Chino Hills Files Lawsuit Over Tres Hermanos Decision

By Anthony Saude

Chino Hills – Tres Hermanos is a small cattle ranch had at one-time been the private hunting grounds for generations of wealthy Los Angeles scions, including the late Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler. The land was purchased by City of Industry’s Industry redevelopment agency in 1978, before the state shut down such entities and put the land up for sale. When the state shut down redevelopment agencies like the city’s that bought the ranch in 1978 it put the property up for sale. City Of Industry leaders have been trying to buy back the ranch ever since, their plan, add it to the city’s adjacent Tonner Canyon holdings and use it to build a large solar energy farm.

For over a year, City Of Industry, a city of about 200 residents spent well over $1 million on leases, reimbursement and studies to determine the cost of building a huge solar power facility. Public records show the company, San Gabriel Valley Water and Power LLC, is managed by Ambient Communities, a San Diego-based residential and commercial developer. The scope of the project had previously been unreported and caught elected officials, nearby homeowners and conservationists who have been monitoring similar proposals for the Ranch off guard.

The latest in this 40 year saga, The City of Chino Hills will file a lawsuit against the City of Industry over its purchase of Tres Hermanos Ranch. The oversight board governing the sale of the land, the State Department of Finance, and the agency that replaced the Industry redevelopment agency .The City of Industry has been less than forthcoming with its intentions, Chino Hills City staff had to file multiple public records requests just to be able analyze thousands of pages before they uncovered proposal documents for a 444-watt solar farm.

The oversight board, a state-created panel, was given the task of selling off Tres Hermanos Ranch temporarily stopped meeting on the issue when they discovered that the City of Industry had been working on a multimillion-dollar solar farm on more than 2000 acres of the undeveloped ranch. The panel members stated that they could consider other offers that are submitted when they resume the meetings. Housing development builders, Contra GH America and Hoffman reportedly both had an offer on the table of approximately $100 million at the time the panel stopped meeting.

It seemed like a lot of fuss over a relatively small ranch especially land that the City of Industry has now purchased not only once but twice.

When the panel reconvened the meetings the only offer left on the table was the City of Industry’s for $41.65 million less than half of the other offers. The other two developers mysteriously dropped out of the bidding and Industry’s offer, being the highest bidder, was accepted. The difference in the price that Chino Hills and Diamond Bar had thought the land would sell for was now cut by nearly 60%. They cities could lose millions on just the sales tax on the purchase alone. That is to say nothing of the amount of property tax revenue will be lost if homes are not built on it.

Developers interested in buying the land had proposed as many as 10,000 homes. Chino Hills’ general plan would allow a maximum of 675 houses, and Diamond Bar’s general plan would allow about 500 homes maximum, that would be a total of 1,175 homes in the two cities combined. Jim Gallagher, a spokesman for the grass-roots group Save Tres Hermanos Ranch said “the residents I have talked to have almost all said they don’t want more homes built in the area”.  “Senator Josh Newman D-Brea, 29 district, who is the chair for Save Coyote Hills in Fullerton is helping us with this situation as well”. “He has brokered a couple of meetings between Chino Hills and Diamond Bar. He has one scheduled with the City of Industry.”

“I did some research and a 2015 report shows it takes 4 acres of land to produce 1 megawatt of solar power for crystal panels and 6 acres if thin film panels are used for the project”. Paul Phillips the city manager of City of Industry “assured me that the pan for the Solar farm was for 1000-1500 acres only and the rest open spaces”.“I don’t have the exact math in front of me right now but it is a lot more than that”. “I am all for green energy and if Industry can use less panels and make it unobtrusive we are all in; but the numbers aren’t adding up. “The residents think that it will look like the solar mirror farm in Las Vegas” said Gallagher. “That is the picture both cities, Chino Hills and Diamond Bar are painting for them for obvious monetary reasons.

Gallagher said that “he feels one of the motivators for the lawsuit was the lack of transparency from Industry about the solar farm”. “I don’t think the City of Industry was required to inform anybody what they might do with the land if it was their land until the purchase was made” said Gallagher. When Industry won the bid they submitted the proposal with their research that is what was legally required. “The only thing that the lawsuit does for “Save Tres Hermanos” is it may slow down the lawsuit some and that would us more time to fight”.

That is a big chunk of change to both Diamond Bar and Chino Hills on the taxes of the sale the cities will be losing. Then there are the property taxes that both cities would lose annually if no houses get built within their city limits. In the end it is all about the money in this situation.