15 February 2015

Further (De)Grading at Canyon Hills

A portion of the Canyon Hills project site looking northeast from above the
former Ski Villa ski slope.  Click on any image to see them in an enlarged
view in a separate window.  All photos taken this morning.
A quintet of hikers visited the Canyon Hills development site today to see the further (de)grading of this area of Carbon Canyon within Chino Hills, a short distance east of Sleepy Hollow.

Coming up from the south the walk ascended the hill just to the west of the now largely demolished ski slope from the bizarre late 1960s Ski Villa experiment and continued to the upper reaches of the site, where 360-degree views on a clear day like today are spectacular.  That is, if you can keep your eyes beyond the sheer degradation taking place on the premises.

One image showing the scope of the scraping of the hillsides and tops at
the Canyon Hills project site.
On that first steep ascent up what had been a narrow trail, but is now a slippery path scraped clean through the side of the hill, a long connected above-ground series of pipes lead from the summit down toward a trail that runs along the base of the hill from Sleepy Hollow out to the former ski slope.  The intent of the pipe is not obvious, though there is clearly an intent to drain something from the upper elevations to the lower section of trail, which is just above Carbon [Canyon] Creek.

Acres of oaks, chaparral and other plant material have been scraped clean from huge areas.  Piles of demolished plant material appear to be less obvious than in previous visits, indicating, perhaps, that much of the plant removal involves chipping trees and other items on site and then the chips removed from the project area.

By contrast to the (de)grading at Canyon Hills, a view just to the north and west
 at the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope property shows cattle grazing. 
Remnants of a couple dozen structures built on the site during the years when the Jewish-owned Camp Kinder Ring operated from 1928 to 1958 have been pulverized, save for one small site that is largely covered by chapparal and which appears to be outside of the staked area for grading and will be in open space.

Well, this means, almost certainly, so-called "manufactured" open space, where there will be introduced landscaping, which, in turn, means that the Camp Kinder Ring remnant will also have to go.

The last of the Camp Kinder Ring (1928-1958) building remnants includes
what might have been an outdoor table with an umbrella stand.
Piles of cement, brick, tiles and other construction debris from the Camp Kinder Ring years remain, while other material is likely to be plowed under or pushed to areas that will be covered with fill.

What was also striking were the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of examples of soda cans, plastic water bottles, snack food packages and other trash by grading crews that were simply strewn all through the site and which will likely be covered by future grading work.

Another view of the remaining Camp Kinder Ring remnant with a rock wall,
cement pillars, paved floors and other elements.
It is becoming clearer where some of the major roads on the project site are situated, as well as at least some clusters of building sites, though much work remains to be done.

What is not clear is whether there are still large sections of the premises that will be flattened or lowered in elevation to accommodate flatter building pads.  In some instances, stakes at lower spots in the landscape indicate that this might be the plan.

One of the largest Camp Kinder Ring building sites is now reduced to two large
piles of rubble, just above the remaining site depicted above.
The walk continued to the southwestern corner of the property, where excellent views are had of Sleepy Hollow and points west within the canyon, the Madrona site, the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope religious retreat, and elsewhere.

Moving along the western boundary where new gates to the Hill of Hope tract (and where cattle have been observed grazing amongst the chapparal, wild mustard, and other material) have been installed along chain link fencing, the ramble ventured to the northern end of the site.

More cleared areas for future building lots with great views of the San
Gabriel Mountains to the north and east.
Towards this locale, another large pile of cement, brick and other construction debris from the camp were observed, including a large piece of painted cement (looking almost like a mini Stonehenge) propped up in the overturned soil.

Descending from this point, a road steeply ventures down towards another large cleared area, with more plant material in piles, and then back to where the phalanx of huge Caterpillar earth-movers are parked, readied for their further work of degradation.  From there it was back to Canyon Hills Road and the end of the journey.

At the southwestern corner of the parcel a large oak tree, which survived
numerous fires, as evidenced by the charred trunk pieces, but could not
withstand the onslaught of development, lies in pieces.
Second is that when the Chino Hills General Plan was drafted a few years prior to that, back in the early 1980s, the entire area was subject to what is called a "negative declaration."

A few points seem worth mentioning here.  One is that this project was approved by the County of San Bernardino in the late 1980s.  The vesting of tract maps for decades, even when conditions change dramatically, as they most assuredly have with respect to traffic, water supply, further loss of oak and walnut woodland habitat and so forth, is something that seems totally anachronistic.

From the same southwestern corner is another view looking east towards
Mount San Jacinto.
From a handbook applying to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is this statement about this development "tool."
A Negative Declaration or a Mitigated Negative Declaration should be prepared for a project when there is no substantial evidence that the project or any of its aspects could result in significant adverse impacts CEQA Guidelines Section 15063(b)(2)).
The assumption being that, nearly thirty-five years ago, the Chino Hills area was in such a rural condition that no "significant adverse impacts," as defined in CEQA relative to pollution from grading, habitat destruction, increased traffic and the like, were in evidence.

Amid the (de)grading and destruction, a few flowering plants and wild
mustard are growing in some areas, though not for long.
Well, again, that was in, say, 1980 or 1982--but things have changed significantly since then.  We do have more traffic on Carbon Canyon Road, we do have more loss of oak and walnut woodland habitat and so forth.

Projects like Oak Tree Downs and Estates, the second phase of Summit Ranch, Carriage Hills and Pine Valley Estates have all been completed since then.  Further, development eastward that affects the canyon in terms of traffic has increased astronomically.

More cleared areas towards that southwestern part of the property.
Yet, the old tract map standards and negative declaration findings from decades past are still considered relevant now?  Maybe someone in a position of local (city, county) and state authority could explain why this is allowed to happen--other than that the Building Industry Association and other vested interests have lobbied hard and donated lots of campaign money to make this continue to happen?

Just in the last couple of days, a new study released suggests a strong likelihood of a megadrought of thirty to forty years duration in the Southwest.  Whether this extreme drought condition, which could be the worst experienced in the region in something on the order of 1,000 years (yes, a millenium), is of natural variation, human-caused climate change or both, water supply will become the main issue of our future sustainability.

In a strange way, this looked almost artistic, with the circular shapes,
tire tracks, and various colors of soil making for a striking effect.  This is
looking southwest towards Orange County.
So, meantime, as we're all being asked to cut our water use with increasing severity as each year of the current drought continues, it somehow makes sense to someone that we should continue allowing development of the type embodied in Canyon Hills?  That is, larger homes and lots than average, which, in turn, means more water consumption is somehow in line with conservation efforts?

Our extraordinarily hot, dry weather since the first of the year should also spark (hah!) concern about fire risk.
At the northwest part of Canyon Hills, another leveled site from the Camp
Kinder Ring period, featuring many concrete pieces, iron pipes and so on.
A sidenote here, in case readers did not hear--San Francisco experienced no rain at all in January, which last happened in 1850.  Santa Cruz had no rain in the same month for the first time since 1893.  Our own rainfall was negligible.  While the amount of the state in severe drought did drop from 75% to 67% because of winter rains, that's still two-thirds of the state.  As soils dry out and chaparral become drier, the fuel that feeds fire becomes more dangerous.

When the hiking quintet stood at the upper elevations of the project site, a brisk wind blew--and today was a low wind day compared to several days ago when Santa Anas blew through the area--the kind of winds that fan the flames that race up the steep hillsides and gullies that surround the Canyon Hills (and Madrona and Hidden Oaks) sites.

Like a mini Stonehenge, this piece of concrete, which appeared to have a brick
like veneer on it was propped up at the southwest corner of the site.
Our conditions are changing.  Our development codes and standards (and attitudes, as embodied recently in published statements by Chino Hills council member Ed Graham and others) have not.  While the economy is good (at least for a few), the pressure to build increases, which is why Canyon Hills is being graded now.

But, what about the future of Carbon Canyon and its viability?  Prospective buyers of what will surely be million dollar plus homes will be showered with pretty marketing materials and shown model homes that will play up the rural nature of the canyon--but at what cost?

How many of these buyers will be told (spoiler alert: none) that the project site has burned several times in recent decades?  Even if their homes are "fire protected," is living amidst a scorched landscape that belies what the marketing machine feeds them what they paid the $1,000,000 (or whatever the cost of the homes will be) for?

Will these owners feel free to install lawns and lush plantings and use water the way we've been told for decades we can?

A large cleared area leading from the southwest corner of Canyon Hills
down towards the eastern end--this may be where the main street will
traverse the property.
Will these owners enjoy their admittedly jaw-dropping vistas on Saturday and Sunday and then drive down to an increasingly-congested Carbon Canyon Road on Monday morning and then do the same every morning and night and wonder why it is so bad?

Moreover, when they enter the Orange County portion of the canyon and see CalTrans District 12's recently-installed signs reading "Entering Hazardous Fire Area," will they assume that this only applies to the area only a mile from their homes or will District 8, covering Chino Hills, wind up making a similar declaration?

Just to the right of the above future road as it descends towards the bottom
is this roadway wending through a fairly dense area of oaks and other plants,
perhaps set aside for open space.
Conditions are changing.  When will our response catch up?  It's not that there should be zero development within Carbon Canyon (though during extreme drought, there probably should be some consideration of that as long as it persists), but the massive number of houses approved or proposed (Canyon Hills, 76 units; Stonefield, 24; Madrona, 162; Hidden Oaks, 107) is truly game-changing (canyon-changing?)

Isn't it reasonable to ask our local leaders why this makes sense?

The last view from the property, at the main entrance gate from Canyon Hills
Road, looking towards the construction trailer, earth-moving equipment,
discarded drain pipes installed by the previous owner, Forestar Development,
and other elements of the project.


Anonymous said...

Can anything be done now to try to stop Hidden Oaks (107 homes) before it starts? The situation per your article is dire in every way.

prs said...

Hello Anonymous, the Hidden Oaks project is going to come before the Chino Hills Planning Commission, followed by the City Council.

These will be the opportunities for the public to address concerns about what the project will do for Carbon Canyon, rather than what it will do for persons individually.

This point can't be emphasized enough because it really doesn't matter if a project affects John or Jane Doe personally. It's all about broader effects on the canyon.

From the perspective of practical politics, it comes down to getting at least three of five votes one way or another.

The prime point of comparison here is the Madrona project on the Brea side of Carbon Canyon. Opponents were highly motivated, well organized, had excellent legal representation and adequate funding to carry out their objective. The Brea City Council still voted in favor of the project and a lawsuit is now in process challenging the decision, so it remains to be seen if there is any legal remedy.

Another possible corollary was the Hope for the Hills campaign against the TRTP towers, involving a similarly-organized movement. In that case, the result was a striking success.

In both cases, it required extraordinary devotion by a cadre of mobilized and motivated citizens, with a level of leadership that could go toe-to-toe with developers/corporations, their attorneys, city staff and elected officials and others.

This is very difficult to accomplish, making the achievement of Hope for the Hills the more remarkable and that of the anti-Madrona movement only slightly less so, though not for want of trying, skill and presentation.

The point is whether a similar resistance can be maintained against Hidden Oaks, provided that there is enough interest and concern about it. For busy people, taking on a major effort to fight a housing project is a daunting task at best. Maybe there are some people ready to take up the cause?

Individual comments at the Planning Commission and City Council meetings should certainly be given, but, absent of an organized effort, can disunited voices have a chance at success? This blogger is more than ready to help in any formal, organized movement against Hidden Oaks, should one come together.

Thanks for your comment and your interest in the future of the canyon.

Anonymous said...

I live in the canyon. I believe that growth is good. More homes for people to live in is also good since CA. Has a huge housing shortage. That is why the homes sell for millions....more demand than supply. By the way, the fake drought is over. Record rainfall this year.All we need now is a project to expand carbon canyon road and that solves the traffic problem. Such easy solutions ....just need people with the guts to implement it instead of crying and complaining like a baby.