambert Avenue came through to connect directly with Carbon Canyon. The post five days ago concerning 1916 photos of the Olinda Oil Field featured an image showing this road and other posts have included maps showing it, as well. In this view, taken earlier today, the view is from Carbon Canyon looking south.

Of note are the electric power lines running along the west side of the old two-lane street, the fairly dense number of trees (most burned in the recent Freeway Complex Fire and thereby opening a clearer view of the old road path), and, outside the view, some of the oil wells still in operation. The remnant ends just as the road began its curve and, in the distance, it ends at a locked gate off the current Valencia Avenue roadway.

Like its "cousin" at the eastern end of the Canyon where the old road curves off onto present eastbound Chino Hills Parkway, this section of road is cracked, peeling, and pockmarked, but it still survives (for now) as a reminder of a different era.

Someday when the oil wells are capped, the rigs taken down, and the land sold and developed, there may be something else in its place, but, for the time being, the road remnant is a reminder of old Olinda.

In fact, looking at the photo, it almost looks like a weatherworn country road inviting a leisurely Sunday drive far removed from our heavily suburbanized landscape. Almost.

23 February 2009

Olinda Oil Field, 1916

Although I can't be totally certain (maybe someone else is), here are a couple of amazing photos that I believe show the Olinda Oil Field at the western end of Carbon Canyon on 29 March 1916.

The images at the bottom right and top left are the full views, with the others being details. The image at the bottom shows the photographer in the driver's seat (note the left front wheel and headlight at the far right) looking north on what would appear to be Valencia Avenue, in its earlier configuration as it curved into what is now Carbon Canyon Road (the curve is at the distance just to the left of the headlight. Also, Lambert Road did not then exist at this junction.) Straight ahead are the hills, on which, to the right or east, is the Olinda Alpha Landfill. Many oil derricks are in view on and just below the hills. Meanwhile, there are also quite a number of structures, including, presumably, homes. The building closest to the photographer at left appears not to be a home, however, though it is not clear what it is. The date "3-29-16" is at the lower left. There are two details above the original view.

The second photograph appears to have been taken on what is now Carbon Canyon Road looking toward the hills to the north, where the Santa Fe section of the field was located and which is now the Olinda Ranch subdivision. Again, there is a forest of wooden oil derricks, in a greater density than in the other photo, with some storage tanks at the left. The number of structures, although there are some in view, is far fewer than in the previous image. The date is at the bottom right and, on the reverse of both photographs the word "Brea" is written along with the date.

The reason I am almost positive that this is Olinda is because there were only two oil fields existing in Brea in 1916: Olinda and Brea Canyon. The landscape, however, in Brea Canyon is far different with higher, steeper and more rocky slopes on the hills, whereas those in Olinda, as shown in these views, are gentler, lower and smoother. Also, the curve of the road in the lower photo seems to match what Valencia Avenue did when it turned into Carbon Canyon Road (this stretch of road is still extant in the fenced-in oil field area just to the east of the current Valencia Avenue--a stretch that I need to go photograph now that the fires have burned away much of the vegetation that had concealed that portion of road.)

At any rate, if someone sees these photos and can corroborate (or disprove) my assumptions, that would be great.

The photographs are reproduced courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

18 February 2009

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #909: Our Accident of the Week

Well, it did seem awfully quiet out on Carbon Canyon Road when I work up this morning because the usual routine, starting about 5 a.m., is that steady stream of commuters rolling through from the Inland Empire to points west. The eerie quiet (or relative quiet) is due to yet another car crash that has knocked down power lines across the roadway.

Here is the text of an e-mail blast that my wife forwarded from work:

A traffic collision on the Brea side has knocked an Edison powerline down
across all lanes of traffic. Carbon Canyon Road is closed at the County
line. The closure is expected to last throughout the morning as crews work
to remove the powerline. A message will be sent when the road reopens.

Unfortunately, there are a few people, probably mostly canyon dwellers, who are driving west on Carbon Canyon and then having to turn around, backtrack, and use of one of the few available options (Grand Avenue, the 60 Freeway and, that most desperate of last resorts, the 91 Freeway.)

Now, once again, it is certainly possible that this latest accident was caused by something other than recklessness. But, to my knowledge, it was not raining (or at least not particularly hard) at 5:15, so I'm not inclined to think we can "blame the rain." And, this is at least the 7th or 8th time that I know of in which power poles have been toppled by errant vehicles in the Canyon over the last few years, including a period of a few months in 2006-07, in which there were four separate road closures due to downed power lines. The last incident that I'm aware of occurred last summer.

I suppose our authorities will deem this the latest in a long line of unpreventable accidents and we'll have to file this incident and its predecessors under the heading "Nothing To Be Done."

Late night update (11:45 p.m.): I learned earlier tonight that this morning's road-closing accident involved a fatality. I haven't heard specifics, so don't know what the cause was. If I find out more, I'll make a further edit on this post.

Meantime, I did receive a comment from "Anonymous" this morning, reading:

"For comments, complaints, demands for something to be done about Carbon Canyon, please contact CalTrans at (916) 654-5266, (866)383-4631, or write to them at 464 West 4th Street, San Bernardino, CA 92401. You can also go to their website at www.dot.ca.gov."

It should be noted, however, the CalTrans only handles road maintenance on Carbon Canyon Road, meaning the road surface, guard rails, and etc. There are already web links over on the far right on this blog to districts 8 (San Bernardino County) and 12 (Orange County).

What this accident and others like it concern is traffic enforcement, which is handled by the cities of Brea and Chino Hills. As I've stated in previous posts, there just hasn't been any expressed desire by Chino Hills officials I've spoken to increase enforcement in the Canyon. The conversations have been polite and cordial, but it really seems that they don't see the issues as significant enough to ramp up the police presence.

I can't speak for the Brea side, not having had any correspondence with the police department there on this issue, but I would imagine that my above statements are probably largely the same, especially with the economy and tight budgets. Let's just hope the problems that exist now don't get worse later.

ANOTHER LATE NIGHT UPDATE: 19 FEBRUARY. According to an article from yesterday's OC Register, this was actually a non-injury accident and here's the text:

A non-injury accident at about 4:30 a.m. has shut down Carbon Canyon Road near Olinda Village, police said.

Lt. Darrin Devereux of the Brea Police Department said a motorist hit a power pole, knocking the pole down.

Devereux said the eastbound lanes are closed at Santa Fe Avenue and the westbound lanes are closed near the county line bordering Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Southern California Edison has dispatched a truck to fix the line, but Devereux estimated the repair and cleanup could take several hours.

There is a photo and the usual array of comments on the website--here's the link:


16 February 2009

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #12

Here is yet another great artifact from the La Vida Mineral Springs. This seltzer bottle, which has a chrome head and a siphon on it, is in very good condition and has the original painted-on red lettering (see the above photos, which you can click on to enlarge.) In addition, there is lettering embossed onto the bottom portion of the bottle, though these don't come out very well in photos. I'm guessing that the bottles date from the 1940s or 1950s and I can't be sure that the head or siphon is original. The bottle is item 2009.2.1.1 from the Carbon Canyon Collection.

11 February 2009

Carbon Canyon Cacti Cleared

The "beautification" project carried out recently by an unknown benefactor, consisting of planing cacti alongside Carbon Canyon Road in Sleepy Hollow, has just recently been nullified, presumably by CalTrans.

One day, back in November just before the fires, several dozen small cacti were neatly planted on the north side of the road between Rosemary Lane and Oakway Lane. There they remained until just within the last few weeks and now all that's left are the shallow holes where these denizens of the desert for a short time stood.

Not that I'm a big fan of cacti as ornamental roadside plantings, but it sure was interesting to see them appear as if out of the blue one day. It was a little surprising that after three months, they were then removed.

This isn't the first time an ad hoc planting project was done in this area. About three years ago, a flatbed truck pulled off the side of the road, a couple of men got out, and a bunch of small trees were planted in the same general area. These soon, however, died out for a lack of water.

Anyway, residents of Sleepy Hollow hardly suffer from a shortage of plant life, there are still oaks, palms, eucalyptus, pines and other trees aplenty in the neighborhood, so I doubt these cacti will be much missed.

10 February 2009

Aerojet Ordinance Cleanup at Vellano Subdivision: An Update

A few days ago, I heard from Michael Collins of Enviroreporter.com, who has done considerable journalistic investigations on the very lengthy cleanup project at the Aerojet ordinance testing facility, of which much of the site is now within the high-end Vellano gold course subdivision just north of Soquel Canyon in Chino Hills.

From 1954 at the height of Cold War hysteria to 1995, the site was used for testing all kinds of munitions and then was subjected to a multimillion dollar effort to remove all traces of dangerous chemicals, shells and the the like.

The issues raised by Mr. Collins on his website should be of interest and concern to anyone in Chino Hills, specifically the Vellano subdivision, and any areas downstream from the creeks that have been affected by the forty years of testing. These include Woodview Creek heading north-easterly from the project area toward Chino Creek and Soquel Creek (a portion of which is in the above photo) which flows to the west and empties into Carbon [Canyon] Creek just east of Carbon Canyon Dam. Mr. Collins has raised the question of whether chemicals have made their way over those four decades down to the Santa Ana River and destinations further south.

I am not here to advocate for Mr. Collins but would invite readers to do their own examination, as well as consult other sources of information. Links to the updated information on Mr. Collins website, as well as to Aerojet and its parent company GenCorp, are on the right side of the main blog page.

09 February 2009

"Stay and Defend" Fire Policy For Carbon Canyon?

The colossal wildfires raging through the state of Victoria in Australia and which have claimed well over 200 lives, according to the latest news reports, have ignited a debate about the wisdom of a "stay and defend" policy for residents that have been used in that country for some years now. The basic theory has been that residents can often be the best first defense of their homes in the event that firefighters are unable to be deployed.

It should be said that there is no one-size-fits-all to this policy, which has emphasized that there are times when evacuation is a better option. With the unprecedented conditions of very strong winds, a 12-year (yes, 12 year) drought, and record-setting temperatures topping 105 degrees, the fires in Australia are leading to a lot of rethinking about the "stay and defend" paradigm. Almost all of the deaths seem to involve persons staying to try and preserve their homes or fleeing in their vehicles and being caught in the maelstrom.

The relevance to Carbon Canyon is that there has been talk about implementing a "stay and defend" system here in California. The Los Angeles Times quite recently had an article and then this morning's issue included an article about the current debate about it. In its last meeting, the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council evidently had a discussion about it.

Because the issue is only at the discussion stage, there isn't much to say, other than that there should be the obvious careful consideration of the issues that have now surfaced in Australia. These include the serious drought, hot weather, and high winds that we have been facing, although not as extreme as in that country. It also entails the question of available human resources; in other words, much thought needs to go into whether training residents to defend their homes in the absence of firefighting resources is really the best option. In some cases, it could work, but in others, it certainly would not and the crux is how to develop a system with a set of criterias and a menu of procedures that would account for the differences and the anomalies.

Fundamentally, it should be understood that preserving life comes first and that the property isn't worth protecting if the former is at risk. At the same time, mandatory evacuations really aren't that at all; if a resident wants to sign a waiver and stay and defend, they can, but then take the risk in their own hands and off those of the authorities. At any rate, we'll see what comes of the dialog in the future.

Incidentally, the Chino Hills Champion, in its last issue, had a short article about the fact that a federal grant was obtained for some tens of thousands of dollars to clear brush in a wider area in Carbon Canyon as a buffer against fires. So, it appears that later this year there will be a much more significant clearing than in past years.

08 February 2009

Freeway Complex Fire in Carbon Canyon DVD Available

Thanks to Sleepy Hollow resident and freelance photographer, Jose Fernandez, a compelling visual record of the stunning scenes that made up the Carbon Canyon portion of November's Freeway Complex Fire (the above is a photo I took in the late afternoon of 15 November from Sleepy Hollow looking west) is now available in an approximately 5-6 minute DVD.

Jose's keen eye captured so much of the danger of the fire, the determined efforts of firefighting personnel from many areas of the state, and the devastation left afterwards, as well as offering impressive aesthetic renderings of the impact of the fire on Sleepy Hollow, Vellano, Olinda Village and other Canyon settings.

What the DVD brought to my mind was the multi-layered intersection of open space, rampant suburban development, drought, depleting resources, circumstance (chance? fate? predetermination?) and other dynamics all came together between 15-17 November.

As has been stated here and elsewhere, if the fire had started in or closer to the Canyon, Sleepy Hollow would very likely have been as decimated as much of the Brea side was, except that 130 homes are here (and were spared.) The impact of the moment tends to fade greatly over a relatively short period of time.

Jose's DVD is a valuable historical record that keeps the images of those difficult three days fresh and alive. Hopefully, future planning of the Canyon will include at least some incorporation of the work Jose (and others) did to document what can happen when fire and human intrusion into wildlands collide.

For those interested in purchasing copies of the DVD, which sell for $5, please contact Jose by e-mail at linda@kuriake.com.

05 February 2009

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #s 837-838: When It Rains, It Pours

There are enough careless and reckless drivers on Carbon Canyon Road under normal circumstances, but when it rains there's another dynamic involved.

Tonight at 6:30 as I was bringing my young kids home from school, I was nearly rearended by a minivan as I approached Rosemary Lane from the east. This is at least the third time I had to watch my rear view carefully and then pull ahead to avoid being hit. This was a problem of following too close, not paying attention, and being unable to slow properly on a rain-slicked road.

The incident follows (!) one on Monday when I was heading down the hill toward Brea from Olinda and was tailgated by a blue pickup, who decided that my going 55 in a 50 zone just wasn't fast enough for him. I have to say, though, that as often as things like this happen, they've been coming in bunches lately.

At any rate, I'd like to make an offer to anyone who cares about dangerous driving on Carbon Canyon Road. Send me your comments, providing as much detail as you would like, and I'll compile them and send them on to city staff, councilmembers, and police departments in Brea and Chino Hills. I'm not sure how many anecdotes to collect or when to pass them on, but if there are enough people interested in contributing, I'd be happy to take it from there. Who knows, it might actually mean something.

04 February 2009

Holy Guacamole! Avocados and Christmas Trees in Carbon Canyon?

In the 24 January edition of the Chino Hills Champion, a little snippet in the editorial section noted that retiring Chino Hills City Manager Douglas LaBelle made a suggestion at his last City Council meeting that some of the 3,000 acres of open space in the city might be put to use generating revenue in these troubled and diffcult economic times.

The recommendation? Planting avocado and Christmas tree groves!

Yes, that's right, avocados and firs.

This "recommendation" actually falls right in line when it comes to suspect schemes with my very recent post on that strange novelty, Ski Villa, which, in 1966, had the dubious distinction of being the first (and only) year-round, snow-less ski resort in America.

Now, it'd be nice to think that Mr. LaBelle's offering was made jokingly and one would hope that the council, regardless, would see the forest for the trees (sorry, couldn't resist). We would also want to believe that city planning has evolved slightly in the last 43 years.

It is to the city's credit that so much open space was created in the planning process in the nearly 20 years since Chino Hills was incorporated. Though much of this land is unbuildable or has utility lines above or below ground, or has some other barrier to development, the city should be congratulated for recognizing the importance of open space as an aesthetic feature, as a buffer in nearly unmitigated development through our region, and, in some cases, as recreational land with trails.

At the same time, Mr. LaBelle's comment, whether entirely serious or not, reminds of one crucial issue: general plans, like treaties, are often made to be broken, particularly when times are tough on the financial front.

It is true that there is a historical precedent, since at least the early 20th century, for using steep hilly areas for avocado raising, such as in Hacienda Heights, La Habra Heights, Fallbrook and other southern California locales.

Having said this, almost any agricultural endeavor has its downsides, especially crop failures due to drought and pest infestation, declining demand in shaky markets, and the use of pesticides which affect ground water and streams, to name a few.

Moreover, as we face water shortages in this extended drought (we'll see how much rain comes in the next few days and, more importantly, what happens to the Sierra snowpack in the remainder of the rainy season), it doesn't seem appropriate to talk about dramatically increasing water expropriation for uses that may not bring the desired profit and could take away from existing residential and commercial need.

Additionally, there is the cost of preparing the land, contracting growers, and preparing the products for market.

Besides, isn't the city really better off focusing on the Shoppes and other retail rather than trying to get into the specialty agriculture business?

Is there anyone who lives in or cares about Carbon Canyon who really wants to see Noble firs or avocados on the hillsides to the south of Carbon Canyon Road between Chino Hills Parkway and Old Carbon Canyon Road--the most likely open space area within the Chino Hills portion of the Canyon for such uses? Even cattle, picturesque as they are grazing contentedly on this land now, use a lot of water, produce pollutive methane gas, and contribute to erosion.

Chino Hills has becomes a desirable place largely because of the generally solid planning that draws residents to the city and one of those features is the open space and rural feel that space provides. Any idea of compromising this is a non-starter from the get-go.

Let's hope Mr. LaBelle wasn't serious and that the City Council doesn't give it any more consideration. Finally, and this last point should be on the minds of anyone concerned with how government deals with fiscal and other crises:

Desperation-driven public policy is a poor substitute for (somewhat) rational planning.

Let's hope this was a passing little fit of irrationality and will soon be forgotten!

02 February 2009

Chino Hills State Park News

A press release was issued at the end of last week announcing that Chino Hills State Park was officially reopening yesterday after being closed two-and-a-half months since 90-95% of the park burned in November's Freeway Complex Fire.

Actually, judging from the cars parked at Olinda Ranch and along Carbon Canyon Road over that period, there was plenty of (free) use of the park.

At any rate, all but five trails, thse being ones with burned-out bridges, are open and one trail had a section that was affected by a mudslide by rains that shortly followed the fire. Additionally, many trail signs were destroyed, so visitors not familiar with the park are advised to be aware of the lack of signage.

In the meantime, a neighbor's father, who had the contract for the concrete work at the visitor center site next to Carbon Canyon Regional Park, told me a few weeks back that the project was being halted. Since then, I've learned that, though the visitor center work was being funded by bonds passed by voters earlier this decade, the state was shutting down many bond-funded projects given the current budget mess.

This doesn't come as a surprise; if anything, it was strange seeing the work start knowing the California's financial situation was deteriorating long before the financial crisis came to a head last September.

The above photos show the site (including two of the building and one of the new guardrail for the access road that will, someday, lead into the park) as of Friday and, presumably, it will stay that way for quite some time to come.

01 February 2009

Year-Round Skiing in Carbon Canyon? The Short, Strange History of Ski Villa

There it is off Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Drive in Chino Hills, a massive gray concrete scar peppered with green (or brown, depending on the time year)stubbly weeds, a testament to another crackpot scheme gone wrong and leaving its ugly mark on a natural hillside landscape that deserved better.
Yes, only here in Carbon Canyon would you have a year-round snowless (emphasize: snowless) ski resort--the only such attempt ever in these United States. This oddity was unveiled on 25 June 1966 as Ski Villa and the strange novelty lasted as long as one could expect: a year. Oh, but what a year it was!
There doesn't appear to be much information available about the resort, but two sources were located.
The first was the 8 August 1966 issue of Sports Illustrated with a short article titled "No Snow Job." The piece began, "It may be 85, but they're skiiing in Carbon Canyon, 45 freeway minutes [slightly lengthened 43 years later] east of Los Angeles." According to SI, the ski run on seven acres cost $750,000, after the hillside "was graded to the desired contour, covered with two inches of mastic cement and topped with 1.3 million interlocking 6-inch square tiles of plastic bristles with a 1-inch nap." There were three tow ropes leading users to levels at 300, 500, and 900 feet and a total run of a quarter mile. The unnamed owner/developer also purchased part or all of the former Camp Kinder Ring (see the blog entry of ) operared by the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish organization in Los Angeles, from 1928 to 1958. In former camp buildings were a skiiing school, equipment shop, restaurant, lounge, ski patrol office and a first-aid station. Despite the statement that "skiers claim the surface is comparable to midmorning spring snow on Mammoth Mountain," there were probably more than a few visitors who needed the first-aid. Even an unnamed executive from Randazzo Plastic, which manufactured the bristle tile, said that "falling on plastic bristles doesn't have the soft touch of snow" and the folks at Ski Villa gave the sage advice that "full clothes coverage" was recommended when taking to the slope. The short article concluded with "there's not much point in wearing bathing suits, anyway. It's so hot in the daytime that the floodlit slope operates mainly at night."
Ingrid Wicken, who runs the California Ski Library out of Norco, wrote a pictorial history Skiing in Southern California in 2007. Being a pictorial, there's little additional information available, other than she states there were 1.5 million tiles and that the slope was 1,200 feet from top to bottom with a 200-foot width expanding to 900 feet at the bottom. Wicken wrote that, "the white, bristle-covered slope certainly made the area stand out among the surrounding rolling foothills, but that did not seem to aid in the area's success." Moreover, she adds, "the surface proved to be too hard and unforgiving during a fall, perhaps hastening the area's demise."
Indeed, the slope still stands out, but very much in an "unforgiving" way! After one season, the enterprise was ingloriously shuttered. The resort buildings across Canyon Hills Drive became a horse stable, which they are today, and that concrete monstrosity draped across the hillside reminds us that people can come up with some incredible stunningly bizarre schemes.
Now, if the 76-unit Canyon Hills housing development, which was approved by the City of Chino Hills, comes to pass, it is possible that the slope may be removed. One bad idea replaced by another?
The modern photos showing the slope and some buildings across the street that were part of the resort (and Camp Kinder Ring) and which are now part of the horse stable were taken in September 2008.
The 1966 images come from: Ingrid P. Wicken, Skiing in Southern California (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) with the upslope photo by Elmar Baxter and the downslope view by Cecil Charles. In case someone sees the book, there is a third photo identified as Ski Villa, but which is some other site, which is clear given the narrow run, the much wider canyon, the form of the hills and other details.

UPDATE, 6 September 2014.  A neighbor here in the Canyon stated earlier today that the lifts used at Ski Villa were removed and taken up to Mount Baldy and used at the resort there for an undetermined period.  This little detail seemed worth adding to the post.