A swath of natural land, dotted with chaparral, native oak trees and intersected by sparkling streams adjacent to Chino Hills State Park has been purchased for preservation after 40 years, environmental groups announced this week.
The 320-acre parcel in the city of Chino Hills is along the southeastern edge of the 14,107-acre park bordering Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties. It was purchased by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority late Wednesday, July 29, and the deed prohibits home building, said Melanie Schlotterbeck, technical consultant for Hills For Everyone, a Brea-based nonprofit that created the park piece-by-piece in the 1980s and shepherded the land purchase.
“The importance of this 320 acres has to do with the fact that it is ridge-line land,” she explained Thursday, July 30. “So the purchase protects park visitors from seeing and hearing the sounds of urban life.”
Specifically, keeping this property in its natural state will protect the view shed of those in Lower Aliso Canyon and also prevent urban runoff from polluting the park, said Claire Schlotterbeck, Melanie’s mother and the group’s executive director.
“Chino Hills State Park was created along ridge line boundaries to protect the views for visitors and the water quality for wildlife,” Claire Schlotterbeck said.
In addition, she said, the land will act as a bridge toward further protection of the 4,000-acre Prado Basin, a federally-designated wetland. By connecting the two, wildlife can roam, forage and breed.
The 320 acres is home to the California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica), a bird species federally listed as endangered. Biological surveys indicate two of the rare birds were spotted on the property, said Melanie Schlotterbeck.
Hills For Everyone and its partner, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, are exploring additional land purchases in order to widen connections for animals within the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor, which stretch from Orange County through the state park in San Bernardino County and into the northeastern San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County.
The groups thanked Shopoff Realty Investments for agreeing to sell the land for preservation. The existing zoning was for one home every 10 acres, for a possibility of 32 homes.
“We are pleased to see that this land will be permanently preserved as open space,” said Brian Rupp, executive vice president of development at Shopoff Realty Investments in a prepared statement.
Why did the sale take 40 years?
In the 1980s and 1990s, the land was part of a pyramid scheme, according to Claire Schlotterbeck. Landowners overvalued the land and rejected reasonable offers, she said. In 1994, a developer had proposed building 75 homes, which never materialized.
“People always paid too much for it and they’ve always had high hopes for it. Until finally, we got a willing seller,” she said.
Shopoff sold the land for $2.56 million, about what other parcels of similar size cost, according to Melanie Schlotterbeck. The environmental groups used private funds as well as state and federal dollars.
“They knew from the get-go this was not as developable as other properties in their portfolio,” Melanie Schlotterbeck said. “It is pretty much landlocked and surrounded by open space.”
The environmental groups foresee the land becoming part of the park eventually. Currently, the state Department of Parks does not accept park land additions.
“Yes – that is our hope – that it will eventually be added to the Park,” Claire Schlotterbeck said. She said the park’s general plan supports adding land on ridge lines to keep the park’s separation from urban sprawl.
Chino Hills State Park is a popular spot for hikers, runners and mountain bikers and is a green space amid encroaching development of Diamond Bar and Chino Hills. It’s also a place where coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions roam. Melanie Schlotterbeck said most likely the 320 acres someday will contain hiking trails, but that would be determined by an environmental inventory.