Montebello Hills Project Once Again Under Review

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

A controversial project to build housing in an area known as the Montebello Hills is gaining traction again with the re-release of a draft environmental impact report (DEIR), which is now available for review and comment.

The proposed Montebello Hills project calls for building 1,200 new homes on one of the last large open spaces in the region. It has been long opposed by local environmental groups, including Save the Montebello Hills, a local Sierra Club-sponsored organization. They argue the hills are unsafe for residential homes and prefer that the hills be left as open space.

The re-circulated DEIR for the Montebello Hills Specific Plan is “substantially” the same report released in 2009, with revisions in several areas: aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, hazards and hazardous materials, water quality, noise, population and other sections of the previously released document.

 

The Montebello Hills Project property is currently home to oil extracting “crickets.” (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The Montebello Hills Project property is currently home to oil extracting “crickets.” (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Hoping to “augment the range of reasonable alternatives to the proposed project and to foster informed decision-making and public participation,” the city has added three new alternatives, which “reflect different unit density and/or commercial/retail uses.”

Cook Hill Properties LLC, the project’s developer, hopes to build a 488-acre residential and Habitat Reserve project on land owned by The Montebello Land Company – near the cities of Rosemead and Monterey Park to the north, and unincorporated areas of the County of Los Angeles and the Whittier Narrows Flood Plain to the east. The area is bounded by Montebello Boulevard, Lincoln Avenue and San Gabriel Boulevard.

[An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated Plains Exploration and Production Co. (PXP) owned the land where the project is being proposed.] 

The report discusses the eight alternatives: no build, 3,946 residential units, 800 units, 600 units, 600 units and 92,000 square feet of commercial space, 1,00 units, 1,200 units and 87,000 square feet of commercial and 1,088 units with 87,000 square feet of commercial.

The report identified the 600-unit alternative as the “environmentally superior” alternative.

The area is currently home to the Montebello Oil Field, an active oil and gas production facility. The proposed project would not affect on-going oil and gas extraction on the property.

There were 84 written comments and verbal communications from the public and interest groups submitted in response to the original DEIR in 2009. As a result, the city decided to re-circulate an updated document that clarifies some of the concerns and mitigations. The new DEIR includes findings from technical studies regarding air quality, biology, greenhouse gases, water quality and movement, noise and transportation impacts. The public has until Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. to submit comments on this latest release.

Montebello resident Roberto Hernandez, 68, complains that the process to build something on the property has dragged on at the cost of residents who are not able to benefit from it in its current state.

“We have no use for it now,” said Hernandez, referring to the vacant hills covered with oil drills and plants. “Its not like there’s a walking path there for us to enjoy it, it’s a waste and a fire hazard.”

According to the report, some of the potentially unavoidable and significant impacts include traffic congestion, a change in the visual character of the site, construction emissions that could violate air quality standards and affects to the California Gnatcatcher, an endangered bird that has been found in the hills.

Aurora Hernandez, 75, said she would like to see something built on the property even if it means risking a disruption of the ecosystem.

“[The hills] are the only location we have to build more homes,” said the longtime Montebello homeowner as she shrugged off environmental concerns.

Byron de Arakal, communications director for Cook Hill Properties LLC, points out, however, the report also includes mitigations that would eliminate or at least reduce the significant effects.

“You can’t bring a new community of this magnitude without bringing some effect to the environment,” he said.

Mitigations identified by the report include the re-vegetation of coastal sage scrub – the gnatcatcher’s natural habitat – and the synchronizing of traffic lights.

Sierra Club’s Linda Strong argues that such mitigations would not be able to address the negative effects.

“The fact that an active oil field would be in close proximity to vulnerable residents…shows a disregard of the wellbeing of families.”

De Arakal says he is thankful to see the document produced and looks forward to the public hearings, and avoiding further delays.

However, Margo Eiser with Save the Montebello Hills, told EGP she would like to see an extension on the comment deadline, to give residents enough time to read the nearly 800-page document.

Resident Linda Nicklas attributes the delays to politics.

She told EGP that she is still reading the report and though she has not made up her mind on how she feels about potential environmental impacts, she definitely wants something built.

The hills are “not attractive, you can’t even hike” there, she said. “They have to develop that hill, that’s what’s best for the city.”

Nicklas calls the project a “saving grace” that would positively impact the city’s finances.

“In another five years we are going to need that revenue,” she said.

Something Eiser does not believe the hills project will do.

“No matter what people say, bringing homes will not guarantee there will be more money in the city,” said Eiser, who suggests the city focus more on local businesses to improve its financial condition instead of relying on the Montbello Hills development.

Eiser worries about the potential health hazards that could come from homes being build near oil fields. She’s concerned residents are only thinking about the environmental impacts in the short-term..

“We have covered up all our open spaces and there are consequences to not having nature around,” she said.

De Arakal tells EGP he believes the latest alternatives are very balanced and a much needed project in the city.

“The last significant community of housing was built [in Montebello] almost 40 years ago,” said De Arakal, referring to Racket Mountain along Lincoln Boulevard.

“How many people that love Montebello have moved away and can’t come back because there’s nothing to buy.”

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September 25, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

9 Responses to “Montebello Hills Project Once Again Under Review”

  1. Byron de Arakal on September 25th, 2014 12:20 pm

    Thank you for your report. However, it is important to correct the record with respect to the ownership of the property. The 488-acre project site is owned by The Montebello Land Company, not Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP). PXP was acquired by Freeport-McMoRan in May of 2013.

    Also, you report that Cook Hill Properties hopes to “build a 488-acre residential project…” In fact, while the entire property is 488-acres, the planned community will occupy only approximately 174 acres (about 1/3) of the land. The remaining approximately 314 acres – which includes the 260-acre Montebello Hills Habitat Reserve – will remain as permanent open space.

    Again, thank you for the fair and balanced reporting.

  2. Yvonne Watson on September 25th, 2014 12:58 pm

    To further clarify the record:

    The Montebello Land Company was a wholly owned subsidiary of Plains Exploration & Production (PXP).
    http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/containers/fix062/891456/08/000119312508039535/dex211.htm

  3. The Whole Truth on September 26th, 2014 10:31 pm

    Mr. de Arakal appears to know as much about his plan as he does about Montebello, judging by his misspelling of the Racquet Mountain development , his incomplete characterization of the oilfield’s ownership, and his inaccurate statement as to the amount of ‘open space.’

    314 acres will NOT ‘remain as permanent open space.’ There will be a large number of acres outside of the development that would NOT be open space, but would consist of roads, oil pads, oil pumping bunkers, water, oil, and oil waste storage tanks and pipelines. According to the RDEIR (Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report) they currently account for 172 acres, more than a third of the current oilfield.

    The 488 acre site is NOT owned by the Montebello Land Company. ONLY the surface rights are owned by the MLC. The oil and gas rights, and all the surface and subsurface area wanted for oil and gas extraction are owned by Freeport McMoRan.

    In past filed SEC documents and the developer’s own website, Cook-Hill is identified as a ‘wholly owned’ subsidiary of Cane River Development, which is itself identified as a ‘wholly owned’ subsidiary of PXP, the oil company that owned the Montebello Oilfield. Since Freeport McMoRan bought PXP, they presumeably now own Cook-Hill, too.

    These are not difficult to research questions. Why the developer so apparently reluctant to answer them accurately seems to show how little they are concerned with the whole truth coming out about this proposed condo project.

  4. The Whole Truth on September 27th, 2014 1:08 am

    To be more exact, the Montebello Land Company, LLc, was a wholly owned subsidiary of Plains Exploration & Production Company (PXP), which previously owned the Montebello Oilfield in its entirety. PXP was purchased in its entirety by Freeport McMoRan. There has been no announcement or publicly available information of any change in the status of the Montebello Land Company. Unless information to the contrary becomes available, the conclusion becomes inescapable that now Freeport also owns the Montebello Land Company. For some reason, the would-be developer of the Montebello Hills seems to want to hide the oil company’s ownership (through its subsidiary) of the surface land of the Montebello Oilfield.

    Why is the would-be developer apparently trying to hide this? We know that Freeport McMoRan is attempting to sell ALL of its onshore California oilfields to pay down its debt. Is it because of the unsettled circumstances regarding this possible Montebello Oilfield sale that the would-be developer is attempting to obscure the connection between the oil company and its subsidiary?

    Cook-Hill Properties LLc, the would-be developer, is actually a consultant to the Montebello Land Company according to its contract with that company (available online). Yet this contract requires Cook-Hill to report to another Freeport McMoRan subsidiary, Cane River Development. Guess who is the President and CEO of both Cook-Hill and Cane River? ….Lowdrick Cook. Put simply, the ownership and proposed development of the Montebello Oilfield are inextricably linked to the oil company.

  5. Van Ajemian on September 28th, 2014 8:47 am

    The closing statement in the article is interesting and gives rise to a question: “If we have environmental-impact reports, why do we not have sociological-impact reports?” At what point does population density become dysfunctional, degrading the quality of life? An “SIR” combined with an “EIR” would seem necessary for a better understanding of the impact upon Montebelloans.

  6. devoted to montebello ecology on September 28th, 2014 1:02 pm

    Despite the enormous expenditure of money by Cook-Hills Properties, LLC, to persuade the politicians and public to favor the proposed project, the main purpose of this wholly owned subsidiary is to ‘monetize the surface value of the land’ for the profit of the oil company which currently owns it….. Freeport McMoRan. This new company has an even worse record of environmental and social justice violations than PXP. Reports from around the world and from the nearby Baldwin Hills can be found on the world wide web. Those who believe there would be some benefits for Montebello are urged to to do some research about the negative effects of having such a deliberately irresponsible company and it’s promoter as a ‘neighbors’.
    Over forty years ago, the whole range of the last remaining hills should have been declared Open Space in a comprehensive, effective General Plan. It is not too late to remedy this mistake.

    For factual information about the negative effects of the entire project on many aspects of life, please go to http://www.saveourmontebellohills.com .

  7. Linda Strong on October 1st, 2014 1:12 am

    The last remaining open space Montebello Hills, where Newport Beach would-be developer Cook-Hill Properties LLC wants to build a 1200 unit largely condominium development, is actually an active oilfield. 1700 barrels of oil a day and an unknown amount of natural gas are produced there. A “gas treatment plant”, which appears to actually be a mini-refinery, is located there.

    There are over 100 active wells in these hills, six of which were drilled recently. On July 17, 2014 red Halliburten oilfield trucks and workers in red work suits were seen preparing to enter this oilfield. It appears that they were preparing to engage in high rate gravel packing (also known as mini-fracking) or high pressure hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Vulnerable families should not be living next to (or on top of) these types of powerful industrial processes.

    The City of Montebello benefits economically from the oil production, getting a set fee amount for each barrel of oil produced. It’s my understanding that the city currently receives over a million dollars a year from these fees. Should residences be built on top of this active oilfield, how long would it be before the unlucky residents begin complaining about the odors, vibrations and noise typical of working oilfields? After that will come the clamor to shut down the oilfield, just like has happened in Baldwin Hills. The income from the oil production fee is an economic benefit to the city. The proposed development plan risks that income.

  8. Gil Medina on October 21st, 2014 8:10 am

    We can not allow the city and its political friends and very specially the city puppeteers to use this project to fix the city finances. If the city can not reign positively on its current finances with the existing resources then it is proof that they simply will not be capable to control any finances in the future. The more money they collect the more they mismanage. Every city has limitations. Montebello is a small town and we want to keep it that way. Our schools, hospitals and roads are already over crowded. All new developments both commercial and residential should look to the East… just like the rest of the companies have done in the past. Enough is enough.

  9. Linda Strong on October 22nd, 2014 3:36 am

    At the last city council meeting (on October 8, 2014) the Montebello City Council voted to extend the comment period on the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) by fifteen days. The Coucil also voted to hold a study session on this document on November 6 in the city council chambers. So what have city staff done? They’ve changed the date and location of the study session, to November 5 at the Quiet Cannon. They did this without a council vote and after the Whittier Daily News had reported the November 6 date. Meanwhile on Channel 3 the repeated replay of the 10-8 city council meeting video continues to tell viewers the now incorrect 11-
    6 date.
    So why was this done? Rumor has it that the 11-6 date conflicted with some service club event. Who was so important to the city administrator that their convenience was considered more important than the prior vote of the city council and the notice that had already been given to the public?

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