17 September 2013

More Carbon Canyon History From The Champion: The Chino Hills Airport Plan

Allen McCombs, publisher emeritus of The Champion, offered up two more tidbits of Carbon Canyon history in last Saturday's edition of his "Rolltop Roundup."  One concerned a 1967 bus accident on the infamous S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road near today's Summit Ranch and Carriage Hills subdivisions.  The other detailed a proposal in the early 1970s for a massive airport within the Telegraph Canyon area of the Chino Hills just south of Carbon Canyon.

McCombs observed that an Orange County developer teamed up with a former Los Angeles International Airport executive and a retired colonel from the Marines to propose taking 25,000 acres, with less than 40% of it earmarked for the airport and support facilities, for the project, which would have leveled Gilman Peak and San Juan Hill, the two highest points in the vicinity, and filling in the canyon. 

He further noted that there were two 12,000-foot runways for commercial and private use in the works and that nearly $400 million was "lined up" for the land and the building of the airport.  There was an idea of extending the Century Freeway (Interstate 105, which was not actually built until the 1990s, and is very likely the last major freeway that will be constructed in the region) to the project site and on to Ontario International Airport.

McCombs also stated that a joint powers authority including Anaheim, Chino, Garden Grove, Stanton and Santa Ana promoted the project along with its developers, while opposition (a predecessor, it was claimed, of Hope for the Hills) included a group called PATCH (Prevent Airport Traffic in Chino Hills) was formed to fight the airport plan.

More detail about this remarkable plan can be added, thanks to articles from the Los Angeles Times between late 1971 and early 1980.  Firstly, the big push for the project came from Anaheim's mayor Jack Dutton, who was able to get enough votes from the city council to align the city with the developer for the joint powers authority.  Anaheim's weight convinced, it appears, Chino and the abovementioned cities to come aboard, though for quite some time it was just the first two municipalities who were the mainstays of the authority.

Among the quirkier aspects of the project?  One proposed name, presumably from the folks in Anaheim, was to name the airport after Walt Disney.  Then again, look at the name change bestowed upon the Orange County Airport.  Another wacky idea was a proposal floated in summer 1973 by Dutton, allegedly raised by a Chamber of Commerce member whose name the mayor supposedly couldn't remember, to take silt from the Prado Dam area along the Santa Ana River and use it as fill for Telegraph Canyon via a five-mile long conveyor belt.

The big question was whether supporters of the airport concept could get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval, conditionally or otherwise, for the plan and whether the FAA would deem the project worthy of receiving the critical federal funding that would give the airport plan a chance.

Although original plans were actually for FOUR long runways oriented east-west and some 500,000 annual commercial and private flights, which raised considerable hackles on the part of many people, but also every city near the project, EXCEPT Chino, the promoters scaled back the proposal significantly to the two runways at a southeast/northwest configuration and 120,000 flights per year.  Consequently, in June 1972, the FAA actually gave conditional approval to the project, pending, however, the completion of a satisfactory environmental impact report.  A June 1973 report by the state Department of Aeronautics envisioned that there would be over 19 million passengers by 1995 and nearly 22 million by 2000, though it was stated that 60% of those would be for short-haul flights.

Stirred to action, an interesting mix of environmentalist, Republican lawmakers, city officials, and nearby residents sought a number of ways to fight the airport plan.  Yorba Linda, looking to hold off Anaheim's ambitions to potentially annex the airport site and exercise more control over the property began to look into its own annexation plans, which were realized by 1978.  Elected state representatives were able to secure a report in 1973 criticizing the plan for many reasons, including its location on a major active earthquake fault (indeed, moderate size quakes have been rather common in the area in recent years.)  One was able to get, in 1974, passage of a bill to put the airport question on the state election ballot. 

Notably, a movement was galvanized, as early as spring 1972, by the airport project proposal to set aside land in the Chino Hills for some form of preservation, including the important work of Claire Schlotterbeck and the Hills for Everyone organization among others.  Initial discussions involved a staggering 68,000 acres of land, later pared down to 35,0000 acres and then again to about a third of that, as the worsening state economy in the 1970s tempered hopes for a huge land acquisition.  Still, by the early 1980s, the state legislature earmarked almost $13 million for acquisition of land (the state's parks department identified Chino Hills, Tonner Canyon and Aliso Canyon as key local areas for purchase, but decided that the first was the best option) and Chino Hills State Park was soon created.

There were some significant changes to the aims and ambitions of the airport's allies when voters in Anaheim turned out Mayor Dutton and two council members in the 1974 election and the incoming members of that body quickly reversed the city's support of the project.  Though Chino and other cities hung on with the joint powers authority, an FAA ruling, also in 1974, that federal funding would not be applicable to the proposed project was likely the death knell for the idea.  Yet, the specter of reviving the airport concept did linger for a bit longer.

It's easy to look back now, four decades or so later, and snicker at what seems like a ridiculous proposal.  However, there was still that air of unimpeded progress that animated and drove some people's thoughts when it came to urban planning. 

It's worth remembering that there were serious proposals made to build a Route 39 Freeway along Beach Boulevard from Huntington Beach and right through the Puente Hills into the San Gabriel Valley to a terminus just short of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Other considerations for a regional airport included off-site locations at San Clemente or San Pedro, as well as the El Toro Marine Corps facility, a site at Rancho California near Temecula, and others.  Look at how much effort has been (and, likely, will again be) directed towards trying to extend the 241 toll road to San Clemente through state park land from its current terminus in Mission Viejo.

Finally, look at what could still be in store for Carbon Canyon with proposals for hundreds more homes coming to both Brea (an appeal for the Madrona/Canyon Crest development of 165 houses) and Chino Hills (a pending application for some 200 units south of Carbon Canyon Road at Canyon Hills Road.)

Development pressures will be a fact of life for those in and around Carbon Canyon.  What seemed fantastic and, perhaps, absurd four decades ago seems like a relic of a bygone era, but whatever enlightenment has set upon us since is still subject to those pressures.  The spirit of the movements to create Chino Hills State Park, fight the TRTP Towers of Terror, and shut down the Chinese maternity home are going to be needed for other battles to come.

Quaint as the Chino Hills Airport proposal seems today, there's a different level of audacity still at work in a Carbon Canyon that remains vulnerable to unsuitable and unsustainable development.

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