30 November 2012

A Chino Hills Chinese Maternity Hotel Controversy

See the end of this post for December updates . . .

Early this month, in its edition of 3 November, the Chino Hills Champion ran an article from reporter Marianne Napoles about a sprawling 7,000-square foot house on ten acres overlooking Carbon Canyon Road near Chino Hills Parkway, in which, since this past March, a facility calling itself the "Los Angeles Hermas Hotel" is housing pregnant women from China who pay $5,000 to $15,000 per month to fly into the area; stay at the "hotel" and units at the Green Valley Apartments downslope from the mansion; use shuttle services to and from their "hotels;" give birth in a Monterey Park hospital; recuperate for a month at the "hotel;" and then return home, but with a child that is an American citizen.  The house, which attracted some attention, because its previous owner, Julie Sa, sought to subdivide the parcel for four additional units, was bought in 2011 by Hai Wong Yu.  Further attention was generated in the late winter when nearby residents noticed groups of expecting Chinese women walking through the neighborhood and cars shuttling to and from the "hotel" to the Green Valley Apartments.

A Chinese Web site, www.asiamchild.com, (click here to visit the site, which, obviously, is in Chinese, though you can try a translation function that may or may not help in understanding the site's content) promotes the enterprise, which at those prices clearly is available to the rapidly-growing well-to-do of mainland China.  The 3 November article stated that a previously-operating site advised its clients to seek a "tourism" visa and then travel in the early stages (before the ladies start "showing"), so as to avoid scrutiny.  The site promotes visits to regional tourist attractions and spells out manifold benefits to having U.S.-born babies, who, as citizens, are eligible for free public education through high school, in-state tuition fees at colleges and universities, low-interest education loans, high-paying jobs, Social Security benefits, and so forth.  Not surprisingly, the original site was taken down and a redirection was made to the current one.

Notably, no one in city government was aware of the existence of this enterprise, of which variants are found throughout the United States and emanating from China and other countries.  Since then, Napoles has followed up with updated reporting, just about each week, including one in tomorrow's 1 December edition.

In the newest piece, the City of Chino Hills, rebuffed in a request to inspect the home, received a court order to inspect the residence, did so last week and is now prepared to issue a cease-and-desist order after checking for violations of city code.  From a criminal law perspective, a review by the Chino Hills Police Department found that no illegal activity was being conducted in the operation of the "hotel."

It was determined in September that extensive renovations were conducted without permits and, more noticeably, 2,000 gallons of raw sewage leaked from the property and contaminated a storm drain back.  Because of its location, like those in Carbon Canyon, the house is on a septic system and it was reported that Wu hired a company to clean the tank every day, whereas most owners of properties with septic might do so every few years.

Curiously, Wu's attorney, Add Smith, who first claimed his client had relatives staying with him at the house and that he had no knowledge of the use of the house as a "maternity hotel," later expressed a bland conclusion that the property owner needed to address the laws of the city and state.  As it turned out, however, Smith has also, along with his son, been the building and planning consultants for the "hotel"!  It would not appear that Wu has received adequate consultation or counsel from Smith, who has been evidently "confused" about the project he has been paid to advise on from both legal and operational standpoints!

Last week's review of the property uncovered more violations of code  City attorney Mark Hensley explained that, within a couple of weeks, that order would be issued and noted that the case was quite strong for a code enforcement prosecution.  At the same time, Hensley cautioned the city and its officers and staff from getting involved in "political" elements surrounding the case.  Specifically, this meant council member attendance and commentary in and among the community regarding the "hotel" and its operations.

This is because there has been a groundswell of activity from local residents in recent weeks, including discussions between concerned residents at city and police officials on the 8th; a town hall meeting on the 17th with Assembly member Curt Hagman; the formation of a new grassroots organization calling itself notinchinohills.org (click here to visit the site); a meeting held two days ago at the house of former school board member and recently-defeated city council candidate Rossanna Mitchell; and a public protest to be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the corner of Peyton Drive and Chino Hills Parkway.

Mitchell has, in fact, been getting plenty of media exposure of late, including interviews on KABC's television news program and the show of the controversial radio duo John and Ken of KFI, both airing just today.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that Mitchell is running again for council in the Spring special election for the recently-vacated seat of Bill Kruger.

Predictably, the outcry on this whole episode takes on many dimensions.  Some decry the use of a commercial endeavor in a residential neighborhood.  Others lament the "anchor baby" or "maternity tourism" component as a manipulation of 14th Amendment citizenship rights.  A few have expressed concern about speeding shuttles through the area's streets and the sewage overflow into the neighborhood.  And, there are those who cite all these and probably other reasons.

The "Not in Chino Hills" Web site is rather vague about its purposes, stating:

We are concerned Chino Hills residents that want to preserve our family oriented community. We want to continue to enjoy our beautiful city and we welcome everyone. But to preserve what we cherish we must also protect our city.
Our mission is to keep a vigilant eye and use all our efforts necessary to do so. We are a grassroot organization who will organize and rally behind a cause that will serve the families of Chino Hills.

Yet, nowhere on the site is there anything specific about the grounds that exist to "protect our city" and "our family-oriented community" with "a vigilant eye" from the "maternity hotel."

Regardless of the moral, ethical and political issues involved, the only response the city can take is on the legal question of code violations and the use of the property relative to its zoning.  Assembly member Hagman did state that the lack of a business license was tantamount to tax evasion, which was a matter for the state Franchise Tax Board to deal with.

As City Attorney Hensley stated, further developments should come to light soon about the city's order for the "hotel" to cease operations under current conditions.  What comes beyond that will be interesting to observe. 

UPDATE, 4 December:  The San Gabriel Valley Tribune has weighed in on the maternity "hotel" matter in its today's edition editorial pages, as can be seen here.  Whether its call for county, state and federal intervention is heeded will be something to watch in upcoming weeks and months.

UPDATE, 5 December:  Another article from the San Bernardino Sun on this maternity "hotel" issue and reporting on another community meeting sponsored by the "Not in Chino Hills" group can be found here.

UPDATE, 10 December.  And, there's more from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin about the general issue of "maternity tourism," as contained here.  In the same issue is an allegation of another "maternity hotel" site in the Grand Pointe gated community, as found here.  A couple of days back is this piece (click here) in which city officials comment on the "Not in Chino Hills" group's activities.  And, if you can't get enough, there's more:  try here and here and more on the general issue related to the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution is here.

UPDATE, 17 December: The Champion, with reporter Marianne Napoles continuing her in-depth coverage of this issue, had more interesting information in last Saturday's (15 December) issue.  A court-ordered inspection of the interior of the "hotel" took place after several attempts by police and city officials were rejected by the property owner. 

The unannounced visit, on 19 November, revealed that the house, built in the mid-1970s with 7 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, was illegally converted to 17 (yes, 17) of each.  10 of the rooms were occupied and one woman there stated that she was paying $150 a day, even though there were a host of unsafe conditions in the structure, including exposed electrical wires, insufficient bathroom ventilation, areas of rooms without sufficient flooring, non-habitable spaces converted to rooms, food served without county health permits, and etc. 

In addition, the property was using 4,000 gallons of water a day, but with a septic system only to designed to handle 1,500.  Employees did not have work permits, but were on travel visas and there were no doctors or nurses at the site, according to an affidavit by a former employee.  This for a "hotel" for pregnant women (with their newborns) paying hefty sums for the privilege of living in a residence nowhere near up to code.

Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley has requested a cease-and-desist order from the court, requiring that the business shut down its operations.  From there, who knows what will be done regarding illegalities germane to the "hotel"'s operations.

27 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #s10341 and 10383

Two more incidents from the last day or two to add to the recent resurgence in misdirected driving in Carbon Canyon.

This first is westbound in Sleepy Hollow just a short distance before the now-shuttered Canyon Market.  The driver veered onto the nearly non-existent shoulder and gave the "Narrow Bridge" sign a little shove, but at least the innocuous sign narrowly avoided destruction.

Further down the highway, between the historic La Vida Mineral Springs property and Olinda Village and also westbound, a power pole was given a little shredding.

26 November 2012

New Name, Same Game: From Canyon Crest to Madrona

This is not something to give thanks about, especially the day after the holiday, when the mail brought a notice from the City of Brea regarding the "Notice of Availability of 2012 Update of EIR 02-01 for the Madrona Residential Development Plan (a revision of the former Canyon Crest Plan.)

That's right, it's time to go through the wringer one more time and play another round of that game involving a 367-acre parcel to the north of Carbon Canyon at the northeastern corner of Brea.  The long-playing drama involving housing development plans for this scenic, undeveloped land moves to its next stage.

The Shopoff Group, which had taken its Canyon Crest development plan to the City Council, which then was hearing an appeal of a (narrowly-successful) Planning Commission approval, terminated its plans for the project just as the November 2008 Freeway Complex fire scorched the entire site.  Because of the blaze, the City Council directed staff to consider the conflagration's effects on any future development plan for the area.

Meantime, the property passed into the hands of the Old Standard Life Insurance Company of Spokane, Washington, which hardly behaved by any old standards of ethical business behavior before it, too, faced financial distress before its reorganization.  A lengthy series of posts here in the first part of 2009 detailed, or tried to, the convolunted, complicated and complex story of that business.

Finally, the severe recession of Fall 2008 (brought about by financial companies, not perhaps unlike Old Standard) put the brakes on any idea of development with the Canyon Crest project--at least for awhile.  The new owners of Old Standard, however, recognizing the potential value of an undeveloped property, which would appreciate with a tentative tract map in hand, regardless of whether the likelihood to build was present, made a move to restart the project. 

This link (click here) from the State of Idaho in Spring 2009 detailed the liquidation of Old Standard, but note that the end indicates that the portfolio of its bonds, loans, and real estate is "significant" and that "good success" had been experienced with liquidation.  The situation with Canyon Crest should, obviously, be examined with this situation in mind.

Early last year, Canyon Crest was revived with Old Standard hiring Irvine-based Concorde Development to manage the project.  Concorde, founded by Dennis Gage in 1984, is not a big-name developer, but has had some housing projects in the far southern portions of Orange County, specifically San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. 

On occasion, as is often the case, problems arose in these communities.  At San Clemente, his proposal to build houses at what was the end of Camino de las Ramblas met with resistance from local residents, who had enjoyed being at the earlier end, and the City Council, which felt that the project had too many issues to be approved until Concorde came back with a plan that met their approval, if not those of the residents.

In San Juan Capistrano, Gage proposed an apartment complex on land near a projected high school.  To that end, he engaged in some agreements with the school district to assist in financing for the school, while working to get his project approved.  When the city enacted a moratorium on all application for proposed housing projects while seeking to update its mid-1970s General Plan, Gage sued the city, aided by a builders' association legal defense fund, and won.  Eventually, Gage bowed out and sold the property to another developer, which succeeded in building single-family homes on the site.

Finally, Concorde, through a subsidiary (and can those relationships be tough to sort out), built a commercial center in Stockton, in central California, during the glory days of 2005.  The property was sold last year after Stockton became a "poster child" for all that can go wrong with untrammeled development and poor planning.

Canyon Crest, however, has become a phrase loaded with baggage from many years of travails and travels through the several layers of the planning process in Brea.  Clearly, it was time, at some point in 2011 and 2012, for a new start.

Hence, Madrona!

At the moment, there are several documents available online for those who just don't have enough to do, but might be concerned with the future of Carbon Canyon to pore through.  Characteristically, these can be mind-numbingly long and filled with technical language.  Perhaps the most accessible and least weighty of these is the Madrona Development Review Submittal, of 19 June 2012, which can be accessed here.  At 89 pages, it is not as War and Peace-like as some other docs, such as the updated Environmental Impact Report, which can be found with the above submittal and a boatload of other material by clicking here.

In any event, the main "changes" to the Madrona Project from Canyon Crest are:  3 fewer houses (these that were strangely situated away from the others very near the border with Chino Hills), but a drastically-reduced amount of grading from 9,500,000 cubic yards to a little under 5,000,000.  There is, obviously, more to the reboot, but that's for another post.

Meantime, public comment on the updated Environmental Impact Report is to be sent to the city's chief planner, David Crabtree, by no later than 7 January, so anyone concerned about what the Madrona project will potentially do to Carbon Canyon has until then (interesting how the comment period comes during the busy holiday season) to have their say.

23 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #28: A La Vida Mineral Springs Ashtray

It might be appropriate (or not) that this installment comes as some of the history posts here deal with the fire history of Carbon Canyon.

In any case, here is an ashtray that might have been found in a motel room, the restaurant, or other
public areas of the La Vida Mineral Springs resort, which operated from the 1910s to the 1980s, located on the Brea side of the Canyon, a short distance east of Olinda Village.

Interestingly, the wording notes that the resort was in Placentia, not Brea, and this was the location generally assigned to the facility in its earlier years.  For example, directory listings from the 1920s always gave Placentia as the city of location, as did most of the soda bottles using water from La Vida that were issued from the late 1920s (some did say Fullerton, which is where one of the bottling plants was located, while others were bottled in northern California plants such as at Sacramento and Stockton.) 

Notably, the early black-and-white real photo postcards that show the site in the late 1920s or early 1930s invariably will say "La Vida Mineral Springs, Calif," and omit the nearest city or town.

It doesn't appear to be until well after World War II when the the location was given as Brea--these are found on the color postcards that look to have produced in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as other artifacts like matchbooks.

Given this, it appears that this ashtray goes back to the earlier days, perhaps from the 1930s or 1940s, though there is no obvious way to discern the date (the words "MINERAL SPRINGS" appear to look somewhat like Art Deco, which was everywhere in the Thirties.)  It's a utilitarian item, to be sure, but is still one little historical tidbit to add to the history of Carbon Canyon's most notable historic site.

21 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #s10222 and 10223

A little more than a week ago, a skewed set of skid marks appeared on the westbound side of Carbon Canyon Road on the Brea portion about halfway from the San Bernardino/Orange counties line and led to tire marks that veered onto the shoulder where a dropoff to Carbon [Canyon] Creek is located.

Within the last couple of days, just west of the old entrance to the La Vida Mineral Springs hotel, another confrontation between a westbound vehicle and a new guardrail from the recent road improvements took place.

There seems to be a bit of an epidemic of questionable driving on the highway as of late.

20 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Cattle and Horse Rancher Passes

A neighbor passed along the news today that Bill Friend, who has been running the cattle and horses that so many of us see along the Chino Hills and Brea portions of Carbon Canyon and beyond, including the adjoining Soquel Canyon, died on Sunday.

Friend, who was in his 80s, was often seen with his old pickup truck, stopped at the two major locations where he handled his herds--these being along Carbon Canyon Road east of the Summit Ranch subdivision and further west across from the intersection of the state highway and Canyon Hills Road across from the Circle K market.

His animals grazed widely on city-owned open space, as well as private held land that he leased and they have contributed greatly to the visual sense of the rural heritage of Carbon Canyon. 

It is not too much of a reach to suggest that he was carrying on a tradition that dated back to at least the 1840s when Antonio Maria Lugo acquired the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, which extended westward well into the Canyon and when cattle and horses were the economic lifeblood of the southern California region for several decades afterward. 

Locally, cattle, sheep and horses were part of the environment of what became Chino Hills until very recently as development finally came to the area in the latter half of the 20th century.  Friend's grazing of his herds was a vestige of that tradition.

What will become of the animals remains to be seen.  While the city open space at the east end of the canyon might still be used for such purposes, there is said to be an application to be submitted soon to the City of Chino Hills for a large housing development on the land closer to Sleepy Hollow across from the Circle K.

It is possible that the ranching and grazing era might well be coming to a close with Friend's passing.  If so, it brings another element of change that could lead to a significant altering of Carbon Canyon as we know it.  Hopefully, someone will be interested in carrying on the operation.

Condolences are offered to Mr. Friend's family on their loss.

REVISED 21 November:  More information was made available on an e-mail from a Chino Valley Independent Fire District inspector, who added this link here with a 2011 article from the Chino Hills Champion on Mr. Friend and his family's long history in the Carbon Canyon area.

19 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The 1978 Sleepy Hollow Firestorm

A decent downpour over the weekend came at the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Freeway Complex fire and it might well be that this year will pass without a major blaze, though who can tell.

In the long history of major conflagrations in Carbon Canyon, the next significant event after the 1929 and 1958 fires was one that broke out almost to the day of the latter one.  On 23 October 1978, a wildfire erupted that brought back memories of two decades before.  In fact, the Los Angeles Times article that appeared to discuss the new event was titled "Carbon Canyon Village Spared With Wind's Aid" and began with this statement:

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, a wild fire burned 32 houses and cabins in the quiet little Carbon Canyon community called Sleepy Hollow.  Monday, for several nervous hours, history threatened to repeat itself.

A total of 3,000 acres was consumed by the flames and threatened to road down the steep ridges flanking the neighborhood, but as reporter Evan Maxwell noted, "this time, the Santa Ana winds may have been on the side of man, according to fire officials.  Those winds carried a plume of smoke over Orange County, but Sleepy Hollow was spared."

From all appearances, the fire was racing without pause towards the community, which was said to contained about 100 buildings, but heavy winds caused them to react so that "the main body of the fire was blown past the community . . . before flames stated backing down the hillsides to the homes."  With the unexpected occurrence, the article continued, "this may have prevented a maor disaster in the area . . . the flames were relatively subdued when they moved close to the homes, many in brush-choked canyons and beneath dry oak trees."

The situation changed so dramatically that some residents left fearing for the worst, so that "they left the windows and doors open in their houses.  Firemen had to enter dozens of homes to close them up."  Others stayed put and sprayed water on their roofs while firefighting aircraft dropped flame retardant material on the fire.  In all, there were some 350 fire personnel battling the blaze, which had been fueled by 40-mph winds before the intensity of the Santa Anas died down by dark, allowing crews to establish fire lines and institute back-firing along the perimeter of the blaze.

In addition to those who evacuated from Sleepy Hollow, there were about 200 cattle who were taken from a ranch in Telegraph Canyon--this being four years before the creation of Chino Hills State Park, so this was presumably the Rolling M Ranch--and some thirty horses from the El Rodeo Stables on the Brea side of the Canyon.  Olinda Village, including today's Hollydale Mobile Home Estates, which was then called the Wayside Trailer Park, was bracing for evacuations, but no mandatory order was given.

The conflagration moved south from Sleepy Hollow hearing across the open ranch land which became Chino Hills State Park and headed towards Yorba Linda, where some residents worried about what might happen, but the diedown with the winds eased concerns.  For all of the potential danger, not a single structure nor one casualty resulted from the fire.

Matters would not be so providential, however, in the next big Carbon Canyon fire, which will be covered soon.

13 November 2012

Happy 125th Birthday to the Chino Hills Champion

The newspaper industry has seen a precipitous decline in recent years and who knows where the whole concept will be in five, ten or fifty years, so it is all the more remarkable that the independent and local Chino/Chino Hills Champion is not only 125 years old this year, but is still viable and valid (at least it is to some of us.)

The Champion does a great job of covering local news, provides editorial balance, and emphasizes the community aspects of the cities of Chino and Chino Hills in ways that just are not seen that much any more and the achievement of its publishers and staff cannot be overstated.

The newest issue, out this past weekend, is also chock full of interesting historical material, including some pertaining to Carbon Canyon, though reading about local history generally is pretty cool.  With publisher emeritus Allen McCombs providing the bulk of the material about the history of the area, it makes the Champion that much more valuable.

So, congratulations to everyone at the Champion for continuing the long tradition of excellence and may the paper last at least 125 more years.

08 November 2012

Carbon Canyon Fire History: The Sleepy Hollow Blaze of 1958

Tonight, a light rain is falling and it would be nice to think that enough moisture will fall to hold off another dangerous brush fire in Carbon Canyon this Fall.  We shall see.

Following the last post about the near-disastrous Olinda fire of 1929 is one that was, by any standard, not near, but fully disastrous.  This was a conflagration that swept through Sleepy Hollow on the San Bernardino side of the Canyon in mid-October 1958.

As headlined in the Los Angeles Times:  "Carbon Canyon Blaze Checked; 32 Homes Lost."  And the subhead: "Fire Burns Over 260 Acres Before Being Controlled; Patrols in Area to Continue."
On a Friday morning, the fire erupted somewhere under conditions not evidently known.  While 260 acres seems quite small, compared to the many thousands that have been consumed in other incidents, this fire happened to roar through "the fringes of Sleepy Hollow" and destroyed those nearly three-dozen "homes and small cabins" noted in the headline.

Notably, the biggest damage was on the northeastern section of that community and then further out, including "at least 15 of 32 small cabins on the grounds of Workman's Circle [sic], a rest camp."  What this refers to, actually, is Camp Kinder Ring, the children's camp of the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish community association based in Los Angeles, which bought the land and built the camp in 1928 and afterward. 

Ironically, the article went on to report, "the camp was sold recently to a Los Angeles group for a reported $250,000."  This camp, located at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Road, is a horse and cattle ranch facility and some of the original surviving structures from the Jewish youth camp days are still on site.

The fire also caused injuries to several fire personnel who responded, including "four firemen hospitalized for heat exhaustion and excessive smoke" and a bulldozer operator, Ray Smith, "who was overcome by the heat and smoke" and remained longer in hospitalization than the others.

There was more to Smith's story, however, as revealed by San Bernardino County's State Forest Ranger, W. W. Skinner.  It turned out Smith "had suffered minor burns battling a fire in Santa Ana Canyon Thursday and collapsed during the height of the Carbon Canyon fire Friday."  Talk about dedication to duty and heroism among firefighters!

After a couple of days, the fire was finally contained and then extinguished, with a hundred or more firefighters from the State Division of Foresty and the Chino Fire Protection District, forerunner to the Chino Valley Independent Fire District, at work with patrol work continuing beyond that to check for flare-ups.

Future posts will cover later major conflagrations in Carbon Canyon.

07 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10101

And . . . yet . . . again.

Not as dramatic perhaps as others of recent vintage, but this is the fourth example of damage done to brand-new guardrails installed along the newly-refurbished Carbon Canyon Road (State Route 142) by CalTrans District 12 on the Brea/Orange County side of the Canyon.

In this case, the location is on the eastbound side of the highway at the bottom of the steep slope coming down from Olinda Village just before the historic La Vida Mineral Springs property.  There didn't appear to be much in the way of skidding, probably high speed and a drift to the right that led to a folding of the lower part of the rail and dislodgement of a post or two.

This may or may not require as much work on the order of wholesale replacement as the other instances, however, and could certainly have been worse.  But, what if it was?

02 November 2012

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10023

Again.  For the third time within a month, a brand spanking new section of guardrail of the newly paved and otherwise improved Orange County portion of Carbon Canyon Road (State Route 142) has been taken out by an errant driver.

This occurrence is on the westbound side of the highway on the down slope a little west of Olinda Village.  The far east end of the rail has been crumpled and pressed against the steep hillside.

But, wait . . . there's more.  As an added bonus, the driver bounced off that end and headed down the road a piece skidding into another section of the rail set before, presumably, finding the roadway once more and continuing on his/her (probably his) merry (or, not so much) way.

Perhaps a positive view of this is that this is a way of keeping out state highway workers gainfully employed.