An emerald island in a sea of gray and brown sprawl is at the heart of a raging debate over the road to sustainability.
By Will Doig.
The Pomona Freeway from Los Angeles to Chino Hills is pretty charmless. Lots of gas station signage and personal injury attorneys promising to “fight for you.” But the defining landmark is a web of 500-kilovolt power lines, the electrical lifeblood of a heavily air-conditioned region and an eyesore marring the California sunset.
As the L.A. sprawl has crept steadily eastward, such large-scale energy infrastructure projects have run into opposition from the communities in which they’re being built. Chino Hills is one such community. A quiet, picturesque exurb with breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Mountains, its rows of pristine hillside houses are a real estate agent’s dream. Part of the town’s appeal stems from its prime location astride Tres Hermanos Ranch, a swath of 2,450 acres of undeveloped wetlands and undulating hills. Tres Hermanos is part of one of the largest expanses of developable open space in a corridor covered in strip malls and subdivisions, an emerald island in a sea of gray and brown sprawl.
“This is real coastal sage scrub,” says Robin Smith, bending down to touch the crispy-looking bushes that rise to our ankles. Smith’s house is located just 200 feet from the boundary of this land, which she cherishes with zeal. “California native landscape is unique in the world,” she says. “That’s why back in the old days you had these legends of golden California, because it was really true.”
Tres Hermanos isn’t a public park. Though it’s located within the boundaries of Chino Hills and the neighboring town of Diamond Bar, those towns don’t actually own it. That’s because in the 1970s, Tres Hermanos was bought by City of Industry, another municipality located 20-odd miles west down the Pomona Freeway. Five years ago, the state of California took control of the land from Industry. On Aug. 24, it gave the city, its former owner, the green light to buy it back.