05 May 2011

The Carbon Canyon and Tonner Canyon Connection, Part 9

In late summer 1984, two years after the ratification of the Chino Hills Specific Plan, an unprecedented master planning document covering 18,000 acres of undeveloped land in the Chino Hills area, the Los Angeles Times reported that the City of Industry, owner of 2,600 acres in Tonner Canyon, including the historic 1,800-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch within San Bernardino County, had taken initial steps to take part in that planning process.

According to a 9 September piece by Victor Valle, now a professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and author of a recently-published book on Industry, the city's redevelopment arm, the Industry Urban Development Agency, voted to approve a preliminary plan by Gruen Associates, a Los Angeles architectural and engineering company, for what was being called "Village in the Valley."  This was the area within Tonner Canyon from the Pomona Freeway (SR 60) on the north to the Firestone Boy Scout Reservation on the south.  While it was not then known whether Industry's proposed plan would meet criteria in the Chino Hills Specific Plan, a city official noted that the $12 million acquisition of Tres Hermanos in 1978 was "an intelligent investment that turned out better than we expected.  We were at the right place at the right time."  The same source, Jerry Winstead director of the IUDA, added that the purchase of the rach was "for water storage and waste management facilities."

With the creation of the Chino Hills Specific Plan, however, the city and the IUDA reconsidered its original thinking.  Winstead added, ""it's like having a property you have zoned more valuable" and that having potentially thousands of new residences would greatly increase the value of the land.  He went on to note that Gruen's plan would include zoning densities, open space preservation, traffic circulation patterns, and concepts for schools and other public facilities, although any specificity as to number of housing units was not known.

Property holders in what is now Chino Hills, however, were hardly receptive to Industry's plans and the zoning parceled out to other developers in the plan area.  A week after the above article, the Times reported that two lawsuits filed in 1982 in federal district court in Los Angeles claiming that Industry and other developers (including Lusk and Sons, Bramalea, Rolling Ridge Estates and Creative Communities) colluded with San Bernardino County officials to receive favorable treatment on zoning for the Tres Hermanos Ranch and other properties, were potentially going to be settled out of court.

One set of allegations was brought by English Road Investment, Ltd., which owned about 57 acres of horse ranches along the street of that name in the center of today's City of Chino Hills and contested the fact that the CHSP only allowed one home per five acres, when it considered that one per half-acre was fairer.  The other plaintiff was Chino Hills Estates I, II and III, which held over 400 acres on the old Gordon Ranch, some of which fell within the Carbon Canyon portion of the specific plan.  In the latter example, the plan called for one unit per acre, while the company argued that it should have had 2 1/2.  English Road was asking for $3.5 million in damages, while Chino Hills Estates sought $20 million.

Looking south from Grand Avenue to the Arnold Reservoir
at Tres Hermanos Ranch in Tonner Canyon, 2 March 2011.

Meanwhile, it was noted that Industry's Tres Hermanos Ranch would, under the CHSP, be allowed to build over 5,000 units, at almost 3 units per acre, while 25 acres were zoned for commercial purposes, presumably along a projected extension of Grand Avenue.

Specific assertions were that county supervisor Robert O. Townsend and county planning director Kenneth Topping had meetings with the defendants and made appointments to a Citizens Advisory Committee to advance the interests of the defendants to the exclusion of the plaintiffs and other property holders.  Notably, in the situation of Chino Hills Estates, it was claimed that "the county planned the alignment and size of certain thoroughfares, including Carbon Canyon Road, to provide access to properties benefitting the developer defendants at the exclusion of plaintiffs."  Unfortunately, few details as to the specifics of the allegations were in the complaint.

Even the Chino Hills Estates attorney betrayed some doubt about the likelihood of victory at trial, however, when he stated "there is no question that they [the developer defendants] got more favorable zoning.  The only question is whetrher there was any impropriety."  This hardly sounded confident, especially when the same lawyer was quoted as saying, "I have recommended meeting with San Bernardino County to try to work out a solution."  An attorney for the county and other defendants simply summed up his views by stating that, in any planning process like this, "some people are happy and some aren't".  An Indusry lawyer went a little further by stating that "I have never seen any eivdence . . . to show there was any conspiracy."

As it turned out, when it came to Tres Hermanos Ranch, the result was that Industry decided not to pursue any residential development and the so-called "Village in the Valley" was shelved.  Indeed, the original goal of water storage has come up several times since then, although the property is still operated as a cattle ranch as it has been for decades and decades.

Notably, it has been reported that Industry is in negotiations to buy the remainder of the Firestone Boy Scout Reservation, much of which it acquired several years ago to the consternation of preservationists.  If this purchase is consummated, it would put the entire Tonner Canyon area, over 8,000 acres, in Industry's ownership.  The Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, a joint powers agency, with Chino Hills and Diamond Bar as voting members and Industry as an ex-oficio member, has existed for some years, though with somewhat little to do while plans remain conceptual.  Someday, though . . .

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