28 February 2013

Towers of Terror Taking a Telltale Turn?

In an e-mail received several hours ago from Assembly member Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills,) the California Public Utilities Commission has ordered Southern California Edison to being pre-construction planning and design work for underground routing of a section of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) through some of Chino Hills.

This order, voted by the CPUC today, is done while the commission works toward a decision on forcing SCE to remove some of the massive 198-foot tall towers it has completed or partially finished on its 40-foot wide easement through the city.  This decision is to be made in July, but the commission specifically cited the deadline of having the project up and running within about two years.

CPUC president Michael Peevey observed that the purpose of this latest order is to create "a complete record that will allow us to determine whether to authorize undergrounding a portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project that runs through Chino Hills."  The idea would be that, if the commission were to approve the realignment of this part of the project underground, Edison woulld already have the work done in advance to allow the utility to proceed with the underground construction quickly to meet that 2015 deadline.

Activities covered by the pre-construction order include cable testing at a cost up to $3 million; general engineering up to $1.5 million; the groundwork for acquiring property up to $200,000; an environmental survey and preparations for appropriate permitting at no more than $250,000.

If the CPUC were to not order that the underground work be mandates, Edison would stop all work leading towards that, including any contracts for manufacturing and installation of lines and associated elements.  In this case, the utility could recoup up to $28 million in contract termination charges and these costs would be covered by the CPUC.

Looking at the CPUC order linked to Assembly member Hagman's e-mail blast, the first sentence makes it clear that the decision was made pursuant to a request by Edison "for rate recovery for reasonable costs it will need to incur in the next few months" before the expected July decision and if the project is to be completed by late 2015.

The commission went on to state that "we conclude, on balance, that it is in the public interest for SCE to undertake specified pre-construction activities and to incur the costs associated with those activities," while noting that "this determination necessarily means that SCE may be entitled to reover reasonable expenditures in the amount of as much as $32.95 million" if the CPUC was to decide not to force the utility to route the project underground in the affected area "after a review on the merits." The commission ruling also indicated that the existing halt on construction of the above-ground work on the section through Chino Hills is not affected by the decision.

The ruling is an 18-page document, much of which reviews the curious history of the project, which was approved by the CPUC in 2009 and, yet, came for review on an appeal from the City of Chino Hills (in turn spurred on in large measure by the impressive grass-roots work of the Hope for the Hills organization), which yielded the stay of construction and the review which has slowly moved onward since then, leading to the July hearing.

Notably, however, the commission crafted its wording on this upcoming meeting by averring that, "today's decision will determine whether we ever consider [emphasis added] that ultimate issue [in other words, the decision to either order or not the placing of the project underground] on its merits."

It is also important to note this genesis of today's decision: "though SCE is ont an underground proponent, SCE's rate recovery proposal [to cover costs associated with any work preparatory to the undergound pre-construction] seeks a finding from this Commission that it would be in the public interest for SCE to undertake certain activities now—essentially to accelerate them—in advance of our decision."

Also of significance is that the decision was made in large measure because of concerns expressed by other interested parties in the TRTP, such as renewable energy companies who are associated with the project and naturally are concerned about any potential delays engendered by the controversyhere in Chino Hills.

Again being particularly cautious in its approach to this issue, the CPUC stated:

"We recognize, as the parties do, that direction to a utility to engage in pre-construction activities is unusual – we would much prefer to wait until we are in the position to issue a decision on whether or not to underground Segment 8A following full development of the record. But in this unique situation, if we wait, we certainly will delay commercial operation of the TRTP. That clearly is not in the public interest. At this stage in our review of Chino Hills’ petition for modification, we find it reasonable to continue that review, as long as the associated costs of the additional and necessary pre-construction activities are not disproportionately large."

Moreover, the commission stated quite clearly that, "We must assume that ratepayers could be at risk for the actual value of all costs reasonably incurred," while also observing that any rate increases requested by Edison must be approved by federal regulatory officials.

As to Edison's oft-asserted view that there should be certain contingencies for unexpected costs, the commission commented that, "We strongly question SCE’s assertion that various uncertainties associated with the potential undergrounding of Segment 8A demand a 50% contingency."  It also implored the utility to consider any mitigation towards the procurement of materials for the pre-production element, including restocking for other Edison projects or resale.

Finally, the order concludes with more cautionary language: 

"The purpose of this interim decision is quite limited. We decline to revise findings or conclusions on the great importance of timely completion of the TRTP or the role of Segment 8A to that effort. If any party believes our existing decisions are insufficient, then after a showing of changed facts or policy, we will consider appropriate revisions. That showing has not been made here, nor is this the correct forum. Likewise, for the same reasons, we decline to add findings or conclusions on the potential financial impact to generators, renewable or conventional, of alleged construction delays along some part of the TRTP to date."

So, while proponents of the rerouting of the TRTP through much of Chino Hills are declaring this latest manifestation to be a victory (and it is, to a point, in at least getting this far with the reconsideration of an already-approved and in-process) project, it is certainly a narrow, specific and limited decision.  Additionally, the CPUC is certainly not "tipping its hand" by giving any hint or indication of what it might due come July (and there are further hearings scheduled for April.)  It's highly guarded language about today's decision having an impact on "whether we ever consider" the likelihood of forcing an underground route is striking.

Assembly member Hagman's statement that the decision by the Commission "has begin to untie the stranglehold on the residents of Chino Hills" is an interesting interpretation, especially as the CPUC was quite careful to word its decision based on the necessity to complete the entire project by 2015 and that the order was in response to an Edison request for rate recovery on accrued costs.  Yet, it is obviously true that, without the dogged determination of citizens and the legal efforts of the city, this point would never have been reached.

Whether the CPUC does the remarkable, astounding, and perhaps unprecedented and orders that the project go underground as desired by the city and Hope for the Hills remains to be seen, but the fact that the matter has evolved as it has is something already to behold.

26 February 2013

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #10934-36

Of fairly recent vintage are three examples of errancy on Carbon Canyon Road--well, at least two for sure with one believed to be so from circumstancial evidence.

The first is the pummeling of the arrow sign on eastbound side of the tightest portion of the S-curve in Chino Hills--an area that has seen the frequent plowing down of the two signs there, as well as the nudging of guardrails.  The photo here shows the prostrate signpost against the rock faced property fence.

Just a little further down on that eastbound sign, just a few dozen feet away, skid marks cross the westbound side and lead off into the shoulder--a pretty clear indication that a driver took the curve too fast and overcompensated, skidding into the shoulder.  Good thing no one was coming the other way.

Less clear is on the downslope west of Olinda Village on the Brea side of the canyon, where there is a considerable amount of dried fluids on both sides of the highway--perhaps oil, radiator fluid and who knows what else as possible evidence of a wreck there.

23 February 2013

A 1914 Map Showing the Olinda Oil Field and Surrounding Areas

In 1914, the California State Mining Bureau issued Bulletin 69, titled "Petroleum Industry in California," as well as a Map Folio set to accompany the work.  Part of the state government's effort to identify and report on the growing importance of the natural resource, the bulletin and folio are excellent sources about the early years of the oil industry in California.

The Map Folio includes sixteen plates with depictions of fossils found in oil fields, geologic maps of field areas, more standard maps showing oil well locations, plans for oil rigs and reservoirs, and a map of pipelines.  One of the geologic maps is Plate II covering portions of Los Angeles and Orange counties.  On this is the area in and around the Olinda field.

This detail from Plate II, a geologic map of part of Los Angeles and Orange counties from the Map Folio of the California State Mining Bureau's "Petroleum Industry in California" (1914) shows the area in and around the Fullerton-Olinda Oil Field.  The image is courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
At this date, the field was approaching two decades in operation and there were many companies working leases or owned sites.  While the Los Angeles basin had yet to see the great discoveries of Santa Fe Springs, Signal Hill and Huntington Beach, among others, the Fullerton-Olinda field (once known only as Fullerton), was one of the major ones.

At the top of the first detail above is the area that later became the cities of Walnut, Diamond Bar and the City of Industry.  Note that at the upper left is the name and boundary of Rancho Rincon de la Brea (rincon meaning corner and brea denoting tar.)  Crossing that vertical line at about the center is the boundary line between Los Angeles and Orange counties running horizontally.  At the right side, the jagged boundary separating Los Angeles from San Bernardino counties comes in from the upper right and disappears just below the center.

A light brown area running left to right is the geologic section constituting at the west end the Brea Canyon Oil Field and, at the center, the Fullerton-Olinda field.  It moves through much of what is now Chino Hills State Park before terminating at some dark lines at the bottom right corner showing where Santa Ana Canyon is located.

Note that under this, the place names of Placentia and Olinda are placed and there are thick black lines throughout that denote roads.  In the further detail below, we can pick up on more specifics within the Olinda and Catbon Canyon areas.

Another detail from Plate II showing the geologic formation area for the Fullerton-Olinda Oil Field and other local aspects.
From where the word "Placentia" is, there is a road leading up to the "Fullerton-Olinda Oil Field" phrase and then this road makes an abrupt turn right, or east.  This would seem to be Valencia Avenue transitioning in that quick change of direction to Carbon Canyon Road.

Significantly, the road goes into Carbon Canyon, enters into a three-fingered geologic area marked by the letters "Tm" and then crosses the county line.  This, of course, marks where Sleepy Hollow would be developed just under a decade later.  It is quite clear, however, that the road simply ends not far over the county line, perhaps at the actual geological back of Carbon Canyon where the Western Hills Country Club more or less is and just below the Carriage Hills subdivision.

Early on in this blog, an excerpt from an oral history of former Olinda oil field residents conducted in the 1970s by Cal State Fullerton personnel included one by a man who remembered working on the building of Carbon Canyon Road at just about this time (that is, 1914.)  At that time, though, the road not only stopped where this map indicates, but it also wasn't paved.  Whether it was all-dirt or had some composite or oiled surface remains to be discovered.

Getting a little more "zoomed in," the dark line moving from center left to upper right is that of Carbon Canyon Road, abruptly turning east from Valencia Avenue and terminating not far into San Bernardino County (the county line is the one running at an angle at the upper right), probably at the true geological end of Carbon Canyon just below the Carriage Hills tract and near Western Hills Country Club.
Note, too, what is, in the further detail just above, the denoted "Fault Line" running from the upper center left to the lower center right.  It may very well be that this is the fault which, over the last five years, has yielded some fair-sized seismic activity, a few of which have been chronicled in this blog, that have been identified as taking place in the southern end of Chino Hills State Park and are usually noted as "Yorba Linda" quakes.
Meantime, the map does extend east over towards Chino and the detail shown below takes in the town of Chino and its straight lines of streets at the upper right.  It also, however, indicates existing roadways, all probably within private ranches with the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino (the name of whicjh is emblazoned across the center of this detail) in what is now Chino Hills. 
Moving east and north, this detail from Plate II shows the Chino/Chino Hills area, with the town of Chino at the upper right and the undeveloped ranching area which became Chino Hills at the center and bottom.  The road moving toward the lower left corner and ending abruptly is undoubtedly the east end of what became Carbon Canyon Road later.
 It seems pretty obvious that the road curling down towards the bottom left corner and then ending is what would later become Carbon Canyon Road and linked, in the mid 1920s, to the portion of that road noted above from the Orange County side. 
Among other notable elements is the roadway that runs from to the right of the top left corner to above the bottom right corner.  This is the old Colorado Road from Los Angeles to Yuma, named from at least 1851, and then, after 1858, denoted as the Butterfield Stage road for that famed, if short lived, line that ran from St. Louis to San Francisco and also became part of the more well-known (and also limited run) Pony Express route.  In later years, it was known as the Pomona-Rincon Road, Rincon being a community that was dismantled when the Prado Dam project was created decades ago and portions of that road still exist in Chino and Chino Hills today.
In the not-too-distant future, there will be a post on another map from this folio showing oil wells and landowners in the Olinda Oil Field area--an interesting precursor to the 1924 map detailed in this blog last year.
The images shown here come from a copy of the Map Folio in the collection of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

15 February 2013

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #31: La Vida Lime 'N Lemon Mineral Water Label

This is another interesting item related to the La Vida Mineral Springs, a resort which operated on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon for decades and included a commercial mineral water business for many years.

While several examples of La Vida mineral water bottles have been featured on this blog over its lifespan, this item is very different and appears to be quite rare.

It is made out of a very thin sheet of metal and is fourteen inches long and three-quarters of an inch tall.  At the rounded edges are two small holes about the size of what would be a finishing nail.  Not quite half way across there is a distinct bend in the item.

Very likely this is a label that might have been tacked on to a wooden crate or a display shelf.  Perhaps someone out there will see this and know exactly what it is and what it was used for.  If so, please leave a comment!

There will be more La Vida material coming soon to continue this series of historical Carbon Canyon artifacts!

14 February 2013

The Further Adventures of Artistic Expression in the Face of Injustice

This latest defacing of the old La Vida Mineral Springs water tank and concrete bases took place last weekend.

Maybe the good samaritan who selflessly painted over previous "expressions" is willing to give it another try?

UPDATE, 23 February:  Ask and ye shall receive?  The "Good Samaritan" who has previously gone in and painted over graffiti that has sometimes marred the old water tank at the La Vida Mineral Springs property has returned and done the favor of covering the recent infliction of damage on it.  Although a commenter has opined that this latest effort is "not much better" than the graffiti, it seems pretty obvious that the "battleship gray" is infinitely preferable.

Many thanks to whomever it was who performed this latest good deed to this poor historic relic, which resided in obscurity due to overgrowth of plant material before the devastation wrought by the fire of November 2008.

13 February 2013

Chino Hills Maternity Hotel Court Judgment Issued

In a short blurb in this morning's Los Angeles Times, it was reported that a filing in San Bernardino County Superior Court on Monday indicated that the operator of the "maternity hotel" in Chino Hills has agreed to stop running the Los Angeles Hermas Hotel.

Moreover, Hai Wong Yu also consented to fixing all code violations that were made during the course of renovations of the house, which included 17 bedrooms and bathrooms, with exposed electric wires and insufficent smoke alarms being the ones mentioned in the article.

As noted previously, the operation of the business appeared to have stopped a couple of months ago once exposure of the business (including a large amount of sewage that overwhelmed the septic system not intended for the number of people using it and spilled down from the hillside property and into storm drains) had attracted the attention of neighbors, who then formed an ad-hoc civic group called "Not in Chino Hills," and then the city stepped in to obtain an cease-and-desist injunction after a property inspection revealed numerous violations of city ordinances.

The outcome of the Monday hearing was a "stipulated judgment," in which both sides mutually agree to a conclusion of the matter without resorting to a trial based on either a civil suit or criminal charge.  Key to this is that the defendant (in this case, Yu) had already ended the behavior cited by the plaintiff (the City of Chino Hills) as the grounds for taking the matter to the courts and agrees to have the court issue a final and binding judgment, also called a "consent decree."  Notably, if the defendant were to resume the activity which led to the judgment or fail to meet the conditions established in the filing (such as remedying the violations of code), a filing for contempt could be filed which might then lead to a garnishment of wages or a lien on the property.

It seems obvious that the house will not only have to be brought back to conformation with code, but be retooled for its intended residential use (after all, its septic system can only handle so much.)  Perhaps Yu will do the minimum and then try to sell the property as-is.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the short-lived hotel that tried to operate under the radar but was halted due to the watchful eyes of its neighbors, whose diligence and determination led to a successful conclusion.

UPDATE, 15 February 2013:  As expected, a longer, more thorough article on the recent court judgment in the Los Angeles Hermas Hotel case appeared in tomorrow's edition of the Champion as reported by Marianne Napoles. 

Specifically, the court order gave property owner Hai Wong Yu seven months to correct nine code violations with the structure, including insufficient septic system capacity for the 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms in the residence, a lack of emergency exits for the bedrooms, the illegal construction of the added bedrooms and bathrooms, required clearance for combustible items, necessary ventilation, code-mandated smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and dealing with exposed electrical wires.  The property is not to be occupied in any way until all of these corrections are made.

With regards to the condition of the judgment disallowing any use of the property for commercial reasons, the grassroots group "Not in Chino Hills," as stated in the Champion article, remains skeptical that the court filing will keep Yu from operating a "maternity hotel" under the guise of having house guests there, because, they argue, he will be able to keep the additional rooms and general infrastructure that would support a continuing illicit use of the house. 

The group's Web site (click here), however, albeit in confusingly-rendered wording including a reference to 19 February, which is not quite here yet, expresses concern about the fact that Yu would not have to return the structure to its as-built 7 bedrooms and 6 1/2 bathrooms, but says nothing about his resuming the "maternity hotel."  That particular concern came in two statements by local residents interviewed for the article.

In reply, Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley stated that the clarity of the judgment with regards to any intended commercial use of the property is unmistakable and that the requirement for emergency exits will force Yu to reduce the number of bedrooms (his attorney and representative had stated in early January that he advised just that).  Hensley was quoted as saying that, "I feel very comfortable that the likelihood of the facility being used for illegal purposes is incredibly low."

It seems likely, in any case, that neighboring residents will be keeping a very close eye on the property in the future!


06 February 2013

La Vida Mineral Springs Bathhouse Explosion in 1963

In the 15 September 1963 edition of the Los Angeles Times is an article titled, "Nine Injured, Two Gravely, in Blast at Resort."  The piece went on to say that the previous day at 2:45 p.m., a water heater in the basement of the two-story bathhouse exploded.  While there was no fire resulting from the calamity, the effects of the explosion were such that the "first and second floors of the bathhouse were blasted into shambles."

Deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Department reported that there were some twenty people in the building, most in the dressing rooms, but none actually in the bath area.  Other guests were in nearby hotel cottages and the pool, within about a hundred feet of the bathhouse, and strongly felt the blast, but were unhurt.

Of the nine injured, two guests with minor injuries were transported to La Mirada Hospital.  Seven others were taken to St. Jude's Hospital in Fullerton, including two guests and three employees, one, 17-year old attendant Jimmie Dale Gray, who lived at the resort, being released quickly after treatment for minor injuries.  A masseur, Robert Paque of Orange, suffered a broken right arm and foot injuries, while physical therapist Ernest Brown of La Habra, had leg wounds.

The two badly injured persons, however, were, indeed, gravely wounded.  Mamie Slaton, a 51-year old attendant at La Vida and a resident of Yorba Linda, was so badly hurt that both legs were amputated by surgeons at St. Jude's.  Physical therapist and La Vida resident, Nina Lackey, age 60, was also facing amputation of one of them due to the severity of her wounds.

While officers on scene could not speculate on the cause of the explosion and what the financial loss would be, the paper reported "that the bathhouse is probably a total loss." 

The bathhouse referred to in this article is probably the same pictured in a 1928 postcard that was featured in this blog in the Fall of 2009.   Click here to see that post and note the window opening for the basement, in which the heater that exploded was located.