27 April 2011

Canyon Crest: It's Baaaack?

About two and a half years after the Shopoff Group's attempts to get approval from the City of Brea for its Canyon Crest housing subdivision tentative tract map failed due to financial issues, it looks as if there might be some new developments (!)

According to the homeowners' association newsletter from Olinda Village, the owners (Old Standard Life Insurance Company--see the posts from a little more than a year ago in Spring 2010 about this company and its associated firms) have contacted the Brea Planning Department.  As noted on the Hills for Everyone Web site (click here), Old Standard went into bankruptcy, but paid fees due by the Shopoff Group to continue the application.  Notably, the Canyon Crest site could potentially have been purchased using funds from Orange County's Measure M, which provided for such acquisitions as mitigation for impacts caused by freeway construction projects.  The owner, Old Standard, declined to make the parcel available.

Now, it appears that an Irvine firm called Concorde Development, founded in 1984 and the developer of projects in such places as San Juan Capistrano, Placentia and Stockton, is working with the owner in moving an appeal forward that would involve a reexamination and updating of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that was submitted by Shopoff, particularly with respect to grading, biology and public safety issues and especially in the aftermath of the 2008 Freeway Complex Fire which ravaged Carbon Canyon and the Canyon Crest site.  Evidently, the city responded concerning what was needed upon initial review and is awaiting a reply.  If successful, the reconstituted DEIR would lead to an evaluation for what would be needed to restart the application process before the city's Planning Commission.

So, keep an ear and eyes out for more if and when the appeal moves forward. 

22 April 2011

The Carbon Canyon and Tonner Canyon Connection, Part 8

In August 1982, the Chino Hills Specific Plan was adopted, setting guidelies for the management of over 18,000 acres of land (out of some 40,000 in the general area denoted as Chino Hills) in the far southwest corner of San Bernardino County in what was then an unincorporated area.  The impetus for the process was attributed to county supervisor Robert O. Townsend, a Chino native who had served on the county's regional planning commission.

In a March 1983 article by David Kinchen of the Los Angeles Times, the first sentence was "It's virtually impossible to discuss Chino Hills in San Bernardino County without trotting out the superlatives."  It repeated what had been stated in 1979 articles from the same paper; namely, that the plan "represents the largest scope of land planning ever undertaken by a California public agency in cooperation with so many private property owners; more than $5 billion in construction—both residential and commercial—is projected . . ."
Moreover, the county had just then finished approvals for nearly $600 million in financing that would provide for public facilities and other improvements.

As explained by Supervisor Townsend, "although Chino Hills is largely rural and undeveloped, many years ago it was committed for future development."  He didn't elaborate on the commitments mentioned, and it would be interesting to know just when that all occurred.  He went on to say that "it [the area] has experienced increasing development pressures over the last decade and we felt the need to upgrade the quality of planning to protect the area from inappropriate development and, at the same time, provide the needed services for people."  Again, some of these statements went unexplained as to detail, especially the nature of "increasing development pressures" and what constituted "inappropriate development."

By 1983, the Chino Hills area had about 1,500 acres of developed area consisting of 4,700 dwellings housing 13,500 persons.  Under what was termed conservative estimates by county planners, the Specific Plan called for an additional 29,000 units for 76,500 residents over 30 years, meaning by 2013.  Of this, there was a target to have 20% of the structures to be considered as affordable housing.  Moreover, because a professed goal of the Plan "was to assure retention of the rural character of the Chino Hills," it was stated that 46% of the plan area was to be open space with about 30% of that to be considered natural open space.  Projections called for some fifty miles of equestrian trails and, after "development pressures" led to the consideration of housing, freeways and even an airport in the hills to the south and west of the plan area, environmental groups, led by Hills for Everyone, successfully lobbied for the creation in 1982 of Chino Hills State Park, which at the time of the article had 6,000 acres, but plans for additional 4,000 were being formulated.

Ten planning firms participated in the development of the plan and a county official characterized the effort as "beyond the traditional level of public planning" because the county was "advocating suich an extensive development program" proactively, rather than being reactive to what developers and property owners would ordinarily do.   As stated in the last post, the plan's financing came directly from some 150 property owners, who agreed to a one-time tax assessment that generated over $800,000 to pay for its creation.

Notably, the Plan organized the Chino Hills area into eight villages that had their own cores and it was projected that development would be more dense around these centers and less so on the peripheries. A mixed-use corridor for industrial and commercial uses was planned for the Highway 71 corridor. At the time and, until the late 1990s, the roadway was a two-lane expressway.

Prior to the creation and approval of the Specific Plan, five developers had already received approval for plans in the area.  These included M.J. Brock and Sons in Brea; Rolling Ridge Estates Partners in Newport Beach; Payne Ranch; C/L Builders-Developers, Inc. from Upland and Moreland Development Company in Anaheim.  Rolling Ridge was the biggest of these, working with a section of 1,500 acres owned by Bramalea, Ltd. of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach firm Creative Communities. 

A view of Tres Hermanos Ranch looking southeast from Grand Avenue, 2 March 2011.

This first village to be developed in Chino Hills became the Rolling Ridge village north of Grand Avenue, west of the 71, south of the 60 and east of Chino Hills Parkway, which was slated for buildout at over 3,700 dwellings, a shopping center, schools, parks, a church, a fire station and the preservation of 20% of the land area, or 500 acres, for open space.  Some of these amenities, including the church and an 89-acre "Chino Hills Mall," did not come to fruition, even though it was scheduled for completion in 1986 and had May Company as one of four major department stores to be anchor tenants  for the $100 million complex.  Years later, the shoppng center that includes Costco, Lowe's and Sport Chalet was developed on that site.

As to homes in Rolling Ridge village, there was anticipated to be some $300 million in construction with 264 lots (priced at $50,000 to $90,000) on 283 acres coming first, comprised of 133 houses ranging in price from about $165,000 to $205,000.  At the time of the article, the first fifteen houses were completed and 118 more to come in the next two years.

Meanwhile, to the south, was Woodview Village, which was near existing housing in the Glenmeade suubdivision, most from the 1960s and 1970s.  There, Brock started construction in October 1982 on a 45-acre parcel, in which 65 houses were planned with pricing in the $100,000 to about $120,000 range.  This seems to be the area south of Chino Hills Parkway and east of Pipeline Avenue, adjacent to the Lake Los Serranos Club mobile home park.

West of that was Carbon Canyon Village, which included a development by Moreland Development Company for 137 single-family estate lots on a 450-acre site and prices from $77,000 to $120,000.  This would appear to be what became the Oak Tree Estates and Oak Tree Downs area.  Meantime, C/L Builders was created "The Ranch," with houses ranging from $140,000 to $190,000—this became the newer portion of what is now Summit Ranch, the earlier homes having been built in the 1970s.

Payne Ranch, west of Peyton Drive and south of Grand Avenue, adjacent to the long-standing equestrian properties on the former English Ranch, was planning to develop 110 custom home lots on 117 acres over a decade.

Other builders looking to develop projects, included Sunwest Paciic from Whittier; two Canadian firms, Melcor of Edmonton and Olympia and York of Toronto (this latter with the Roberts Group of Marina del Rey); the Galstain Family Trust from Glendale; and Irvine's Lusk and Sons.

There was, however, one additional village that was given the briefest of references: this was the "Tres Hermanos Village." Since its 1978 purchase of the 1,800 acre ranch, the City of Industry had certainly been aware of "development pressures" in the area and was planning accordingly. The 1983 Times article, however, simply stated that "the City of Industry hasn't outlined plans" for the property.

While construction of many areas within the Chino Hills Specific Plan took off during the economic boom of the mid-1980s (to be stunted by the crash of 1987 and the resulting crisis in the housing market that lasted through the mid to late 1990s), the Tres Hermanos Village remained unrealized. The next and final installment of the series deals with some issues that arose as a result of perceived inequities in zoning within the Chino Hills Specific Plan.

21 April 2011

Olinda School Relocating

After nearly a half-century in Olinda Village, Olinda School is being moved to a new location next to the Brea Sports Park on Birch Street west of Valencia Avenue.  Since 1964, the school has been an integral part in its closeknit community and has been operating in its own unique domain.  Of course, before that the school operated in the Olinda oil field community from a location, established in the first years of the 20th-century, along Carbon [Canyon] Creek in what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park.

With the removal to the new site, the "specialness" of the school will most certainly change.  On the other hand, it is understandable that the Brea-Olinda School District would want to have a campus that was less remote and, perhaps, more cost-effective.   To those residents of Olinda Village, especially, the economic considerations no doubt come at a different kind of cost.

Construction of the new Olinda School at the site on Birch Street west of Valencia Avenue next to Brea Sports Park.  Taken on 10 April 2011.

Another issue, naturally, is that, as the area around Carbon Canyon and Tonner Hills becomes the last major region of developable land of housing, the current campus has its limits when it comes to growth.  The new site, however, is on a larger footprint and, presumably, has space for future development. 

Given, though, the continuing problems experienced in funding schools in California, it remains to be seen whether more housing translates to a corresponding ability to keep schools of all types in financial positions that are reasonable for future effectiveness.  As it stands currently, Olinda has an API score of 934 and, while acknowledging that standardized testing is hardly the all-encompassing measure of student performance that it is often touted to be, it is the standard that is prevalent. 

The new Olinda School is slated to open for the 2011-12 school year.

A relocated and expanded Olinda School may or may not be compromised in terms of test scores or less quantifiable measures of achievement, but there is no question that its move transforms the uniqueness that the school has had in its somewhat isolated location.

Update: 29 April 2011:  An Olinda Elementary teacher has stated that the Brea-Olinda Unified School District is planning to open the new school mid-year in December and added that there are certain infrastructure elements that won't even be ready at that time.  If this is so, it will certainly be an interesting 2011-12 school year for everyone involved!

20 April 2011

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #s 6718, 6842, and 6999

Quiet though this year has so far been relative to errant excursions along Carbon Canyon Road, there have been a few incidents of note in the last few weeks, as documented here:

This incident probably occurred a good three weeks ago, but the photo was taken this morning.  A simple matter of a car veering off the road, taking out the reflector pole designed to assist drivers in staying on course, while a hubcap, fender and other material were left behind at the site heading eastbound in the middle of the S-curve in Chino Hills.
Alas, this poor sign on the middle portion of said S-curve was only trying to do its modest job of assisting drivers to stay on the road while motoring eastbound and, yet, was thoughtlessly and cruelly pushed off-kilter, yet again.  A little to the left, a guardrail section has also been nudged backward a few times in recent months in another repetitive sign of disrespect.  The photo was taken on 18 April 2011.

Lest the westbound lane and the Brea portion of SR 142 feel left out, here is a scene in which a car veered off the road and left broken glass, plastic, parts of an undercarriage and other detritus and then maybe even caught fire or leaked fluid, as seen in the white material left on the roadway in the photo below.  This is between the county line and the old Manely Friends house and stable property.  Taken 13 April 2011 and having happened about a week or two back.

19 April 2011

Samsung Presbyterian Church in Olinda Village Closed

The Wayside Chapel at the recently-shuttered Samsung Presbyterian Church in Olinda Village has been a notable rustic element of Carbon Canyon for years.

The Samsung Presbyterian Church, formerly Carbon Canyon Christian Church, next to Hollydale Mobile Home Estates in Olinda Village, has closed, evidently due to bankruptcy.  It has been stated that another church purchased the property at an auction, but for the time being, the site is vacant.  If anyone has more specifics on the closure and the alleged purchase at auction, please chime in with a comment.

The Samsung Presbyterian Church property, recently closed due, evidently, to bankruptcy.

Samsung moved in a few years ago and made some improvements to the property, including some the undeveloped areas.  For example, a large white cross and benches were installed on a hilllock to the west, some exercise bars situated lower down on the site and, according to a state park ranger, the church also took the opportunity to try and improve some of the land adjacent to Carbon [Canyon] Creek.  The issue there, though, is that it had no legal right to be down there, because the creek and its banks are within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because of the Carbon Canyon Dam flood control project, and the California Department of Fish and Game, because of its responsibilities with waterways in the state.

A detailed view of the Samsung Presbyterian Church complex.

Meanwhile, a little poking around on the Internet, yielded this interesting article (click here) from 2009 in the Orange County Weekly about choice spots for free picnicking in Carbon Canyon, including the Samsung property (provided you could get permission at the church office) and its open space areas.  Other spots highlighted in the piece were amusing, including the Canyon Market and its "rustic" outdoor areas, a spot within the Carriage Hills subdivision in Chino Hills and several spots along the north side of Carbon Canyon Road, which latter seem questionable at best.  It would be surprising if there were many people who took the Weekly up on its suggestions and hankered down with a blanket and picnic basket in any of these locales.  If anyone has, feel free to comment.

18 April 2011

Carbon Canyon Community Meeting This Wednesday

This Wednesday, 20 April from 7-9 p.m. at Western Hills Country Club, located at 1800 Carbon Canyon Road at Fairway Drive in Carbon Canyon, there will be a community meeting covering a few main topics. 

The first is the status of the Fuel Reduction Program (formerly the Brush Pickup Program), which the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council has operated for seven years using grant funds to provide free disposal of brush to Canyon residents.  With money no longer available to continue operation of the program, the Council regrettably had to terminate the service, but is research alternatives.

Another notable topic of the gathering is to discuss the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which some dedicated volunteers from Olinda Village in Brea have been working on and which seeks to provide a comprehensive way to deal with the problem of hazardous fuels that spark wildfires, such as that which engulfed the Canyon in November 2008.  Here is a link to the Web site for the CWPP: link.

Finally, there will be a presentation on the growing threat in the state from the goldspotted oak borer, which has been causing a significant amount of damage to oak trees, by Kevin Turner.  The coordinator of a program at the University of California, Riverside dealing with the borer and a retired division chief with CalFire, the state fire agency, Turner will discuss research, education and outreach efforts to deal with the pernicious problem of the pest.

16 April 2011

Earth Day at Chino Hills State Park's New Discovery Center

Dozens of volunteers gather at the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center in Brea prior to beginning work on landscaping the parking area.  Some park rangers are beginning some of the prep work.

This morning at the new Discovery Center at Chino Hills State Park in Brea, the annual Earth Day restoration and cleanup program was held.  Dozens of volunteers, including a big turnout from employees of the Southern California Gas Company, showed up at about 9 a.m. to assist in the creation of river rock beds in islands within the parking lot, while children made seed balls that will be used in landscaping.  Tours of the nearly-completed facility were also provided, as well as lunch.

Actually, the turnout of dozens of volunteers was such that the work that was done with river rock replacement was over within probably 45 minutes to an hour.  The trick is that the state parks folks can plan for projects, but if they have too much to do if the turnout is small, then the prep work was not the best use of planning time.  But, then again, what happened today was that there was such a response that the project wound up being completed quickly.  Fortunately, it was a hot day and if the work had stretched later in the morning, it would likely have been uncomfortable for some people.

Another view of the Center, folks gathering for volunteer work, and a section of
parking "islands" and the river rock being used for landscape within them.

The $3.5 million center still has some major work to be finished, even though the main structure, including a community meeting room and restrooms on one side and the discovery center exhibit area on the other, is done.  The parking areas have been graded, but the pavement has yet to be poured.  A garden on the south end of the center has just been planted and hydroseed was only recently sprayed.  The exhibits are still in process. 

State Parks personnel, though, considered today's event to be a "soft opening," and there will be the 3rd Annual Wildfire Awareness Fair, previously held at Western Hills Park on the Chino Hills portion of the canyon, there in a few weeks on Saturday, 14 May.  So, activity is starting to happen at the site.

A portion of the newly laid out garden at the Center which will feature plants found within the State Park.  In the background are stands of trees along Carbon [Canyon] Creek that were burned in the November 2008 wildfire, but which also are showing new growth and are habitat for nesting birds.

It is also noteworthy that, in a series of opening remarks by parks staff and Brea mayor Don Schweitzer, there was also the presentation of an award to the founders of Hills for Everyone, the conservation group that spearheaded the drive to create the park some thirty years ago and which also worked to secure an agreement with Southern California Edison to remove powerlines and towers that were taken off the power grid. 

As these things tend to do, the agreement was not carried out and it took additional "heavy lifting" by Hills for Everyone and others to finally nudge SCE into removing some 40 towers and over 7 miles of line just within recent months.  A remnant from the lines was given to the organization as a token of appreciation for all the work it has done and continues to do to preserve rapidly vanishing open and recreational space.

Young participants in the Earth Day work party walk the decomposed
granite pathsof the garden next to the Discovery Center.

Although it is strange that $3.5 million was obtained from grant funds for the center, yet the parks system has been threatened with huge budget cuts and site closures, there is no denying that the facility was well-planned, well-designed and well-built and, hopefully, will be well-served when it comes to being the western gateway to the 14,000-acre park.  It will be interesting to see the center when everything is completed and the exhibits are in.

In the meantime, those interested should check the Web site of the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association (a link is at the right sidebar on this blog) for next year's Earth Day event and come out to help.

An interesting feature of the Discovery Center landscape is this catch basin that will collect
rain and runoff and serve as a pond for habitat within the park.

08 April 2011

The Carbon Canyon and Tonner Canyon Connection, Part 7

This is another in the series of posts relating to commonalities between Carbon Canyon and its sister to the north, Tonner Canyon.  This link has to do with the planning that ushered in the development of the greater Chino Hills area.

While residential and commercial development gradually extended east from Los Angeles into the San Gabriel Valley and then the foothill communities of the Inland Empire, the Chino Valley remained agricultural well after World War II.  The construction of correctional facilities in the area probably also limited development until available open land elsewhere was largely gone.

Consequently, in the 1970s, future development planning for the Chino Hills area were initiated.  This process was largely instigated by two components.  One was the passage of a state senate bill, SB 2003, which amended the California Environmental Quality Act by streamlining the process of carrying out environmental impact reports and related documents for housing developments in urban areas.  The second was the efforts of San Bernardino County District Four Supervisor Robert O. Townsend, who, prior to his appointment to the board in 1974 when Supervisor Ruben Ayala was elected to the state senate, served as a county planning commissioner, spearheaded a movement to bring a specific plan to the Chino Hills area.

Working with both local officials, about 200 private property owners in the Hills, and state officials, like Bill Press, state Office of Planning and Research director (and, later, chair of the California Democratic Party, a television personality, talk radio host, political commentator and writer), Townsend worked on a plan for an area of about 15,000 acres, roughly bounded by Orange County on the west, Los Angeles County on the north, Highway 71 on the east and what was then a proposed Chino Hills State Park (formally created a few years later) to the south.  This locale had, in the late 1970s, about 10,000 people residing in just over 3,000 homes, but the plan looked to add nearly 30,000 more homes for over 75,000 people.

Striking (at least by today's standards) is the fact that private property owners were willing to be subjected to a $46 per acre assessment to pay for the plan.  According to Townsend, as quoted in a Los Angeles Times article from Summer 1979, "this is the first time in the state's history that a group of landowners is financing its own specific plan to provide for all the services that will be needed for the people who will live here."  Naturally, the assessment was an investment, given that property values would skyrocket once the land became subject to housing and commercial development.

Press, who has long been viewed as a liberal (often appearing on shows opposite such conservative stalwarts as Pat Buchanan and Tucker Carlson, offered that the Chino Hills planning process "is a very innovative way of applying CEQA, while proving for the housing needs of the greater Los Angeles area."  One might cynically claim that, rather than "applying", such a process, aided by SB 2003, allowed for "circumventing" CEQA, especially as the state looked for ways to shake off the economic malaise that held California in the doldrums throughout much of the 1970s.

The north end of Tres Hermanos Ranch looking toward the snow-capped
Mount San Antonio (Baldy) from Grand Avenue in Chino Hills, 2 March 2011

Another factor was also alluded to by Press, namely that specific planning in the Chino Hills area was "a very bold move on the part of the county that recognized post-Proposition 13 realities" and that the fact that landowners were being assessed for the planning process would constitute a savings for taxpayers, notwithstanding the above statement about such an assessment being an investment for property holders who stood to make handsome profits when selling their land for development.  Indeed, Proposition 13's "realities" are still very much with us and continue to be debated as to the net effect broadly of the legislation.

At any rate, the planning process was carried out by a new Newport Beach company, The Planning Center, whowe principal, Richard Ramella, observed that "the specific plan will be completed in 12 to 16 months and is the largest I'm aware of."

Notably, the largest landowner in the 15,000-acre area was the City of Industry, which had only purchased the Tres Hermanos Ranch in Tonner Canyon within the previous year.  Other major property holders were identified as Creative Communities, John D. Lusk and Son, Kaufman and Broad and Great Plains Western, this latter being owner of land along Carbon Canyon Road (State Route 142) within Carbon Canyon.  Obviously, these were home development firms that purchased land in the expectation that the day was coming when housing projects would be built in the area.  Creative Communities, for example, held about 1,500 acres together with Canadian development company, Bramalea, which it planned to develop into 291 lots with 133 production homes and the rest presumably custom, at prices ranging from (get this) $95,000 to $130,000 on lots of about 10,000 square feet average.

There was a significant irony, courtesy of hindsight, however, in one claim made by Supervisor Townsend; namely, that a major element to the Chino Hills specific plan process was to preserve the over $200 million per year dairy industry in the area of the Chino Valley east of what was then Highway 71, while planning for massive suburban development west of the expressway.  Reflecting on the fact that many of the Chino area dairies had once been in the southeastern Los Angeles County cities of Cerritos, Bellflower, Norwalk, Paramount and Artesia, before "they were displaced by urban growth," Townsend offered that "we're trying to prevent that from happening here" in Chino. 

Indeed, in 1965, a state conservation law was passed, the Williamson Act, that allowed local jurisdictions to create agricultural preserves (one of the better-known being in Ventura County, despite mounting development pressures there along California Route 126.)  Under the terms of the act, property owners in these preserves could operate on 10-year agreement cycles for "preferential tax assessment and  . .  . compensation that would offset future tax increases." 

Still, as Townsend professed the desire to preserve Chino's dairies, an assistant in his Chino district office, Ben Burrell, noted that "the passage of Proposition 13 and the increase in land prices will make some dairy farmers think about selling to developers" despite recent new dairy investment.  Burrell also noted that the 14,000-acre dairy preserve was perfect for developers--generally flat or very mildly sloping land (although methane and other potentially harmful products from dairy activities have provided some issues.)  Obviously, the last ten years or so has seen a significant closure and/or exodus of dairy farmers out of the Chino preserve and elsewhere in California and the West. as new homes have been built (or at least prior to 2009) throughout much of the preserve area. 

Next: the finalization of the specific plan in 1982 and, just in time for the economic boom that followed, development of the Chino Hills area begins, though some area, like Tonner Canyon, were still debated.

01 April 2011

No Fooling: Canyon Market Reopens and With New Owner

Although the Canyon Market's recent owner was back in business briefly after the store was shuttered, there is a new proprietor there.  The last couple of days or so there has been some rearrangement of display fixtures and product and there is nice woman who has been working in the store, although she may only be temporarily.

What a time to be taking over a struggling business, especially when the Circle K down the road is getting closer to completion and a grand opening. 

At any rate, it appears that the market is back in business on a regular basis again, but soon to face some competition.