28 April 2014

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #15927

Another weekend, another accident.

Another sign needlessly and cruelly mangled by an errant driver--this just west of Carriage Hills Drive on the south side of Carbon Canyon Road in an incident that took place over the weekend.
In this case, an westbound vehicle coming around the curve just past the entrance to Carriage Hills heading down from the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road on the Chino Hills side of the canyon obviously took the curve too quickly, crossed the opposing lane, and skidded into and up the landscaped slope.

A glaring sun and a glaring example of dangerous driving (leading to a distended sign) on Carbon Canyon Road west of Carriage Hills Drive over the weekend.
There must be something about inanimate objects being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because the sign indicating the upcoming turn into Carriage Hills was twisted and contorted by the collision.

A somewhat faint pair of skid marks can be discerned, especially on the white shoulder stripe, from the vehicle that crossed the opposing lane of Carbon Canyon Road and clambered up the landscaped slope striking the sign at the upper left in an accident that took place last weekend.

It sure has been a busy 2014 in terms of reckless and dangerous driving on Carbon Canyon Road.  The potential of 400+ new homes coming in to the canyon in the future might mean more risk of accidents, especially on weekends and evenings.

27 April 2014

Projecting Carbon Canyon's Future

This weekend's Champion has a lengthy article by Marianne Napoles titled "Future of Canyon Holds Hundreds of Homes."  This blog has frequently discussed the fact that there has been a potential of several housing projects on the Chino Hills and Brea portions of the Canyon that would total nearly 400 units and, if they were approved and built, Carbon Canyon as we've known it would essentially be gone.

So, there's nothing particular new in the article in a sense, but Napoles did a fine job of summarizing each potential development, while beginning her piece with: "Some residents may find it a hard pill to swallow."  Arguably, that might even be amended to suggest that "most residents may find it a bitter pill to swallow."  Moreover, the key might be when it is time to take the gulp.

As discussed by Napoles, the projects include:

Hidden Oaks:  107 houses south of Carbon Canyon Road at Canyon Hills Rd.
Canyon Hills:  76 houses north of Carbon Canyon Road at Canyon Hills Rd.
Stonefield:  28 houses at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Dr.
Meaglia property: 11 houses south of Carbon Canyon Road at Pinnacle Dr. next to Carriage Hills.
Unnamed project:  23 houses off Red Apple Lane south of Carbon Canyon Rd.
Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corp.: 38 houses south of Carbon Canyon Rd. east of Canon Ln.
Total:  273 units.

This total does not include the Madrona project proposing 165 houses in Brea on the north side of Carbon Canyon between Sleepy Hollow and Olinda Village and which will be voted upon soon by the city council.

On the above list, "Hidden Oaks" has a long history and a bizarre name, given that there are many quite visible oak trees on the 537-acre property and that it is physically impossible to have "hidden oaks."   In any case, beginning with its earliest incarnation as "Soquel Canyon Country Estates," which was approved by San Bernardino County in 1989, two years before the incorporation of Chino Hills.  Just a few years before that, a massive plan for the development of the broader Chino Hills area was approved by the county.

A later iteration, called "Canyon Meadows" was then approved by the city council in 1999, but only after a massive protest by the Save Our Canyon grassroots organization led to the confirmation that 114 units would be built, rather than the 341 proposed by the developer, which sought to change zoning for that purpose.  As a result of the outcry, Measure U was passed in Chino Hills requiring a public vote to change zoning on the general plan.

When the project morphed into "The Ranch at Carbon Canyon," in 2000, however, the developer went in and destroyed over 500 trees, mainly oaks, before dropping the project, leaving a barren and desiccated landscape behind.

Nearly fifteen years later, Chino Hills Country Club, LLC, has revived the project and turned its application to the city in 2013, but was requested to conduct revisions concerning slopes, ridgelines and the natural features to the site.  These have been turned in and are now being reviewed by the planning department.

"Canyon Hills" also has a fairly long history to it, though not gone into in the article.  In December 2008, just after the disastrous crash of the American economy, former owner D.B. Horton sold the 141-acre parcel to Foremost Communities of Newport Beach, a firm founded in 2007 and described on its Web site as "a premier residential land investment company established to acquire property in strategic locations that can be entitled and developed into finished lots for sale to merchant homebuilders."  In other words, Foremost doesn't build homes, it works with venture capital firms like the notorious PIMCO and Starwood Capital Group Global, LLC. to find those "strategic locations" to develop raw land for sale to homebuilders.  An entity called "Forestar Canyon Hills, LLC" was created to develop the project.

Funnily and tellingly, given that one would think that there'd be a good working knowledge of a project site's general area, an aerial photo identifies Carbon Canyon as "Chino Hills State Park."  For the company's Web site, including a brief description of "Canyon Hills" please click here

However, the site's development history is as long as that of "Hidden Oaks."  An unnamed predecessor is shown on the City of Chino Hills' Web site to have been approved by the county in summer 1987 with a tentative tract map following two years later.  The final tract map did not get recorded until August 1997, but that was still nearly seventeen years ago.  For the project page on the city's site, please click here.

In recent months, there has been some infrastructure work going on within the property, linking sewer lines from the site northeast into the Oak Tree Estates subdivision and following roads there into the newer Elements at Pine Valley Estates tract completed north of the Canyon.  The "Canyon Hills" project is supposed to have a pumping station to direct sewage uphill towards the "Elements" site for that material to follow sewers down Eucalyptus Avenue to the east.  It has been said, though, that Forestar doesn't have the permits yet for the station and is doing the preliminary work for sewer removal system in advance of getting the permit.

Finally, the City of Chino Hills has a proposed traffic signal at Canyon Hills Road and Carbon Canyon Road on its priority list for signals.  This, of course, would mark only the second signal in Carbon Canyon--the first being the one built at Olinda Drive a few years ago.  Any idea that a signal would mark a great improvement for commuters along Carbon Canyon Road, however, is fundamentally flawed.  The only beneficiaries would be those folks turning from Canyon Hills onto Carbon Canyon--no net benefit would accrue to anyone else.  So much for mitigation.

The "Stonefield" project, on a 35-acre site tucked into an area below Carbon Canyon Road across from Carriage Hills and east of the Western Hills Country Club, received city council approval in 2009, over the objections of canyon residents.  While the developer is required to pay $1.2 million for the widening of the intersection of Carbon Canyon Road and Fairway Drive (and Ginseng Lane, which runs south of Carbon Canyon Road), nothing has been done yet as far as the site is concerned.

The Meaglia property recently closed escrow, as reported by Napoles, and the 11-lot subdivision on a little more than 6 1/2 acres was approved by the city council in 2011.  There was some pushback from the Carriage Hills Homeowners Association, which complained of a loss of views from the project and its removal of about half of the site's 365 trees, though about 250 new trees would have to be planted.

The Red Apple Lane project is in the concept stages, as the article stated that, "investors are looking into property at the end of Red Apple Lane south of Carbon Canyon Road" for what could be just shy of two-dozen residences, with a pre-application recently submitted.

Finally, there's the "Shanghai" parcel of 38 lots on 68 acres approved in 1988 by the county but rejected twice by the city council, in 2000 and 2001, because there are a number of landslide-prone areas within the site.  A map from the city, however, showing recycled water system project areas in Chino Hills indicates that the "Shanghai Aviation" property would yield 13 dwelling units.  There has long been a "for sale" sign on this parcel stating that 13 houses could be built on the property.  For the map, see here.

Clearly, the Stonefield, Meaglia, Red Apple Lane and Shanghai projects are all, taken individually, quite small and seemingly inoffensive.  However, they aggregate 100 units as reported and 75 if the Shanghai winds up being 13, not 38, units.

In addition, they are part of a larger inventory of potential residences totaling 273 and this is exclusive of the 165 units in the Madrona plan in Brea, which is nearing a decision by that city's governing body.  If everything, including Madrona, were approved and built, the number of units would be 438.  The number of residents could be as little as about 1,150, using the average household size in the US of just over 2 1/2 persons; or just under 1,500, if the general Chino Hills average of 3.25 persons per household is adopted; or probably closer to 2,000, because these new homes would all be larger than the city average and, consequently, family sizes would be greater.

Speaking of consequences, there are some basic underlying questions to raise, yet again, about the continuing development of the Canyon:
  • Are projects entitled in the 1980s and 1990 valid given the changed conditions (climate, traffic, pollution, local resources, etc.) of the mid-2010s?
  • If residents are being asked to conserve water because of a long-term drought (and, again, 2013-14 will be a very low water year), where will the water come from to supply houses and lots that are far larger than the average?
  • Continued drought will mean greater fire risks, so what will the addition of several hundred new houses mean for the protection and evacuation of Carbon Canyon residents in the next firestorm, which is certainly coming?
  • Carbon Canyon Road cannot be widened (and adding traffic signals is meaningless as mitigation), so what do our local officials propose be done when an already-overburdened state highway, rated "F" for significant commuting times, is further loaded with traffic, totaling about 4,000 extra car trips per day, from these and other projects eastward?
  • With potentially 400+ houses in the canyon and the consequent loss of natural open space, not the "manufactured slopes" of housing tracts passed off as "open space," doesn't the concept of "rural living" embodied by Carbon Canyon be further diminished and devalued?
  • Will Carbon Canyon be Carbon Canyon anymore or just another tractified (not a word, of course, but maybe should be?) element of the city, especially on the Chino Hills side and, to a somewhat lesser degree, on the Brea portion?
Naturally, there has been some NIMBYism in complaints about some of these projects--this blogger well remembers a Carriage Hills resident telling the Planning Commission that Stonefield would negatively affect his view and commissioner Karen Bristow, a longtime resident of the city and a major voice in the Measure U movement, telling this person that Carriage Hills, which was built in the late 1980s/early 1990s, had the same effect on locals then.  And, the above-mentioned letter from the Carriage Hills HOA attorney about the diminished view if the Meaglia project was to be built, is constructed along the same NIMBY lines.

But, when the matter of water, traffic, fire protection and so on, that's not run-of-the-mill, boilerplate NIMBYism, that's a fundamental shift in reality. 

Yet, why is it that entitled tract maps are good, essentially, forever, though there can be constraints put upon developments which have approved final tract maps.  For example, there can be a moratorium on projects in which there are, as stated in a 2000 legal article, "infrastructure constrains (e.g., sewer, water)."  Generally, though, these moratoria are applied when the project is under a tentative tract map and when conditions of approval (such as those recently proposed for Madrona) and other actions are applied in the tentative stage.  For this relatively brief article, please click here.

The problem is:  a project could have a final map recorded decades prior to its realization, during which time changes occur that would make a similar project applied for now infeasible.  Yet, this doesn't matter. 

Now, of course, there need to be some reasonable safeguards to protect a property owner's rights, but to grandfather in an approval from many years back, even if the parcel has had many owners and even if conditions have changed substantially so that effects of the project are far greater than originally envisioned is questionable.  Why couldn't a property owner be required to reapply a project when the final map (maybe then called an "approved map") is of a certain age? 

A tentative map has a lifespan of five years, so why not double the span of an approved (so-called "final") map to ten years, after which the project has to be resubmitted.  Rather than a completely new Environmental Impact Report, though, an update of the existing one could be done, using new studies of water use, traffic impacts, effects on biological resources, pollution generation and so on.  Surely, something could be created that wouldn't be overly onerous to a property owner.

But, this almost certainly will not happen, even if our changing world might seem to require something be done to adapt an outmoded and outdated system to that evolving environment.  There are too many vested interests (building industry associations, chambers of commerce, construction industry groups, political conservatives and others) who would fight it tooth and nail.

Water is going to be an obvious constraint over time, the fire risk is going to increase in conjunction with drought, traffic can only get worse under current driver behavior when Carbon Canyon Road can't be widened--given all of this, does it make sense to continue to have old policies for new realities?

Is that a rhetorical question?

Meantime, it's time to seriously consider leaving the Canyon, much as it is loved, because it will be increasingly harder to appreciate a place that won't have the qualities that made it so appealing.  A couple of years from now will probably be a prime time for reassessing, because if most of these projects are approved and built, Carbon Canyon will fundamentally be altered and compromised.  If it looks like the rest of the city, then what will be left to cherish?

23 April 2014

Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council Brush Drop-off This Saturday

With brush inspections in Carbon Canyon now being carried out by the Chino Valley Fire District and a 15 May deadline for removing brush looming, this is a good time for Chino Hills residents of Carbon Canyon to clear their brush and bring it down to the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council's annual brush drop-off service as part of a canyon-wide Fuel Reduction Program.

This program is offered twice annually (the other date generally being in late September, with a confirmed date TBD) by the Council, volunteers from which will be stationed this Saturday, 26 April from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m on Canon Lane, north of Carbon Canyon Road and adjacent to Fire Station 64. 

There will be large roll-off bins supplied by Chino Hills Disposal and by arrangement from the City of Chino Hills.  Simply bring your cut and bundled brush and Council members will assist in loading them into the bin--trips may be made any time during the stated hours and there is no limit per household.  People are requested to bring a driver's license, copy of a utility bill, or a Carbon Canyon emergency pass are proof of residency.

If there are any questions about the program, please call (909) 902-5280, x.409.

21 April 2014

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #15839

Yet again, an eastbound driver on the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road in Chino Hills between Carriage Hills and Summit Ranch has taken the sharp turns too quickly and gone off the road.  The latest incident occurred sometime this weekend.  A wild guess would be late at night/early in the morning on Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday.

This time, instead of merely taking down a sign (the one in the foreground above was just taken out and replaced and the red fender pieces were from an incident just last weekend) or pushing back a bollard protecting a light pole, the result was significant damage to a stone-covered post at the gated entrance to a house, including the obliteration of a mailbox and the vertical realignment of the post.

The gate and fencing, which runs along the length of the curve, has been damaged at least several times before in the decade or so this blogger has resided in the canyon.  Presumably, insurance will cover the substantial cost of rebuilding, but something like this will certainly happen again.

At this rate, it could be next weekend.

20 April 2014

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #43: La Vida Mineral Springs Cafe, ca. 1960s

This is another of the circa 1960s Amescolor chrome postcards of La Vida Mineral Springs, of which there are quite a number, and showing the interior of the resort's café.

Many of the hallmarks of the era are present:  the gold colored chairs, table tops and counter top; the brown vinyl booth seat backs, the chrome supports for the chairs, and so forth.

Behind the bar are some of the usual accoutrements of a coffee shop, including the opening to the kitchen, a stainless steel drink dispenser, supplies on shelving.  Note also the three-pendant ceiling lights, the entrance door with the small-square sidelights and the dual large-pane plate glass windows facing out toward Carbon Canyon Road.

All in all, it looked like a cool place to grab a pancake breakfast, a hamburger and fries for lunch, and a steak for dinner.

The postally unused card doesn't have much on the reverse, a caption reads, "Café at LA VIDA MINERAL SPRINGS / CARBON CANYON / BREA, CALIFORNIA."  The name and address of the publisher, the inventory number, the stamp box and the division between the message area and the address space are also present.

Aside from some rubbing to the edges and very slight soiling, the condition is good and the card is a great throwback to a half-century or so ago when La Vida was still a successful operation.

19 April 2014

Sleepy Hollow Tree Removal Not Oak-ay?

UPDATE, 3 May 2014:  This weekend's Champion has an article by Marianne Napoles about the removal of the two trees on the property, with attention given to the fact that the felling of the second tree (close to the white shed at the left of the photo below) was not previously known to be ordered as part of the house project.

Chino Hills Community Development Director Joann Lombardo stated that the tree was ordered removed by the city engineer because it was in the public right-of-way and need to be cut down for widening of Rosemary Lane as part of the home's construction.

As noted previously, there were design phase reviews by city staff sent to the Planning Commission for review and vote.  Staff did not alert commission members to the fact that, while the applicant's arborist claimed the main oak (at the right in the photo) was diseased, the city's arborist stated otherwise, reporting it to be quite healthy.

In the case of the second oak, however, Ms. Lombardo stated that the city engineer's findings were not part of the design phase review and that she was not aware of it until later.

This is somewhat disconcerting:  there is a relatively simple house-building proposal that involves key elements that are uniform and expected.  The city engineer should be able to communicate with the community development department so that misunderstandings or a lack of information do not take place.

Again, it's not just that two mature, native oak trees were taken down--it is understandable that some mitigation has to be done to allow a project to move forward, a project that is welcomed when it adds to the neighborhood.

The problem is the information disconnect that clearly went on between three entities:  the city engineer, the community development department and the planning commission.  That simply should not have happened.

UPDATE, 30 April 2014:  The oak tree in question below and another one next to Rosemary Lane at the southwest corner of the property were cut down today.

A proposed home site on Rosemary Lane in Sleepy Hollow without two oak trees that were cut down today. Compare this photo to the one below showing the larger of the two oaks.  Click on the image to see it enlarged in a new window.

The large dual stumps of the 80+ year old oak tree chopped down today.
Another multi-stump oak cut down today--this one stood near the shed seen at the left in the top photo.
Today's Champion has an interesting article by Marianne Napoles on a proposal to build a custom home in Sleepy Hollow and the matter of removing an 80-year old oak tree as part of the project.

The property owners, a couple from Orange County, submitted an application with the City of Chino Hills for a two-story residence with Egyptian design elements, and the matter was reviewed by staff and submitted to the city's Planning Commission with a recommendation for approval.

During the commission's hearing, there were expressed concerns from its members about design elements being too prominent and out-of-character with the neighborhood (though, given how diverse the architecture is in Sleepy Hollow--this being, actually, a positive aspect), and whether infrastructure, principally the septic system, could be accommodated properly on the lot.

Local residents also pointed out potential problems with access to the property because of the narrowness and curvature of Rosemary Lane, along which the lot sits, as well as concern for a mature oak tree that sits next to the road at the edge of the parcel.

This latter point is at issue because the city recently enacted an oak preservation ordinance, though, as the Champion noted in its article, the ordinance was passed in Spring 2012, but not actually implemented until just last Fall because of delays in providing the operational structure and policy for the legislation. 

This was just a month after the proposed home's design was approved by the Planning Commission.

The fact that the delay was so lengthy became at issue when it was revealed in the news article that the above-mentioned tree was reported by staff to the Planning Commission at that body's 4 March hearing to be diseased and, therefore, deemed necessary for removal, with new oaks planted elsewhere on the property for compensation of the loss of the older tree.

What staff did not reveal to the commission, however, is that the determination that the mature tree was diseased came solely from the arborist hired by the property owners. 

In fact, the city's arborist had an entirely different conclusion when he examined the oak this past January--he stated the condition and health of the tree was, actually, average. 

In other words, there was no reason to remove the oak because of concerns about its physical condition--a point that was made by the applicants, who wanted to remove it, at least in part, because of an assumed risk and danger from collapse during period of strong winds and heavy rains. 

It should be noted, too, that oak trees can die and fall because of landscape irrigation, if existing trees used to natural water supply are inundated with artificial supply from sprinklers.  This can be found out the hard way when oak trees die and fall because of sprinklers installed by a previous owner and/or builder.

Having learned of this, Planning Commission member Karen Bristow told the paper that she was "frosted" (that is, angry) because she and her colleagues were not told that the city's arborist came to a different conclusion than the applicant's arborist.  Clearly, there may have been a different decision from the commission about that particular point if full disclosure had been made. 

Bristow also made the comment that the city did not appear to reject any projects--a suggestion, apparently, that staff analysis and reporting may reflect an "institutional culture" that works for developers and against anyone who opposes projects, even on reasonable grounds.

This oak tree, dating at least back to the Great Depression years of the mid-1930s, is threatened with demolition as part of a proposed house project on Rosemary Lane in Sleepy Hollow.  At a 4 March meeting, Chino Hills Community Development Department staff only gave the city's Planning Commission the finding of the applicant's arborist that the tree was diseased and needed to be destroyed.  This, despite the fact that the city's own arborist, back in January, found the tree to be in average health--information not presented to the commission as it further deliberated and decided upon this project.
This, by the way, is definitely an issue for any government entity, be it city or county, that is in an environment where so-called "pro-growth" and intensive private property rights attitudes and the powerful lobbying efforts (or generous campaign donations) of the Building Industry Association and other proponents are most manifest.  Certainly, one house in Carbon Canyon is not a problem, compared to, say, 162 houses at Madrona in Brea or a pending application for 107 houses just east of Sleepy Hollow.

Neither is this issue fundamentally just about a single, 80-year old oak tree--although the oak preservation ordinance passed by the city was a reasonable attempt to protect mature trees that are a major symbolic statement about the city and, certainly, of Carbon Canyon, which is studded with them.

Rather, this matter is essentially about due diligence, transparency, and responsibility.  City staff erred significantly in falling far short of full disclosure.  Community Development Department personnel knew that the city's arborist had a contrary view and, more importantly, he is the city's arborist.  His professional findings should, therefore, be the findings of his employer, the City of Chino Hills and its Community Development Department.

For staff to accept the results of a report of an arborist paid for the owners in contradiction to the city's own arborist and then to fail to provide full disclosure about this to the Planning Commission, is where the problem here lies. 

It simply raises a matter of trust.  How can the Planning Commission feel that it can have faith in city staff to provide the necessary and required information about a project in light of a revelation such as this?

At a city council meeting in Temple City this Tuesday, this very issue came up.  On discussion about public transit services, a council member expressed concern that staff had not provided information that would help the council make an informed decision about which vendor to hire.

Community Development director Joann Lombardo was quoted as offering two different rationales for the failure to properly inform the commission of the issues on the tree's removal.  On one hand, she stated that the project's integrity was compromised by the tree's existence because of the physical orientation of the lot, including where the septic system's leach lines are plotted to go.  Then she said that the delay in creating the administrative policy for the oak ordinance left staff without the proper structure for dealing with the tree and mitigation upon removal.

The first point is not necessarily an invalid one, but it still doesn't address the problem of not properly informing the commission of the fundamental issue. 

The second point might be valid for this particular project, but reveals another problem--why did it take staff so long to implement the policy to protect oaks, especially when the improving economy and housing market was leading to a return in project submissions within the city?

Finally, even if the commission approved the home's design in October, the process wasn't done.  Hence, the 4 March hearing before the commission.  If staff had done their due diligence and properly informed the commission of the city arborist's findings regarding this oak tree, there could very well have been a different result that evening.

Given the failure of Ms. Lombardo and her staff to properly provide all relevant information to the commission at its hearing in early March, is it possible for this project to be halted and the commission given the opportunity to go back and review, with all full disclosure as should have been done in the first place, and then make a better, more informed decision?

This is not about being against having a home built on what has been an empty and often unsightly lot.  A beautiful, new residence that conforms to the topography of the lot and which does not compromise Rosemary Lane's route and which preserves whatever reasonably can be of any of its landscape, including a mature oak that has been there since at least the mid-1930s is more than welcome.

Again, this is not about the tree, it is about the process and the failure of due diligence and full disclosure.

The project cannot be properly evaluated, deliberated upon, and decided upon without these.

Let the Planning Commission reopen this case, with all available information properly presented, and then make a well-informed and reasonable decision.  That's all anyone can ask.

18 April 2014

Moore on Madrona

In the wake of Tuesday's Brea City Council hearing on the Madrona housing project proposing 162 houses on the north side of Carbon Canyon between Olinda Village and the Chino Hills border, council member Roy Moore issued his e-newsletter to residents called "Brea Net," devoting the latest edition to the hearing and his take on the project.

As noted last entry, Moore expressed his support for the project, but here are his own words on it with annotations by yours truly:

Last night’s City Council meeting was another lengthy public hearing on the Madrona project.  The hearing was finally closed and the council began deliberating the issues.  Council member Simonoff opposed the development while council members Garcia and Moore approved it.  Mayor Murdock and Mayor Pro Tem Marick could not approve the development without further concessions from the developer.  Here is the list of additional conditions they want imposed in order to gain their approval.

1.  Madrona should not be a gated community.
2.  Other than for emergency uses, Olinda Place will never be used by Madrona residents for daily use.
3.  A system should be included in the development to collect and recycle water runoff.
4.  Each home should have the capability to collect and recycle “gray” water.
5.  The developer should procure water shares in Cal Domestic for the City.
6.  The future buyers should have the option to include solar panels on their home.
7.  The development should contain 10% of the homes as true custom homes on minimum one-half acre lots.
8.  At least one of the pocket parks should contain amenities such as a tot lot.
9.  Provide back up generators for the two water pumping stations on Carbon Canyon Road.
10. Get Cal Trans approval to the ingress and egress to the tract before beginning any excavation.
11.  Increase projected school fees.
12.  Increase projected transportation fees.
As you can see many are relatively harmless with minimum cost impact.  Others are major and may be hard for the developer to comply.  The Council approved a motion (3-2, Moore, Simonoff dissenting) to ask staff to develop a draft of the above conditions for approval of the Madrona development.  The Madrona saga continues on May 6.

I have included below my statement on the reasons I approve the Madrona project.  Your comments are welcomed.

Moore next time,    Roy
On the following statement, this blogger's commentary is added in bold.  It should be noted that these comments are not intended to criticize Moore as a person, but address his public comments about this project.

Over the past couple of months I have read hundreds of pages, listened to hours of public testimony, asked staff and consultants many questions and hiked the development site all pertaining to the proposed Madrona development of 162 homes in Carbon Canyon.  I must admit struggling with my emotions as I listened to the appellant’s articulate and persuasive arguments against this project.  Give council member Moore credit for acknowledging the excellent job a cadre of volunteers did in mounting an excellent defense.

I would like to share with you my conclusions on this controversial project.  I will start with the three unmitigatable findings requiring overriding consideration for its approval:

First, traffic on Carbon Canyon Road.  This state highway has been graded F for many years.  Certainly more homes in the canyon will add to the traffic.  The City’s traffic consultant’s analysis, based on the assumption that 9.75 car trips/day/house would result in an increase of AM west bound peak period traffic of 77 cars and PM eastbound peak period traffic of 87 cars.  Assuming a one hour peak period, in the opinion of the traffic consultant, this would lengthen a trip through the canyon by 2-3 minutes.  If the peak period is two hours, this would increase the travel time to under two minutes.  This, I believe is insignificant.

Over 21,000 cars travel this route daily.  At least 19,000 originate from Chino Hills and Chino. These are communities that continue to build houses in far greater quantities than the 162 Madrona homes.  I suggest Cal Trans convert Highway 142 to a toll road at the county line and give a free pass to Brea residents.
Council member Moore makes some truly unfortunate comments here.  First, the traffic study was done several years ago and does not reflect current conditions.  In addition, there are further projects approved within Chino Hills that are not being taken into account here.  Moreover, the suggestion that 19,000 car trips are from Chino Hills and Chino is mistaken--these are trips that are emanating from those growing cities but also other points east and south. 
People are using Carbon Canyon as an alternative to the 60/57 and 91 freeway routes.  More disappointing is the assumption that, because most of the traffic is from outside the city, Brea shouldn't feel bad about adding a measly 1,600 car trips and that a couple more minutes to a lousy commute is no big deal. 
Finally, as others do, Moore chooses to isolate and compartmentalize the three unavoidable significant adverse impacts--they are a package and need to be dealt with that way if SOCs are to be issued.  Those won't be done for only one--it has to be for the trio.
As for the suggestion that CalTrans make Carbon Canyon Road a toll road through Brea only and allow the city's residents free access--well, what can you say about something that is a truly strange non-starter?  It's one thing if it comes from Joe or Jane Citizen, but from an elected city leader of 16 years standing?

The second finding is the removal of 1400 oak and walnut trees.  The City’s biologist states that they would be replaced by a ratio of  3:1 or 2:1 depending on the specie and in groupings from actual trees down to acorns to assure greater levels of success in establishing new woodland areas.  The replacement trees are to be planted in the dedicated open space and provided with a temporary overhead watering system.  The program is to be monitored by a certified biologist for five years or longer if needed.  Assuming success, eventually there will be an overall increase in the number of trees.
Invariably, these replacement programs read well on paper, look great on PowerPoint presentations, and sound excellent when presented by a developer-hired arborist.  In the real world, the ratios almost never wind up delivering what was promised.  Mature trees cannot be seen as the same as seedlings.  And, who's going to make sure the certified monitoring for five years (or longer) is being done?  And, what if water supplies become further restricted and rationing ensues, which is a feasible scenario?  More on water below.

The third finding is the pollution generated during the construction period.  Both the approved Blackstone and La Floresta developments are or were anticipated to generate more pollution than Madrona.  It would seem if we approved Blackstone and La Floresta how can we apply a different standard to Madrona?
This one is typical, but is truly misapplied logic.  Yes, Blackstone and La Floresta would generate as much or more pollution than Madrona, but not in a canyon setting with steep walls that trap particulates (which, by the way, damage trees and other plant material, as well as people and animals.)  More importantly, Moore should know full well that we are talking about three unavoidable significant adverse impacts at Madrona, which was not the case at La Floresta or Blackstone.  That is why this is a bigger deal at Madrona and not at the others.
It should also be pointed out again that the City of Brea has never approved three Statements of Overriding Consideration for a housing project.  Madrona would be the first and, as precedent setting, would not be the last.  In fact, the city would really have to approve any development by lowering the bar in issuing three SOCs for Madrona.

There are also subsidiary issues:

Do we deny approval if the homes are to be built in a high fire environment or in the vicinity of prior known landslides?  Home sites are to be located away from known landslide areas and are to be constructed to very strict building and fire codes.  The development is to contain radiant heat fencing, fuel modification zones, sprinkler systems in the houses, street lengths and widths will accommodate emergency vehicles, street grades, with one exception, will not exceed 10% and water resources are adequate.
The answer to Moore's question is, yes and yes.  CalTrans has just placed yellow (as in "warning") signs on Carbon Canyon Road at both ends of the Brea side warning that drivers are entering an extreme fire zone.  Not moderate, extreme.  Landslides, as found with our little 5.1 earthquake last month, are going to happen, even if those areas that are supposedly "engineered."  It is not just street grades, we're talking about steep grades throughout the project.
All of the promised "enhancements" to Madrona can't account for what residents may do to their homes and landscaping and the fact that sparks and embers can travel in the air up to a mile or more, which radiant heat fencing cannot stop.
What Moore doesn't mention is that there are two ways in and out and only to a Carbon Canyon Road that can be packed if a fire requires emergency response and evacuation at a given time--moreover, the evacuation plan would actually ask Madrona residents to wait for others in the canyon to leave first.  Emergency access gets more problematic in Carbon Canyon the more we add houses and cars to a road that cannot be widened.
Water resources are adequate?  For how long?  And under what guarantee?  Our region is mired in a long-term drought--there should probably be a moratorium on any large-scale project anywhere until water supplies are better.

Approval of Madrona does not assume liability if built under the above requirements.  Future buyers should understand the circumstances under which they purchase a home.
If Moore means strictly legal financial liability on the part of the city, maybe, but that doesn't mean there won't be lawsuits that won't be settled as cheaper than going to court, which would still cost the city money (and which is not accounted before in the list of financial benefits below.) 
To assume that homebuyers are either 1) be given complete full disclosure on the dangers of living in an extreme fire zone prone to slides and other potential issues and 2) be fully cognizant of what that means, were that disclosure to be made (which a cynic would question) is operating on a heightened level of suspension of belief.

The Brea Water Master Plan (WMP) has assumed water use for the Madrona site to be 486,780 gallons/day.  The estimated usage is 65,000 gallons/day for private use and common slope landscaping and 240,600 gallons/day for the replacement trees.  This totals 305,600 gallons/day which is less than the WMP assumption.
This constitutes obscuring of the fact that Madrona is still going to guzzle several times more water than the average Brea home.  And, again, we are in a historic drought that is part of a long-term pattern gripping the western U.S.  This kind of consumption is not sustainable.  Note the term "assumption."  This applies to a lot of the purported benefits of this project juxtaposed with its demands and usage.

The Madrona development was compared to approximately 300 elements within Brea’s General Plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan and Madrona was found consistent with every element except two pertaining to the removal of 1400 trees discussed earlier.
This question of consistency to the city's general plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan is very much in debate.  Indeed, what Moore does not mention here is that the only reason Madrona got to this stage is because of an ill-advised legal agreement that allowed it to be applied for under a grandfathered arrangement.  In other words, if the same plan was to be offered tomorrow, it would not even be able to go to the application stage.
Last there is the issue of private property rights.  Does the property owner have the right to develop his property if he does so while complying with existing city codes and ordinances, building codes, fire codes and the General Plan?  If you wish to add an addition to your house under these requirements do your neighbors have the right to prevent you from building because your house will be too large, or you will block your neighbor’s view or they don’t like your architecture?

Again, Madrona would not even be permitted to go to the application level if proposed today.  Private property rights are to be respected when it squares with the broader public interest.  That is the matter at hand.  But, bringing up an unrelated example like home additions, size, view or architectural style have nothing to do with the question at hand.

It is also a lot easier to sympathize with a property owner when it is not a bankrupt insurance company that drove itself to that condition by poor management (and perhaps more) and which has not real intention or ability to build the wonderful estate homes it has proposed.  This is because Old Standard Life Insurance Company is only (repeat, only) seeking approval because it will increase the value of land for sale to provide some compensation to its creditors.

Does the Madrona development provide enough benefits to over ride the three considerations?  Here are the suggested benefits and the values assigned by the city staff:

• Fills the need for hillside estate housing Note the word "need."  This should actually read "want."  Besides, Blackstone is now advertising "luxury housing."  But, this appears to not be sufficient, a point bluntly delivered by former Brea planning commissioner John Koos, who just happened to have voted for Madrona's predecessor, Canyon Crest, in 2008, and now represents Madrona, when he stated that executives are forced (yes, forced) to live elsewhere because Brea lacks the large residences they demand.
• Property taxes ($472,000 annually)
• Sales taxes ($40,000 annually)
• Auto license fees ($108,000 annually)
• School fees ($2.0 million)
• Park in-lieu fees ($1.6 million)
• Affordable housing in-lieu fees ($3.6 million)
• Art in Public Places ($1,231,200)
• Water infrastructure fees ($3,417,552)
• Transportation fees ($319,788)
• Cal Trans sign
• Possible CFD
Again, none of this money is going to be delivered to the city under the current Madrona plan, because Old Standard Life is only in this to sell the land at an appreciated value with an approved map.  Someone else is going to have to do this and who knows when that will be, what conditions will be like, how much change there'll be, and whether these monies would be adequate for that future scenario. This is why approved tract maps that can be good for many years are a bad idea--too much can change in a period of time that makes what seemed like a good project in 2014 seem a lot less so in, say, 2024.
These total $620,000 annually and one time revenues of $12.2 million.  Except that there will be major wildfires with significant costs in response from the city.  If landslides do occur, there will also be expenses there.  There may also be settlement costs for lawsuits.  There will also be response expenses for emergency response for other reasons, such as car accidents caused at the only site entrance, where Carbon Canyon Road curves and dangerous driving will no doubt be unmitigated by law enforcement.  There may be more such matters to account for, as well.

As a 53 year resident of Brea, involved in city activities for over 22 years, 16 on the City Council, I have come to love this community and our hillsides.  This decision has been difficult for me for do I listen to my heart or to my conscience and sense of fairness?  After much thought and prayer I feel I must vote against the appellant and in favor of the Madrona project.
For all that's been said here, it would be manifestly unfair to assume that Roy Moore doesn't care for his city and even its hillsides (which, though, are disappearing slowly, but certainly surely).  It must not be easy to be in a position of making difficult decisions and that is not envied.
There are, however, some real issues with many of council member Moore's comments, characterizations and contentions (and it isn't just him on the council.)
He knows full well that, if Madrona were proposed exactly the same way today, it wouldn't even be allowed to submit an application.  So, all the merits he points out regarding financial benefit and community need mean what in this context?  His assumptions about traffic, water, loss of habitat, fire risk, landslide potential, and pollution are fraught with misunderstandings, misstatements and misapplication (again, he is not alone here.)
If Madrona was such a great idea, in terms of significant numbers of estate housing units on a footprint comprised of steep canyons and wind-prone ridgelines with a two-lane highway rated F for much of the time, and so on, this would have been done a long time ago.
There's a reason why this project has dragged on for fifteen years.  It is deeply flawed and a poor example of planning for a canyon that is already over-develolped.  That isn't NIMBYism--that's a recognition of limit.
Finally, it is always been assumed that Moore was going to vote for Madrona, as was Ron Garcia, just as it has been taken for granted that Marty Simonoff would vote against it.  The swing votes are Brett Murdock and Christine Marick, whose calls for conditions of approval might include ones that are, as Moore says, "relatively harmless with minimum cost impact."  But, as he also states, "others are major and may be hard for the developer to comply [with]."
What Moore didn't relay here was that he was visibly upset with Marick and Murdock's proposal and, it has been state, all but accused them of extortion and holding Old Standard Life "hostage" to their demands. 
Maybe on reflection, he's softened that view, but Murdock and Marick may well have introduced their laundry list of conditions in the hope that it will drive Old Standard out of the project so that there aren't two direct "no" votes that will make it easier for the developer to pursue the inevitable lawsuit that will come regardless of what the council does.
In any case, 6 May is the next round and we'll see what city staff comes back with on the conditions question and how Moore and his colleagues respond.

17 April 2014

Carbon Canyon Beautification Project #23

Admittedly rusty and decaying, the remains of the old incinerator, from the days when people freely burned their waste in their backyards, from an old residential site east of Sleepy Hollow and just west of Canyon Hills Road along the north side of Carbon Canyon Road, has hardly inspired much interest over recent years.

This old and rusted portion of an incinerator, used to burn trash at the back of a long-gone residence on the Chino Hills side of Carbon Canyon, just west of Canyon Hills Road and on the north side of Carbon Canyon Road, has lately been tagged.
Still, someone thought that it was high time to make their contribution to the improvement and beautifying of the canyon by tagging the inoffensive relic.  Unlike recent graffiti applied to the old La Vida Mineral Springs water tank, which has consistently been covered over by a good Samaritan, this defacement will probably inspire no such benefactor . . . or will it?

16 April 2014

Madrona: COA not DOA?

YHB was at the city council meeting in Temple City last night and at that city's art commission gathering two weeks ago, so the last two Brea city council meetings including the continuing hearing on the Madrona appeal have been missed.

Apparently, last night's confab was confusing, conflicting, and confounding, at least according to some of those supporting the appeal.  Among the more notable points passed along:
  • Mayor Brett Murdock offered the view that there were three possible council votes:  uphold the appeal, deny it, or deny it with conditions of approval (COAs) attached to Madrona.
  • Marty Simonoff offered a motion to uphold the appeal, which was clarified by city attorney Jim Markman as a request to city staff to prepare documents for such and then a vote would be taken at the next council meeting.  There wasn't, however, a second on that motion.
  • Roy Moore then spoke, giving many reasons why the appeal should be denied, pointing to the staff report (albeit with several errors about what staff recommended) and then divulged that he had turned to a higher power, while also observing that his conscience and sense of fairness (how much were these latter and how much was the prayer?) outweighed considerations of the heart (whatever that might entail).
  • Ron Garcia detailed his support for Madrona, capping it off with the observation that 65% of the parcel would remain open space, but that would not necessarily remain the case if a new project was proposed to the city in the future.  The problem with that latter statement is that the city's General Plan wouldn't allow anything more than 50 and probably less because of the city's hillside management ordinance--which, of course, would mean there would actually be far more open space.  Well, 100%, because a project of under 50 houses would be totally infeasible.
  • With Garcia and Moore plainly in favor of denying the appeal and Simonoff in support of it, this left the two newcomers, Murdock and Christine Marick as the swing votes.
  • Marick started off by allowing that she would uphold the appeal as the project stood and then added the COAs were required to make Madrona worth supporting.  Ideas for additional conditions included water reclamation (given the obvious waste of water the project would create), use of solar panels, having the developer buy a share of the local water company California Domestic, having generators at the water pumping station at the Madrona entry, having some lots combined to create up to 16.5 acre parcels for real "estate" houses, asking for extra money for a gymnasium at the junior high, and additional funds for work on the 57 freeway.  These last two, however, were deemed illegal by attorney Markman.
  • For Marick and Murdock's COA pitch, staff would work on a report detailing the options for further council review and applicant perusal to see if Old Standard Life would agree to some or all of the conditions.
  • Murdock attempted to get the applicant's representatives to go to the podium to discuss these COAs, but Markman told him repeatedly that the hearing was closed, that an agreement could not be hammered out in that forum and that the Council needed to provide clarity in its directive concerning COAs and then see if the applicant would agree or not.
  • Moreover, when Markman repeated his request for specificity, Murdock demurred and then stated that he would support whatever staff came up with.
  • In addition, as each item was spelled out by Marick, Murdock tried to get council members to agree on an item-by-item basis.  This didn't go over well with the others, especially Moore who basically said that Murdock and Marick were making unreasonable demands of the developer and, more or less, were extorting and holding it hostage.
  • The result is that staff is to draft a document of approval based on the COA items offered by Marick and Murdock, who clearly worked closely together to fashion this alternative.  Markman indicated that there was a possibility of further CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review with some of the suggested conditions.
  • On the motion for this further process of COA drafting, the vote was 3-2 with Garcia, Marick and Murdock voting yes and Simonoff (because he wants to uphold the appeal) and Moore (because he wants to deny the appeal and approve Madrona with COAs) voting no.
Whatever the merits of some of the proposed COAs, there was concern expressed among onlookers that the majority of the council was heedless of the three significant adverse environmental impacts that require Statements of Overriding Considerations (SOCs) for approval.  Moreover, fundamental issues of resident safety did not seem to be thoughtfully considered.

Moreover, a cynic might wonder if the conditions offered by Murdock and Marick came out of a calculated decision to put forward ideas that would either be unacceptable or considered infeasible by the applicant.

Calling for water reclamation and use of solar panels sounds very environmentally-friendly and an attempt to address the gross use of water, a point hammered home by project opponents.

The idea of a generator at the pumping station was brought out, obviously, to address concerns about a power failure during a fire that would prevent adequate water made available up hill to fight a blaze.

The idea of creating bigger lots seems to be a way to address concerns about density while buttressing the developer's claims of the "luxury executive housing" that would fill a "need" within the city.

It just seems impossible to believe, however, that this or maybe any other developer would agree to such COAs, given the cost of planning and execution this would involve.

And, that might have been the point of introducing the proposed conditions in the first place.

Why vote against a project and guarantee a lawsuit, when the project could be less palatable by insisting on COAs (even if a lawsuit is almost certain regardless)?  At least, some of the council could claim they weren't "against" Madrona, but needed to ensure the project's quality and sensitivity to the canyon and the city by requiring the conditions.

So, this is how matters stand until the next meeting, which would be on Tuesday, 6 May.  Stay tuned as this strange saga stumbles towards some resolution!

15 April 2014

Madrona Site Video Reveals Project Impacts

A video, a little under 6 minutes long, put together by opponents of the Madrona housing project, proposing 162 houses on the north side of Carbon Canyon in Brea between Olinda Village and the Chino Hills border, starkly and powerfully shows the major impacts this ill-conceived plan would wreak on the area.

As shown, the project would require removing 8-10 feet of steep hillside on the southern side of Carbon Canyon Road and then take 16 feet of area on the northern side of the state highway to accommodate the proposed entrance.  This entrance, in turn, would ascend a steep, narrow canyon, subject to landslides (the Canyon's vulnerability to slides was amply demonstrated after the recent earthquake) and rapid spread of fire (also fully illustrated by the 2008 wildfires) to lead to the home sites.

Extensive grading, the leveling of three hillsides, the removal of mature trees (which would be replaced by new trees, most of which will not survive--making "replacement" absurd) and other extraordinarily invasive measures are well illustrated in the video.

Produced by a Chino Hills company using a drone to capture the aerial and panoramic footage, the presentation aptly illustrates the perils and problems of this poorly-planned project in a realistic way.  This is unlike the 3-D animated presentations put forward by the developer--projections that mislead in perspective and downplay the results.

Meanwhile, the Brea City Council meets again tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall, at the corner of Birch and Randolph streets, to continue its hearing on the appeal of the Madrona project and the council might very well vote tonight.  Those concerned about this project are encouraged to attend and make your presence known.

To see this extraordinary video, please click here.

14 April 2014

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #15728

This is another one on the mid-portion of the S-curve along Carbon Canyon Road in Chino Hills and looks to have occurred over the weekend (probably in the late evening/early morning, as often is the case.)

The driver managed to spare the signs, but left some red body parts scattered about.

Funny, but just today a Google Plus e-mail was received by someone who once lived on the property behind the stone and iron fencing at this location and who saw the last post about errant driving here.

09 April 2014

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #15679?

Not sure whether this was a recent accident damaging both ends of a guardrail on the north side of Carbon Canyon Road between Canyon Hills Road and Canon Lane on the Chino Hills portion of the canyon or if it was damage done in the wreck that took place a month or so ago.

In any case, it is another example of activity that has taken place on the state highway within the last few months.

Notably, the Champion, in its latest edition, carried an article about the use of Carbon Canyon Road by large trucks and the concern that these larger vehicles poses risks on the two-lane roadway, particularly at the S-curve near Carriage Hills. 

A resident of that subdivision snapped a photo and expressed alarm about the increased use of the highway by trucks, while a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department station in Chino Hills remarked that there haven't been problems from its point of view (though that view is not supported by regular appearances in the canyon.)

This question came to a head within the last several weeks when a big rig literally got stuck along the S-curve and had to be towed out--causing a closure of the road for a few hours.

There are "advisory signs" warning vehicles of more than 30 feet in length about the road, but that's all they do is suggest, which is pretty much true of most signs along Carbon Canyon Road like "No Passing" or "25 MPH".  Without enforcement, signs are just two-dimensional pieces of metal that lack any real authority.

What was surprising in the article was to find Chino Hills council member Ed Graham indicating he would bring up the matter of having CalTrans ban certain sized vehicles, though the problem is that Carbon Canyon Road is a state highway and, as such, there may be nothing that can be done to keep large trucks from using the road.

As discussed here a couple of times before, however, is the possibility of doing what happened with a stretch of State Highway 39 along Hacienda Road in La Habra Heights and Hacienda Heights, where that two-lane portion was decommissioned as a state highway and reverted to local control.

Whether Brea and Chino Hills would want to pursue such an action and take full responsibility for maintaining and policing (the latter being largely theoretical, as neither really fulfills that duty which they are supposed to uphold) their portions of Carbon Canyon Road is another matter, but might be something council member Graham would want to discuss at a future Chino Hills City Council meeting.