30 April 2010

Carbon Canyon Chronicle Added Features!

A couple of new features have been added to the blog, over on the right side of the screen just below the "Blog Archive" along with existing links.

One is to a Wikipedia entry on Sleepy Hollow, which was recently edited from a bare-bones and inaccurate one (stating, for example, that the neighborhood was unincorporated) to something with a little more descriptive heft to it.  It can undoubtedly use further fine-tuning, however.

The other allows for the searching of posts from this blog.  So, if a reader wanted to find all content related to Sleepy Hollow, or La Vida Mineral Springs, or the Olinda oil field, a simple search will quickly find said material.  Hopefully, this will be a nice addition for those who visit the Chronicle!

29 April 2010

Arundo Undone (Nearly)

Thanks to the determined effort of Hills for Everyone and the Santa Ana Watershed Association, the eradication of the pernicious arundo donax, which had overrun a significant portion of Carbon [Canyon] Creek to nearly the Orange County/San Bernardino County line, is progressing effectively and rapidly.  Here is some pertinent information from a recent press release issued by the two organizations:

Within days of the devastating Freeway Complex Fire and amidst a heartbreaking sea of charred woodlands, residents saw a free-flowing and visible Carbon Canyon Creek. This creek, which was formerly choked and hidden by the thick, tall, non-native Arundo, was now acting and looking like a natural stream. Yet just days after the fire, this insistent plant had already grown six inches. Without intervention it would soon become 20 feet high again.

At the first Brea City Council meeting following the fire, residents in the rural community of Olinda Village (eastern Brea) asked for city support to permanently remove the Arundo. A meeting with the City of Brea and others was organized to discuss how to use the fire’s removal of the Arundo biomass to permanently clear the stream. Proper mapping and identification of the landowners were the next steps. Since this area was already on its project list, the Santa Ana Watershed Association (SAWA), quickly moved forward to do the mapping and secure the necessary permits and permissions to spray the Arundo with an herbicide. With the formerly dense biomass reduced to mere stubs, spraying would not be nearly as expensive or hard to apply as previously estimated.

Funding this endeavor involved creativity, partnership and timeliness. With state bond funds frozen, Hills For Everyone, a regional non-profit, offered the first funding in the amount of $5,000. Next, the City of Brea contributed $25,000 from water quality funds. The Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council (based in Chino Hills) wrote and received a $40,000 grant from CalFire. The Department of Parks and Recreation negotiated the removal of the Arundo as mitigation for several nearby projects. CalTrans quickly gave permission to the Santa Ana River & Orange County Weed Management Area to spray on its right-of-way along this state highway (SR 142). Next, SAWA secured permission from seven of the eight private landowners along the stream.

Spraying by SAWA and the Weed Management Area occurred throughout 2009. For fullest effect, experts leave the plants alone for up to one year. The tall, dying stands can be seen lining Carbon Canyon Road. Even in their dry state, the plants are less flammable than healthy growing Arundo. Normally creeks act as a barrier to the spread of fire by slowing its progress yet the Arundo in this Creek spread the November 2008 fire upstream.

Frustrated by the lack of response from one last landowner (the likely site of the original infestation), Fire Safe Council members contacted Jim Markman, Brea’s City Attorney, to see if any legal remedies existed. After more than a year of no responses from the landowner, within days, Markman had contacted the landowner’s attorney. She, in turn, contacted the landowner’s business manager in Japan, who contacted the landowner. He gave permission to spray. The spraying on this last link is expected to occur on Friday April 23.

The coordinated effort, would not have been possible without the necessary research, landowner cooperation, partnerships, strategic funding allocations and trust. Though the Arundo will need to be sprayed for many more years and more funding is needed, the worst is over. Residents, landowners, and multiple local, regional and state governmental entities are looking forward to a healthy Carbon Canyon Creek, and a continued cooperation over its stewardship.

Project partners include, in alphabetical order: California Department of Parks and Recreation, CalFire, Cal Trans, Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council, Chino Valley Fire District, City of Brea, City of Brea Fire Department, Hills For Everyone, Santa Ana River & Orange County Weed Management Area and Santa Ana Watershed Association.

Particularly impressive here is the assistance of the Brea City Attorney in leaning on the Japan-based owner of the La Vida Mineral Springs property to secure the permission needed to treat the area that still had untreated arundo.  It will be a week ago tomorrow that the spraying at La Vida occurred and then the slow, but sure, infiltration of the herbicide and dying of the invasive plant will take place over coming months.
This project also demonstrates that multi-agency cooperation is, indeed, possible when the opportune moment comes in a situation like the one that followed the devastation of the Freeway Complex fire.  As the press release states, the destruction was horrific, but there was, at least, this one positive outcome.  Anyone who has taken the time to get a good look at the creek during this past rainy season has seen how much of a diffference there is in water flow when the arundo is restricted.  Imagine what it will be like someday when it is gone completely.
One of the great assets in Carbon Canyon, in a region in which water courses have nearly universally and uniformly been turned into stark flood control channels, is the natural beauty evidenced in Carbon [Canyon] Creek, especially when there is a good water flow.  The permanent eradication, should the project be carried through to completion, of the nefarious arundo will only heighten the effect that the creek has in this special place.  To all of those involved in this incredible project, thanks so much for all you have done!

25 April 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino

Most of the San Bernardino County/City of Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon falls within the historic Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, a place that has had significant historical events associated with it. 

The western boundary of the rancho follows the San Bernardino/Los Angeles counties border from the north in Tonner Canyon and then heads east through an area north of Sleepy Hollow and through the approved Canyon Hills subdivision where the 1960s concrete Ski Villa ski slope is located.  The boundary then crosses the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Road, skirts Red Apple Lane on the south side of the state highway and, at the top of Canon Lane, heads northeast through the 1920s Mountain View Estates (a.k.a. Mountain View Park) subdivision there and recrosses Carbon Canyon Road just behind (to the east of) the Chino Valley Fire District station.  Extending slightly into the fairways of Western Hills Country Club, the line then turns southeast and goes again across SR 142 at Ginseng Lane and moves through the upper echelons of the Carriage Hills subdivision, via such streets as Promontory and Pinnacle roads before leaving the Canyon for the exclusive reaches of the Vellano subdivision and points south and eastward.

The Santa Ana del Chino rancho had been one of many ranchos used by the Mission San Gabriel for farming and cattle raising from its current location east to San Bernardino until the mission was secularized (essentially shut down) in the 1830s.  Evidently, even after secularization freed mission lands throughout the Mexican department of Alta California for private ownership, mayordomo (overseer) Juan Crispín Pérez of the Mission San Gabriel and later grantee of the Paso de Bartolo rancho encompassing today's Whittier asserted that La Puente (in today's eastern San Gabriel Valley) and Chino were being used for growing wheat and pasturing animals.

In any case, Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado issued a land grant in 1841 to Antonio Maria Lugo for the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, amounting to some 22,000 acres.  Lugo, scion of a well-known family that had a large townhouse in Los Angeles and owned the Rancho San Antonio, southeast of that pueblo in present Bell Gardens and surrounding areas, was born in 1775 and became one of the more prominent figures in the Los Angeles district.  In 1816, for example, he served as alcalde (roughly, mayor) of Los Angeles and was known for his great wealth generated from cattle.  Indeed, it was said that he had a silver saddle valued at some $15,000.

Lugo constructed an adobe that stood on the grounds of today's Boys' Republic school adjoining the 71 Freeway in Chino Hills, selecting a slightly raised elevation above Chino Creek, now a flood control channel.  Not long after he obtained the rancho, one of Lugo's daughters married Isaac (Julian) Williams, a native of Kentucky, who made his way to California in the 1830s.  By the mid-1840s, Lugo turned over the entire Rancho Santa Ana del Chino to his daughter and son-in-law and returned to residing at his San Antonio rancho, where he died at age 85 in 1860.

Williams, meantime, stocked thousands of cattle on the Santa Ana del Chino and conducted some farming, while his house became an important waystation for travelers heading into Los Angeles from the south and east.  Indeed, the old Colorado Road heading west from the Colorado River at present-day Yuma, Arizona, went through San Diego and roughly followed the route of the modern Interstate 15 through Escondido, Temecula, Lake Elsinore and Corona before moving westward paralleling the 91 Freeway before crossing the Santa Ana River and heading north along our 71 Expressway and Freeway.  On the west side of the road, later called the Butterfield Stage Road, after the 1858 opening of the Butterfield stagecoach mail delivery route soon supplanted by the 1861 Pony Express route along the same pathway, weary travelers stopped at Williams' adobe house.  They then continued their travels north into present-day Pomona, followed the road as it curved westward around Elephant Hill and then linked up with what is now Valley Boulevard, heading into the San Gabriel Valley and towards Los Angeles.

Just a few years after Williams assumed ownership of the Chino Rancho, war broke out between the United States and Mexico.  After a rapid conquest of Los Angeles by American forces, the Spanish-speaking Californians revolted and reestablished control over the pueblo and its surrounding area.  As another American invasion force prepared to march from San Diego, the Californians marshaled their resistance effort and local American and European residents took refuge at Williams' Chino adobe.  Among these were Benjamin D. Wilson (for whom Mount Wilson is named and who was an early mayor, state senator, and prominent rancher and businessman), John Rowland (co-owner of the Rancho La Puente to the northwest and namesake of Rowland Heights), and Michael White (whose adobe still stands at San Marino High School). 

A Californian force surrounded the structure and decided to force their adversaries out by setting fire to the roof.  After some gunfire that left one Californian dead and some of those in the adobe wounded, the Americans and Europeans surrendered.  They were later taken to Paredon Blanco in what is now Boyle Heights and held for a long period before being freed by the intercession of local ranchers William Workman (of Rancho La Puente) and Ygnacio Palomares (Rancho San Jose in today's Pomona).  Isaac Williams' brother-in-law, José del Carmen Lugo, Wilson and White all gave interviews in the 1870s with assistants of historian Hubert Howe Bancroft and told their versions of what happened in the Battle of Chino.  Today, there is a State Historic Landmark plaque commemorating the Williams adobe and battle at a fire department training station on Eucalyptus Avenue, just north of Pipeline Avenue and adjacent to Boys' Republic, where the structure was located.

Isaac Williams died in 1856 and the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino went to heirs, remaining in their hands until 1881 when a mining magnate from Tombstone, Arizona Territory arrived flush with cash and looking for land.  His name was Richard Gird and the next post will continue the story with him and the Chino Land and Water Company.

As for the map shown here, it comes from an 1877 map of Southern California.  The boundary of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino follows south along the San Bernardino/Los Angeles counties line from a corner in today's Phillips Ranch neighborhood in Pomona, turns west and then south-west and then south again, coming to a point where the county line veers southeastward.  The rancho boundary then turns east, stops and goes briefly north, and then turns eastward again.  These are the jogs explained at the top of this post as the boundary goes through and near Sleepy Hollow, the future Canyon Hills tract, Mountain View Estates, Western Hills Country Club, and Carriage Hills before going out of Carbon Canyon and eastward.

18 April 2010

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #4653

This one occurred last night around 8 p.m., courtesy of a young man of about 17 who happens to be a neighbor. 

His vintage VW bug was heading westbound on Carbon Canyon Road on the downgrade west of Olinda Village when he crossed lanes, smashed into the guardrail and slid along for quite an extended distance, leaving front and rear bumpers and windshields, as well as assorted and sundry debris, along the road. 

The rails were crumpled and support posts dislodged, which, of course, means CalTrans, at taxpayers' expense, will have to repair the second major guardrail rupture in the canyon during the last couple of weeks.  Naturally, the car was totaled and other neighbors heading eastbound shortly after the incident saw the driver standing, apparently uninjured or little so, on the side of the road.

This latest in a series of traffic incidents on SR 142 might, then, appropriately be filed under the heading "Spring Break."

17 April 2010

Earth Day at Chino Hills State Park

This morning came the privilege of taking part in Earth Day volunteer work at Chino Hills State Park.  About 100 or more volunteers gathered at the Rolling M Ranch area within the park and dispersed into several groups.  Our two sons made seed balls to be saved for next year, while last year's were distributed by them and other kids around the ranch site for native plant propagation. 

Meanwhile, my wife and I joined a crew to put up wooden fencing at the perimeter of the group camp site at the horse staging area nearby.  There were a couple dozen of us to start at around 8 a.m., although the contingent was whittled down to maybe ten people in addition to park staff and volunteers by a little before noon when work was completed.  The group installed a little less than 500 feet worth of fencing, with posts spaced at eight feet intervals and two rails inserted in each post. 

After the group carried posts and rails to the work site, park employees used a gas-powered auger to dig the hole.  The rest of the group placed poles, measured for correct depth and leveling, inserted the rails, and filled and tamped down the holes with dirt.  After a while a process was developed that made the work go fairly quickly and included several volunteers going back to add more dirt to be tamped down at the holes to try and ensure more stability.

The great thing was that, without defined roles other than the park ranger who guided the overall process and the staff who manned the auger and established the location of the poles within the holes, volunteers and staff worked together efficiently and quickly to complete the job—a great example of how volunteer work can be successful, although there were some folks who drifted off when it was realized that not everyone was needed.  Hopefully, those people were able to find something to do elsewhere.

Afterwards, at about noon, we headed back to the ranch site for lunch and a wrap-up to a fun and meaningful morning.  The weather was nice, the results were tangible, and Earth Day took on a little more significance when people have a chance to do something that makes a little bit of a difference.

The photos are courtesy of Ron Krueper, California State Parks.

15 April 2010

Carbon Canyon Clearance Crunch

It's that time of year again!  As summer approaches and even the pretty lush greenery we've enjoyed this winter and spring will turn brown and crispy.  By fall's Santa Ana winds, there will have been little or no rain for months and the fire danger will increase. 

That's why the Chino Valley Fire District on the San Bernardino County/Chino Hills side and the Brea Fire Department on the Orange County/Brea side of Carbon Canyon are ever-vigilant about the risk of fire.  Indeed, the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council for the last couple of years has included Brea residents, fire department officials and city staff in a state of cooperation and coordination to minimize these risks.

The new banner seen in the above photo was recently placed at the eastern end of the Canyon and reminds Canyon residents to clear their properties of weeds and trash by 15 May as part of the effort to combat devastating fires later in the year.  Today, in fact, fire inspectors visited our home and are returning in a couple of weeks on a follow-up.  Fees assessed after 15 May include a $130 non-compliance assessment, a $200 administration charge and the costs for having a crew clear the property in question—all added to the owner's property tax bill!

There is also major firebreak work to be done, which will provide a much wider buffer zone than has previously existed.

Meantime, there is brush removal available for the Chino Hills portion of the Canyon.  Contact the fire district at (909) 902-5285 for more information about weed abatement

14 April 2010

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #4483a and #4512

To follow up on the last post concerning the wreck near Carriage Hills on Monday afternoon:

The accompanying images, taken this morning, show a clear skid mark that came from across the highway from the westbound lane, a pulverized CalTrans sign, pieces of the car and other debris.

It is possible, despite the surmising above, that this was a one-car incident and that the front-end damage and smashed windshield on the vehicle in question was caused by hitting the sign and the hillside, after which the car spun around and came to rest facing northeastward.  Usually, however, at 3:30 p.m. or thereabouts, when this accident happened, there are a goodly number of commuters headiing the opposite direction (eastbound), so, if this was a single-vehicle incident, it was remarkable that another car wasn't involved.

Meantime, there was apparently an accident yesterday morning, the 13th, around 7:30-8 a.m. at the new traffic signal in Olinda Village that backed up westbound commuters all the way back to Chino Hills Parkway, a distance of a good five or so miles, for about 45 minutes to an hour.

12 April 2010

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #4483

Just happened to roll up to this accident scene today at about a quarter to 4 p.m. between Fairway Drive/Ginseng Lane and Carriage Hills Drive on the Chino Hills portion of the Canyon.  While waiting for that SUV to go by me, I had a few seconds to get out the camera and snap this pic before moving on.

A black sedan is seen resting against the side of the hill at the left.  Entirely speculating here, but it appears, from the way the car was facing out toward the road yet with clear dirt tire marks coming out into the roadway from the hillside at the left where the fire truck is parked, that the driver was heading west, hit the turn too fast coming down past Carriage Hills, crossed lanes into the hillside, bounced off said land mass, and then collided with an oncoming vehicle in the eastbound lane, thereby spinning said sedan against the slope where it remained with a crushed front end and shattered windshield. 

There was a car parked on the shoulder at the right, but it was unclear whether it was the other involved vehicle.  Similarly, though there was an ambulance present, no injuries could be detected in those few seconds passing through the scene.

After a quiet first quarter of the year, there have been a few incidents on Carbon Canyon Road just within the last week or two.

09 April 2010

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #4361

X marks the spot!  This is one just a couple of days young, from Wednesday apparently, at the corner of Carbon Canyon Road (SR 142) and Canyon Hills Road on Chino Hills portion of the Canyon.  No skid marks or scattered car parts, just some grotesquely twisted signs for the city's maintenance crews to straighten up to their accustomed dignity.

07 April 2010

Olinda Oil Field History: Carbon Canyon Oil Company Founders

As noted in earlier posts, the founders of the Carbon Canyon Oil Company, incorporated in 1900 and which owned 160 acres at the junction of Carbon and Soquel canyons at today's Olinda Village, were W. F. West, E. G. Judson, J. R. Greer, C. E. Price, F. W. Gregg, G. M. Hawley, and J. R. Westbrook.  A little poking around came up with some interesting information about most of these men.

William F. West, the president of the company, was born in February 1865 in Pennsylvania, which happens to be the birthplace of the oil industry in the United States.  In 1900, West lived in what is now known as the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, southwest of downtown in the general vicinity of U. S. C. and Exposition Park.  In that year's census, his occupation was listed as oil developer.  A decade later, he was in South Pasadena, followed by a move by 1920 to Pasadena and his occupation was oil company president.  Indeed, he was president of at least two.  By 1921, he was the head of the Continental Oil Company of Los Angeles, also founded in 1899 and which had forty acres of oil property at Los Angeles, 160 in Ventura, and 40 in Fullerton.  West died in Los Angeles County in 1940.

The vice-president was Edward G. Judson, a Connecticut native born in 1848.  He remained in his hometown of Bridgeport until relocating by his early twenties to Brooklyn, New York, then its own city.  There he was an office clerk in a brokerage firm, before becoming a stock broker.  In 1877, Judson relocated to San Bernardino, where he was a farmer for a time.  In 1881, he joined a syndicate of developers who created a new town at a place generally known as Lugonia (Lugo being the name of the original owners of the Rancho San Bernardino in the Mexican era of California.)  When the developers were thinking of names for their project, Judson came up with one that had to do with the soil color in the area: Redlands.  Judson, a realtor in 1900, later relocated to Los Angeles and lived in the same West Adams district as West.

The company's secretary was Charles E. Price, who lived three houses down from William West in the 1900 census.  Price was born in 1867 or 1868 in Canada and emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty.  In 1910, Price was listed as on oil business merchant and, subsequently, was a manufacturer of pumps, presumably for the industry and continued to live in the West Adams District through the 1920s.  He was also an officer with Conservative Development Company, another oil company and was secretary of the Continental Oil Company in the early 1920s.  He passed away in 1951.

Frederick W. Gregg was born in 1856 in Northfield, Vermont and remained in his hometown through his studies at Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in 1878 and Columbia Law School.  He was admitted to the bar in the East, but moved, after 1880, to the Territory of Arizona, specifically Tucson, where he became a district commissioner (somewhat like a county supervisor) in 1882 and then, three years, was elected County Judge.  In the great southern California land boom of 1887, Gregg relocated to San Bernardino and practiced law with partner William Harris and then with the San Bernardino Gas and Electric Company.  In the 1900 census, he boarded at a hotel in downtown, but ten years later, a widower, Gregg resided in a boarding house or hotel on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles and was "living on his own income," as retired people were usually referred to.

It was hard to find, in a limited time, information on who J. R. Greer might have been. There was a Jacob R. Greer, Jr. who worked in the hardware trade in Pasadena in 1900 and it possible that this might have been the same man. Perhaps other research will determine this or someone out there somewhere might know.  As to G. M. Hawley, he may have been a San Diego real estate investor, but there is little to go on otherwise.  Even less is known to date about J. R. Westbrook.  There was a John Westbrook who, in 1900, lived on 35th Street in the West Adams District and who was in the hardware business.  This same man lived, by 1920, in Riverside, but it is not known if this is the same Westbrook from the Carbon Canyon Oil Company.

06 April 2010

Keeping Clear in Carbon Canyon

Within the last couple of weeks, restriping has occurred on the San Bernardino County/Chino Hills portion of State Route 142 (Carbon Canyon Road), much of it the usual markings for stops on sidestreets intersecting with the highway.  There were, however, new additions; namely, "Keep Clear" markings at the intersections of Hwy. 142 with Canyon Hills Road (the image below, taken a few days ago, comes from this intersection), Canon Lane, and Fairway Drive—all on the westbound side.

The assumption is that this is to keep some space on the highway during morning commuting hours for persons entering from these side streets to be able to find a place on the road.  Since the inauguration of the new traffic signals at Olinda, the backup well into the Chino Hills side (sometimes as far back as Carriage Hills or beyond) has been growing most noticeably around the 8 o'clock hour or so, when Olinda Elementary School is starting for the day.

There is no need, evidently (or at least not yet), for "Keep Clear" markings on the eastbound side for afternoon commutes.

It is notable, incidentally, that there are not these markings at other places where residents of tract developments seek to enter the road and where the highway might well accomodate the markings, such as Feldspar Avenue for Summit Ranch dwellers; Carriage Hills Lane for residents of the tract of that name; and Valley Springs Road for those in Western Hills Estates.  Those of us in Sleepy Hollow would probably like the same consideration, but the sharp turns and curves in the neighborhood are apparently the main issues precluding that inclusion.

Finally, it should be stated that two of these marked intersections, Canon Lane and Canyon Hills Road are earmarked for traffic signals, which the City of Chino Hills has on its to-do list for the Canyon. Towards this end, monies from the developer of the recently-approved Stonefield housing project at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Drive (also once considered for a signal) are to be collected. 

If drivers do indeed observe these "Keep Clear" areas (and with the paucity of patrolling by our Sheriff's Department, I can't see why, generally, they would need to), it will, in that 8 o'clock period, cause a longer line of cars sitting, idling and expelling exhaust that will only serve to worsen our pollution situation.  Then again, we only need wait for the planned signals mentioned above, so that the myriad joys of commuting, especially in the morning, will only be enhanced!

05 April 2010

Circle K Coming To Carbon Canyon

A couple of years ago approval was given by the City of Chino Hills to this project and, as of 26 March, an application for a license to sell beer and wine at a Circle K mini-market has been posted at the long-vacant lot at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Road in Chino Hills. 

The notice, issued by the state Department of Alcholic Beverage Control (ABC), is required to give any prospective opponents to the application thirty (30) days to file their complaint before the license is issued. 

This, of course, means that the market could be constructed soon.  Circle K would, of course, provide competition to the Canyon Market (formerly Party House Liquor) which operates in Sleepy Hollow.  Will weekday commuters, weekend "Sunday drivers" and Canyon denizens be more tempted to stop at a new, shiny chain market rather than the vintage, funky family-owned store?   Will sales at the Circle K justify the expenditures in either acquiring or leasing the land, building the structure from the ground up, and all the other costs of infrastructure and inventory?

This writer, for one, will continue to put a priority on patronizing family or individually-owned business in any case and so will be a loyal customer to Canyon Market, even if it costs a little more.  One of the main reasons small business is crowded out in a variety of economic endeavors is because chains have the purchasing power to obtain goods and services at cheaper wholesale prices by sheer volume and, in many cases, pressure on suppliers and manufacturers.  A Circle K will almost certainly have lower prices than a Canyon Market.

If persons having a choice between the two put price over support of small vs. corporate business than the outcome would seem to be obvious.  In the meantime, the prospect of a Circle K is, like the new traffic signal in Brea and the potential for more tract homes, another example of the gradual disintegration of Carbon Canyon's uniqueness and a further indication of the slow, creeping suburban sameness breaking down the distinction of the Canyon from what surrounds and encroaches upon it.

Supporters of the Canyon's uniqueness and of small business, it may soon be time to circle the wagons against Circle K!

03 April 2010

CalTrans District 12 (Or Someone) Springs Into Action?

It was April Fools' Day, so there was a bit of a double take as I cruised west on Carbon Canyon Road on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon, near the old La Vida Mineral Springs site, and didn't see it . . . that decaying old couch dumped a few months back, long tipped over and more recently increasingly swallowed up by sprouting weeds.

Yes, they (someone) finally took it away.  It surely was a coincidence that the post about it had been uploaded only three days before, unless a reader with pull took action?

The extra bonus: that lonesome tire on the other side of the road closer to Olinda Village was gone, too.  Yippee!

02 April 2010

Olinda Oil Field History: Carbon Canyon Oil Company Stock Certificate

After a March Madness of depressing discussions of corruption, ill-gotten gains, and other manipulations and machinations by corporations (with equally heartwarming brief interludes turning upon dumped trash and eviscerated highway guardrails from errant, misguided navigators of SR 142), let's turn away from all of that for a moment and talk about . . . uh, oil companies. 

Well, there isn't actually much known about the Carbon Canyon Oil Company, which incorporated in June 1900 and soon began operations at the Olinda oil field.  Here's what was stated about it on this blog in a September 2008 post based on the 1900 book by Lionel Redpath called Petroleum in California:

There was a new player being highly touted by Redpath: the Carbon Canyon Oil Company, which "among the many companies operating in the Fullerton field, none has started in a more substantial, business-like manner, and with more flattering prospects." The company had 160 acres in Carbon and Soquel canyons close to today's Olinda Village. Redpath wrote that "the two canyons, traversing this tract, expose some of the finest formations of shale and sand rock that are to be seen anywhere on the Coast, and if indications are to be trusted, the company will strike a marvelously rich flow." It was also noted that "two wagon roads" crossed the property. The company was also exploring on holdings in the present east Yorba Linda area; in Piru near today's Santa Clarita; and in Whittier. Capitalized at a half million dollars, the Carbon Canyon Company had W. F. West as President; E. G. Judson as 1st Vice-President; J. R. Greer as 2nd Vice-President; C. E. Price as Secretary and General Manager; and directors F. W. Gregg, G. M. Hawley and J. R. Westbrook.

To follow up, here are some images of an unissued stock certificate for 100 shares in the company, dated October 1900 and signed by company officers West and Price.  The certificate is courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum and is a pretty rare early artifact concerning the Olinda oil field, which had only been opened seven years prior.

The reference to wagon roads is actually notable, because this undoutebtedly refers to what became Carbon Canyon Road and Soquel Canyon Road.  More on the former later (to follow up on the post from late February.)

01 April 2010

Canyon Crest: New Owner, Old Questions, Part 9

February 2004 brought the mighty crash of the conglomerate controlled by C. Paul Sandifur, Jr. and centered on his Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities Company and its sister firm, Summit Holdings, a subsidiary of which was Old Standard Life Insurance Company, now in liquidation but also the owner of the Canyon Crest property proposed for luxury home development in the Brea side of Carbon Canyon.

The $2.5 billion empire that Sandifur built over a dozen years from a conservative regional lender to a regional and national player left thousands of investors with $450 million in Metro/Summit unsecured debentures and preferred stock facing the loss of nearly all of that money.  Many of these investors were elderly people, unschooled in the complexities of modern investing, who had significant portions of their assets tied up in these products and found themselves in ruin.  Because of their age, these people, party to class-action lawsuits that could realistically only seek to recover pennies on the dollar, have dwindled significantly in number.  This led, in turn, to settlements that avoided further delay and the prospect of lengthy appeals, settlements that actually benefit the defendants and their insurers far more than the investors themselves.  In modern America, this is, unfortunately, all too often the case, each time we experience massive financial mismanagement and outright fraud.

One executive in the Metro/Summit galaxy, Thomas Turner, was convicted on federal charges of lying to auditors about the condition of the companies.  Others were subject to class-action litigation with much of these cases settled and some portions still awaiting litigation or, more likely, further settlements.  In the case of Sandifur, who always held controlling interest, both in stock and in the management of the empire, he has ponied up a few hundred thousand dollars to the creditors' trusts that were created in the aftermath of the disintegration of his companies.

Shortly after the bankruptcy was filed, Sandifur, who'd held some $8 to 15 million in company stock, tearfully told the Spokane Spokesman-Review of his embarrassment and regret: "I feel terrible about the small investors.  I feel I wasn't able to carry out the responsibility my father entrusted me with . . . [yet] I did everything in my power to carry it out."  Curiously, though Sandifur retained a position on the board of directors, he noted, "it may be extremely temporary.  It's almost like I'm not here."

Well, it was and he wasn't.  Within months, the disgraced tycoon left Spokane and moved to El Centro, California, out in the desert in southeastern California.  He moved into the home of a friend at a golf course (in the desert, of course) community, received his realtor's license and went to work for The Real Estate Advantage branch in town.  There, his colleagues, according to an October 2005 article in the Spokesman-Review, "call him humble, quiet and kind, a sort of freelancer who rarely comes to the office."

Yet, when his boss learned about Sandifur's past, which, shockingly, he chose to conceal in his employment application, she professed to be astounded.  "Oh my gosh," she exclaimed, "please know that I am so sorry for those investors."  Promising to review Sandifur's role with the company, noting that, in El Centro, trust violated meant that "you can never work there again," she concluded by noting, "he seems like such a nice older gentleman."  It was noted in the article that authorities were pursuing some $7 million in stock redemptions, dividends and salaries, $4 million of it to Sandifur, paid out to family members that held common stock through a trust.

Within ten days, Sandifur was fired from his job, but his attorney, in a piece from the Imperial Valley Press in October 2005, dutifully trotted out an old time-tested line of defense: "he is not a corporate criminal, he is a guy who saw his business go banrupt and now he is trying to do what he an to get out of the poor house."  Perhaps the same one many of his clients at Metro/Summit were thrown into by Sandifur's actions?

In 2006, Metro sued Sandifur family members and former company executives, but notably, not Paul Sandifur.  The suits sought some $9 million, a far cry from the $28 million it originally intended to seek from dividends paid to preferred shareholders, but trustee Maggie Lyons, who now oversees the liquidation of Old Standard Life, indicated that "it would be too expensive and create too much hardship."  Almost a quarter of the funds sought were from Sandifur's ex-wife, Helen, whose divorce settlement in 2002 occurred as the company careened toward capsizing and gave her common stock redeemed in an unusual arrangement.  Other monies were held by a sister, brother, aunt and son, Phillip.

Other attempts at raising cash for creditors included the sale of Western United Life Assurance Company, Metro's main insurance entity, which was dealt to the intriguingly-named Global Life Holdings, which made the $52 million purchase from investment funds, one managed from, that's right, the Cayman Islands.  The deal upset Ms. Lyons because she and her advisers were not informed of the deal, made by Washington sate insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler, until after court paper were filed to get approval.  As Lyons curtly expressed it, "this is not a $52 million sale that will net that kind of cash to my creditors."  The deal also set up a trust to accept $5 million in cash from Global Life, "a $32 million claim for reinsurance payments from Old Standard," and real estate valued at $15 million.  A creditors' attorney called the deal "full of hooks and outs that we don't yet understand," and that's saying something coming from some who deals in corporate law!

As stated in the last post, the latest news from a little over a month ago concerned the proposed $38 million settlement that would clear Ernst and Young, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Roth Capital from further liability in the Metro/Summit matter.  Claims against Sandifur and other executives are still pending, though it was assumed that these would be settled without much in the way of money being available to creditors.

Sandifur is still said to be living in El Centro.  His wife is engaged to Spokane city council member Steve Corker, a former Metro director (surprise, surprise.)  His son rents small houses and apartments and runs a web site development business in Spokane.  As for the 16,000 investors s$#%^ed by Metro/Summit, Sandifur and a gaggle of executives, directors and sales agents, untold numbers have died, others have lost much if not all their retirement, and some are working far beyond the age they planned to retire.

Among the detritus:  Old Standard's loan of money to William Shopoff for his development project of 166 luxury houses on increasingly scarce open, natural and recreational space and environmentally sensitive land in Carbnon Canyon.  A loan which defaulted and has now passed to OSL, which has paid Shopoff's unpaid bills to the City of Brea.  OSL, therefore, intends to continue the application process for approval of the Canyon Crest project, but surely cannot be the slightest bit interested in actually seeing houses built.  Instead, it stands to reason that OSL wants that approval and the tract map so that the value of the land increases for the benefit of creditors.  The desire to find some compensation for those misled and defrauded by C. Paul Sandifur, Jr. and his ilk is understandable.

At the very least, however, Brea city officials should be aware of the intent with which OSL continues the application process.