from Hills For Everyone, Friends of the Puente Hills Wildlife Corridor
Newsletter No. 26 Spring 2012
Our effort to preserve the Missing Middle of the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor was stalled in late 2011 when Aera Energy and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) failed to reach agreement on terms for an appraisal. OCTA was in the process of appraising Aera’s land, located north of Brea and south of Rowland Heights. Funding for the appraisal and potential acquisition of the Orange County portion of Aera’s land would have come from Renewed Measure M, Orange County’s transportation sales tax. This funding source already secured important natural lands next to Chino Hills State Park in 2011. These funds are intended to mitigate freeway project impacts.
Aera Energy LLC was formed in June 1997 and is jointly owned by affiliates of Shell and ExxonMobil. The company was seeking special treatment paid for by the taxpayers of Orange County. Claiming, on the one hand to not want to take taxpayer money (apparently forgetting the generous federal oil subsidies), this oil company nevertheless wanted to review the taxpayer funded appraisal even before the OCTA committee members had a chance to review it. Aera also wanted the opportunity to then withdraw from the process if it didn’t like the appraised value. It goes without saying (or maybe it doesn’t) that Aera could always have simply rejected any offer to purchase that OCTA might have made. This may have been an unlucky convergence of gamesmanship and the holidays, but for now Aera is out of the running for Renewed Measure M dollars in this first funding cycle.
This is just the latest failure in a string of missteps by Aera. After having successfully leveled the hills on the western edge of Yorba Linda, Aera submitted its plans for the backdrop of Brea and Rowland Heights over 10 years ago. Since the property lies within a designated Significant Ecological Area (SEA) in Los Angeles County’s General Plan, the 3,600 unit project needed approval by the County’s SEA Technical Advisory Committee. When the committee requested major changes to the plan to better avoid harming the rare and disappearing oak and walnut woodlands, Aera withdrew the project in a huff. Five days before Christmas in late 2006 Aera next took its plan to Diamond Bar hoping to be annexed into that city. Part of the new plan included relocating the County owned Diamond Bar Golf Course next to Aera’s housing project and then freeing the City to develop the golf course property into a mall. When even development friendly Diamond Bar couldn’t stomach the massive bulldozing of the hills, conversations between the City and Aera ended in 2008.
For two years Aera has said it plans to resubmit a project to Los Angeles County. At this point they don’t seem to be making too many friends in either Los Angeles or Orange County with their mixed messages. Since funding is available from other sources, one solution is for Aera to hire its own (state approved) appraiser to conduct a valuation at their own cost. This could smooth the way for a sale.