City of Chino Hills is Aggressively Monitoring Activity
The City of Industry has been seeking to purchase Tres Hermanos. Chino Hills, Diamond Bar, Brea, and many environmental groups have been monitoring the City of Industry and attending the Oversight Board meetings. In fact, the City of Chino Hills has been closely engaged and has sought City of Industry records through official Public Records Requests because Industry has resisted any meaningful dialogue regarding their development schemes. The documents have been compiled and presented to the regional media which has shed some light on questionable activities and contracts which demonstrate that Industry has been taking action related to property they do not own – Tres Hermanos. It is interesting to note that the City of Industry also owns 3,000 acres in Tonner Canyon, south of Tres Hermanos Ranch all the way to the 57 Freeway. Many know this land as the Firestone Boy Scout Camp.
Industry’s Purchase of Tres Hermanos Approved
The Oversight Board approved the sale to Industry's offer to purchase the property for $41.65 million for the purpose of building a solar farm. As a point of reference, the latest appraisal for the property was $100 million, which Industry had agreed to pay. A restrictive covenant was added that would not allow the land to be used for any purpose other than open space, public use, and preservation. The covenant is meaningless however, because State law only allows a city to own property outside their boundaries for these types of public purposes anyway. Thus, the Oversight Board’s reduction of the price by nearly $60 million for the covenant served no purpose. What the restrictions are, and the plan for the solar farm, are very low on specifics. Industry acts as though they are saving the region from more housing and traffic woes, and providing hiking trails and open space for people to enjoy. Yet the amount of energy they want to generate on the solar farm would seem to require solar panels on nearly the entire 2,450 acres. They’ve spent over $14 million dollars since March of 2016 studying the project but they say they have no design, no footprint, no specifics. According to what Chino Hills has gleaned from the project pro forma, Industry wants to generate 444 megawatts. A 1,000-acre solar project is capable of generating just 133 megawatts. Be careful of red herrings, the City of Chino Hills warns.
How Much Housing Could Be Built on Tres Hermanos?
Some worry that developers will build tens of thousands of homes on Tres Hermanos Ranch. In fact, Diamond Bar’s General Plan allows 630 units. Chino Hills General Plan calls for a maximum of 675 housing units. Measure U prohibits the City from increasing residential units in the City without voter approval. Because of its unique resources, the City’s General Plan requires any future development of Tres Hermanos to be master planned. Chino Hills has used a master-plan process to cluster development and protect the maximum amount of open space. For zoning purposes, Chino Hills has slated most development on the mostly-flat parcel of approximately 50 acres located on both sides of Grand Avenue to meet State affordable housing requirements. The General Plan includes 103 Very High Density units, 364 Mixed Use units, and 15 acres of commercial development allocated to the 50-acre parcel. In addition, there are 208 Agriculture Ranch units which allow one unit per 5 acres. Limited development has always been included in planning documents for Tres Hermanos: the County of San Bernardino's Chino Hills Specific Plan (1982) identified the Tres Hermanos Ranch as one of the eight Chino Hills’ villages with a development potential of 358 residential units, 16 acres of commercial within a village core that also included a school and community center or library. The City's first General Plan retained the 358 residential units despite the City of Industry’s request to increase the number of units to 2,600, and included the commercial area and village core area of approximately 50 acres.
It’s time for residents to pay attention. There is no roadmap for a project of this nature: one city (Industry), building a solar farm (a public benefit) in another cities’ jurisdiction (Chino Hills and Diamond Bar). There is very little case law to indicate the level of jurisdiction or control that the Cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar may exercise in reviewing a project of this nature. Is this our City’s next TRTP (Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project)? Do our residents need to decide if they are for, or against, a solar project….and take action to support their preference? Do Chino Hills residents want a massive solar farm in the City of Chino Hills which continues north into Diamond Bar? Can a massive 444-megawatt solar project, one of the largest in California, be “unobtrusive?” The Desert Sunlight solar project near Joshua Tree is a 550-megawatt project on 3,800 acres in the open desert. Would Industry’s proposed solar farm consume nearly all 2,450 acres? Could this project truly protect open space and create recreation space for the public? Is a solar farm preferred over limited residential (208 agricultural ranch 5-acre lots, 467 units) and commercial (15 acres) development on property that always included some level of rights for the property owner to develop? It’s time to decide. As for the City of Chino Hills, we will continue to ensure that Industry and the Oversight Board are following the law in the actions they take. We will continue to press Industry for specifics on their solar farm project. The City of Chino Hills would prefer to leave the land as open space. However, the only way for the land to remain as is, is for the landowner to agree to leave it as is. The only way the City of Chino Hills could prevent anything from happening on the land is to buy it for the apparent sale price of $41.65 million.