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.


Anonymous said...

I have read your blog for a few years now and have been very impressed with your research and passion for preserving the beauty of Carbon Canyon.

I have a request for a new post that would honor the life of my grandmother Jean Dixon, who lived in Carbon Canyon for over thirty years before she joined her husband Roy Dixon in heaven on Tuesday, May 18th of 2010. The first anniversary of her death is coming up, and I'm sure it would be a comfort to those who knew and loved her to read a little about her life and contributions to Sleepy Hollow and surrounding communities.

A well-known and liked member of the Sleepy Hollow Women's club, my grandmother was at one time actively involved in the efforts to preserve Carbon Canyon for future generations. She watched Sleepy Hollow develop into what it is today, and I can truly say that the loss of this compassionate woman has affected Sleepy Hollow's community for the worse.

If you're interested in writing this celebratory post, I can supply you with such resources as canyon photos taken at her property during the 70's, before so many housing complexes sprung up on the surrounding hillsides. I will also see if I can find any of the old calenders that Sleepy Hollow produced, which kindly featured the birthdays of various residents in the close-knit community, in addition to fascinating photos from once upon a time. Of course I will easily be able to construct an overview of her life and contributions.

Please let me know what you think, and if you would like to do this we can arrange the best way to contact one another. (I don't have a Google Account, but could make one.)

prs said...

Hello anonymous, thanks for the comment and, sure, I'd like to know more about your grandmother and what we might do to discuss her years in Sleepy Hollow on this blog. If OK with you, post your e-mail address, and I'll get in contact.