$42 M Sale Price On Los Hermanos Ranch A Sign It Will Host Solar Farm

It appears that the transformation of 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, which lies at the confluence of San Benrardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties, will not be converted into more than 15,000 homes. Rather, the sprawling property now appears to be slated to be developed as a solar farm.
The ranch lies within and abuts Tonner Canyon, consisting of oak woodlands, riparian habitat, rolling hillsides, canyon creeks, cattle pastures and grazing land for longhorn steers, chaparral that offers cover for bobcats, mountain lions, skunks and opossum, scattered black walnut trees and glades that hum with the buzz of honey bees at certain times of the year. It was purchased by the City of Industry’s Redevelopment Agency for $12.1 million in 1978 from the heirs of the three magnates who acquired the ranch and gave it its name – Oil baron Tom Scott; Harry Chandler, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times; and William Rowland, son of John Rowland, who led pioneers over the Santa Fe Trail to California and the San Gabriel Valley in the 1840s.
With the close-out of all redevelopment agencies up and down the state in 2011, the property passed into the hands of the successor agency to the City of Industry Redevelopment Agency. There has been growing speculation that the property would be spun off to the highest bidder, meaning an entity intent on wringing from the land the most profit, which at this juncture would mean having it developed into a high density residential subdivision.
The oversight board to the successor agency last week, however, in a narrow 4-3 vote, called for selling the property to the City of Industry for $41.65 million. That bypasses an offer from GH America Inc. and its partner, South Coast Communities of Irvine, to take the property off the successor agency’s hands for $101 million. If that sale had been made, inevitably the developers would have mounted an effort including political donations, lobbying, building entitlement applications and legal action to force the cities of Diamond Bar, Chino Hills, Brea and the counties of San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange to make way for intensive development of the property.
In Chino Hills, the portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch within its boundaries is located on both sides of Grand Avenue in Chino Hills.
The oversight board is requiring the City of Industry to include a restrictive covenant that limits the use of the property to a renewable energy project, utility augmentation, open space, public use, and preservation.
According to Industry City Manager Paul Philips, the GH America/South Coast Communities offer entailed no such restrictive covenant. The lower cost will give the purchaser greater leeway toward developing the property into a renewable energy enterprise, Phillips said.
According to Industry officials, much of the acreage will remain undisturbed or will otherwise be committed toward recreational and open space purposes.
One impetus toward utilizing the property for a solar project is that there is solid opposition from nearby residents and local governments to developing the property residentially.
Under Chino Hills’ current general plan, the property on its side of the city limits could be developed to an intensity of no more 467 housing units. In Diamond Bar, the number of units there at present could not exceed 624. .But zoning and density restrictions can be changed through council action. Developmental interests, by providing money to the campaign funds of the decision-makers, could persuade them to significantly alter those standards and limitations.
Despite the words of comfort offered by City of Industry officials with regard to maintaining open space, there were no commitments within Industry’s documents to guaranteeing property within the confines of Tres Hermanos Ranch will be off limits for development once the conversion is under way. This has alarmed some Chino Hills residents.
Moreover, there are a number of residents in both Chino Hills, Diamond Bar and Orange County who are uncomfortable with constructing a solar farm on the property.
A common theme among many who attended the hearing in Industry last week was that the City of Industry, which has a considerable history of graft and corruption among its elected leadership, cannot be trusted. Industry officials, however, said that if the outlying communities are patient, they will be satisfied when the completed plans on the proposal are released.   –Mark Gutglueck

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