27 May 2013

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #34: The Last of Three 1940s La Vida Mineral Springs Views

This is the last of a set of three circa 1940s real photo postcards of La Vida Mineral Springs in the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon.

The caption at the bottom reads "Bath House / La Vida Mineral Springs," although the title is a little misleading.  What the view does show is portions of the hotel and bathhouse, where the sign partially is visible behind the tree and the one-story structure in front of it.

Notably, the photographer stood in the parking area to the west and captures the dilapidated wooden foot bridge crossing Carbon [Canyon] Creek.  Note how the floor of the bridge is buckled and uneven and the side rails are leaning badly to the left.

There is a sign on a horizontal beam or pole at the middle of the bridge, which issues a welcome to visitors though one wonders what kind of welcome awaited when trying to cross the rickety structure.

More than likely, visitors to the old hotel and bathhouse, which were destroyed in a late 1950s explosion that was covered in a previous post on this blog, took the auto bridge off Carbon Canyon Road closer to the structure. 

In any case, the footings for this bridge and for the auto bridge, both of which are long gone, can still be found on the banks of the creek.

As with the other two cards from the set shown here, this is postally unused and has an EKC (for Eastman Kodak Company) stamp box, dating it to that 1940s time period.

20 May 2013

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #12839

It's been pretty quiet lately, well, not necessarily quiet, as the roar of engines and the screech of tires still is a very regular occurrence, but there hadn't been a noticeable accident of note for some time.

Until sometime between Saturday morning and Sunday morning (going on a limb here to suggest Saturday night), when that familiar spot on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon where the entrance to the motel on the old La Vida Mineral Springs property is located.

Already for the third time since the major road improvements were made on the state highway by CalTrans District 12, the guardrail there was hit by a vehicle heading westbound.

In this case, the car or truck took the sharp curve just east of that spot a little too fast and skidded off the road and into one end of the rail.

Though the crushed rail end was there on Sunday, the folks at CalTrans got there first thing this morning and put a new end on there before the photos here were taken about 9:30.  The 5.3 mile marker was also plowed down and has been righted, although it has the twisted and tweaked appearance of some of the other markers and reflectors that have been mowed down over the years.

It should also be noted that there are some significant skid marks further west on the road, one being at the bottom of the downgrade from Olinda Village and the other set a bit west just past some 45 mph curve signs.   Collisions may not have taken place there, but something apparently did.

As always, drivers navigating the canyon, particularly on evenings and especially those on weekends, should exercise extra caution.  Most times when cars leave their lane and cross over to the other and head off the road, no one else is involved (at least, that has been the case lately), but who knows what will happen when the situation is different?

18 May 2013

Rattlesnake Warning in Carbon Canyon

Today's edition of The Champion features an article by Marianne Napoles on the increased encounters with rattlesnakes throughout Chino Hills, including Carbon Canyon.

With rising temperatures through the later spring and into summer, the two types of rattlers, the Western Diamondback and the Southern Pacific, are common enough most years, but it appears that they are more numerous this year.

A resident of Hillside Drive in Sleepy Hollow was quoted as saying, "I've lived here for 14 years and it's never been this bad."  An officer from the Inland Valley Humane Society stated that he responded to three calls on Tuesday, including one on Rosemary Lane, also in Sleepy Hollow.

That same officer cautioned that residents should "watch where you put your feet" to avoid surprising a snake resting in a garage, a woodpile and in the yard.  Rattlesnakes are not considered to be particularly aggressive but can bit when they feel threatened and most incidents occur because they are accidently touched or when handled.

If a person is bitten, officials with the Chino Valley Fire District caution to avoid panicking, which can spread venom more quickly through the body, wash the bite area and call 9-1-1. 

Notably, residents of Carbon Canyon who receive rattlesnake bites "will most likely be airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center [near San Bernardino] because it is difficult to enter and exit the canyon."  That facility does have specialists in snakebites who are among the best in the world. 

Meantime, district paramedics are trained to respond to these emergencies and the Chino Valley Medical Center in Chino maintains a supply of anti-venom.  Paramedics will make the call about whether to take victims to the local or regional facilities mentioned above.

Rattlesnake sightings can be reported to the Humane Society office at (909) 623-9777 and the West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District will also remove snakes on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.  The district can be contacted at (909) 635-0307.

15 May 2013

Carbon Canyon Brush & Weed Clearance Deadline Today

A card was received yesterday from the Chino Valley Fire District reminding residents in Carbon Canyon about brush and weed removal.  Today was the official deadline for getting rid of the flammable material that makes this area particularly susceptible to wildfires.

In particular, the card reminds residents that there are two zones to create defensible space with a total of 100 feet around the house to clear.

The first is a 30-foot perimeter around the residence is where dead or dying leaves, grasses and brush should be cleared from the ground, needles and leaves cleaned off of roofs and out of rain gutters and tree limbs cut back from at least six feet above ground and ten feet from chimneys.  In addition, vegetation should be pruned and taken away from near windows and it is recommended to have fire-resistant plants in landscaping around houses.

Then, there is an additional 70 feet in which leaves, twigs and branches should be removed and tree canopies maintained so that branches are at least ten feet away from other trees as well as any structures.

Finally, and this is key in hot and dry conditions, such as those experienced late last week and which likely will be the norm for much of the summer and fall, mowing, trimming and other use of power equipment should take place prior to 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. on hotter days.  Dry vegetation, like weeds and grasses, should not be removed by a mower, but with a trimmer.  Finally, the district recommends having a cell phone handy to call 9-1-1 in case of a fire and implores residents not to put themselves in harm's way when putting out a fire.

It is worth restating, incidentally, that this was one of the driest winters since official records were begun in the late 1870s.  The Los Angeles Times had an article just yesterday (read it here) pointing out that the lack of rainfall for most of January not only created early conditions for dried-out vegetation, but that a small burst of precipitation at the end of the month did not actually relieve the situation, but made it worse by allowing for new growth that would not have arisen if there had been more rain and which then dried out quickly in succeeding weeks, creating more hazardous conditions.  The massive fire in Ventura County was evidence of what can happen in these situations.

Fire preparedness has improved by a high order of magnitude in recent years compared to what it was in such conflagrations as 1990, 1978, 1958, 1929 and other major wildfire years, but conditions are also changing, as witnessed with the massive Freeway Complex Fire, which is already nearly five years old now.  Vigilance by everyone with a stake in Carbon Canyon from fire fighters, elected officials and residents continues to be crucial in minimizing the risks and hazards associated with wildland fires.

13 May 2013

Towers of Terror: Tangents Traversing the Trail to "The Truth"

Last Monday, a slick four-color publication came in the mail with the moniker of The Royce Reporter, this tax-payer funded newsletter coming from Representative Ed Royce, whose newly-configured district includes Chino Hills as of the fall 2012 elections.

When the redistricting was announced and the election pending, Royce took the opportunity to leap into the fray with the "Towers of Terror," otherwise known as the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, and its eighth section comprising largely of 200-foot tall transmission towers in a narrow 40-foot wide easement owned by Southern California Edison. 

Even though the congressional representative at the time was Gary Miller, soon to realize that beating Royce in the new district was impossible and who then moved to Fontana from Diamond Bar to run for election there, Royce plunged headlong into promoting the idea that the TRTP could be made into a "federal issue" by finding a link to the project via houses near the new towers and their applicability to Federal Housing Administration insured loan guidelines.

As pointed out in this blog, however, the rationale and the logic were, to put it simply, flawed.  The fact was that FHA criteria for appraisers examining properties state very clearly that the houses had to be in the easement for loans to be denied FHA insurance.  While appraisers were expected to comment on the proximity to high-voltage transmission lines, and a whole lot else, and the potential effect on marketability and value, the FHA would not deny insurance in such a case.

Undaunted, Royce and Miller went ahead and scheduled an April 2012 field hearing in Chino Hills on the House Financial Services Committee, again tax-payer funded, to bring attention to the question.

In The Royce Reporter, the representative made a point of claiming that "our hearing brought attention to the looming community disaster and helped convince the Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to look at alternatives."  While it would be expected that the newsletter would try to secure credit for Royce, it was more than a little surprising, perhaps, that almost no mention was made of the significant amount of effort expended by the grassroots community organization Hope for the Hills, which merited one minor mention in the publication, or the City of Chino Hills and its long-running efforts to fight the project.

Moreover, right under this claim is a timeline (see image above) that very clearly states that the project was halted in October 2011 and that, in November, the CPUC ordered Edison to offer alternatives for the project other than the above-ground construction recently suspended.  This was months before the vaunted hearing.

Further, Royce's involvement with this project did not appear to begin until after the November CPUC order--this blog had a post dated 26 November 2011 noting that Royce had issued a mailer that arrived the previous day (see here for that post) and which invited residents (and presumed future constituents) for a "meet and greet" with him at the Summit Ranch community in Carbon Canyon on 4 December.

The timeline then has a gap of nearly a year, because Royce still had to win the election, which was a foregone conclusion with Miller's exodus to the foothills and the overwhelming Republican support in the newly-demarcated district, but it does note that on 26 February 2013, "Rep. Royce contacts the CPUC in support of undergrounding [verb?] the towers," and that, two days later, the CPUC "gives the green light for Edison to being preliminary work to move the lines underground."  This was written, seemingly, as if the two events were intricately connected.

As can be seen in the 28 February 2013 blog post here, the link between Rep. Royce's contact and the decision by the CPUC, which was hardly a "green light . . . to begin preliminary work to move the lines underground," is , , , um, debatable.

Now, despite the fact that FHA appraiser guidelines specifically indicate that insured loans were only a problem for properties within an easement, this flyer highlighted an assertion made by Rep. Royce at the April 2012 hearing that, "the FHA requires an underwriter to obtain a letter from the owner of the tower noting a given dwelling as not being within the engineered fall zone of a given tower."

Yet, as noted here, from a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) property and appraisal webinar's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, this is only a half-truth and not quite the most important half:
If the dwelling or related property improvement is located within the easement of a high voltage tower, the lender must obtain a letter from the owner or operator of the tower indicating that the dwelling and its related property improvements are not located within the tower's (engineered) fall distance in order to waive this requirement.
The emphasis here is on the first part—if the dwelling or improvement on the property is located within the easement of a high voltage tower.   The reality is, uncomfortably close as many houses are to the massive towers, none of them is actually "within the easement."

As stated above, in another HUD document pertaining to Valuation Protocol FAQs, which can be accessed here, this is the explanation to a question about eligibility:
If a living unit is located outside the easement then the property is eligible for FHA financing. However, the appraiser is instructed to note and comment on the effect on marketability resulting from the proximity to such site hazards and/or nuisances.
In this case, the second sentence is a notable one, concerning "marketability" of a property, and whether houses in close proximity to the 200-foot behemoths would be hard to sell or at least at a decent market rate.

Another major point made in the Royce mailer is that, because property values in Chino Hills declined by 17% in the year prior to the April 2012 hearing and much of which occurred while the "towers of terror" were being erected, the drop was directly attributable to the project.

Firstly, there is no way to know if the TRTP work had anything directly to do with the property value fall.  While it is certainly possible that this could have been the case for houses near the looming towers, any drop in, say, Butterfield Ranch or the tracts off Chino Avenue could hardly have anything to do with the project.

Moreover, in the year since the hearing, prices in the city have risen some 11 or 12% and, again, whether a property in Vellano or Los Serranos Ranch or Laband Village has seen a growth in market value would seemingly have nothing to do with developments with the TRTP.

It is also notable that, at the April 2012 hearing (the 97-page transcript for that hearing may be accessed here,) Bobbi Borland of the federal Housing and Urban Development office in Santa Ana testified that, in Chino Hills, "approximately 3 percent of homes have mortgages insured through FHA."  Even if a higher percentage of those were near the towers, this is still a very small proportion of residences, meaning that the whole issue raised by representatives Miller and Royce was, in fact, blown out of proportion.  Additionally, Borland stated that, "FHA does collect a limited amount of appraisal data but does not track valuation or home price trends to the zip code level."  When it comes to risks to the agency's insured loans in areas near transmission lines, she observed that, "it is important to note that payment default may have many causes, and there is simply no easy way to identify whether a default was driven by property value declines attributed to nearby transmission lines."

When Rep. Miller questioned Borland, he asked "If a home is outside of the easement area but within the gall zone, does that have an impact on FHA's ability to loan?," she responded that FHA insures, but does not issue loans.   Admittedly, this blogger did not make that distinction in earlier posts, but it was a little more surprising that a member of the House Financial Services Committee did not know what the FHA did with loans, even as he answered, "I understand that," when she clarified.

In any case, Borland also stated that "our guidelines state that it does not impact the FHA loan.  It would be up to the individual lender," meaning that the decision to not issue a loan to a residence near a transmission line is a private matter, not a federal one, and therefore completely outside the jurisdiction of the House Financial Services Committee.

Having said all this, Miller raised the possibility that the proximity to the towers could possibly be a reason for an appraiser to lower the value of a house and when Borland responded (or started to) with, "I can't really comment on the lender's . . .," Miller cut her off and then she indicated that, "it was possible."  The operative definition of "possible" could be interpreted myriad ways under the circumstances.

This is especially true when the discussion went into the "fall zone," it being posited that, in case of collapse, the towers would fall outward, even though they have 50' bases in concrete below ground and are, actually, designed to collapse downward.  When this distinction was pointed out, however, Miller simply uttered that this made him feel much better and he turned and asked Royce if he felt the same way.

As to whether proximity to transmission lines hurt property values, Chino Hills realtor Marion Profitt stated,
while CAR does not possess statistics to show what the impact on pricing may or may not be due to a home's proximity to the power lines, I can tell you from my 20 years of experience that for some home buyers, it does matter. Just recently I took an investor to see a property that backed up to an easement, and its mere location next to that easement was enough for them to say no. However, this isn't the case for every buyer. Many have no problem living next to the power lines, but there are many buyers I have worked with who require a discounted sales price or who will refuse to buy one of the properties. I have spoken with many other realtors  in Chino Hills and they have shared similar experiences to mine.

This can compared to the testimony of Fred Kreger of the California Association of Mortgage Professionals, who observed that,
through my 10 years of experience as a mortgage professional, I can safely say that the impact of high voltage transmission lines on property values and FHA eligibility has
been somewhat minimal. On a monthly basis, I originate many loans within the surrounding cities and counties, of which FHA loans serve an important role for my particular clients. I have yet to have a customer encounter difficulties with their FHA
eligibility due to high voltage power lines. 
Kreger further added that,
in my experience, the appraisers will note the presence of  high voltage transmission lines. However, the effect on the marketability of the home value is minimal, if any. Over years of research and study, I have concluded that although community members and homeowners have negative feelings towards high voltage power lines, their presence is apparently not given sufficient enough weight by buyers and sellers of real estate to have any consistent, material effect on market value."
And, even though Profitt expressed concern about FHA financing in Chino Hills (remember that only 3% of all residences in the city have FHA-insured morgages), Kreger stated that, "I see no problems in terms of eligibility of FHA insured mortgage programs" and the question of transmission line proximity.

The point of all this is not to take sides on the issue of whether the towers should be allowed to stay above or under ground, but to question the motivation and justification for the involvement of local representatives in the federal government in what is, truly, a state matter (this is, perhaps, more than a little ironic given that conservatives often invoke the mantra of "states rights" in so many cases of alleged federal overreach.)

Reps. Miller and Royce, angling for advantages in election campaigns in realigned congressional districts, clearly overreached in making the argument that FHA-insured loans were the entry point for their involvement and used tax-payer monies for the debatable stretch in logic.

Talk about making something a "federal issue."

03 May 2013

Sleepy Hollow Suspense: Important Correction!


Thanks to a comment left regarding the earlier post, it turns out this was not a drug-related arrest, as was relayed by Sleepy Hollow residents during the time that the raid was taking place.

This article (click here) from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports that 21-year old Montclair resident Kyle Larrabee was arrested on suspicion of murdering a 23-year old man in Chino on Friday morning.  Larrabee is accused of stabbing the victim, who died at a local hospital, once and then fleeing the scene.  He was then tracked to the house in Sleepy Hollow.  After being taken to the Rancho Cucamonga detention center, the suspect was booked on a murder charge.


It appears that a raid was conducted in Sleepy Hollow within the last hour or so by federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, Chino Police Department officers in several cars, and Brea Police Department officers.

Carbon Canyon Road was blocked for a time as, apparently, raiding agents used the parking lot of the shuttered Canyon Market (formerly Party House Liquor #2) across the street and slightly east from the house, which is at the end of Rosemary Lane, just a hop, skip and a jump from here, to storm the house with guns drawn.

Other than that, there is nothing else to state unless someone out there has more information on what is taking place.

Carbon Canyon and the All-Year Fire Season

The onset of Santa Ana winds and hot, dry weather at this time of year might be termed "abnormal," but the idea of "normal" in the context of climate change doesn't seem to have much relevancy anymore.

Wildfires erupting throughout southern California (while, meantime, there has been heavy snowfall in the Midwest, which is not "normal" for the season), especially the massive blaze in the Camarillo area, are a reminder that a paltry 5 inches of rain this winter, the fourth-lowest regionally since official records were started in 1877, portend another difficult year.

There are some showers forecast for as early as Sunday and through Tuesday, but it looks like these are "chances" of precipitation and likely the last chance for many months.

As for Carbon Canyon, 15 May is the usual deadline for the removal of brush and the extremely dry winter is all the more reason to be mindful of meeting that requirement and continuing to be vigilant about fire threats.  There used to be references to the fire seasons of spring and fall, but the reality now is that fire season is all-year.

This includes motorcycle and ATV riders taking to the hills, as was noticed out the window behind this computer a few days ago, as ATV users climbed the north side of Sleepy Hollow for some fun at the top of the hills there.  Of course, it only takes a spark from one of these to hit some dry brush and then an inferno could develop from there.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant project to clear brush in perimeter areas within Carbon Canyon has been conducted these past months to help mitigate the hazards, but there are still plenty of areas within and near the Canyon that are subject to wildfires.

So, let's hope that a repeat of 2008 is kept away for another year, but that means that everyone from fire agencies to commuters to local residents have to be extra aware and careful of the risks that develop when extreme conditions arise, and which might, actually, be the "new normal."