Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Montebello Hills

A corporation is poised to transform the Montebello Hills into housing and park space.  Local residents are at odds with the plan.  The 497-acre site contains active oil fields and is privately owned by the Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP).

(Click image to enlarge)

Expansive swaths of southern California oil-producing lands by 1997 had become more valuable as housing tracts than for their oil output.  Fullerton, Yorba Linda, Brea, La Habra, and Huntington Beach were among the cities with new communities and neighborhoods born out of converted land.  The "Pinehurst" luxury home development along a Fullerton ridge co-exists with oil pumps.

PXP and Cook Hill Properties

PXP sought the same for "monetizing the value of existing PXP surface land holdings in southern California," of its holdings in Montebello (which the company purchased from Chevron in 1997) as well as in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.  In 2006 Cook Hill Properties was brought in as a real estate consultant, and they are a 15% participant in the venture.

Lodwrick Cook heads Cook Hill Properties, and he is no stranger to the oil industry.  His lengthy career with Atlantic Richfield Company culminated with serving as chairman and CEO from 1986-1995.

Opposing forces from the city express their views online at http://www.saveourmontebellohills.com/.  Another opponent writes about the area's history as well as his opinions through LaMercedMontebello.com.

Cook Hill maintains a well-organized, information-rich website called MontebelloHills.com that include persuasive videos with testimonials by city residents.  The company maintains a physical presence on a high-profile street corner with a storefront purposed as an information center.  I attempted to visit the place, but it was closed on Saturday, May 5th, even though it was supposed to be open.  The last time I set foot in this store was several years ago when it was an El Pollo Loco Restaurant.

The following photographs I took so I would not waste my trip to this nicely redeveloped intersection of Whittier and Montebello Boulevards.



No one else was trying to visit this Center on a Saturday afternoon except me

Window shopping, seeking to get 'Family Friendly Neighborhoods' and 'Life Outdoors'
Their website offers this plan:  1,200 unattached and attached homes, winding trails, and parks, with two-thirds (314 acres) set aside permanently as open space (this open space encompassing 260 acres of a habitat reserve to protect the California Coastal Sage Scrub and a bird called the California gnatcatcher.)

View northward on Montebello Boulevard




Cook Hill's ongoing restoration of the ecosystem:  growing the California Coastal Sage Scrub to permit the California gnatcatcher to survive

Challengers question whether the new housing will provide enough revenue to support city services.  Other issues cited:  disturbance to the ecosystem; impact of removing six million cubic feet of dirt; loss of the last remaining open space; health risks from living above and next to an active oil field; increased traffic; increased burden on school and public safety systems; and the general disturbance to the "flatlands" of the La Merced neighborhood.

Last Remaining Open Space

In 1959, 310 homes were built on Lincoln Avenue, northward onto San Gabriel Boulevard.  In 1961, Brighton Hills East were sold as view homes at Lincoln Avenue near Wilcox.  In 1962, homes were being offered in the Sun Ray Estates tract on La Merced off of Lincoln Avenue - a selling point for this tract was that each home sat on a terraced view lot on "gentle sloping hills."

Throughout 1963 and 1964, the Brighton Hills Skyline tract at Wilcox and Westmoreland offered view homes.

Twelve acres at Avenida de la Merced and 4th Street yielded 51 new houses about 1973 after a three-year delay.  North Montebello Boulevard became a new major thoroughfare climbing through the hills and had recently been completed.  The home-builder of this tract was the Baldwin Company of Irvine, and the company would build more tract housing units in the upcoming years.

The approval of the 45 acre hillside condominium project came through in 1973 with 416 residential units slated.  This was situated near Schurr High School, the freeway to the north, Brighton Hills on the east and Westmoreland Drive on the south.

West of Montebello Boulevard was developing, too.  1974 and 1975 were the years when the Baldwin Company built the Racquet Mountain Tennis and Swim Club Homes north of Lincoln Avenue, completing phases I and II.  In 1975, a townhouse development by W&B Builders called Mountain View Terraces became situated north of the Pomona Freeway near Paramount Boulevard and Arroyo Drive.

A huge single-family home development in 1977 was Strathmore Montebello by W&B Builders in steeper parts of the Montebello Hills.  Access to these 216 homes were reached from North Montebello Boulevard into cross streets like Jefferson and Liberty.  With construction completed, critics found the homes less than innovative and rather small in their lot sizes.  Arguments were grounded on aesthetics.

Below are views of Strathmore, with the background skyline defined by the Monterey Park dump which abuts these homes:

Strathmore is separated from the active oil field by North Montebello Boulevard


If Cook Hill Properties and PXP gain approval to build their land, five zones in the Montebello Hills will be for homes, and a community park will be established in a sixth zone.  The far eastern side of the hills is supposed to remain active with oil wells, away from the housing tracts.  This is close to the annex parking lot across from the Macy's at the Montebello Town Centre, by Plaza Drive:

Inside Gate #4


Update -  An important comment below from Yvonne Watson, a Montebello resident and a strong voice against the proposed plans for the Hill:

Hello,

In addition to the many local residents who oppose this project, it is also opposed by the Sierra Club. http://angeles.sierraclub.org/environmental/campaignslac_montebellohillstf.asp

The website cited in this blog, www.saveourmontebellohills.com, is maintained by the Save the Montebello Hills Task Force of the Sierra Club/Angeles Chapter.

For the sake of clarity, the City of Montebello is not "poised to transform the Montebello Hills" into anything. The official name of the proposed housing project is the Montebello Hills Specific Plan (MHSP). By state law, the MHSP is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the project is still undergoing environmental review.

There are many, serious environmental and public health issues associated with this proposed project which must be addressed.

The Final Environmental Impact Review for this project has not been certified nor approved by the City Council.

In the meantime, PXP was recently charged with 8 misdemeanor counts for violating state water pollution laws stemming from a 2010 oil spill that reached the Rio Hondo River from PXP's Montebello oil field. The District Attorney's office took a second look at the 2010 spill after members of the Save the Montebello Hills Task Force alerted the media (EGP News and the Los Angeles Times) to another spill in 2011. Official documents obtained by the Task Force and presented to the media stated that the 2010 spill was not reported by PXP as required by law, but was instead reported by a vector control officer inspecting the river for mosquitoes.

For more information, see:
EGP News
"Past PXP Spill Went Unreported For Weeks, Also Being Investigated"
http://egpnews.com/2011/05/past-pxp-spill-went-unreported-for-weeks-being-investigated/

The latest court date for this case was May 3, 2012 at the East Los Angeles Courthouse. A fine of $75,000 was mentioned but this amount still needs to be finalized in writing.

Yvonne Watson
Chief Researcher
Save the Montebello Hills Task Force, Sierra Club/Angeles Chapter
(I am also a long time resident of Montebello.)

12 comments:

  1. Hello,

    In addition to the many local residents who oppose this project, it is also opposed by the Sierra Club. http://angeles.sierraclub.org/environmental/campaignslac_montebellohillstf.asp

    The website cited in this blog, www.saveourmontebellohills.com, is maintained by the Save the Montebello Hills Task Force of the Sierra Club/Angeles Chapter.

    For the sake of clarity, the City of Montebello is not "poised to transform the Montebello Hills" into anything. The official name of the proposed housing project is the Montebello Hills Specific Plan (MHSP). By state law, the MHSP is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the project is still undergoing environmental review.

    There are many, serious environmental and public health issues associated with this proposed project which must be addressed.

    The Final Environmental Impact Review for this project has not been certified nor approved by the City Council.

    In the meantime, PXP was recently charged with 8 misdemeanor counts for violating state water pollution laws stemming from a 2010 oil spill that reached the Rio Hondo River from PXP's Montebello oil field. The District Attorney's office took a second look at the 2010 spill after members of the Save the Montebello Hills Task Force alerted the media (EGP News and the Los Angeles Times) to another spill in 2011. Official documents obtained by the Task Force and presented to the media stated that the 2010 spill was not reported by PXP as required by law, but was instead reported by a vector control officer inspecting the river for mosquitoes.

    For more information, see:
    EGP News
    "Past PXP Spill Went Unreported For Weeks, Also Being Investigated"
    http://egpnews.com/2011/05/past-pxp-spill-went-unreported-for-weeks-being-investigated/

    The latest court date for this case was May 3, 2012 at the East Los Angeles Courthouse. A fine of $75,000 was mentioned but this amount still needs to be finalized in writing.

    Yvonne Watson
    Chief Researcher
    Save the Montebello Hills Task Force, Sierra Club/Angeles Chapter
    (I am also a long time resident of Montebello.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Ms. Watson, I appreciate your comment. You can see that I have moved your comment into my post, so that others can easily read it.

    Now that I know better the plight, I look over onto those hills beyond the Montebello Town Center as I pass by along the freeway and wonder about the future.

    I live on the western face of the Puente Hills in a Baldwin Company-produced hillside community created about 1978.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Ms. Uyeda!

    Yvonne Watson

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bettye,

    A very thoughtful and well-researched blog entry.

    Thank for posting the updates, too.

    See you Tuesday.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ms. Uyeda,

    I was in the courthouse when PXP pled guilty to not reporting the 2010 spill into the nearby Rio Hondo river. The company was fined $75,000. Details about the case can be found here:

    Oil Company Pleads Guilty in Montebello Spill Case
    July 19, 2012
    By EGP News Report
    http://egpnews.com/2012/07/oil-company-pleads-guilty-in-montebello-spill-case/

    On Monday, July 9th there was a 10-20 acre fire in the Montebello Hills oil field. I live downwind of the hills and the smoke could be seen for miles. Several of my friends who live closer to the hills were very concerned when they saw tall flames at the top of the ridge behind their homes.

    We are all very grateful to the Montebello Fire Department and all the supporting Fire Departments that responded to this blaze. Thank God no one was hurt nor any structures lost.

    Details about the fire can be found here:

    Montebello Brush Fire Rattles Nerves
    By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer
    July 12, 2012
    http://egpnews.com/2012/07/montebello-brush-fire-rattles-nerves/

    Please note that PXP filed a "just in case" Hazardous Materials Spill Report with the California Office of Emergency Services. Again, thank God there was no actual spill or release that could have jeopardized the lives of the emergency responders and the public.

    This latest incident has convinced me even more that it would be foolish to approve a housing development in the middle of the operating Montebello Hills oil field.

    Yvonne Watson

    ReplyDelete
  6. This blog is great i love reading your posts. Keep up the great work! You know, a lot of people are hunting around for this info, you could help them greatly.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear Elisabeth,

    With 5,000+ pages to go through, the Montebello Hills Specific Plan (MHSP) and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and the Fiscal Impact Analysis (FIA), and even the Scoping Meetings show a LOT of additional reasons to be against the proposed condo development.

    These documents can all be found at the city of Montebello's website:


    http://www.cityofmontebello.com/depts/planning_n_community_development/planning_division/montebello_hills_specific_plan.asp


    Among the many, many reasons to be against the proposed residential development are:

    1. In Los Angeles County, since the 1960s, the property value of single family homes ALWAYS declines when condo projects are built next to them.

    2. The whole Unmitigable Effects section of the DEIR: Increased Traffic, Altered Viewscape, and others.

    3. 10 years of grading 6 million cubic yards of polluted dust. The SCAQMD recommends that people in the north Montebello area cover their pools for that amount of time, cover gardens with sheets to avoid getting polluted dust on foodstuffs, not going outside their homes for the 10 years, and other things to avoid the danger. They also have recommendations for the city, such as sweeping the streets at the end of every day for 10 years. The whole response letter is online at:

    http://www.aqmd.gov/ceqa/igr/2009/June/DEIRmontebello.pdf


    As many of the commenters did, the SCAQMD also says that they cannot comment completely as the DEIR is incomplete. One of their specific comments is: "Although the lead agency describes the implementation of an existing
    fugitive emission inspection and maintenance program for the well heads and gas
    plant based on SCAQMD Rule 1173 (Control of Volatile Organic Compound Leaks
    and Releases from Components at Petroleum Facilities and Chemical Plants), the I &
    M program was not included in the Draft EIR. Therefore, the SCAQMD staff was
    unable to validate the program’s effectiveness."

    4. Virtually None of the DEIR responding government agencies, public service organizations, or Montebello residents that I am aware of have endorsed the project.

    Apparently this is too long, so I have to publish it in two parts.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is the second part.


    5. The odd idea of surrounding a hilltop housing development with a wild, untrimmed highly flammable chaparral (California Coastal Sage) preserve creates what is called by modern professional firefighters a 'suicide subdivision'.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/03/nation/la-na-fire-behavior-20130704


    "Along with an extended drought and wild weather extremes, fire profilers have to take into account a new, explosive fuel type on the Western landscape: houses. By the Forest Service's reckoning, nearly one-third of the homes now built in the United States are on the fringe of settled areas, where timber and chaparral meet stucco and cul-de-sacs.

    These houses in fire-prone zones are referred to by some fire professionals as suicide subdivisions, and their popularity drives up the cost and complication of firefighting."

    6. The sure income and costs are shown in the FIA: Property Taxes and Service Costs. The FIA says that if the condos have an average selling price of about $520,000 (!), then the city's yearly budget deficit caused by increased services is about $400,000+. Extrapolating from current condo prices, the city's yearly budget deficit for this proposed project would be closer to $1,000,000.

    7. All the health risks for proposed residents, detailed in the fact sheets of the Save the Montebello Hills Task Force at the website in the story.

    8. The city's current parkland deficit could be fulfilled with the proposed condo project area.


    9. Do you really need more reasons?


    Anyone can sign an online petition at the Task Force website to save the Hills.


    I encourage everyone to search the Saveourmontebellohills.com website, especially the fact sheets, and there is even a way to turn your online shopping into support for the Hills with a link to an ebay store run by the TF Vice Chair with a Save Montebello Hills category, where you can buy donated items that will support saving the HIlls!

    Yours truly, Michael W. Popoff, Save the Montebello Hills Task Force of the Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter Vice Chairperson

    ReplyDelete
  9. Dear Elisabeth,

    "Unavoidable Adverse Impacts"

    The following is taken directly from the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Montebello Hills Project. Described here are those adverse impacts that the project cannot avoid inflicting upon our community.



    9.0 UNAVOIDABLE ADVERSE IMPACTS

    This section summarizes the unavoidable adverse impacts associated with the proposed project.

    Specifically, Section 15126.2(b) of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines requires that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR):

    “Describe any significant impacts, including those which can be mitigated, but not reduced to a level of insignificance. Where there are impacts that cannot be alleviated without imposing an alternative design, their implications and the reasons why the project is being proposed, notwithstanding their effect, should be described.”

    Section 4.0 (Existing Conditions, Impacts, Mitigation Measures and Level of Significance After Mitigation) of this Draft EIR (DEIR) documents the analysis of the potentially significant adverse impacts associated with the proposed project. The proposed project would result in unavoidable adverse impacts related to aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, and transportation even after mitigation, as noted in the analyses contained within Section 4.0 of this DEIR.

    9.1 AESTHETICS

    As described in Section 4.1 (Aesthetics) of this DEIR, implementation of the proposed project would result in unavoidable adverse impacts, specifically from two Key View locations within the City: Key View 5 (Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe – Facing North); and Key View 6 (Avenida de la Merced/Sanchez Street – Facing West).

    The view from Key View 5 would be substantially altered due to grading of the ridgeline into flat building pads with residential structures in place of the natural-appearing hilltop contour, resulting in a substantial change to the existing visual character and quality of the ridgeline profile. Similarly, the view from Key View 6 would be substantially altered from natural-appearing domed hills and intervening depressions to several flat-appearing pads of differing heights developed with residential structures. In addition, the ridgeline in Key View 6 would be further altered with the construction of two large water tanks at a place where two former hills merged together along a former partially vegetated contoured ridgeline.

    Because of the substantial change in views from a natural-appearing profile to a graded flat development site, implementation of the proposed project would result in a substantial change in the overall character and quality of the site, which would be considered significant and adverse. There are no mitigation measures that would reduce this impact to below a level of significance. Therefore, implementation of the proposed project would result in both project and cumulative significant and unavoidable adverse impacts.

    9.2 AIR QUALITY

    As described in Section 4.3 (Air Quality) of this DEIR, implementation of the proposed project would result in significant unavoidable air quality impacts. The analysis in Section 4.3 shows that the project would generate both short-term construction-related emissions and long-term operation-related emissions of criteria air pollutants identified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).


    Again, my post is so long I have to break it into 3 parts.

    ReplyDelete
  10. part 2 of 3


    During construction (i.e., grading, etc.), emissions of VOCs and the criteria pollutants CO, NOX, PM10, and PM2.5 would exceed SCAQMD thresholds. Implementation of mitigation measures AQ-1 through AQ-5 would reduce VOC emissions to below a level of significance and would reduce NOX, PM10, and PM2.5 emissions. However, modeling of the peak construction activity indicated that even with implementation of mitigation measures, the emissions of NOX, converted to NO2, and the emissions of particulate matter associated with fugitive dust, would exceed the peak pounds per day thresholds and would also exceed the ambient air concentrations specified by the SCAQMD’s thresholds. It should be noted that CO emissions would not be reduced even with implementation of mitigation measures AQ-1 through AQ-5 and would exceed SCAQMD criteria thresholds. There are no feasible mitigation measures that would further reduce this impact and therefore construction-related emissions of the criteria pollutants CO, NOX, PM10, and PM2.5, would result in both project and cumulative significant and unavoidable adverse short-term impacts.

    Operational emissions associated with vehicles and the proposed residential units’ area source emissions (residential appliances, etc.) would exceed the SCAQMD operation thresholds for VOCs and the criteria pollutants NOX and CO. Implementation of mitigation measures AQ-6 through AQ-11 would reduce residential unit-related area emissions, however, while emissions associated with residential unit area sources would be reduced, VOCs, NOX and CO emissions would remain above the SCAQMD thresholds.

    There are no feasible mitigation measures that would further reduce this impact. Therefore, operation of the proposed project would result in both project and cumulative significant and unavoidable adverse impacts related to VOC, NOX, and CO.

    ReplyDelete
  11. part 3 of 3

    9.3 BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES

    As described in Section 4.4 (Biological Resources) of this DEIR, implementation of the proposed project would result in a significant short-term impact to the California gnatcatcher. As noted in Figure 4.4-5, California gnatcatchers are known to occur throughout the project site, although their exact locations vary seasonally. Implementation of the proposed project would require the permanent removal of approximately 96.0 acres of habitat utilized by the California gnatcatcher. Construction activities would result in the introduction of machinery and construction workers necessary to clear the areas of on-site vegetation and perform necessary landform modifications, and will result in the dispersal of California gnatcatchers to adjacent habitat. The construction activities coupled with the dispersal attempt at occupying a new habitat area may result in the loss of some California gnatcatcher individuals, although guidance provided by the USFWS (Biological Opinion, 2009) would assist in reducing the extent of these losses. There are no feasible mitigation measures that would further reduce this impact. Therefore, implementation of the proposed project would result in both project and cumulative significant and unavoidable adverse impacts (short-term) to the California gnatcatcher.

    9.4 TRANSPORTATION AND TRAFFIC

    As discussed in Section 4.15 (Transportation and Traffic) of this DEIR, it was concluded in the traffic analysis that significant impacts would occur during the A.M. and/or P.M. peak hour periods at nine study intersections and two roadway segments during the interim (2014) condition and at eleven study intersections and two roadway segments during the build-out (2019) condition.

    With implementation of the recommended mitigation measures (T-1 and T-2) identified in Section 4.15, the significant impacts identified at various intersections and roadway segments would be reduced to below a level of significance. However, the intersection of Montebello Boulevard and Beverly Boulevard would remain significant and unavoidable for both 2014 and 2019 project conditions. It should be noted that this intersection cannot be mitigated through physical roadway improvements, due to the built-out configuration of the intersection and adjacent development. Therefore, implementation of the proposed project would result in both project and cumulative significant and unavoidable adverse impacts related to transportation and traffic at the intersection of Montebello Boulevard and Beverly Boulevard.



    Submitted by Michael W. Popoff, STMHTF Vice Chair

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hope this excellent site is still being kept up to date... Just found it. Prominent in the pictures taken on Whittier Blvd./Montebello Blvd. during your visit to Montebello, there is a large plateau looming over the housing tracts to the north. This is the City of Monterey Park's toxic waste dump, a super-fund clean up site, accumulated in what was a canyon over many years. Sadly, in pre Environmental Impact Report days, and despite pleas to not allow it, houses were built close to it and now people living in the housing tracts next to it suffer from a variety of maladies related to pollution.. little is said about this because of a fear of lowering property values.. this is very superficial and a warning to not ignore the poisonous nature of oil fields when considering the proposed housing tract on the oil field, the Montebello Hills, to the east.. by the way, a new company now owns the land.. FreeportMcMoran, an international corporation even less concerned about human and environmental safety and justice than PXP.......another reason to oppose the plan to let them 'monetize the surface value of the land'.....

    ReplyDelete