29 January 2011

Olinda Oil Museum and Historic Trail

Introductory text panels in the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail parking area.
It was far too long overdue, but driving home from work this afternoon, I stopped by the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail within the housing subdivision of Olinda Ranch (formerly the Olinda Oil Field) to see if the former was open.   Finding that some lead abatement and repainting was going on in the 1912 field house (which I have yet to actually go into), I walked around the displays of oil-related equipment, of which there are photos included here.

The field house for the Olinda Oil field, built in 1912.

Most notable of the items around the museum, which include rigs, trucks, tanks and other equipment, is the original Olinda Well #1, first put into production back in 1897, and still generating some output some 115 years later.  It and the other wells in the area are now owned and operated by Breitburn, a small, independent company.

Olinda oil well #1, brought into production in 1897 by Los Angeles tycoon
Edward Doheny, and still yielding crude 114 years later.

What had changed in the several years since I last went to the site was the creation of the Olinda Trail, a loop that starts from the museum complex and winds up the hills behind it and then to the east before descending into a canyon and out to a paved road that terminates at Santa Fe Road, the main entrance off Carbon Canyon Road to Olinda Ranch and the museum.

A view of the Olinda Oil Museum complex from the trail.

The trail was funded by two grants from the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles River and Mountains Conservancy totaling over $140,000 from California Proposition 40, the Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002.  The first phase took the trail up to dedicated open space on the hilltop adjacent to Chino Hills State Park (this area north of Carbon Canyon Road was added to the park several years prior).  The second phase completed the loop, which is 2.2 miles total.

Looking west at the Olinda Ranch subdivision and points beyond,
including new construction in Tonner Hills.

There is a 275-foot elevation gain, so there are a few sections of fairly steep climbing, albeit with switchbacks to ease the effort, but the payoff is a series of panoramic views taking in Carbon and Soquel canyons on the east, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Orange County coastal plains to the south, and the Fullerton, Brea and La Habra areas to the west.  Today was somewhat hazy, so a clear day would probably afford views as far off as Santa Catalina Island in the distance.

Looking southeast toward Diemer water treatment,
Chino Hills State Park and the Santa Ana Mountains.

Along the way there are a series of markers to keep hikers well-oriented as to the trail's direction and several interpretive panels discussing the history of the oil field, the people who lived and worked there, and other topics.  These are well-done with some nice photographs and enough text to give basic information, but not too much to overwhelm.  With the abnormal level of rainfall in December (tempered somewhat by the complete absence of the same this month), there is a nice carpet of green on the hills and even some early wildflowers, as shown in the photo below.

Another westward view.

Because most of the trail ascends the south face of the hills behind the museum, road noise from Carbon Canyon Road was everpresent, but there was a welcome respite from this when the trail descended and then momentarily turned into the canyon at the east edge of the Olinda Ranch subdivision.  This brief escape soon ended, though, when an asphalt road led along the back of some of the homes and in between others before leading back to Santa Fe Road.

Looking east and seeing virtually no signs of "civilization"!

For experienced hikers used to long treks in, say, Chino Hills State Park or the nearby mountains, this is a very easy walk, but, if any bit of history is of interest, the trail provides that and some nice views to boot.  An hour should be plenty for even a leisurely walk, though a little more time could be expended on reading the panels and taking in the views. 

At the peak of the trail looking southward.

Even if the museum is closed, the park is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily with the parking area at 4025 Santa Fe Road, just north of Carbon Canyon Road and directly across from the entrance to Carbon Canyon Regional Park.

A cluster of wildflowers along the trail nourished by December's heavy rainfall.

To see the City of Brea's Web page for the museum and trail, click here.  For the .pdf of the brochure (which needs updating because the Olinda Trail has been completed for a few years now), click here.

27 January 2011

More on El Rodeo Stables

A truck used for hauling away plant material and stacks of pipe for corral repair are in evidence at the El Rodeo Stables on Carbon Canyon Road in Brea across from the regional park and next to the Olinda Ranch subdivision.

A recent communication from "Jack" was received about the future of El Rodeo Stables in Brea:

We have been in touch with Kelley [Hartranft of the El Rodeo Riding Club] and are monitoring the progress of rebuilding the stables at El Rodeo. The Riding Club, which owns the property, is going to run it and bring it back to the pristine condition it once was. They will probably have horses in the stalls again by March. If you want to monitor the progress with us just log into wwwHorsesDIY.com. We will have pictures also.

Indeed, anyone driving by the El Rodeo site will notice that there has been significant cleanup and repair work and new pipe for the corrals are stacked up nearby and ready to be installed, as the photo above, taken this morning, shows.

Meanwhile, here are the Web sites for Horses DIY here and for the El Rodeo Riding Club here.

17 January 2011

Why is Carbon Canyon Road Still a State Highway?

Governor Jerry Brown, since his election a couple of months ago, has often noted that many aspects of state government ought to be returned to local jurisdictions.  Given that much of conservative political philosophy is based on the premise that local government is far more effective and responsive than its state or national counterparts, there may actually be some synthesis between the so-called "Governor Moonbeam" and his Republican counterparts.  A local Carbon Canyon example of how this might be further developed is State Route 142, or Carbon Canyon Road, a state highway that has almost certainly evolved far beyond its status over the decades.

Almost a year ago, a post on the road's history appeared in this blog with the conclusion that there would be more on the subject later.  Well, here's later.  It will be recalled that Carbon Canyon Road was first built through the entire canyon in 1914, followed a little more than a decade later by a complete paving for two purposes: to create a route from inland to coastal areas and to assist promoters of Los Serranos Country Club in providing a shorter southern route to their golf course and real estate development from Los Angeles.  The paving of the roadway also came about as two major Canyon projects were underway:  the Sleepy Hollow subdivision and La Vida Mineral Springs resort.  To that point, it appears that the counties, Orange and San Bernardino, bore responsibility for the planning and development of the road.

In 1933, however, Carbon Canyon Road became part of a numbered state highway system and it was given the designation of Route 177.  Despite this, the road was not signed for another three decades.  By 1964, the numeric system changed and the highway was assigned a new number: 142.  Signage finally was put in, as well.  Moreover, from the Route 177 period there was an intention to continue the roadway beyond the developed route from Imperial Highway at Valencia Avenue in Brea to Central Avenue (since moved back westward to the 71 Freeway) in Chino.   This extension would have taken the highway northward along Central Avenue to the old State Route 30, now the 210 Freeway in Upland.  To this day, this legal definition exists, although it was not implemented and certainly never will.

Because Carbon Canyon Road was an inland to coastal roadway, it obviously seemed to the state to be a major arterial roadway that deserved to be a state highway.  In some ways, it still is, as thousands of commuters travel the mostly two-lane highway as it snakes through Carbon Canyon to avoid the congestion of the 91 Freeway or the 60 Freeway, as well as the heavily congested and recently created Grand Avenue passage between Chino Hills and Diamond Bar.

Yet, its designation occurred seventy-eight years ago, in a totally different era, and when the Carbon Canyon area was as rural as it could be.  What made sense then doesn't necessarily make sense now.  As conditions have changed, so, perhaps, has the rationale.

One can look, by way of comparison, at the Grand Avenue extension, which came a couple of decades ago.  While the road pushed south and east across the 57 Freeway from Walnut (its northern terminus being near the San Gabriel Mountains in Glendora and Azusa) during Diamond Bar's major development phase in the 1960s through 1980s, it abruptly terminated at city and county limits.  Chino Hills developed later and so a link between Edison Avenue on the Chino side to Diamond Bar was forged with a right-of-way granted by the City of Industry through its Tonner Canyon ranch, Tres Hermanos.  Yet, there was never a movement to designate Grand Avenue a state highway, even though its purpose is fundamentally the same as that of Carbon Canyon Road: an alternate route for masses of commuters avoiding the 60 and 91 freeways.  Was it easier to avoid such a designation because the connection was made during a suburban phase, rather than a rural one?  Did Diamond Bar and Chino Hills prefer to have exclusive local control over Grand Avenue rather than hand it over to the state?  Maybe it simply never came up.

Another interesting comparison is State Route 39.  This highway stretched from the ocean at Huntington Beach all the way to a connection with State Route 2, a.k.a. Angeles Crest Highway, in the San Gabriel Mountains.  It had obvious attractions as a recreational route at the time it was designated.  Aside from Huntington Beach, which was a mid-size town in the early days of highway designation, the route was mainly rural as it moved through central and northern Orange County, passing small towns like Buena Park and a small berry farm owned by Walter and Cordelia Knott, over the Puente Hills via Hacienda Road (later Boulevard) and then over to Azusa Road (Avenue) through more farmland until it reached Azusa.  From there it entered the San Gabriel Mountains and provided (still partially does, though closed because of landslides) a gorgeous scenic drive until its northern terminus at SR-2.

Over the last five or six decades, though, suburbia claimed the farmlands and SR-39 became a commuter road and local thoroughfare for a dozen or more cities that expanded around it.  Except for a brief interlude in the Puente Hills, its fairly dramatic conclusions at the shore in Huntington Beach, and its majestic traversing through the mountains to the north, most of the route was basically as indistinguishable as other north-south roadways, such as Brookhurst Avenue, Euclid Street, Magnolia Avenue and so on.

A stretch of State Route 142 (Carbon Canyon Road) in Brea.  Would relinquishing the highway to local government be more efficient that continuing state control or would it put undue burdens on the cities of Brea and Chino Hills?

More relevantly, in the 1990s or thereabouts, a significant portion of the route was actually declassified (relinquished being the official term) as a state highway.  This was a section running from Whittier Boulevard up Hacienda Road/Boulevard in the Puente Hills and back down into the San Gabriel Valley and then all the way up to the 10 Freeway in West Covina.  Interestingly, the state relinquished a half-mile section north of the 10 to the cities of Azusa and Covina, though still signed as the highway to avoid driver confusion!  Evidently, the section of SR-39 passing through West Covina is eligible for relinquishment should that city every request it.  So, at this point, SR-39 runs about 22.5 miles in Orange County before terminating.  It then resumes on Azusa Avenue from I-10 another 28 miles before ending at a point several miles below SR-2.  The connection to Angeles Crest Highway, incidentally, may actually be completed by 2015 if funds are available.

What would be interesting to know (and maybe someone out there does) is why certain cities and jurisdictions, opted out of having SR-39 going through their communities.  Did La Habra Heights, for example, choose to do so to exercise more control over the roadway as it passed through town?  What were other considerations and justifications?

So, if Highway 39 can be, at least partially, relinquished, why couldn't Highway 142?  For example, it wasn't all that long ago that CalTrans briefly lowered the speed limit on the San Bernardino County/Chino Hills portion of the road, citing a study's conclusions that warranted it.  The City of Chino Hills, not being apprised of the change, quickly registered its concerns and CalTrans backed off.  Communications snafus such as this would obviously be mitigated if the road were relinquished back to local control.

When the Stonefield housing development was proposed and then approved for land bordering the state highway, hearings before the Chino Hills Planning Commission and City Council, as well as city staff reports, noted that certain improvements could not be made to the project without CalTrans approval.  There might be favorable outcomes to the city in that it could always pass the responsibility onto the state for difficult decisions it might not want to make itself.  On the other hand, there may be times in which cities would like to be able to make those decisions without having to answer to the state.  Then again, citizens might prefer tougher CalTrans standards to ones that could well be more lax at the local level, especially where development comes into play.  It's a difficult issue to assess, depending on whose competing interests are at hand.

There are other questions, as well.  For instance, Carbon [Canyon] Creek, which is city property wherever it flows, has become grossly clogged with trees, weeds and other plant material.  This condition is such that heavy rains have led to higher water levels, which, in turn, have eroded the edges of portions of the state highway.  In the storms of 2004-05, this led to a collapse between Canon Lane and Canyon Hills Road in Chino Hills that closed the road for a few weeks while CalTrans made repairs.  Even the recent bout of wet December weather has caused some erosion of the roadside just across from here.  Could it be argued that relinquishing the road from state to local control would actually force the city to be proactive in its responsibility to properly maintain the creek so that the highway was not adversely affected by rising water levels from downpours?

Fortunately, on the San Bernardino County side, Measure I, which increased the county's sales tax, provides funds for transportation projects and CalTrans District 8 has been able to tap these resources to better maintain the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon Road far better than District 12 on the Orange County portion.  Would that money available if the highway were the responsibility of the city?  Moreover, wouldn't funds be better spent with less bureaucratic hurdles and more efficiency at the local level than by the state, at least by the argument posed by those who champion local over state government generally?

As it is, maintenance of SR-142 is within the purview of CalTrans while patrolling and policing falls under the duties of the city.  Is this the balance that is needed or wanted for the long term?  This post hardly pretends to have the answers and merely raises the issue. 

In fact, when naivete held greater sway (though still does) in the earlier days of this blog, a call was placed to then State Assembly member Bob Huff, whose district included Chino Hills and whose seat is now held by former city council member Curt Hagman.  The purpose was to talk about the question of dealing with dangerous driving and what might be done at the legislative level because of the state's ownership of the highway.  The unaswered answer there was, untimately, nothing, but, when it was pointed out to the staffer on the other end of the phone that Highway 39 had been relinquished through La Habra Heights and that doing so in Carbon Canyon might possibly force local governments to be more active in mitigating dangerous driving (how little one knew in those days of innocence!), there was actually a long pause and then the staffer said with some surprise that this was a question that had not occurred to him before, but that he would look into it.   This often being code for "thanks for the question, but you won't be hearing from me again," and having been the recipient of this code the only other time in my adult life that I've sought legislative help (the other time being just this past summer from my federal Representative's staff) I was hardly surprised that the return call was not forthcoming.

So, yes, it may be completely naive and unrealistic to think that relinquishing State Highway 142 back to the local jurisdictions in Brea and Chino Hills has any merit and there may be many arguments against (or, perhaps, even for) such an idea that has not come up in this hurriedly-typed entry (it is, after all, nearly midnight).  But, it seemed worth at least tossing out there.  Because, should matters remain in status quo just because they've been that way.  Would there be more benefit than constrains if relinquishement occurred?  Or is it better for all parties involved to leave Carbon Canyon Road as a state highway?  Are rhetorical questions really worth asking?

16 January 2011

Recession and Regret

Today we said goodbye to neighbors across the street from us who lost their home to foreclosure.  They moved in not long after we did back in 2004 when the economy was growing rapidly and the housing boom red-hot (on what bases, too few seemed to know or appreciate.)  The couple were working for a major homebuilder and were able to take their old cabin, said to have been built in 1915, and its 1950s addition and expand and vastly improve it, while discovering that the mid-century add-on was poorly built and needed to be stripped down to the studs.  Consequently, they put in a huge amount of sweat equity, as well as money, in renovating their home to something that came out beautfiully and of which they could be proud.

Then came the recession.  The couple lost their jobs and, while he was able to cobble together some fairly consistent work with friends, not nearly enough money was coming in to pay their mortgage.  Even when they were fortunate enough to arrange a loan modification, their income was too low to meet the payments.  After two years of living on the bubble, the inevitable end came this weekend.  One can only imagine, not being familiar, what the feelings would be like, not knowing when that finality would actually arrive and the stress and pain and anxiety that has to be lived with, daily.

The financial details aren't known to this observer.  They certainly took on a loan too large to pay, possibly with not enough money down, perhaps on terms (adjustable rate, sub prime, etc.) that were ominous from the start or not very long afterward.  Perhaps they compounded the problem by taking out a home equity loan or line of credit.  Likely they ran up credit card debt.  Obviously, too many buyers made the mistake of signing on to unsustainable loans and should have known better.  At the same time, buying a home is an emotional process we're likely to do only a few times in our lives and we can be blinded to reality (and fine print) by desire and hope.  Home ownership has been a fundamental tenet of the American Dream and the reality that too many of us can't afford them are among the essential grounds for our current national nightmare.  Yet, buyers can only get a loan that a professional broker will offer them and a lender fund.

Meanwhile, these professionals, the mortgage brokers, realtors, banks, and others (all with industry standards and codes of ethics) were all-too-happy to ride the wave.  Those ethics (enshrined in framed prints on office walls or emblazoned on company Web sites) and legalities (all well understood by at least company lawyers, if not everyone else) were trifles, because there were a lot of hungry buyers out there ready to make ill-informed decisions, conscious or not, that lent themselves to what has become an ingrained term in our lexicon: predatory lending.  Remember those commercials?  No money down, no income documentation, no problem.  Lenders issued ARMs and sub-prime loans, which were sold within a day or two to speculators and then again several times over in a matter or weeks or months.  Better yet, they were bundled into complex securities and peddled in a dizzying array of exotic instruments for investment--joining the likes of derivatives and credit default swaps--to the point where banks and investment firms began to bet on the failure of their own industries and the stock market so that massive amounts of money could be made now.

Finally, over the last few decades, whatever regulatory protections had existed (and whatever should have) were watered down or eliminated by a government that all-too-often accepted the interesting philosophical (but staggeringly unrealistic) premise that an economy unhindered by regulation would grow and prosper because institutions could be trusted to manage themselves out of enlightened self-interest and that the market could regulate and control itself.  Without government employing reasonable regulatory procedures, without professional lenders and funders employing some modicum of ethical (much less legal) best practice, and without buyers apply some measure of discipline and knowledge about an admittedly complicated process--speculation gone unhinged could only lead to disaster, as has happened so often before.

Despite the fact that America's glory days were long past, having peaked in the 1950s and 1960s after the post-World War II economic dominance reached its limits; in spite of the reality that middle and working class Americans' wages have been, adjusted for inflation, almost entirely static since the early 1970s, while the wealthy have seen their fortunes skyrocket and inequity accelerates; no matter that the economic booms of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s were mainly built on the sands of speculation rather than the bedrock of actual productivity and funded by massive borrowing and the explosion of the national debt--we've been living on the assumption that housing as an investment was eternal and unchanging with values ever rising.  We fooled ourselves into accepting this myth just as we've refused to acknowledge our gradual, but persistent, national decline.

The signs were actually everywhere if we chose to look--decaying inner cities, grossly excessive gated subdivisions bursting with McMansions, conspicuous consumption gone viral, infrastructure gradually eroding, top entertainers and CEOs earning tens of millions annually as if any one human being could possibly be worth that amount of money, credit card debt ever-expanding, personal storage units stacked one on top of another filled with stuff desired and then decomissioned . . . the list could go on, but most people don't want to give it a mere glance or a first thought, much less a second. 

It is useless to heap all the blame on bleeding-heart liberals or heartless conservatives, socialists masquerading as Democrats or fascists in Republican clothing, as if the world were that black or white or so easy to categorize in neatly defined terms.  There's enough blame to go around to virtually anyone and most people seem content with offering heaping helpings to others while studiously avoiding the mirror.

So, this is as equally as useless a rant.   But, all these things above (and a whole lot more, mercifully going unsaid here) throbbed in the head while walking back down from the painful, but necessary, act of saying goodbye, after the wives cried and the husbands gave slightly-tentative, if still authentic hugs, and left an empty house that represented hopes, dreams, ambitions, memories, and real work.  Another empty house among several in this neighborhood and thousands more across the country--all more or less symbolic of the same things.

Before, after every bust, there always was another boom out there lingering.  Then, you could mostly forget the horrors of the one in the hullabaloo of the other.  At the moment, it seems that the horizon is just too distant and the next great comeback a little too far away.  But, there's always hope.  What else is there to do?

15 January 2011

Good News Concerning El Rodeo Stables

In early May 2010, an entry on this blog noted that there was activity at the historic El Rodeo stables, which has been operating at its Brea location across from Carbon Canyon Regional Park since 1927.  Unfortunately, the work involved the removal of horses, stable materials, equipment and other items, leading to speculation that the facility was closing, being put up for sale and, thereby, being subject to demolition and rezoning into, say, residential uses.

Fortunately, in late October, Kelley Hartranft, secretary-treasurer with the El Rodeo Riding Club, which is the owner of the property, provided information about what was happening, noting that the leaseholder had essentially vacated the property, that a mini-tornado had damaged corrals and that, once the lease expired in December, there was hope that a new lessee would be found.

Indeed, that has been the case.  Courtesy of Ms. Hartranft, this is the latest update on the property:

El Rodeo Update - 2011. The stables are scheduled to reopen sometime in February. The El Rodeo Riding Club is happy to announce that a new leasee has been chosen for the property and repair work has already begun. If you have driven by, you will notice the stall roof replacement is well underway and clean up of the property is coming along. There will be lots of new paint and weed pulling in the coming months. We thank everyone that was concerned about the stable closure and encourage folks to tell everyone they know that the stables will again be open and that we are accepting equine friends. Kelley

This is welcome news for lovers of horses and Carbon Canyon's gradually compromised rural atmosphere and character.  It will be a good day when horses, trainers, riders and others are using the property again, especially because stables have been closed throughout the region as development intensified.  Hopefully, Ms. Hartranft will provide further updates as the reopening occurs.

14 January 2011

City of Industry Seeks Tonner Canyon Consolidation

As has been discussed previously in this blog, over the past thirty years and more, the City of Industry has acquired non-contiguous land within Tonner Canyon, north of Carbon Canyon.  Tonner has remained remarkably pristine, at least by Los Angeles metropolitan area standards, with development limited to a private ranch residence and outbuildings, scouting facilities and a few oil wells.  Yet, it has been eyed hungrily by a number of entities, including water companies, cities and private developers, for decades.

In 1978, Industry made its first significant purchase, acquiring the Tres Hermanos Ranch on the north end of the canyon, stretching from the 60 Freeway southward past today's Grand Avenue.  Notably, there was a serious attempt by a water company in the Pomona area to buy the land for development of its water resources.  Although Industry toyed with the idea of residential development in the years just after it bought Tres Hermanos, the land has remained fundamentally the same over the last three decades with cattle running on the ranch as it has for generations.  That is, excepting the building of Grand Avenue connecting Diamond Bar and Chino Hills and Industry's transfer of the far northern reaches of the property to the Pomona Unified School District for the construction of Diamond Ranch High School.  Today, the cities of Diamond Bar and Chino Hills are the principals of a Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, with Industry being a non-voting member, to oversee any proposed development of the ranch.

Within the last decade, Industry moved to add to its holdings in the southern portion of Tonner Canyon, striking a deal with Boy Scouts of America to pick up a little under 2,500 acres of the Firestone Scout Reservation for over $16 million.  Between 1978 and 2000, a strong environmental movement arose that sought to protect land in the Puente and Chino Hills from the 91 Freeway in Corona to near Interstate 605 in Whittier, with a variety of non-profit organizations and cities banding together to buy what they could for open space preservation and passive recreational use.  Consequently, the City of Industry's purchase of Firestone raised a firestorm of protest and legal challenges, but, in 2006, a court ruling certified the legitimacy of Industry's acquisition.  Still, more land remained available and yesterday news came out of the next step.

Looking south toward Tonner Canyon from Grand Avenue Park in Chino Hills, July 2010

At a Industry city council meeting, the city's leaders discussed an intent to buy some 500 more acres consisting of what the San Gabriel Valley Tribune described as "several parcels in and around Tonner Canyon."  Because the discussion took place in closed session, details were not forthcoming and Industry's city manager was quoted as saying "we're just looking at the possibilities right now" and was paraphrased as indicating that the city had no specific intent for the land in question.

Claire Schlotterbeck, executive director of Hills for Everyone, and a longtime advocate for preservation of open space in the Chino and Puente hills region, commented that "I don't think they plan on leaving it as it is."  She noted that past action "shows they want to put a reservoir there."  According to the Tribune, Industry, indeed, "talked of building a reservoir in the canyon, but have since backed off the plan." 

For the last half-decade since the finalization of the Firestone acquisiton, Industry has used the reservation for scouting activities, with Boy Scouts still active there, as well as for programs conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Youth Athletic League, which serves underprivileged children and teens.  Naturally, most of what Industry has purchased has remained open space.

At this point, there appears to be interest and intent by Industry and formal negotiations may follow.  Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

And, after an uncharacteristic month of silence, the Carbon Canyon Chronicle wishes its viewers a Happy New Year!