We are in a drought. Everyone knows we are in a drought. Even my Redbud Tree knows we are in drought. It didn’t send out any redbuds and not very many leaves either. Thirsty hawks and songbirds practically co-mingle at my birdbath.

Living here in Southern California means we will always need more water than we can get.

Yet elected leaders don’t need to be callously wasteful like Brea’s City Council just was when four of them approved the 152 unit Madrona housing project deep in the wildlands of Carbon Canyon.

In early June, Mayor Brett Murdock, Mayor Pro Tem Christine Marick and Councilmembers Ron Garcia and Roy Moore ignored the reasoned and documented opposition from their own constituents and approved the project for a bankrupt insurance company out of Idaho.

This is not the ordinary development approval often seen in Orange County.

This one adds insult to injury.

These new houses will guzzle five times the amount of water an average Brea household uses.

Because the Madrona site has burned so many times, developers will need to bulldoze the natural vegetation (including 1,400 oak and walnut trees) and replace it with an extensive fuel modification zone surrounding the site and requiring permanent irrigation with Brea’s drinking water.

Here in Orange County many of us live near fire prone canyons.

Orange County Fire Authority and other fire scientists recommend we limit building in areas that are next to these wildlands. When the wildlands are protected, like a national forest or a state park, putting a housing tract next them makes even less sense.

Nevertheless Brea allowed these houses to abut Chino Hills State Park. And to make matters worse, the secondary access through the State Park is not up to code. With a 15% grade, fire trucks will have a long, hard and slow chug up to the site.

Only Councilmember Marty Simonoff, a retired law enforcement officer, thought public safety was at stake and voted to deny the project.

Historical fire records tell the story.

The property burned in 1947, 1959, 1967, 1980, 1988 and 2008.

The houses will sit on a ridge top, completely surrounded by wildlands. Anyone familiar with fires knows that flames race uphill much faster than they do downhill, making Madrona’s future residents sitting ducks. Their lovely views will quickly be overtaken by smoke and convective heat when the next inevitable wildfire hits the ridge top. These large wildland fires, driven by Santa Ana winds, are made even stronger by the funneling that occurs in east-west trending canyons like Carbon Canyon.

Besides the fire and water issues, Madrona violates Brea’s own development code.

To avoid a conflict with their own laws, the Council actually had to make a finding that “oak and walnut woodlands are not habitat”. Residents pointed out that the project also violates the Hillside Management Ordinance, the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan and the General Plan.

Hills For Everyone, founders of Chino Hills State Park, and Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks could not let Brea’s decision stand unchallenged.

Last week, these conservation groups filed a lawsuit contending Madrona violates state and local planning and zoning law.

Though common sense and respect for the law escaped the Brea City Council, let’s hope it can be restored in court. Learn more at: StopMadrona.org.

Claire Schlotterbeck, executive director of Hills for Everyone, serves on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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