31 August 2009

Stonefield Appealed From Both Sides!

Saturday's Chino Hills Champion features an article on the appeal of the Stonefield housing project on the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon from both the developer and the city. In the case of the former, it is a protest over what it feels is a disproportionate share of traffic mitigation imposed on it compared to impacts created by the development. For the city, Councilmember Bill Kruger requested time for resident concerns to be addressed.

Both matters have been more than given their fair share of coverage in this blog, so further comment is not necessary . . .

. . . other than that the appeal will either be held at the 22 September or the 13 October council meeting, so anyone interested in knowing what is happening first-hand or speaking to the council about the project should be present, once it is decided when the matter will be heard.

30 August 2009

More on Carbon Canyon Speed Limit Confusion

The strange situation with the reduction and then the reinstatement of speed limits on the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon Road (State Highway 142) was somewhat clarified in the Chino Hills Champion yesterday.

The explanation, however, by a CalTrans public information officer in the District 8 office was only slightly modified from the one an unknown staffer there gave me (if it can be called that) when I called.

Namely, a traffic study had been conducted, a process that seems to take place every five years or so as traffic conditions change on a state highway. Yet, the PIO did not say what specific conditions had changed, nor evidently was she asked by the Champion, although I did ask that question and received no answer (well, there was an answer, just not addressing my question) from the person I spoke to.

It turns out there will be a second speed study, though this raises an interesting question. That is, what will have changed in the presumably very short time (weeks, a few months?) between the first and the second? Wouldn't it stand to reason that whatever was discovered in the first will be present in the second and, therefore, the same conclusions reached, namely that limits should be lowered?

Indeed, Chino Hills City Manager Mike Fleager told the City Council last Tuesday "that although CalTrans may re-do the speed study, the agency doesn't anticipate that the results would change." Yet, the city, Fleager said, "had some problems with the study." These, too, were not explained and, again, the paper didn't ask what those problems were.

One element to this that doesn't make much sense, though is hardly surprising, is that the city was not notified of the changes, which as Mayor Peter Rogers stated, left it having to address questions to a situation of which they were unaware. The CalTrans PIO, meanwhile, told the Champion that "CalTrans is not mandated to notify the city about speed limit changes," even though Chino Hills is responsible for law enforcement on the road. Still, the PIO stated that CalTrans would, when the second study is completed, notify the city and the community.

But, if CalTrans doesn't have to and saw no reason to say anything the first time, what changes now? Didn't anyone in a position of responsibilty at District 8 even comprehend the fact that an unannounced change in speed limits of Highway 142 would raise questions (not to mention ire)? Couldn't a meeting have been scheduled or at least a simple phone call made to discuss the traffic study, its conclusions and the decision that came from it? Didn't it seem more than a little obvious that the local agency that has to patrol the roads and issue speeding tickets ought to have been given a heads-up on this?

I'm not actually opposed to a speed limit reduction, if it has legitimate reasons behind it. The problem: no reasons at all were given. Obviously, that won't be the case next time.

There is, though, one other consideration. No matter what speed limit is assigned to Carbon Canyon Road--IT WILL BE BROKEN, FREQUENTLY EXCESSIVELY, AND OFTEN.

And, it won't be just at the one or two times during the day when the Sheriff's Department is out there. Look at the skid marks and the mashed-in guardrails, and the tire tracks heading off the side of the highway, and the damaged utility boxes, power poles and private property. The evidence is more than abundantly clear and anyone who lives alongside or near the road can tell you that screeching tires are a daily (with a particular emphasis on nightly) occurrence, especially on weekends, precisely when police traffic enforcement never happens.

Simply put, laws are meaningless if not enforced to address the problem. If CalTrans has good reason to lower the speed limit, and the city agrees, then it stands to reason that enforcement policy would have to change.

We'll see what comes next as the second study is completed.

28 August 2009

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #2412

It is becoming more and more apparent that there is a point on Carbon Canyon Road (State Highway 142) on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon, at which some drivers have a very difficult time distinguishing which direction the road is going as opposed to where they want to go (or where chemicals want to take them?).

This spot, directly across from the old bridge that led to the La Vida Mineral Springs, has been the site of at least four accidents in 2009 alone. I did notice three Brea patrol cars there several days ago and now know why.

The above photos show how a westbound vehicle left the roadway and went up a small dirt embankment. This is just a few yards east of a recent "offroad" experience in which a driver smashed through the end of a guardrail and descended down into Carbon [Canyon] Creek. Meanwhile, directly across the road, two other westbound travelers have skidded across lanes and disturbed a poor faux rock hiding a utility box.

Eight months, four accidents. Hmmm . . .

27 August 2009

Speed Limit Change Rescinded on Carbon Canyon Road!

The experiment in lowering the speed limit on the Chino Hills portion of Carbon Canyon Road (State Highway 142) has suddenly ended, at least temporarily. The speed limit is now back to the limits that existed prior to 14 August when the reduction was made to 35 mph for most of the route and 45 mph for the last mile or mile and a half of the eastbound section to Chino Hills Parkway. So, for most of the route the limit is back to 45 mph, with that mile plus section on the eastbound portion back up to 50. The limit remains 35 through Sleepy Hollow and 40 on the eastbound portion from just below the S-curves near Carriage Hills to just past Old Carbon Canyon Road, at which it goes to 45 until the change to 50 towards the end of the Canyon.

Now, as to why! A call placed after the 14 August change went unreturned, but another this morning yielded an answer, though not one that was particularly enlightening. The woman who answered the call stated that the reason for rescinding the lower limit was due to "resurveying." When asked if that involved looking at traffic conditions and the like, she said yes. Asked about why the resurveying was being done, the woman didn't answer the question, but said that they were in the process of making the resurvey and then would determine whether to go back to the lower limit or keep it as is now. In fact, the staffer was not aware that the signs reinstating the higher limits were back in place.

Basically, it seemed that the CalTrans person didn't want to try and explain why the resurvey was being done or what specifically was involved and only wanted to state the facts of the process rather than the reason why this has been going on.

So be it! Meantime, watch those signs and watch your speed. Without advance notice, there could be another change back any time now!

25 August 2009

Stonefield Development Discussion at City Council Postponed

The matter of the 28-unit Stonefield housing development in Carbon Canyon was pulled from tonight's Chino Hills City Council meeting agenda and postponed until either the 22 September or 6 October meeting.

The reason is that the developer has appealed the decision of the Planning Commission to require traffic mitigation in the form of a $1.5 million improvement to the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Drive, adjacent to the site.

It has been the contention of Stonefield that, because the development is only 1.5% of the daily traffic on Carbon Canyon Road, it should only pay that percentage of the improvement.

This translates to a $22,500 contribution.

Now, there's a true indication of this developer's commitment to building community, eh? Never mind that Stonefield would increase by probably 33% or 40% (or whatever the percentage is: certainly much higher than 1.5%) of drivers attempting to enter or exit Carbon Canyon Road from or to Fairway (or its much quieter cousin across the road: Ginseng Lane). Forget that this is an increase that would, in the estimation of Chino Hills Planning Department staff, require safety measures in the form of acceleration/deacceleration lanes to allow from entry and exit from the state highway. Dispense with the fact that this is really the only benefit proposed mitigation of any traffic issue on Carbon Canyon Road can provide: to drivers entering or exiting that road to and from the smaller side streets.

No, this developer is so willing to work with the city on this that it will not just advocate for only paying $22,500 of the proposed improvement (which, by the way, cuts costs from previous alternatives to up to half), but it also seems perfectly willing to let the city offer nebulous and questionable benefits as mitigation for pollution and aesthetic impacts that should simply not be allowed, while really having nothing to lose in their profit margin.

If anyone ever needed an example of developers laying bare their truest motivations, instead of cloaking themselves as community partners, here it is. An absolute unequivocal stubbornness in the face of the sheer fact that this project, as now constituted, is wrong for this site.

One would think that the City Council would look at this obstinacy and then invoke its discretionary powers (as well as some form of indignation, given how much the city has bent over backwards to accommodate this developer) to force Stonefield to reduce the impacts of this project to bring pollution from grading under already-low AQMD thresholds and to cut back its footprint to remove the egregious aesthetic obstructions to the irreplaceable natural setting and viewsheds that exist (and have for untold thousands of years) in Carbon Canyon.

Here are 28 proposed homes that will undoubtedly sell, in an improved market, for well over $1 million in most, if not all, cases, and the developer is going to take an absurd position of paying 1.5%, a pittance, for traffic improvements that will only really benefit Stonefield residents, in concert with users of Western Hills Country Club and the Western Hills Estates mobile home park? Can the developer seriously suggest that a "fair share" contribution to improvements on that intersection will prevent them from making a "reasonable" profit? If they can, then provide the evidence: show the figures that will make contributing a larger share of the improvements a death blow to their "reasonable" profit. If that is the case, then I, for one, will happily yield the point.

Regardless, there's no reason for the City to not use its discretion to force Stonefield to comply with lowering environmental impacts in pollution and aesthetics by reducing the number of homes. As has been said here before, all this emphasis on reducing traffic impacts not identified as significant by CEQA standards is interesting given the relative lack of concern over pollution and aesthetic issues, which are so identified.

Still, if the number of houses was reduced to mitigate the pollution and aesthetic effects, then maybe the proposed traffic improvements at that intersection won't be necessary or could be cut down even further and cost them less. Hmmm . . .

24 August 2009

Stonefield on Chino Hills City Council Agenda for Tuesday, 25 August?

It appears that the matter of the 28-unit Stonefield housing project slated for the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon, is already being placed on the agenda of tomorrow (Tuesday, the 25th) night's City Council meeting.

It is possible that, if two members of the council request it, the matter can be postponed for consideration at a later meeting. Meantime, I am not sure if the Planning Commission's decision has already been appealed by concerned citizens or not.

So, we'll see whether or not the matter is heard tomorrow night. City Council meetings are held at 7 p.m. at chambers in the civic center off Peyton Drive, for those who are interested.

Carbon Canyon Road Delays

Electronic message boards along Carbon Canyon Road indicate that there will be delays from 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, Tuesday the 25th, until 5 p.m. on Wednesday the 26th.

The reason is that heavy equipment will be bringing in material for an enclosure for a 70-foot tall emergency communications tower, disguised as a pine tree, that is being installed at the top of Canon Lane south of Carbon Canyon Road on the Chino hills side of the Canyon. The large vehicles required to bring this material in will deliver the equipment to a location near the fire station on the corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Canon Lane, at which point the items will be transferred to smaller vehicles for transport up the narrow road to the destination.

It appears that the main delays will be between 8 and 9 a.m. both days and as the material is transferred across Carbon Canyon Road, which will be closed for those periods when equipment is shuttled up Canon Lane.

The work on completing the enclosure should be done by mid-September and the emergency communications project should be up and running in November or December, according to a City of Chino Hills press release on the project.

Because this will be coming from the Orange County side, there could be additional delays to the existing construction project for a traffic signal in Olinda Village, so commuters through the Canyon should be on notice, just in case.

21 August 2009

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #18

Here is another La Vida Mineral Springs seltzer bottle, perhaps dating from the 1940s (although there are suggestions that they may go back as far as the Twenties.)

Back in February, there was a profile of a La Vida Mineral Springs seltzer bottle that had better quality lettering as well as a head and siphon on it. This example lacks the hardware and has darker red lettering that is not in nearly as good condition. There are the same embossed words on the reverse side, consisting of "La Vida Water" below the neck and "Property of / La Vida Mineral Springs Co. / Placentia, Calif" toward the bottom.

At any rate, this is another cool La Vida Mineral Springs item and is accession 2009.8.1.1 from the Carbon Canyon Collection. Clicking on the images will get you a zoomed-in view.

19 August 2009

Carbon Canyon Road Traffic Signal Work in Olinda Village Underway

For the folks in Olinda Village, the decade-long battle is in its final stages. The long sought-after traffic signal on Carbon Canyon Road is now under construction. The signal will operate for two locations, the main entrance to Hollydale Mobile Home Estates and for Olinda Drive.

As has been stated before a couple of times, understandable though the frustrations may be of area residents battling to access Carbon Canyon Road, there is a two-fold broader contextual issue.

First, other areas of Carbon Canyon have the same fundamental problem without the opportunity for mitigation.

Second, traffic signals help cross-traffic entering the arterial roadway, but actually serve to slow down the drive on the latter.

For now, one signal at Olinda Village will, for the most part, not make much of a difference, though there will be times when commuters are noticeably slowed.

But, there are two proposed signals on the Chino Hills side, one at Canon Lane and the other at Canyon Hills Road that, if built, will only add to the problem of slowing traffic moving through the Canyon.

This is compounded by the recent lowering of the speed limit on the Chino Hills side by five to ten miles per hour (45 or 40 down to 35 in most areas, and from 50 to 45 in one stretch) which will also reduce commute times.

Meantime, as the orange sign states, there will be traffic interruptions for at least eight months.

It is a shame that, after 95 years of existence as a through road, Highway 142 is now losing some of its rural (semi-rural, to some) character as its first traffic signal reflects a transformation of the Canyon that will only worsen as more homes are approved and built, at least two more signals installed, and the character of the place further compromised.

18 August 2009

The Stonefield Development and a Lesson in Inevitability (Maybe)

Well, after all of my long excursions (rants?) on the Canyon Crest and Stonefield housing project proposals for Carbon Canyon, in which I naively believed that local governments could, in fact, prevent these developments from happening by merely invoking the unavoidable, significant adverse impacts identified, under California Environmental Quality Act standards, through an Environmental Impact Report, I have found that my understanding was, in fact, dead wrong.

Or have I?

As explained to me tonight by a Chino Hills city planner, after hearing the Planning Commission Chair and the Assistant City Attorney say that a developer has a locktight constitutional right to develop his/her property and after the Commission unanimously approved the EIR, tract map and other conditions for this project, CEQA cannot enable a local agency to deny the right to develop a property outright, because this would be an unfair taking of said property. Rather, local governments can only work to make these projects conform to local codes and statute via mitigation and Statements of Overriding Consideration.

Yet, there is an interesting article published in 2006 by the USC Law School from George Lefcoe on CEQA issues. Among the statements in the piece:

CEQA findings can be marshaled to justify rejection of almost any proposed project.

Further, a quote from the Public Policy Institute of Calfornia offers that:

Evidence suggests that while CEQA offers planning benefits at the local level, it does not mesh effectively with wider, more comprehensive planning, a point I actually focused on tonight in my public comment at the Planning Commission meeting.

Just as relevant is Mr. Lefcoe's statement that

the researchers [from the Public Policy Institute] pointed out that local officials often seek to reduce a project's possible environmental impacts by reducing its density. Viewed locally, the reduced density might mitigate traffic congestion or loss of open space. This is exactly, in fact, what has happened with Stonefield, Canyon Crest, and who knows how many other housing projects in and beyond the canyon; namely, reduce the density and you've mitigated the environmental effects. Except that there are experts in the field who question that assumption.

Now, obviously, Mr. Lefcoe's paper offers his interpretation and those of the Assistant City Attorney of Chino Hills are different.

If, however, the institutional culture of the City of Chino Hills, whether through its City Attorney's office, Planning Department, Planning Commission, and/or City Council, is that there is no way to block a project via CEQA because of constitutional protections against taking property by blocking the right to develop, this would appear to fall under the open interpretations made available by the discretionary powers held by local agencies.

Basically, just because city officials (Planning Commission chair, Assistant City Attorney, Senior City Planner, etc.) believe (or are led to do so) that they are unable to deny, only mitigate, projects, does not, AT ALL, mean that this is legally (whether by statute or case law) so.

Indeed, Mr. Lefcoe's paper, which actually addresses displaced development due to CEQA-based rejections (meaning, a rejected project from one site migrates elsewhere and is accepted--PRECISELY because of the discretionary power possessed by local governments), points out that recent case law is at odds, citing California Appellate Court rulings in 2005 and 2006.

Certainly, the City Attorney's office in Chino Hills could go out and find and cite legal articles that hold otherwise. Which would only go to show that there is no one way to interpret CEQA as a grounds to deny projects. Instead, the final decision comes from the wide latitude afforded to local agencies, provided that a Statement of Overriding Considerations is isued to counter the identified adverse impacts and that the benefits accuring therefrom are put into the public record.

That is, if a local government wants a project to happen, it can make it happen (and then say that it was constitutionally obligated to respect the inviolable right to develop property). Correspondingly, if a local agency wishes to deny a project, it can do that, too, and cite the applicable CEQA impacts to back it up. This, at least, is what I take from Mr. Lefcoe's statement above that: "CEQA findings can be marshaled to justify rejection of almost any proposed project."

In the latter case, however, a developer could then choose to sue and see if a court will rule in their favor by arguing that the adverse impacts were, if not totally mitigatable, then significantly reduced and overriden by considering the benefits that would accrue to the local agency by approving the project.

Is this cost/benefit analysis based on uniform and consistent criteria? No, indeed. Fortunately for local agencies and for developers, that discretionary power makes it easy to list benefits without general standards, so long as the SOC is issued and the rationale for it placed on the public record.

I think now would be a good time to quote liberally (!) from Mr. Lefcoe's conclusion, because it is a good summation of CEQA, the role of planning, and the problem with determining how local governments should apply its CEQA-based determinations of local land use.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has become an elaborate paper filter for screening proposed development projects that require discretionary local government approvals. CEQA requires local governments to prepare environmental impact reports (EIRs) before voting on land use controls such as zoning, annexations, or general plans that would facilitate individual development projects if those projects could alter the physical environment. . .

Until now, CEQA has tended to focus on the neighborhood impacts of proposed development . . . But CEQA offers scant guidance on where it would be best to locate the 600,000 or so new residents to arrive or to be born in California each year between now and 2015 [this according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development in an August 2005 paper]. Given the state's underfunded roads and schools, and infamously poor air quality, most new development would only seem to worsen the quality of life for those of us already resident in California. Yet, growth in California appears inevitable and needs to be accommodated somewhere. CEQA should be a tool for assisting local officials to direct new development where it will do the least harm to the physical environment or the most good. As researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California concluded: 'Currently, CEQA does not effectively accommodate regional strategies that trade off increases in negative effects in one geographic area or for one environmental impact in exchange for corresponding reductions in another.' By insisting upon EIRs taking into account the possibility of displaced development, the California Supreme Court would be interpreting CEQA to minimize environmental damage while fulfilling the legislative aspiration of 'providing a decent home and satisfying living environment for every Californian.'

The crux? Does this concept of diminishing environmental damage in a sensitive area apply to Carbon Canyon? And, as importantly, does it now matter given previous county planning (so-called), city codes and planing, the city's institutional culture when it comes to development, and the very real possibility that it might just be too late--that with 174 homes already approved on the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon, with these 28 units in Stonefield on the cusp of approval, and 110 more near Canyon Hills in pre-application, the damage has already been underway and will soon cumulatively continue the degradation of the Canyon?

Market forces permitting, the day is soon coming when Pine Valley Estates will revive, Canyon Hills emerge, and Stonefield constructed. 202 houses are almost certainly to be built in the not-too-distant future. Regardless of what happens to the 110-unit project in pre-application or to Brea's stalled Canyon Crest, when those 202 houses are built, it will already have been time for some of us to have gotten out.

Because, simply stated, Carbon Canyon will be forever negatively altered.

17 August 2009

Aesthetics, Public Policy and the Stonefield Development

Tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at the City Hall council chambers, the Chino Hills Planning Commission will conduct part II of its deliberations on the Stonefield housing development of 28 luxury gated homes on about 35 acres of land in Carbon Canyon.

At the last meeting in July, it was uncertain what the next course of action would be for this meeting, depending on what research staff had done to address some questions raised during the discussion, as well as a response generated from a last-minute change in position from CalTrans regarding proposed improvements to the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Drive/Ginseng Lane.

I have gone on at more than enough length about water, traffic and pollution issues in previous posts on this blog and today scrawled out a 20 (count 'em, 20) page document in preparation for tomorrow night's meeting. Nevertheless, I'll probably go off on another wordy bender tonight, too!

So, here goes: Carbon Canyon is a unique landscape within Chino Hills, a city that proudly proclaims its commitment to maintaining its rural heritage. It's right there on the home page of the city's web site.

Yet, here is a project, along with three others (two approved, one in the pre-application stage) that, if all are completed, would bring 312 houses someday to the Chino Hills side of the Canyon (let's not forget that Canyon Crest in Brea proposed 165 additional units, though it has stalled at the city council level there--but, that could be a whopping 477 total, someday.)

Even though it's only 28 units, Stonefield is part and parcel of an unsustainable path that is being taken that will, if fully followed, will utterly despoil the Canyon forever.

And, you can't make any stronger argument about those denigrating effects than with aesthetics. This is simply because any transformation of a beautiful natural resource, like this canyon, is an aesthetic contradiction, especially when the city goes to such great lengths to highlight its sensitivity to preserving its rural heritage.

Yet, staff has the temerity (I know, dust off the old dictionary and look it up, it's a nice perjorative [oops, look that one up, while you're at it]) to suggest that, because 18 acres, or 53% of the site, will remain open space, it is conveniently omitted that this land is basically undevelopable anyway.

Moreover, claims that the aesthetic damage caused by this project can somehow be mitigated by manufactured slopes with non-native vegetation and hardscape such as iron fencing, stone entrance monuments and entrance pavers are just plain egregious (all right, keep the dictionary out, then.)

You cannot simply wholesale trade in a unique natural landscape in Carbon Canyon for something manufactured and artificial, no matter how beautiful it might seem to those lucky 28 homeowners and others who likely believe that undeveloped land is a blighted eyesore.

On top of this, the westward view from the top of the S-curve just to the east of the project, which evidently was given a very high priority in the Chino Hills General Plan process years ago--well, that's largely going to be gone forever, too. Several homes will not only front Carbon Canyon Road, but be above the road grade. Views, which are almost always given extreme premiums in housing developments, are not always to be measured in value by that criteria.

Surprisingly, at last month's meeting, a planning commissioner who was around for those debates during the General Plan's creation, after first seeming to express concern about the potential loss of that view, then turned around and offered that at least some of the view would be available as drivers headed downslope--as if that were somehow justifiable!

Further, the commission's chair stated outright during the session that the property was "entitled," because there was a previously approved tract map, although there are some opponents who've said that this previous map's approval has, in fact, expired.

So, what really needs to be explained, as much as anything, is: what is the status of this "entitlement"?

Is this a done deal?

Who thinks that and why?

If this were so, is the EIR and applicability to CEQA a mere formality?

Is the Statement of Overriding Considerations offered by staff as the mitigation to the unavoidable, significant adverse impacts (pollution and aesthetics) a given?

Can this project legally be denied by either the Planning Commission and, upon appeal (which seems certain), the City Council?

Would neither do this because of entitlement, a preference towards luxury housing over the rural atmosphere of Carbon Canyon (again, not just from Stonefield, but from 174 homes already approved and 110 more in pre-application), and for putting the interests of property owners/developers over the broad-based valid concerns of residents?

Here's the bottom line on aesthetics: this concern over Stonefield is only a microcosm, a small one, about the very future of Carbon Canyon.

No one can plausibly suggest that 202 approved homes on the Chino Hills side of the Canyon is sustainable, good for the Canyon, and beneficial to Canyon and city residents.

No one could justify as good public policy the addition of 600 or more residents, 400 or more cars, the water needed for these projects, and etc.

Sadly, there are several major considerations that keep the playing field far from level.

First, law and legal precedent supports the property owner/developer at the expense of the community, excepting extreme and egregious (that word again) effects that are too obvious to ignore, even though some mitigation has been achieved over the years, thanks to CEQA and some growing public opposition to wholesale, unbridled suburban sprawl.

Two, CEQA has the massive (and convenient) loophole of the Statement of Overriding Considerations, which allows lead agencies (such as Chino Hills) to override negative environmental impacts, without much recourse by opponents, as long as it is in writing and purports to justify such statements by laying out alleged benefits (real or not) to the community.

Finally, no lead agency is legally required to take in general context to its decision, such as thinking about how many other homes are approved within the area, or what outside development means as far as traffic impacts, or where all the trash is supposed to go when our landfills run out, or where the money will come from to fund public services or any number of broader issues.

No, when it comes to this specific project, all that has, at base, to be considered is what is germane to it. Of course, officials should consider context and are encouraged to do so, but only that.

A gander at the benefits identified by staff in its 21 July staff report shows how easy the SOC is to rationalize:

Benefit 1) the City needs "Upper Income category" housing (repeat, needs--though this isn't explicitly stated, it is obviously implied, as if this luxury housing need was somehow germane to the Canyon itself);

Benefit 2) the development is compatible with existing land uses--golf course, mobile homes, and Carriage Hills; all, by the way, approved and built before the City came into being, under different standards, including the exceedingly lax ones held by the County, and all 20 years or older. The lesson here: this project and its contribution to the dismantling of the Canyon is OK, because it's been going on for decades, so why bother asking whether it's sustainable or good public policy to continue to do so?;

Benefit 3) Stonefield is in keeping with the "scenic qualities of Carbon Canyon." How? By that unbuildable open space, by having the development include a "fuel modification zone" for future fire prevention, and by having all of that non-native vegetation and hardscape look pretty, so you'll forget (maybe) that there was a natural canyon setting there once;

Benefit 4) there'll be traffic improvements on Carbon Canyon Road at Fairway Drive/Ginseng Lane. Except . . . CalTrans has thrown a wrench into that and the whole question of what to do with this benefit is in limbo.

That's it--no widespread community benefit and nothing to help or preserve the Canyon (unless you count a fair-share contribution to traffic signals at Canon Lane and Canyon Hills Drive that will only slow down traffic on Carbon Canyon Road for the benefit of far fewer cars entering the highway from these side streets.)

And, to go back to the fundamental issue: how can anyone really claim that these benefits override the irreversible and permanent destruction to the Canyon that will happen if Stonefield gets built?

How can the city boast so proudly of its preservation of its rural atmosphere when it allows the Canyon to gradually be dismantled by housing developments?

Where is the good public policy in all of this?

Well, let's hear from our Planning Commission and, as is almost certain, then from our Council. Again, that meeting is tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

If it comes to a vote, it will be very interesting to hear what, if any, substantive statements will be made by the commissioners about the public policy implications behind the approval of Stonefield, if that's what takes place.

Because, once you lose a piece of the Canyon, it's gone forever.

To borrow from a former council member of Brea as he argued against Canyon Crest last year: what will residents say about the decision to approve in fifty or a hundred years?

I'll add (of course) to this by asking:

Is that part of the duty or obligation of city officials relative to advancing a developer's interests (via, say, a Statement of Overriding Considerations to an EIR) over those of the broader community? And, will later officials and residents lament the loss of a unique natural resource that is actually the preeminent embodiment of the city's expressed commitment to protect its rural atmosphere?

In closing, let's go back to a comment made by the developer's spokesperson last meeting, as he lambasted as an "abomination" the CalTrans proposal to require significant regrading and retaining walls at the Carbon Canyon Road/Fairway Drive-Ginseng Lane intersection. It would, he argued, ruin the aesthetics of the area to require such extreme physical alterations.

To which can be replied: isn't the Stonefield project doing exactly the same thing, but on a bigger scale? Scraping hillsides, moving 700,000 cubic yards of soil, obliterating an irreplaceable view shed, emitting unhealthy levels of pollution during grading (even if "temporary")--isn't that an extreme physical alteration of a natural, rural setting? Couldn't this be viewed as an "abomination" by applying the same logic? Isn't there just a little bit of irony embodied there?

Let's not forget the context, folks: We have 174 other approved homes. Add the 110 in pre-application AND add the 165 over in Brea should that be approved, and we can take the specific argument about Stonefield to its logical general extreme, because the results certainly would be.) Sadly, to reprise, city officials are not mandated to take in context. They can narrow the focus down to this project, approve it with the others, and leave the consequences to their successors.

Now, there's bad public policy!

16 August 2009

Speed Limit Drops on Carbon Canyon Road!

After a couple of weeks out of town and after a long drive from Hoover Dam, I thought I was hallucinating when, last Friday night, I turned onto Carbon Canyon Road (State Highway 142) from Chino Hills Parkway and was astonished to see that the speed limit sign read "35", not "45," as I headed westbound. Before climbing the S-curve, though, there was another and then three more before I reached Sleepy Hollow and home.

So, what gives?

Did CalTrans make this decision unilaterally?

Did Chino Hills work with CalTrans to set this new limit?

Why, exactly?

Now, this change only applies to the Chino Hills/San Bernardino County side and there is a stretch that was reduced from "50" to "45" on the eastbound portion maybe a quarter-mile or so from Summit Ranch.

Curiously, that first westbound sign is not immediately at the junction of Carbon Canyon Road and Chino Hills Parkway, but maybe a half-mile or less before Azurite Drive at Summit Ranch, so it'd be interesting to know what the actual limit is before you reach the sign.

Is it the same limit that is on Highway 142 when it is Chino Hills Parkway before turning onto Carbon Canyon Road? Is it "35"?

This begs an obvious question after "why?", which is: will this new limit be enforced any more (or less, perhaps is the way to put it) than the old limit? Knowing how much some drivers love to put "the pedal to the metal" on our beloved state highway, it is only natural to wonder whether there'll be more of a concerted effort to curb this behavior.

I suppose we'll know soon enough whether more patrolling will be implemented to determine whether drivers are any more apt to conform to the new limits. Meantime, a call to the CalTrans District 8 office is probably in order!

03 August 2009

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon # 2307

It'd actually been a little while, but, alas, within the last week, perhaps two, another incident of a driver on Carbon Canyon Road making their mark have taken place. This occurrence was on the Brea side on the eastbound side of Carbon Canyon Road (State Highway 142).

In this case, the vehicle operator went off the road, clipped a supporting pole for the power lines and chipped off a nice chunk of the pole, and then ascended the slight embankment bending back a reflector (designed to let drivers know where the shoulder is and, thereby, assist in keeping said drivers on the road) before, presumably, returning to the road and on their merry way (hmmm, speaking of "merry", could intoxication potentially have been a factor?).

Once again, no one was likely injured, this incident was probably not reported and, therefore, it's just another case of hit-and-miss.

An update from 16 August: A comment from "Rizon25" was placed after this entry was made and reads: I passed by when the car was still flipped over. It was a Ford mustang and the car was entirely on its back. Police were already there when I passed by. It was around 8:30 on Friday morning I believe. Hmmmm . . . a Ford Mustang went off the road and landed upside down on the highway! Who'd a thunk it? D'ya think speed (and, possibly, other items) might have been a factor?

Dear Readers: The Carbon Canyon Chronicle will be out of commission for the next couple of weeks, but look for another cool installment of "Carbon Canyon History" when it is back in operation again!

02 August 2009

Pollution, Public Policy and the Stonefield Development

After discussing impacts (traffic and water) that were, in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), deemed not significant, unavoidable and adverse according to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), this post turns to one of the two that was so identified: pollution.

The question here really is one of time. For the staff in the Chino Hills Planning Department, in their response to public comment on the DEIR, this was simply a matter of mitigation through disallowing grading of the property on days where the pollution index was high and then calling for a Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC) to justify the project because "grading is short-term." In other words, it's OK if this project emits more pollution than lax thresholds call for, because it would all be over in a matter of months.

What the consultant hired by the city identified in the EIR was that emission of particulate matter and nitrous oxides during the grading process would be 40% over thresholds established by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).

The response was to establish mitigation by stopping grading during high-index days and five other measures: 1) having diesel oxidation catalysts on vehicles to reduce pollution by 15%; 2) proper maintenance of vehicles subject to AQMD inspection (provided these inspections will actually take place regularly during the grading process); 3) turning vehicles off when not in use; 4) using electrical rather than diesel hookups for power tools; and 5) a traffic control plan for safe detour.

Taking all of these into account and, assuming that these proposed mitigations are actually feasible and monitored, the reduction in emissions would still be 12-15% over thresholds that are actually lower than they should be, given that we live in the most polluted region in the United States and have for decades and decades. Whatever advances have been made in our pollution situation, and there were periods of significant improvement, it still hasn't been enough.

A sidenote: when a certain Sleepy Hollow-based commentor noted that AQMD's "thresholds" were too low, staff decided to respond that "the reference to 'standards' is not entirely accurate . . . the ambient air quality standards are concentration based, and the thresholds are project-specific emission based."

No, they were only accurate! Why it was deemed necessary to include that statement, which did nothing to counter or correct (except to make a point in the name of semantical purity!) a substantive issue is more than a little mystifying.

However, when the main mitigation measure concerns a prohibition of grading for that day and we can assume that there will be rigorous observances of that prohibition by the grading contractor and city inspectors, note that "this will likely prevent an exceedance of an ambient air quality standard and therefore prevent health effects." Actually, wouldn't it simply prevent? Why would it be "likely"?

It was also interesting that staff stated that "reductions afforded by mitigation measure AQ-6 [grading prohibitions on high pollution days] were not included in the migitated construction emissions table because the table displays emissions, whereas mitigation measure AQ-6 deals with the concentration of pollutants. Mitigation measures AQ-1 through AQ-5 [see above] also reduce emissions during construction."

Yet, how will there be guarantees that diesel oxidation catalysts will be on grading vehicles, and that vehicles will be properly maintained according to AQMD inspection and, especially, that vehicles will be turned off when not in use, and that there will be electrical, not diesel, hookups for power tools and, finally, just what will be the traffic control plan for "safe detour"?

There is only one way into and out of the proposed development: from Carbon Canyon Road, a two-line state highway already operating at E or F levels of traffic during peak commuter hours. Will the vehicles be parked on site during off hours? Fine, but there still has to be 700,000 cubic yards of "remedial grading" (a cubic yard, by the way, is 202 gallons) around the site and, presumably, a significant amount taken to and from the location on this two-lane road.

This goes back, again, to the question of time. Because it is short-term and because grading will supposedly be terminated on high pollution days, "the project is implementing feasible measures to reduce potential impacts during grading activities." Still, the pollutant concentration is over thresholds that are already inadequate.

Whether it is short term, be it three months or six months or whatever length of time it is, there is too much pollution emitted in a region still saddled with the worst air quality in the country.

Like the traffic argument, in which the developer says that their contribution to the overburdened traffic on Carbon Canyon Road is only 1.5% of the total, therefore the project does not contribute any significance to the overall traffic problem, this pollution rebuttal insinuates that the short-term nature of grading-emitting pollutants is a minor irritant (literally and figuratively) that is minor in the grand scheme of things. And, that it should be casually brushed aside via the ever-convenient "Statement of Overriding Considerations" which, once again, don't really provide Canyon-specific benefits, but those that are truly ephemeral and vaguely identifiable to the city as a whole, such as needed luxury housing and the contribution to two traffic signals that won't serve the development and likely won't even be installed for several years to come (and certainly will not help commuter times on Carbon Canyon Road!)

As has been said plenty of times already, Carbon Canyon is a unique place within Chino Hills and even 28 homes among the potential of nearly 450 that could someday be built within the Brea and Chino Hills portions of the Canyon is a major contribution to its degradation.

To pretend that destroying irreplaceable scenic and open space areas in the Canyon can be mitigated by benefits that have nothing to do with the Canyon is bad public policy.

Just as pretending that emissions at 12-15% over already low thresholds is an adequate mitigation is bad public policy.

We need to reduce pollution significantly for the benefit of the health of our citizens (pollution, by the way, being a major contributor to high asthma and other lung-related problems that raise health care costs and boost insurance premiums--issues that happen to be on the front burner at the moment.)

Anything that increases it, short-term or not, is bad public policy.