31 July 2009

Olinda Oil Field History: A 1920s Oil Tank Fire

Here is another illustration of the peril involved in the operations of the oil industry in its early years. In this instance, a caption at the bottom very simply states: "Brea -- Oil Tank Fire.

There actually appears to be, in the top photo, two separate fires, both in "open" oil tanks, dirt areas rimmed with earthen berms in which crude was stored. Being, of course, highly flammable, the crude was very susceptible to catching fire, as is the case in this image. The thick, tall plumes of black smoke indicate a fire still very much in full vigor and these fires were very difficult and dangerous to fight. A small gathering of onlookers stands in the lower right corner of the bottom image.

Even though the location is generally assigned to Brea, it seems, from the position of the hills in the background, that the location is actually the Olinda oil field and that they photographer stood off to the northwest of the site of the fire.

It is also noteworthy that there are a number of structures in very close proximity to the fires, including, presumably, several residences. There wasn't, unfortunately, any further identification marked on the image, which was printed onto a postcard, but not postally used or written on. The date is assumed to be the 1920s, judging from the kind of postcard used, otherwise there is no reliable way to provide an accurate date.

Still, this is a dramatic photo full of visual and historical interest and is courtesy of the Homestead Museum in the City of Industry.

28 July 2009

Traffic, Public Policy and the Stonefield Development

This will be a much shorter discussion than recent posts about Stonefield for reasons of time, but of no less importance. As stated earlier, traffic has not been identified as an unavoidable, significant adverse impact in the Draft Environmental Impact Report for this proposed housing development.

The reason why is that, at only 28 units and, therefore, a projected 280 car trips per day, Stonefield is not deemed to be greatly contributory to the traffic problems that affect Carbon Canyon Road. At last week's Chino Hills Planning Commission public hearing, in fact, the developer's representative was sure to point out that the problem lay outside of the Canyon with commuters from elsewhere in Chino Hills and beyond into the Inland Empire. The implication here is: if someone is causing most of the problem, I shouldn't have to worry if I'm contributing a smaller share, even if the problem is getting worse and impacts everyone in the area. In other words, let's blame someone else and not take responsibility for our role in the problem.

Moreover, when city staff, even after acknowledging that there were no significant traffic impacts, still recommended mitigation in the form of widening and restriping the highway at Fairway Drive/Ginseng Lane, the entrance point to the development and suggested the developer pay a "fair share" towards traffic signals that are slated to someday be built at Carbon Canyon Road and Canon Lane and at Canyon Hills Road, the developer agreed to this as a reasonable cost.

CalTrans, however, after initially signaling (pardon the pun) support for the city's plan, did a U-turn (sorry) and stated that it would only accept significant improvements in the form of more widening and a retaining wall, to which the developer emphatically replied its stern disapproval. The developer rep went so far as to suggest that such a plan would ruin the scenic character of the highway to no real benefit, to which one might turn that argument on its head and state that the development itself would ruin the scenic character of the Canyon to no real benefit (except, that is, to the developer and the twenty-eight homeowners.)

So, which is it: is there a significant unavoidable adverse impact or not? If not, why the recommended mitigation? If so, how does this mitigation make matters better for the most people, given that stoplights hardly benefit the drivers using Carbon Canyon Road because their commute times will lengthen while stopping to admit drivers from these side streets onto the highway and the widening of and creation of acceleration/deacceleration lanes on the road only serves to benefit the residents of Stonefield, at least theoretically.

It is worth stating once again that Carbon Canyon Road is rated E or F LOS (Level of Service) during peak traffic hours for four of the six intersections studied on the highwway. The city staff's response to comments on the DEIR claims that "the provision of traffic signals on Carbon Canyon Road at Canon Lane and at Canyon Hills Road will improve the intersection service level to LOS A or B conditions and permit minor street vehicular traffic to enter or cross continous traffic on Carbon Canyon Road." That is, the benefit will only accrue to those few people leaving the minor street for the far busier state highway not to the far greater number of people plying the Canyon on their way to jobs in Orange or Los Angeles counties.

In answering concerns about traffic safety, staff determined that there were 68 traffic accidents reported during the 6-year period on Carbon Canyon Road between Chino Hills Parkway and Red Apple Lane . . . the majority . . . were due to vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds." In setting up a formula based on 15,000 average daily cars on three miles of roadway over six years with 68 accidents, staff determines that there are 0.69 accidents per million vehicle miles. Then, it is stated, "According to information provided by CalTrans, the statewide average accident rate for similar type roadways is 1.90 accidents per MVM [million vehicle miles.]

But, we're not told which "similar type roadways" or whether these were analyzed in three-mile segments over a six year period and with similar average daily car usage. What is a similar roadway and where is it? What is the pattern of use? What three-mile segments were used for comparison? Of course, it also bears noting that the 68 accidents were reported and there are, obviously, far more that are not, not that staff can make a statistical analysis based on what's not reported!

Still, to suggest that Carbon Canyon Road is three times safer than "similar type roadways" begs for far more specificity and a scrutiny of the criteria and methods used for that statement.

The goal was, like with the water situation amply discussed in the last post on Stonefield, designed to combat community concerns, but on what grounds?

And, as with the water argument and the others that will be subsequently addressed here, namely aesthetics and pollution, the city is working diligently to accomodate the developer, but what about those who live in the Canyon or are concerned for its well being and uniqueness?

To suggest, as with the water issue, that there is no environmental impact of any significance with traffic; then to seek out mitigation and explain with questionable logic why there is no traffic danger; then to offer that stoplights and widening and restriping for new lanes are necessary is, like with the claim that there is plenty of water but that mitigation is still required, questionable public policy.

And, to ask once again: for whose benefit?

24 July 2009

Olinda Oil Field History: 1920s Snapshot of a Well

Let's take a little break from the Stonefield "controversy" to share another little tidbit of the history of the Olinda oil field in the form of this 1920s shapshot of a well from that field.

Unfortunately, there was almost no information on the reverse of the image, except for the words "Brea, Cal." But, it seems pretty clear that it is Olinda and that the hills in the background are either those at the Olinda Ranch subdivision, indicating that this might be the Santa Fe lease, or further to the west in the area between Brea-Olinda High School and Valencia Avenue, north of Lambert Road, perhaps close to the current Olinda Nursery location.

This is a typical well of the period: wooden derrick, simple shed at the base, what appears to be building material scattered about, and what looks like a power pole off to the side closer to the photographer. Nothing fancy, but a good documentary view of an Olinda oil well.

This photograph was provided courtesy of the Homestead Museum in the City of Industry.

22 July 2009

Water, Public Policy and the Stonefield Development

Increasingly, prolonged drought and environmental regulation have placed water issues at the forefront of political discourse in California. Locally, Chino Hills, last summer, issued a Stage II Water Alert taking conservation from voluntary to mandatory levels. Director of Public Facilities and Operations Pat Hagler, in a city press release, stated:

California is suffering from a State-wide drought and water supplies are down. We must stop wasting water because this concern is not going away.

Stage II status was declared because the water supply was to be reduced by as much as 10% and the City expected its imported water stock to be slashed by 7%. This action followed an announcement by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) that southern California supplies would be reduced by 10% and the state's issuance of a State of Emergency Water Shortage.

In a 4 April 2009 article, the Chino Hills Champion noted that in the ten months since the Stage II Alert was issued, water usage had decreased in the city by 12%. Notably, the paper also pointed out that the city's water supply was, as follows:

Chino Hills receives 43 percent of its water from MWD through the Water Facilities Authority. Another 14 percent is groundwater from city-owned wells, 21 percent comes from Monte Vista Water District, 14 percent from the Chino Basin Desalter Authority and 8 percent from recycled water provided by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency.

Therefore, because MWD announced its 10% reduction plan, and Chino Hills obtains almost half of its water from the giant water agency, the Stage II Alert was issued. Yet, when it comes to the Alert, we need to go back to the City's August 2008 press release and this passage in particular:

The Stage II Water Alert does not apply to construction projects . . .

Next comes a rather obvious question: Why not?

Because the crux is that housing projects are being proposed now but will be built later, often much later, that will not need mitigation for water because Environmental Impact Reports routinely state that there is plenty of capacity and copious supply and, moreover, that future projections of water availability are going to continue to be on the plus side measuring demand to capacity. Let's put a few statements into bullet form:

  • The western United States is in a prolonged drought;
  • Reservoir levels are low throughout California;
  • Environmental regulations have limited available supply from the Sacramento Delta;
  • The Colorado River and its various reservoirs (Lake Mead, for example) are low in volume;
  • The MWD has cut back supplies to southern California by 10% since last summer;
  • California has been in a water State of Emergency since last summer;
  • Chino Hills has been in a State II Water Alert since last summer, with eight items of mandatory restrictions;
  • A city official is quoted in a city press release as saying that, "We must stop wasting water because this concern is not going away";
  • Yet, this same release states that "The Stage II Water Alert does not apply to construction projects . . ."

So, when it comes to the Stonefield housing project staff's response to comments on the Draft EIR (DEIR) are "the maximum daily demand water supply capacity requirement for 20-10 is 29.10 million gallons per day (MGD), whereas the capacity available is 41.14 MGD." From there the ratio of demand to capacity for 2020 and 2025 remains hardly unchanged. Moreover,

based on the aforementioned information, the City, with its present and "imminent" mix of water sources, possesses a significant surplus of capacity . . . [and] a shortage scenario wherein the City's well capacity was reduced by 50 percent and imported water deliveries were restricted to 80 percent of nominal maximum deliveries, the City would still have 5 MGD of capacity over and above its ultimate maximum day requirements. Therefore, sufficient water supply is available for development.

It is worth noting, however, that

the demands were derived from observed water use during one of the driest prolonged periods on record (2002), and they are believed to be representative of a "worst case" water demand environment.

2002 is already 7 years ago. Excepting the freak occurrence of 2004-05 when we had near-record rainfall, we have continued to have drought almost every year since 2002 and the accumulation of dry years is, of course, correlated to global climate change issues. So, that worst case water demand environment that is now seven years out-of-date bears what relevance now? And, what are supposed to take from the word believed?

Now, when a certain concerned citizen from Sleepy Hollow raised the questions of water supply and the role of global climate change in supply, the response from staff was:

A comment letter . . . received from IEUA [Inland Empire Utility Agency] addresses IEUA's attempt to maximize its local water supplies with increased conservation, desalter water, and recycled water. . . A recycled water conveyance system does not exist in the project area.


the effects of climate change on water supplies is speculative


. . . although the impacts of climate change on future water supplies was regarded as speculative, mitigation measures were included in Section 4.8, Climate Change in the Draft EIR to reduce the project's consumption of water.

The letter referred to, dated 16 January 2008, states that

over the past five years IEUA has been attempting to maximize its local water supplies with increased conservation, desalter water and recycled water. To reduce the possibility of future water shortages from the drought and the likely reduction in imported water supplies from MWD during the next few years, IEUA is working to accelerate the implementation schedule for recycled water projects and to expand its conservation programs.

Further, the letter recommends that the development use recycled water "for all approved uses." On top of this, when said Sleepy Hollow concerned citizen raised the question of determining supply as speculative, staff rejoined:

The commentor is incorrect . . . that future supplies of domestic water [are] speculative in nature.

Now, remember the word believe in the staff assertion that 2002 standards for determining worst case scenarios for water availability were still applicable? And, yet, the same staff position is that said Sleepy Hollow commentor is wrong in stating that future water supplies are speculative? Isn't belief essentially speculation?

Why is said commentor incorrect? Because staff's own seven-year old analysis of "historic" water demand and supply conditions and its "belief" in the reliability of said seven-year old observations and analysis proves that "commentor is incorrect." Back to the bullets:

  • Water supply capacity in 2010 is 29.10 million gallons and capacity available is 41.14 MGD, according to staff;
  • IEUA in its 16 Januaru 2008 letter notes that 2006-07 (4 or 5 years after the city's 2002 benchmark) "was a record-breaking dry year for California";
  • IEUA said that it "has been attempting to maximize its local water supplies . . . to reduce the possibility of future water shortages from the drought and the likely reduction in imported water supplies from MWD during the next few years . . .";
  • Drought-caused shortages are not a possibility, they are a reality;
  • MWD cut supplies by 10% less than 6 months after the IEUA letter;
  • IEUA's response to to anticipated [that is, real] problem: recycled water and conservation;
  • IEUA's recommendation for Stonefield: "use recycled water for all approved uses";
  • Problem? Stonefield will not have access to recycled water for years to come, if ever;
  • Problem? Conservation measures for houses up to 5,500 square feet and 37,000 square foot lots are simply not enough in the context of the contradictory messages offered in the City's Stage II Water Alert press release and staff's response to DEIR comments.

In Monday's Los Angeles Times, there is a front-page article about the truly amazing work being done by IEUA generally in taking storm water and other wastewater, treating it through filtration, and then storing it in a massive groundwater basin system. As a consequence, while the City of Los Angeles only gets a little over 10% of its water from groundwater and has to import 88%, while recycling a pathetic 1% (this because the mammoth flood control system first implemented en masse during the 1930s achieves one objective--directing storm and wastewater out to the ocean where it is completely wasted), IEUA has a little more than half of its supply from groundwater, about 12% recycled, and 6% of surface water, limiting its imports to 43%.

Remember, however, that in April, the Champion reported that Chino Hills receives 43% of its water from MWD. 8% is recycled water from IEUA (with 0% of that going to Stonefield) and 14% comes from desalting efforts from that Chino Basin described in the previous paragraph.

So, unless something has changed literally "overnight" (that is, in three-and-a-half months), Chino Hills is still getting near half its water from MWD, hence the Stage II Alert. But, we're told by staff to ignore all that because its projections of future water supply, based on standards and observations already seven years out of date, tell us that there is more than enough water even in the dreaded "worst case scenario," which, again, is believed to be accurate.

City official Pat Hagler says the drought issue is not going away, but staff says it's not an issue for Stonefield. The city mandates water saving measures and residents dutifully comply by reducing use by 16%, but then says that construction projects are exempt from the provisions of Stage II Alert that the rest of us are forced to adhere to.

This is a project, it bears repeating, that will have homes from 3,500 to 5,500 square feet on lots from 12,000 to 37,000 square feet--several times larger than the average Chino Hills home.

Finally, it also is worth a reminder that water issues are not determined by the Stonefield DEIR to be a matter of insignificant environmental impacts and that, according to the staff response document,

The effects of climate change on water supplies is speculative.

As if, projections on future supplies and demand are believed to be representative and are, therefore, somehow not speculative.

This brings us, mercifully, to the end of this long-winded exposition and these (hopefully) pertinent questions:

Is it good public policy to:

  • Declare a local water alert mandating mandatory conservation measures and yet exempt construction projects from these measures?
  • State publicly that "this concern [about water restrictions] is not going away" while simultaneously opining that Stonefield (and presumably any other desirable proposed development) has access to plenty of water?
  • Cite an IEUA letter as support for a staff position about the bountiful supply of water available to Stonefield (whenever that project happens to be built) when the letter's only concrete recommendation is to use recycled water, even though recycled water can't be used for that project?
  • Use the word "believe" in addressing staff's accuracy of representing worst case scenarios for water scarcity while labeling "incorrect" a layperson's statement about the speculative nature of determining future supply?

Ultimately, the arbiters of what is good public policy for Stonefield and the question of water are the members of the Planning Commission and, on appeal, the City Council.

Next up: traffic.

21 July 2009

Stonefield Development Planning Commission Public Hearing

Tonight was a public hearing before the Chino Hills Planning Commission concerning the 28-unit Stonefield development proposed at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road (SR-142) and Fairway Drive within Carbon Canyon.

There was a notable development in the form of a last-minute change of mind from CalTrans about a proposed mitigation measure for traffic, despite the fact that this issue was not identified as a significant, unavoidable adverse impact under the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review for the EIR (Environmental Impact Report). Simply put, CalTrans no longer believes that widening and restriping Carbon Canyon Road at Fairway Drive to allow for acceleration lanes for Fairway Drive traffic onto the highway and other improvements related to easier turning onto Fairway or Ginseng Lane, the continuation of Fairway to the south, is desirable.

Consequently, Stonefield has informed the city that, while it is still willing to carry out this mitigation measure

the improvement alternatives now preferred by Caltrans are beyond the scope of the Project's responsibility in terms of scale, cost, and reasonable relationship.


Stonefield believes that the best course would be for the City to adopt a Statement of Overriding Conditions [should be "Considerations"] finding that the cumulative impacts that would result [at?] Carbon Canyon Road/Fairway Drive-Ginseng Lane in the absence of mitigation . . . are acceptable in light of the City's current objective of maintaining the semi-rural character and aesthetics of the area by avoiding traffic signals and road widenings.

[Quotes are from a letter, dated today, by Stonefield attorneys Greenberg Traurig, LLP to Chino Hills Assistant City Attorney Brad Wohlenberg and Senior Planner Betty Donavanik.]

What this seems to mean and was supported by comments made by a Stonefield representative at the meeting tonight, is that the developer either supports the widening as proposed in the mitigation measure (which CalTrans now rejects), which seems contradictory to the last sentence in the above quote, or advocates doing nothing, because there are only 28 hours and only a small number (21 in the AM and 29 in PM peak hour) of car trips generated by the development.

Moreover, because the project is calculated to only add 1.5% more traffic to the already-congested highway, mitigations now preferred by CalTrans include significant changes via grading of the slope of the road or by a significant retaining wall addition in the project area on Carbon Canyon Road would cost between $2 million and $3.5 million. Stonefield's position in this matter is that, because of the 1.5% factor, its "fair share" costs would only amount to $30,000 to $53,000 of the total projected for these two improvements, the remainder falling to the city. Moreover, the developer's attorneys cite one state and two federal supreme court cases concerning reasonable fees charged to developers that "must also be proportional to the impact of the proposed development."

The other main point of discussion tonight seemed to revolve mainly around the question of aesthetics, especially concerning 1) landscaping requirements to avoid the "moonscape" scenario now found in the barren slopes of the stalled Pine Valley Estates development and 2) concerns about the view from Carbon Canyon Road at the top of the S-curve (or hairpin) looking westward and the fact that several homes would be obscuring that view.

City staff have sought to assure the Commission that every effort would be made to facilitate early planting on slopes, even though it has been established that water lines would be among the very last utility components to be installed on tbe project site. Concerning the view, a point raised notably by Commissioner Karen Bristow, this has been a priority for Carbon Canyon residents since 1980 in terms of county and city planning (i.e. the General and Specific plans) processes. Commissioner Bristow, however, also stated, after noting that sometimes residents don't get what they want in developments (80% of which, in her estimation, have gone very well in the city), that at least the view would be there as drivers descend westward from the summit of the S-curve/hairpin. One has to wonder, though, if that would satisfy the question of preserving the view from the best viewshed possible, which is from the summit itself!

At any rate, staff indicated that they would work with the developer on questions of visibility in terms of landscape (hard and soft), but that there was no feasible way to lower pads (and, therefore, house heights) to accomodate these concerns. Moreover, as the developer's representative stated, a final landscape plan would not be possible until the project was much further along, so, for the benefit of the Planning Commission, only general conceptual matter could be generated.

Before CalTrans' bombshell announcement, city staff was poised to recommend that the Commission approve the adoption of the EIR, the Statement of Overriding Considerations concerning aesthetics, traffic and grading pollution, and approve the tract map, design review and a minor variance concerning higher retaining walls for certain lots within the proposed development. With the CalTrans shift in thinking, however, staff has now recommended that they be given the opportunity to go back and rethink mitigation strategies on the Carbon Canyon Road/Fairway Drive intersection and then report to the Commission on proposed next steps by the 18 August meeting.

There were a number of speakers from the public, perhaps a dozen, and only one expressed unmitigated (pardon the pun) support for the project. Most, almost all being residents of the immediate area (Carriage Hills, Western Hills Mobile Home Park, etc.), registered opposition, either to the entire project or to its current concept, which has been scaled back from a 46-unit development approved by the County back in the glory days of the 1980s real estate boom. These public comments tended to focus on aesthetics, grading and traffic, as expected.

I arrived when the meeting was about 1 hour and 15 minutes along and missed most of the developer's presentation, but took the opportunity to speak after those who'd signed up before the meeting had their chance. Not wishing to repeat previously-expressed concerns, I focused on the broader context of approved and proposed development within the Canyon. Namely, I ticked off the list of projects: Pine Valley Estates (98 units); Canyon Hills (76); Stonefield (28); unnamed tract near Canyon Hills (110) and Canyon Crest in Brea (165.) There could, then, potentially be 477 new houses within the Canyon over time (I was sure to sat that "not all of them may be built and certainly none of them for some time to come. But, they are future issues to deal with.") My main point was to state that

it's one thing to look narrowly in isolation at the impacts of Stonefield for what is required by law . . . [as opposed to} broadly in context . . . for what is reasonable in perspective.

But, here we are with 312 possible homes on the Carbon Canyon side, 164 of which are already approved and we meet a contradiction embodied in a statement that is the very first thing seen on the Chino Hills web site:

Chino Hills is well known for its high quality of life and beautiful rural atmosphere.

Ironically, the Stonefield representative, at least twice, and the developer's attorneys in the aforementioned letter, made reference to the CalTrans change in position representing a transformation of the rural character of the area for "very little benefit."

City staff has listed four benefits justifying Statements of Overriding Consideration, being 1) additional housing opportunities within the city in the "Upper Income category" [shades of Canyon Crest!); 2) compatibility with existing (as opposed to future?) land uses; 3) maintaining the scenic qualities of Carbon Canyon (via manufactured slopes and homes 2 1/2 times the average square footage of existing newer homes, which are already near double those of average homes in 1970); and 4) traffic improvements at the Carbon Canyon Road/Fairway Drive-Ginseng Lane intersection (yet. deemed not significant in the EIR).

The fundamental question (at last) arrives: What do these general City-wide benefits have to do with the actual effects within Carbon Canyon? To permanently alter the "beautiful rural atmosphere" of the Canyon, create more pollution than AQMD thresholds call for, and add more traffic to an already-overburdened Carbon Canyon Road (even if you accept that the 1.5% more traffic generated by Stonefield is the fair way to examine the traffic question) is to further compromise that "beautiful rural atmosphere" the City so proudly touts.

So, the unscripted conclusion to my remarks was essentially:

The representative for Stonefield indicates that CalTrans mitigation measures represents 'transforming the area for very little benefit'. Couldn't the same be said about this project, that it transforms Carbon Canyon for very little benefit?

Notably, the Commission Chair Adam Eliason made a point of stating that there had been prior approval of a tract map for this project, and in so stating, implied that development of this "entitled" parcel was unavoidable and that all the Commission could do was to use whatever "rights" it had to ensure a quality project. When Commissioner Michael Braun asked Community Services Director Christine Kelly if Stonefield was a project that could be denied by the Commission, she didn't actually answer the question, but went on, rather, to discuss the question of staff recommendations regarding the Statements of Overriding Considerations and what the Commission sees from the benefits suggested by staff (the four items noted above.)

After the meeting, I approached the Chair and had a cordial discussion with him, with my question hinging upon whether this project could be denied based on the unavoidable signficant adverse impacts identified in the EIR under CEQA review. Interestingly, there seemed to be a little uncertainty about the grounds for denial, but there is, actually, no question.

The fact is: if CEQA identified significant, unavoidable impacts that cannot be fully mitigated, and this project has two (pollution from grading and aesthetics), the local authority (i. e., the City) can reject the project out of hand.

Yet, staff has been very accomodating to the developer, which has, admittedly, come up with a scaled-down, handsomely-designed development, to the extent of even recommending mitigation for traffic when not really compelled to do so by the EIR. Still, pollution can only, if mitigation was to actually be complied with or work, reduced from 40% to 15% over AQMD thresholds and the aesthetic issue cannot be mitigated at all.

Hence, the Statements of Overriding Considerations and their expressed benefits: luxury housing (4,000 to 5,500 square feet on lots from 12,000 to 37,000 square feet); compatibility with existing land use (which provides what benefits exactly?); maintaining scenic qualities (via half of the parcel for open space as a "visual amenity for the community" and "a fuel modification zone for the project and other residences nearby" [meaning, if you build on virgin land, this reduces the risk of wildland fires); and 4) the traffic improvements for Carbon Canyon Road, to which CalTrans no longer is receptive.

So, one benefit has apparently been lost or is at least "off course" and the other three are intangible or marginally so. What about the cost of maintenance and infrastructure accruing to the city over time (schools, fire and police service, sewers and water) vis á vis property tax revenue? And, more important, as stated above, how can you mitigate the loss of a part of a unique canyon, including a viewshed deemed important by city residents for about three decades now?

It is important to say that there is nothing expressed by me here or elsewhere that is personal to anyone on city staff, the Planning Commission, or the developer. As Chair Eliason said, the County approved a tentative tract map for 46 homes on this site twenty years ago and he all but said that it will be impossible to stop this project, whatever final form it assumes. Whether that is really so by law, legal precedent or the city's philosophy remains to be seen. I know CEQA's provisions about environmental impacts provides grounds for both denial and approval, pending the willingness of the government authority in question to subscribe to Statements of Overriding Consideration or not. So, the Commission could deny this project if it wished.

The question is: does it really see the benefits being that much greater than the impacts? Residents who spoke at the October public meeting and tonight's Commission meeting overwhelmingly said no, but that, frankly, may have absolutely no impact on the decision of the Commission.

So, the next step is for staff to revisit the traffic matter, as well as some landscaping and view issues, and report to the Commission possible courses for action, including, possible, a Recirculated Draft EIR (the dreaded RDEIR), which would extend the process another 45 days for further public comment. There may be some action at the 18 August meeting, but, we were warned, there may not be, depending on what staff is able to do. It is important to state that, via Chair Eliason, there was no mincing words about the Commission's desire to expedite the process as quickly as possible, which raises issues about due deliberation to allow for careful examination by all interested parties, including the public (this has been a two-year process for the developer, which, frankly, is a blip on the radar screen compared to some projects!)

For those interested in this development and the future of Carbon Canyon generally, stay tuned. Any reported news will be certainly be covered in the Chronicle!

17 July 2009

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #17

While La Vida Mineral Springs on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon, just a short distance east of Olinda Village, bottled flavored mineral water in both Fullerton and Placentia, starting in the late 1920s, it also appears to have had other operations in northern California, including Alameda (near Oakland), Sacramento and Stockton.

Here is a bottle from the Stockton plant with the lettering (mainly the La Vida logo) and phrasing (specifically "Distinctive Beverages") being identical to that of products issued from Orange County.

The date is not clear, probably from the 1940s or 1950s, and at a later date there'll be a bottle featured from the Sacramento plant.

Regardless of where the bottling was done, it is assumed that the water came from La Vida.

This item is 2009.7.1.1 from the Carbon Canyon Collection and clicking on the images will give zoomed-in detail.

16 July 2009

New Brea Canyon Blog Launched

A visitor to this blog, Corey, has just launched his own on Brea Canyon, so here's the URL for those who want to check that out:


Good luck to Corey and his new endeavor!

15 July 2009

Stonefield Housing Project EIR Response to Comments

Over the last weekend, a response to comments offered by sixteen individuals and state agencies concerning the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the 28-unit Stonefield ousing project, was mailed out to those who participated in community meetings (the last held 16 October 2008). In the document, staff from the Chino Hills Planning Department carefully and methodically reviewed the sixteen sets of comments and offered the department's position accordingly. Sorry for the excessive excursion that follows, but the stakes are high and are far more than about this relatively small project when it comes to the context of projected development with Carbon Canyon.

Now, the DEIR identified two areas in which significant, unavoidable impacts were noted under the review mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), these being affects in aesthetics and in pollutants generating by grading. In addition, there were areas of concern expressed in some of the sixteen comments about water use and availability and traffic, neither of which were deemed significant, unavoidable impacts in the DEIR.

Regarding traffic, there were six study intersections in and around the project area, which is at Fairway Drive and Carbon Canyon Road, just east of Western Hills Country Club. at which traffic counts were made in September 2007 (now nearly two years old already) and supplementally in May 2008.

The DEIR stated that, at four or the six intersections, the Level of Service (LOS) was at the E or F level (both of which are considered highly congested) during peak AM and PM hours.

So, the Planning Deparment's suggested mitigation? "widen and restripe Carbon Canyon Road at Fairway Drive to provide a southbound [actually, Carbon Canyon Road is an east/west highway, so it should be westbound!] acceleration lane for Fairway Drive traffic onto Carbon Canyon Road . . ." and having a "northbound [that is, eastbound] acceleration (refuge) lane on Carbon Canyon Road for vehicles turning left from Fairway Drive."

And, yet, for a reason that can only be a parallel to the current "cap and trade" phenomenon for global climate change mitigation, the developer is being asked to pay a "fair share" towards the addition of traffic signals at the intersections of Carbon Canyon Road at Canon Lane and at Canyon Hills Drive. Now, there is already an imminent installation of a signal on Carbon Canyon Road in Olinda Village and here are two more proposed signals on the Chino Hills side of the Canyon. We'll return to the implications of this below.

In response to comments about traffic collisions on Carbon Canyon Road, staff indicated that a review of data from the county Sheriff's department shows that there have been 68 traffic accidents reported from January 2003 through December 2008, with "the majority [40 of 68 or a little under 60%] . . . due to vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds." And, we can assume that acceleration/refuge lanes on the widened, restriped section of the highway at Fairway Drive will account for this condition of unsafe speed?

Notably, staff indicates that the accident rate on Carbon Canyon Road, at 0.69 accidents per million vehicle miles (now, there's a way to make accident rates look insignificant--a million vehicle miles!), is almost 2/3 less than "the statewide average accident rate (1.90 accidnts per million vehicle miles) for similar type roadways," according to CalTrans. We'll just have to accept the source, but one has to wonder what constitutes "similar type roadways"? State highways vary widely, from two-lane, narrow, canyon roads like Carbon Canyon Road to major freeways.

Moreover, staff continues, "accident rates have generally been lower [the past two years] than in prior years. Hence, it is clear that the accident rates have not increased in relation to the increase in traffic volumes . . ."

Another question to be raised: there is the qualitative, as well as the quantitative, aspect of accidents to be considered? In other words, how many of the 68 reported accidents have included fatalities, serious injury, public and private property damage? A good look at the intersection of Fairway Drive and Carbon Canyon Road, moreover, shows clearly why there is no suggested mitigation in the form of a traffic signal--the road curves on both sides and there is not enough room for a light that is readily visible in both directions. The assumption that these acceleration/refuge lanes are going to mitigate potential traffic problems should also be coupled with the amount of work needed to widen the road at this point.

With respect to water, here's a fascinating rationale that seems completely antithetical to everything we're being told now about water availability and use. Staff states that "the maximum daily demand water supply capacity requirement for 2010 is 29.10 million gallons per day (MGD), whereas the capacity available is 41.14 MGD." Not only that, but the figure for 2020 is 31.25 demand and 48.94 supply and for 2025 (slated for Chino Hills's buildout date--that open-ended year when all building is supposed to stop forever, or at least until the General Plan is amended) it is 32.86 demand and 48.94 available. Consequently, we are assured, "suffficient water supply is available for the development."

Then, why, if demand is only 70% of capacity next year and will only, supposedly, be slightly less 16 years from now--WHY ARE WE BEING ASKED BY OUR CITY AND WATER AUTHORITY TO CUT BACK WATER USE BY 20% NOW and why is everyone talking about prolonged drought from low snowpack in the Sierras, cutbacks on shipments from the Colorado River and from the Sacramento River Delta, and other pressing issues? If we are told that we have 12.04 million gallons per day of water UNTIL WE REACH CAPACITY, then why all the urgency to conserve!

Well, here's the answer [or so we are told]: "The existing demands are based on actual observed water use ["derived from observed water use during one of the driest prolonged periods on record (2002), and they are believed to be representative of a 'worse case' water demand environment"], with future demands estimated from reasonable demand coefficients applied to various categories of land use." Moreover, because the General Plan actually allows up to 208 units on them property (which is only 34.73 acres), but this project calls for only 28, so water is obviously not at all an issue for this development and, seemingly, not a problem for the city, even as we are being told to cut use now. With the actual significant, unavoidable impacts, the solution, staff tells us, is very simple.

On aesthetics, it is a simple matter of understanding that "conversion of vacant land to developed land, in and of itself, will result in significant aesthetic impacts." Moreover, in several places staff comments refer to the project as part of "the conversion of the open land to urban uses."

The term "urban uses" is used as if it was a given, an inevitability, a certainty. The problem: this is Carbon Canyon we're talking about! This, in fact, is a place of uniqueness within Chino Hills, that has intrinsic value [not dollar, however, which is the true key to the entire process here] as a canyon setting.

By casually transmuting the rural nature of the canyon [and doesn't the city constantly pride itself on maintaining a "rural" atmosphere?] into "urban uses," there is a subtle, but explicit statement here that the Canyon doesn't have value unless it becomes a place that accepts "urban uses."

Given that the vast majority of our region has been converted to "urban uses" and treated as a necessary good, there is an insidiousness about this terminology that belies what makes Carbon Canyon what it is (some day, however, we'll be saying what it was).

Further, there is another invidious corruption of terminology in the phrase "open space," especially when what often is determined to be "open space" includes the term "manufactured slopes." Again, Carbon Canyon has a unique and appealing natural setting and people appreciate those barren, useless [economically speaking, of course] hillsides and the oak trees and everything else that constitutes that natural environment within it. How on earth can anyone with seriousness and merit argue that "manufactured slopes" is a suitable replacement for the natural environment in a place like Carbon Canyon? To borrow from the "cap and trade" analogy once more: you can't trade natural, rural hillsides for "urban uses" like "manufactured slopes." It just is not the same!

In a discussion about overriding the aesthetics impacts, staff note that "a project may be approved after the lead agency adopts a statement of overriding considerations [SOC] after weighing the overall benefits of a proposed project against its unavoidable environmental risks." Now, it is not the role of staff at this juncture to weigh in on the benefits, though they are charged to do so when it comes to the environmental risks and the inevitable (because, really, they almost always are) suggested mitigations.

And, what, typically, are these benefits? Actually, some are recommended in this document: a "fair share" towards those traffic signals that will, allegedly, improve traffic in the canyon and money directed to parks and open space within the city. In other cases, it might be a fire engine or money for low-income housing or other programs. But, what does that have to do with the environmental risks and the permanent effects of the project on Carbon Canyon? Truthfully, nothing (and, we're back to the old "cap and trade" discussion yet again.)

When it comes to aesthetics, here's the deal: when this project chews up natural landscape, germane and endemic naturally to the Canyon, the replacement via "manufactured slopes" is a direct one-to-one replacement? If you pretty it up (because, after all, aren't trees and bushes and shrubs better than grass and weeds?) the mitigation is, to borrow a common term from these staff reports, adequate.

Finally, there is pollution from grading. Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area generally enjoys (!) the worse pollution in the United States and has for over 50 years, though Houston and Fresno are trying hard to take the #1 spot away, staff indicate that "grading is short-term and even though emissions are above the SCAQMD [meaning the South Coast Air Quality Management District] regional signficance thresholds," suggested mitigation that grading will be halted when air quality is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups and there are five other mitigation measures dealing with the kinds of equipment used and others.

In fact, we learn that, while emissions would be 40% over the thresholds before mitigation, we can all rejoice in the fact that, post-mitigation, emissions will only be 12% over, as if this is somehow a benefit! It should be added that SCAQMD thresholds are hardly anywhere near where they should actually be, not unlike when the federal government continues to define poverty levels or unemployment datas using criteria that are badly out-of-date. But, you see, that leads us to believe that there is less poverty and joblessness than there actually is and, naturally in this particular case, less pollution.

The reality is: we are inundated with unhealthy air and have been since the 1940s. We've made strides in the last couple of decades or more, but it simply isn't enough. Our air quality is no longer horrible, it's just bad, hardly a point of celebration! To rationalize matters by suggesting that it's OK to exceed thresholds by 12% after mitigation, assuming, of course, that there is actual successful monitoring, is just bad public policy.

Just like it's bad public policy to demand water conservation while suggesting that, for this project, there is plenty of water.

Just like it's bad public policy to say that, while Carbon Canyon Road is rated E or F in traffic volume, there are only 28 homes and only 280 daily car trips (never mind that another 300+ homes are being proposed in the Canyon), so the impact is neglible, but we'll go ahead and recommend mitigation anyway in the form of a widened highway and traffic signals down the road a piece.

Just like it's bad public policy to suggest that manufactured slopes compensate for the loss of natural landscape.

Just like it's bad public policy to say that "urban uses" are an imperative to which we have to sacrifice a little more of the Canyon each time these "urban uses" are implemented.

Just like it's bad public policy to conveniently invoke phrases that suggest that other developments completed or proposed with Carbon Canyon are "separate" and, therefore, emasculates the importance of context.

And this is where CEQA and state and federal law, while giving general lip service to the idea of environmental protection, aid and protect developers far more than the general needs of the community. This isn't to say that there isn't protection of natural resources, but, in far too many cases, it's a supreme battle to save any open space or create parklands or preserves when developers and investors are lusting after open land.

Because for all of the fancy display boards and conceptual drawings and all the promises of thousands or millions of dollars in "cap and trade" type mitigation and developers fees, the reality is that developers are only interested in a project for its profit and community engagement amounts to little more than a small and grudingly necessary expenditure on an investment. Further, absent a more equitable distribution of property tax revenue to cities, residential home projects are a drain on the coffers of almost any city.

This takes us back to the question raised, but not adequately (to borrow that term again) answered, by staff in this response document: what are "the overall benefits of a proposed projects against its unavoidable environmental risks." Is it the status of having "executive" housing? Is it having those two traffic signals that will, allegedly, improve traffic in the canyon? Is it the money that the developer will have to pay for parks within the city?

What about the alteration of the fundamental character that makes Carbon Canyon unique--the open space, the rural feel [the same rural nature the city openly touts]? It all comes down to that suspect phraseology tied into "urban uses." Is that really the goal here--to convert Carbon Canyon from a rural to an urban place, like the 90% or more of the greater Los Angeles area?

Certainly, staff and our elected and appointed officials would look askance and vigorously deny any such assertion. But, how in the world can you add traffic signals and "manufactured slopes" and widen the roadway and add more tract houses and honestly and transparently conclude otherwise? The reality is: you can't, you just can't.

If the benefits of more money and traffic lights and prestige in housing stock trumps the very nature of Carbon Canyon itself, then the City of Chino Hills needs to stop proclaiming its commitment to the rural feel of the city, just as it needs to stop building horse trails in places that aren't even zoned for horses [which happens to be about 90% of the city, probably), such as Los Serranos Ranch, where I lived for seven years and never saw more than a few horses on the trails there.) It's simply false advertising and rings hollow (certainly here in Sleepy Hollow.)

Carbon Canyon's uniqueness is at stake and it's not just because of the 28 (after all, it's only 28) houses, but because of all that's already been built (or, in the case of Pine Valley Estates, has stalled, leaving a blighted scar of "manufactured slopes" on former natural hills) and all that is projected, potentially 350+ houses.

If Carbon Canyon is to be sacrificed to the inevitability of "urban uses," then we all lose. Well, except for the developers and those to whose political campaigns they liberally contribute.

OK, so we know the economy will in no way permit this development to happen any time soon. That is actually not the point in many cases, because, once the project is approved and that tentative tract map issued, the approval is permanent and transferrable and the property's relative value balloons and is, therefore, more marketable. If the city approves this, it will, someday, happen. As will Canyon Hills (76 houses at Canyon Hills Road and Carbon Canyon Road) and there are others proposed, including a 110 or so-unit project just now put into the application pipeline somewhere in the vicinity of Canyon Hills (perhaps south of Carbon Canyon Road where a failed project saw the illegal destruction of a couple thousand native oak trees some years ago?) and the stalled Canyon Crest project (166 homes) on the Brea side.

This is not about NIMBYism; it's about the sustainability of Carbon Canyon.

So, the Chino Hills Planning Commission takes up the Stonecrest project in a public hearing next Tuesday, 21 July at Chino Hills City Hall. Eight citizens (seven opposed and one for the project) submitted comments last October. We'll see if there is any more interest, either way, now.

08 July 2009

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #2318-2321

It was pretty quiet there for awhile on Carbon Canyon Road, but within the last few days three more incidents of a lack of awareness-slash-distraction-slash-chemical or other impairments-slash-some or all of the above occurred. All of them, in themselves, were minor, but show that people somehow keep veering off the highway in ways that could very well lead to more serious accidents (which would, presumably, attract some official attention.)

Incident #1 is a single skid mark (read: motorcycle) at the intersection of Old Carbon Canyon Road that appears to show the vehicle heading eastbound, cutting the curve by moving into the oncoming lane and then having to do a little corrective action back towards the proper lane of travel because, logic dictates, someone else had the audacity to be coming the other way in the correct lane.

Incident #2 is the typical mowing down of CalTrans signs (provided courtesy of the hard-earned money of "we the people") at the S-curve. Given that these signs fell (or were otherwise partially indisposed) in the eastbound direction but are adjacent to the westbound lanes, one could reasonably conclude that our errant vehicle operator crossed over the opposite lane and briefly left the roadway before hitting the signs.

Incident #3 appears to be similar with more insignificant signs denoting 1) the mileage on the San Bernardino County side of good ol' 142 and 2) a reflective sign (that's supposed to, maybe, help keep cars off the road--little good it did that poor sucker) being thoughtlessly flattened by a westbound driver moving into and past the oncoming lane.

So, again, nothing to worry about, more than likely, until someone is badly injured or killed.

Which reminds me that, last evening, I saw two Chino Hills sheriff's patrol cars at the Party House Liquor Store in Sleepy Hollow holding counsel with one of our young residents who's been in the habit of riding an unlicensed pocket motorcycle without a helmet at night without a headlight. Now, this was about 6:30 when it was still light out, but whatever results were expected by the constabulary with our impressionable youth, there was obviously no impression made.

Because . . . (drum roll, puh-lease) at 9:45, three hours and change later, our young friend was motoring around the narrow, unlit one-lane roads of Sleepy Hollow and on Carbon Canyon Road without a care in the world (like: Do I need a license to drive this motorcycle? Should the cycle have plates? Should I be wearing a helmet? Should I be driving in the dark without headlights? What would happen to me if I met a car around one of the unlit curves in Sleepy Hollow or on Carbon Canyon Road? And probably several other hypothetically interesting questions).

Obviously, someone called the "incident" in, otherwise there would certainly have been no reason for two (and, why two exactly?) patrol cars to be present (I was following one before he joined his compatriot), but it stands to reason that the juvenile daredevil in question will continue testing his sure sense of invincibility until either 1) the police confiscate the motorcycle or 2) said daredevil ends up with a damaged vehicle, in the hospital, or, given that he lacks basic head and neck protection (and riding without headlights in the dark, in case that point was missed the other two times heretofore mentioned), worse.

05 July 2009

Sleepy Hollow Seventy Years Ago

This photograph of a Sleepy Hollow cabin appeared in the November 1939 issue of Pacific Electric Magazine, the company publication of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, operator of over 1,200 miles of track with 6,000 trains on 150 routes carrying 110 million passengers each year by the middle 1920s (yes, the Los Angeles region had one of the largest rapid transit systems in the world!)

The image was in a section devoted to news about employees and came with this caption:

C. J. Williams' (Central Timekeeping Bureau) cabin in Sleepy Hollow (Carbon Canyon) known as "Oak Way Lodge". With over 250 cabins located in his area, quite a community is growing. Natives living there permanently claim that the future holds much and perhaps it will be as well-known as Gilman and Murrieta Hot Springs some day.

The photo is, of course, taken from a printed item, so the quality is not particularly good. Additionally, the two-story wood-framed cabin is partially hidden by oak trees, but the name "Oak Way Lodge" obviously would indicate that it was on Oak Way Lane on the north end of Sleepy Hollow. It would be interesting to know if the building is still there, perhaps a little walk through that area would provide an answer.

As to the statement that there were 250 cabins in Sleepy Hollow seventy years back, that seems a little more than improbable, given that there are about 110 residences now, but that figure might have included Mountain View Estates (Canon Lane south of Carbon Canyon Road) and other areas within the Canyon. A reading of the 1930 census (the subject of another post one day) would indicate that there were far fewer dwellings in Sleepy Hollow than the caption suggests.

At any rate, this is a rare glimpse back to the early days of the neighborhood.

03 July 2009

An Arundo Runaround?

Surely, but slowly, the spraying of the arundo donax, the highly inflammable and agressively invasive plant that had gradually made its way up Carbon [Canyon] Creek on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon over decades, has made its progress.

Last November's Freeway Complex Fire burned the plants to the ground and this made treatment much easier, because a normal course of action would be the time-consuming and laborious task of cutting the stalks back before spraying. Because, however, the fire did the work of removing the stalks, the regrowth after the fire was the perfect opportunity to spray so that the chemical could make its way through the new growth and down to the roots. If full funding can be secured, a several-year timetable of treatment will, hopefully, lead to the removal of the pesty plant.

EXCEPT, that as of last month, all property owners along the creek, but one, had given their permission for treating the arundo on their property.

The lone exception? Tadeo Hata, the owner of the former La Vida Mineral Springs property, who, it seems, is living in Japan.

So, as the above photographs, taken Wednesday morning, show, the arundo on Mr. Hata's property is growing just fine without hindrance because of the lack of spraying.

Now, hopefully, there'll be a change and Mr. Hata will give his permission for treatment, there being no conceivable reason not to, but, for now, success is being encountered with the removal program, with the conspicuous exception of the Hata property.

02 July 2009

Will It Last?

An amazing sight has appeared on the old water tank at the La Vida Mineral Springs property on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon.

A couple of months ago, a rash of graffiti appeared on the tank and its concrete base, with many of the same markings found on a retaining wall below the Carriage Hills subdivision on the Chino Hills portion of the canyon.

Well, within the last week or so, the base was painted gray and in the last couple of days the areas of the tank that had been tagged were painted pink--both colors pretty closely approximating the colors that had been on each section before the graffiti was applied. Fortunately, the old La Vida logo had been spared by the spraying, so it is intact.

Whether this was done by the property owner or some concerned citizen is uncertain, as does whether the remedy will remain. Let's hope. Regardless, kudos to whoever did the touch-up!

The photos were taken this morning and it would be nice for the tank and base to stay this way until the weeds grow too high to see them again.