Nestled in the hills at the juncture of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties in the eastern-most portion of Brea lies a distressed property called Madrona.

It has changed hands on numerous occasions, not because it was sold or transferred but because the landowners went bankrupt.

The most recent landowners, the Shopoff Group and Old Standard Life Insurance Co. both went bankrupt. The state of Idaho appointed a trustee to manage the receivership for Old Standard.

The 165-unit project was originally approved by the Brea Planning Commission in 2008, and former Brea Mayor Bev Perry appealed the decision to the City Council.

Before the council could make a decision, the site burned down entirely in the Freeway Complex Fire — the fourth time in 30 years.

Now with Idaho at the helm, a slightly reduced version of the ridgetop project — 162 houses — is being considered.

With all the environmental documentation and public testimony out of the way, the City Council is set to make its decision Monday.

Presiding over the appellant’s team, a suite of residents from all over Brea have been working on the appeal the last few months, carefully outlining the many reasons why this development is a bad idea.

Here is a sampling of the poor planning that this project brings with it:

  • Excessive Water Use. California is in a major drought, and yet this project, due to its extensive fuel modification zones and tree management plan, would require the use of five times the amount of water the average Brea household uses. Madrona would use 629 gallons per person per day, while the rest of Brea uses 118. With no reclaimed water systems, our drinking water will irrigate these manufactured slopes forever.
  • Unmitigatable Traffic Congestion.  According to Caltrans, Carbon Canyon Road’s use has increased steadily since 2004.  The road has been closed a minimum of six times in just as many weeks due to car accidents, landslides, et cetera.  This road provides the only access into and out of the canyon.  Madrona’s additional vehicles trips would add to the already overburdened regional roadway, making it less safe for drivers and more tenuous for first responders, especially during highly congested peak hours.
  • Unstable Landslides and Known Earthquake Faults.  Depending on the year, various geotechnical studies have been conducted, and each one yields surprisingly different results.  Not only do the locations of the landslides change from study to study but the quantity of slides change as well.  Fault lines that were found in the 2000 study were never found again.  Where did they go? We know this is a geologically unstable area as evidenced by the 5.1 magnitude earthquake we just had that caused a rockslide on Carbon Canyon Road, both overturning a car and closing the road for days.

The project, as proposed, has three negative, unmitigatable, significant impacts.

First, nearly 5 million cubic yards of dirt must be graded to make room for the houses.  The project cannot mitigate the negative impacts for the reduced air quality.

Second, the site is home to oak and walnut woodlands, and 1,400 of these trees would be removed if the project is built.

Finally, the project would add nearly 1,600 vehicle trips a day onto Carbon Canyon Road, which is already overcapacity.

Decision makers in Brea are being asked to approve these three statements of overriding consideration because of the projected economic benefits of this project — benefits that equate to 83 cents per person per month and benefits that would disappear with one catastrophic wildfire or one lawsuit over a landslide, or simply the yearly increased costs to provide public services in the city, et cetera.

There are no economic benefits to this project.

To document what would be lost if the project were approved, using drone technology via Rotor Pro Solutions and many volunteer hours, we were able to focus an aerial video on issues related to the expansion of Carbon Canyon Road, creek impacts, the entrance, unmitigated landslides, the oak and walnut woodlands, the site’s steepness and grading (cut-and-fill) required for the project:

YouTube video

The Madrona project as proposed does not fit this site.

It doesn’t bring anything special to the city. There are no community amenities like parks, playgrounds, tennis courts or community pools.

Even with today’s technology there are no water conservation features like reclaimed or gray water systems and no solar energy features to speak of either.

It uses antiquated planning on a distressed and unstable site with one congested road in and out.

The public is urged to contact the Brea City Council (via the website) and urge a yes vote on the appeal and a no vote on the project.

After 15 years, the end, a decision, is finally in sight.

Please do your part to help make a difference. Email the council today.

Claire Schlotterbeck is executive director of Hills for Everyone, a nonprofit that works to protect, preserve and restore the environmental resources and natural environs of the Puente-Chino Hills area.

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