By Gail Frye and Mark Gutglueck
Tres Hermanos Ranch, located on 2,445 acres straddling Chino Hills and Diamond Bar at the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County boundary, is to remain in the possession of the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority now that litigation over the authority’s acquisition of the property has been dismissed.
In 1978, the City of Industry paid $12.1 million to the heirs of petroleum magnate Tom Scott, former Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler and California pioneer John Rowland to acquire the land. The city then turned the property over to its redevelopment agency, known as the Industry Urban Development Agency, which had intentions of converting it to a reservoir to guarantee the city would have adequate water into the future. The land remained undeveloped, and with the advent of California legislation in 2011 that shuttered all of the state’s municipal redevelopment agencies, several private land developers, including GH America Inc. and South Coast Communities of Irvine, expressed interest in acquiring the expanse for the purpose of developing it both residentially and commercially, bidding as much as $100 million for it. In August 2017, the City of Industry, which had substantial representation on the boards of both the successor agency to the Industry Urban Development Agency and the oversight board to the successor agency to the Industry Urban Development Agency, boldly took action to acquire the property, tendering a $41.65 million offer on the property, which was accepted.
To the chagrin of both Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, as well as many of those cities’ residents, the City of Industry entered into an agreement with La Jolla-based San Gabriel Valley Water & Power, controlled by William Barkett, to convert the ranch into a solar power generating field utilizing photovoltaic panels to produce 450 megawatts of electricity that would be sold to manufacturers in the City of Industry.
Both the City of Chino Hills and the City of Diamond Bar sued the City of Industry over the matter. Meanwhile, Barkett was provided with more than $20 million by the City of Industry to design, plan and begin work on the solar field. When Barkett failed to perform, however, a falling out between the City of Industry and San Gabriel Valley Water & Power ensued.
After Barkett and San Gabriel Valley Water & Power undertook legal action against the City of Industry, an arrangement was made to expand the membership of the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority, a joint powers authority [JPA] first formed in 1999 between Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, to include Industry. The three cities then closed a deal by which Chino Hills paid $2,959,967 for the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority to acquire the 1,750 acres of Tres Hermanos Ranch in Chino Hills, and Diamond Bar paid $1,205,033 695 for the authority to acquire the 695 acres of the ranch situated in Diamond Bar. For its part, the City of Industry wrote down $37,485,000 of the $41,650,000 value of the property in having it handed over to the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority.
Last year, San Gabriel Valley Water & Power sued the three cities, alleging they engaged in Brown Act violations and collusion with regard to the land sale.
On August 12, 2020, investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office made a series of early morning services of search warrants at the homes and offices of a multitude of individuals associated with the San Gabriel Valley Water & Power solar project, including Barkett, the company’s lobbyist, Frank Hill and former Industry City Manager Paul Philips. Thereafter, the lawsuit against the three cities was dismissed. There was concern that with San Gabriel Valley Water & Power now being held at bay, the City of Industry would reaquire the 2,445 acres, and once more seek to have it developed.
That is not the case, according to City of Industry Mayor Cory Moss. Moss said that “San Gabriel Valley Water & Power has essentially admitted that its allegations were without any merit. They wanted to undo the cities’ collective commitment to preserve Tres Hermanos and they failed.”
The transfer of the Tres Hermanos Ranch property from the City of Industry to the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority was recorded on February 11, 2019 in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino County recorders’ offices for the portions of the property within the respective counties. Title to the property remains in the name of the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority.
By Gail Frye and Mark Gutglueck