27 November 2015

A Ramble in the Hills Above Carbon Canyon: Black Friday Edition

One the many trails and access roads along the route of today's trek--this one close to Olinda Village.
While eager shoppers swarmed stores this morning, this blogger and a longtime Carbon Canyon resident swarmed the hills above Carbon Canyon enjoying the gorgeous weather, staggering views, and natural beauty found in this remarkable, but threatened, oasis amid the urban sprawl.

A glance towards Orange County, where shoppers were thronging malls and stores in search of great bargains.  Others, meantime, were in search of the exact opposite.
The three-plus hour walk was in the regions north of the canyon from Brea to Chino Hills and included a concluding climb up to see the hot springs that, for decades, fed the historic La Vida Mineral Springs resort.

Looking northeast towards the San Gabriel Mountains and the triple peaks of San Antonio (Baldy), Ontario and Cucamonga on a gorgeous, clear day.
Beginning from Olinda Village at about 9:15, the scramble ascended the top of the hills at the northeast of that community and past the water tanks that service that area.

A beautiful and quite old oak spreading its limbs for ample shade along the route.
Portions of the hike took in areas that have been slated for the Madrona development, 162 houses proposed on 367 acres, but which have been granted a reprieve, thanks to a recent Orange County Superior Court ruling that overturned the City of Brea's approval of the project.

This action shot captured a doe scampering across a road in the Firestone Boy Scouts Reservation.
More than likely, the property owner, the State of Idaho, as conservator of the failed Old Standard Life Insurance Company, a Spokane, Washington firm that took possession of the land after a 2009 bankruptcy involving the Shopoff Group, will appeal the case to the state appellate court.

The aforementioned deer and her friend heading up the slope for foraging away from strange, prying eyes.
Heading north and east from there, the walk skirted the western edge of the St. Joseph's Hill of Hope property, which is well-fenced and signed, and then descended down into a portion of the Firestone Boy Scouts Reservation at the lower end of Tonner Canyon.

One of many excellent views of Tres Hermanos Ranch in Tonner Canyon, which has been the site of much speculation regarding its future.
A brief bypass through a couple of campgrounds, including a shooting range, also led to the easement and access road for the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP).

A view south towards the widespread hinterlands of Lion's Canyon.
Segments of this project lead eastward from Diamond Bar through Chino Hills to points east.  The 200-foot towers that span the hills then terminate to the portal leading the route underground just beyond Oak Tree Downs near Eucalyptus Avenue.

 A remarkable natural feature found on the jaunt was this oak tree growing out of an outcropping of sandstone along a ridge.
This portion of the project was the subject of great controversy and a stunning reversal by the California Public Utilities Commission, which ordered the 500 KV lines placed below ground--the first such system attempted in the United States.

It's hard to comprehend the massiveness of these 200-foot tall towers installed for the TRTP project unless you have a view like this.
The route then proceeded down into Oak Tree Downs and from there included the additional scramble up to the source of La Vida's hot springs.

Eyed by this blogger's fellow traveler, this monkey flower doesn't normally (whatever that means these days) bloom until the Spring. 
At this location, not far from Carbon Canyon Road, a chain-link enclosure with razor wire on it was constructed fairly recently around the well and pipe that still emits a decent flow of hot water from the springs--though the door is open to the enclosure.

Here are the last two above-ground 200' TRTP towers before the segment moves to an underground route at a 12-acre transfer station being carved into a hill near the western end of Eucalyptus Avenue in Chino Hills.
A few feet away, another pipe emerges from the ground and a smaller, cooler flow emanates from there.  The water then descends the steep gully down to where the remains of the old La Vida tanks sit at the base of the hill.

Another example of an early flowering plant, this California Fuchsia would, like the Monkey Flower shown above, not usally be in flower at this time of the year.
It is certainly strange to see water emerging from the springs and then flow down hill.  On the ascent and descent, the gurgling of water through the narrow defile is especially odd, given the horrific drought our region has experienced for several years.

A beautification project underway at the historic La Vida Mineral Springs property in Brea, where a highly-invasive stand of tamarisk plants provides useful cover for the illegal dumping of trash.
Unfortunately, trash and debris are piled near the pipes at the springs, indications of what may have been a homeless encampment or perhaps some "farming" activity.  At the bottom, near the path that leads from the state highway to the tanks, people have taken advantange of the easy access to dump all kinds of trash near a stand of highly-invasive tamarisk plants.

The source of the hot mineral water that fed, from the 1910s to the 1980s, the La Vida Mineral Springs resort.
The property owner, who lives in Japan and has local representatives, is either unaware of or is uninterested in what has been going on, though it has been stated to this blogger that a local Japanese-language newspaper article back in the Spring reported that the owner has talked of spending $35 million to reestablish a hot springs resort at the site.

Another pipe emitting mineral water as it flows into a narrow channel heading down a steep defile towards the La Vida property.  Unfortunately, trash has piled up in this area, as well.
About 12:30, the day's adventure ended with tremendous regret that the time wasn't better spent at the mall instead of in the outdoors enjoying the fabulous weather, million-dollar views, the spotting of a couple of deer, and the enjoyment of solitude and the canyon's natural beauty.

Despite the crumbling portion at the foreground right, this historic tank structure, dating to the 1920s, is still perched on the hill at the western end of the La Vida Mineral Springs property.
Hikes like this are a true cause for thanksgiving.

25 November 2015

Stonefield Site for Sale

It's so new as a listing that it hasn't even appeared on the Web site of the broker, but the 28-unit Stonefield property, approved for development by the City of Chino Hills in 2009, is up for sale.

The 35-acre site is north and west of Carbon Canyon Road and east of Fairway Drive, across the street from Western Hills Country Club and Carriage Hills.

The sign appears to have just gone up today and the Irvine office of Land Advisers Organization, which is a multi-state brokerage, is handling the sale.

For those who might want to check later for a listing, click here for the Web site.

23 November 2015

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #18274

This guardrail on the westbound side of Carbon Canyon Road along the historic La Vida Mineral Springs property has been damaged or destroyed several times in recent years.

And, so it has been again.  This latest incident appears to have taken place over the weekend.  It is a wild guess that it happened late in the evening and involved excessive speed on the curve just to the east.  The length of the skid indicates that the driver was moving along at a brisk clip and then did a little more than clip the rail.

14 November 2015

Chino Hills State Park Replanting Project

This morning, Chino Hills State Park and the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association sponsored a replanting project at the Rolling M Ranch headquarters.

A cadre of about fifteen volunteers, as well as park rangers, worked on installing a few dozen native plants, pulled weeds, pruned bushes, and prepared areas adjacent to walkways for seeds of flowering plants.

The group worked hard for a good three hours or so, sharing responsibilities and working in an organized, coordinated way to get the work done efficiently.

This volunteer project was a great way for local residents from Chino, West Covina, Chino Hills, Yorba Linda and Placentia to help improve this jewel of a park and give something to their community.

After the project was completed, boxed lunches were provided and hungry workers ate under the shade of large pepper trees next to the ranch barn.

All in all, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning, so thanks to officers of CHSPIA and the state park's rangers for organizing the project.

09 November 2015

Hillcrest Homes in Carbon Canyon Coming in Spring 2016

Here it is--the first public announcement that the 76-unit Hillcrest (formerly Canyon Hills) development is coming (well, debuting does sound more high-class) next Spring.

Woodbridge Pacific also has the development's Web site up with preliminary information for houses ranging from about 3,500 to 5,000 square feet.  Though prices are denoted as "TBA" on the site, the sign obviously indicates that prices start from somewhere north of $1 million.

For that, buyers get the feeling of safety, security and, most important, status, of living in a gated community "in an exclusive, coveted location."

They also get to reside in a devlopment "situated amidst rolling hills and mature canyon oaks," although the property itself has been graded, cut, and filled from rolling hills and a large number of "mature canyon oaks" were bulldozed so that buyers can see those that still remain.

There are also "stunning panoramic views of the mountains and canyons," the better to see the next wildfire coming the way of residents living on wind-swept hilltops and hillsides where fire moves most quickly, though the growing lines of cars navigating Carbon Canyon Road during longer commutes won't be as visible for most residents, from what the site plan shows.

There certainly won't be disclosures in the glossy literature, expense advertising and other media on Hillcrest concerning the extreme fire hazard that exists in the canyon year round, nor about the increasing traffic during longer commute times, or other significant issues of concern.

By the way, it sure was nice of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to issue a negative declaration (click here for more) on this project some 30 years ago that claimed that any project on this blighted site, formerly home to part of a Jewish camp, the Ski Villa project and other uses, would have no significant effect on the environment.

Because we all know that the environment in the canyon and outside it has not changed one iota since the 1980s.  Everything is exactly the same.

Ironically, an Orange County judge ruled just last week that the Madrona project, also first proposed in the 1980s, does, after all, have to follow existing City of Brea ordinances, which, in fact, have acknowledged that our environment in Carbon Canyon and more broadly has changed.

To view the Web site, click here.

07 November 2015

On the Skids in Carbon Canyon #18123

Having a front-row "seat" along Carbon Canyon Speedway can be an interesting experience, for sure.  Such as with what happened about ten minutes ago, at 2:45 a.m.

The familiar roar of an engine, the screeching and skidding of tires, and the dull thud of metal and fiberglass hitting dirt or whatever . . . it has a habit of strirring someone from their deep slumber.

In this morning's example, it was a (surprise) young man heading eastbound and taking one of our Sleepy Hollow curves with too much speed, while being followed by another dude of tender years.

His vehicle came to a stop right below my fence, while his friend (sorry, just took a call from sheriff's dispatch asking for more information, because the deputy just arrived) pulled up and stopped.

Unintentional artistic photography?  A quick shot of the two vehicles involved in this morning's little roadside (mis)adventure on Carbon Canyon Road, just below my house in Sleepy Hollow, driving away from the scene.  This came out as bad documentary photography, which is all too typical, but does have a cool effect to it.  Getting aroused from a sound slumber wasn't a total loss, maybe?
While I was making my call to sheriff's dispatch, the two cars were stopped, but, as I headed downstairs to see what was going on, the vehicles, including a dark sedan and a yellow Miata convertible, had done a U-turn and were stopped on the road facing westbound towards Orange County, from which they had presumably come for a little late-night weekend frolic through our canyon.

Just after I had hung up from making the report, the driver was, with a small flashlight, walking by the side of the road, where he had skidded off and come to his initial stop, looking around, probably for any stray pieces of his vehicle, while his friend stood by his sedan.  They chatted a bit and then climbed in their cars and headed off towards Brea.

Incidentally, someone might be able to verify that there was another recent incident westbound on the downslope from Olinda toward the regional park.  Stains from car fluids on the road and some dirt from the hillside splayed onto the shoulder and roadway look to be new within the last few days.

Just another early-morning traffic incident on Carbon Canyon Road and just another incident of interrupted sleep.

03 November 2015

A Thunderous Decision: Madrona Is Struck Down!

It seems entirely appropriate that, as these words are being typed, dark clouds are descending on Carbon Canyon, a refreshing rain is falling, and lightning and thunder have been seen and heard in the area.

Is this a sign from above?  Or, is it just a sign from Santa Ana?  Either way, a lot of people are thunderstruck over what has been a lightning rod of controversy for decades.

This morning, Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss issued a ruling in the lawsuit of Hills for Everyone vs. City of Brea over the latter's approval last year for the 162-unit Madrona project on the north side of Carbon Canyon between Olinda Village and the county line in the Brea portion of the canyon.

The order from the bench just after 9:30 this morning is clear, concise and utterly damning of the way that the City of Brea ignored its own ordinances to get approval for this project, which was first proposed a-way back in the 1980s.

Here are the highlights in Judge Moss' findings:
  • Brea's Hillside Management Ordinance is applicable to the project "and therefore precludes project approval"
  • Madrona is not consistent with the city's own general plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan "as admitted by the City"
  • The project does not comply with woodland preservation policies "as admitted by the City"
  • Madrona is not exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) under a specific section, 65457, which is excerpted here:
Any residential development project, including any subdivision, or any zoning change that is undertaken to implement and is consistent with a specific plan for which an environmental impact report has been certified after January 1, 1980, is exempt from the requirements of Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code. 

However, if after adoption of the specific plan, an event as specified in Section 21166 of the Public Resources Code occurs, the exemption provided by this subdivision does not apply unless and until a supplemental environmental impact report for the specific plan is prepared and certified in accordance with the provisions of Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code. After a supplemental environmental impact report is certified, the exemption specified in this subdivision applies to projects undertaken pursuant to the specific plan.

An action or proceeding alleging that a public agency has approved a project pursuant to a specific plan without having previously certified a supplemental environmental impact report for the specific plan, where required by subdivision (a), shall be commenced within 30 days of the public agency's decision to carry out or approve the project.

  • That the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) "is otherwise inadequate, as it fails to analyze the consistency with the specific plan's" guidelines on grading, climate change impacts, and impacts on recreation.
  • Otherwise, the judge did rule that "the petition is denied on all other issues raised."
For those who got the point and don't feel inclined to read details on the ruling, they can stop here and celebrate (or, if there are any of you out there, mourn) the ruling of Judge Moss.  

Otherwise, feel free to read on.

It was a dark day for the City of Brea and the State of Idaho and a bright, shining moment for Hills for Everyone and its partners as Judge Robert J. Moss issued a writ of mandate this morning concerning the Madrona project proposed for the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon.  The photo was taken this afternoon a little before 4 p.m.
In further explaining, his ruling, Judge Moss offerred some highly pointed criticism of the city.  For example he states that, relating to the applicability of the Hillside Management Ordinance, he noted that "the statute could not be any clearer, so the issue is not one of ambiguity."  Moreover, he continued, "the City's shifting approach with respect to the ordinance does not allow this court the option to defer to the City on the issue."

Going on, the judge added that "the City's historical position has been anything but clear and consistent" and went on that "the City actually took the exact opposite position, from that which it is taking now, in 2001 and 2004."

Notably, there was an argument made that inconsistencies between this ordinance and the city's specific plan invalidated the HMO and there could have been plausbility, the judge observed, "had the City made that finding," but it did not do so.

Conversely, as to the petitioner's claim that the HMO is consistent with the specific plan, the court agreed, noting, "the ordinance advances several of the goals of the specific plan and does not obstruct the obtainment of those goals."

Critically, Judge Moss stated that
The developer can comply with both [the Hillside Management Ordinance and the specific plan] without violating either.
He concluded that
This brings us to the end result that as the ordinance applies to the project, the project is barred, and neither the City nor the real party in interest has argued otherwise.  The petition must be granted for this reason alone.   
As admitted by the City, Madrona is inconsistent with the Brea General Plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan, further reason for the Petition to be granted.   
Moss did rule that the petitioner's claim that the project was anathema to the open space policy of the specific plan was not valid and he did side with the city on the issue.

Concerning the applicabililty to CEQA under the aforementioned section, 65457, of the government code, the judge stated that the project is not exempt because of Brea's admission that the project did not comply with the city's general plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan "and the exemption cannot apply when such inconsistencies exist."

On grading standard inconsistency, Judge Moss wrote that, of the three documents submitted for Madrona, "two of the documents do not analyze the current project, but a former project, and the third . . . [is a] self-serving analysis submitted after the approval of the final EIR, and therefore not within the EIR itself.  That is insufficient."

With respect to climate change impacts, the court ruled that the city's use of South Coast Air Quality Management District thresholds for emissions "has not been consistent and no substantial evidence shows otherwise."  In addition, there was nothing offered "which supports applying different standards to each individual project."

Judge Moss did strike down one of the petitioner's claims about greenhouse gas reduction plans "based on case law that is not any longer citable and the argument therefore fails."  But, on the matter of conflicts with a regional transportation plan, "the City incorrectly finds the strategies promulgated there do not apply to the project."  Noting that "Madrona is plainly inconsistent with the Plan's key strategies," the jurist observed that "there is no citation to support this bald assertion, and the argument therefore fails."

A sustainability plan from 2012 was also a core component of this line of argument and the court ruled that the petitioner's claim that the EIR did not take this into account "is correct."  He went on to note that, "the plan was well on its way to coming to fruition, and certainly within the City's purview.  It was the City's own Plan, and it should have been considered."

On assessing trip rates for traffic in the area, "the City offers no effective explanation for its failure" to properly apply calculations for Madrona than it did for those used for hillside residences.

Judge Moss did reject the petitioner's claims about property analysis in the EIR for fire impacts, ruling that the document "was sufficient and supported by substantial evidence" and that "mitigation measures are also adequate."

Concluding his ruling, the judge stated that the recreation impacts were not properly identified in the EIR baseline, specifically that there are existing trails as a "significant physical environmental feature."

Allowing that there were a few rejections of arguments made by the petitioners, this sum total of this decision was a clear and resounding defeat handed to the city and to the State of Idaho, identified as a "real party in interest" in the document.  The judge obviously was dismissive of the city's gross inconsistencies in applying its own ordinances and in failing to have an adequate Environmental Impact Report.

However . . . there is always the possibility (probability) of an appeal by the City of Brea and the State of Idaho.  So, stay tuned for any further developments along those lines, should they arise.

Meantime, this is a resounding victory for a model of grass-roots community organiztion and activism of the highest order.  Hills for Everyone, its co-petitoners, the citizens of Brea's portion of Carbon Canyon, the law firms which ably represented its clients and everyone else involved!