Mysteries and Questions on CV History, Part 6
Here are some more questions I’ve had from readers:
My new neighbor is tearing down the charming little house he bought and building an enormous monstrosity in its place. It will loom over my house, destroying my privacy, and will look weird in our neighborhood.
Aren’t there laws against this?
This practice of maximizing the square footage of a house is called “mansionization” and there really aren’t any laws against it. There are building codes on the issue, but they’re pretty liberal. There are ways for neighborhoods to fight a mansionizing project, but they take a lot of effort and generally work better if you can get other neighbors to join you.
In the Glendale portion of CV, every project is reviewed at a public meeting by a Design Review Board (DRB) made up of a panel of architects and builders. They take into consideration things like privacy and compatibility with the neighborhood, and can actually force a builder to reduce the size of a project.
A unified neighborhood showing up en masse at these meetings can sway the DRB. If a neighborhood doesn’t like the decision of the DRB, it can be appealed to the Glendale City Council, a much more public forum.
In the unincorporated county portion of CV, there is no DRB. Any mansionizing project that doesn’t violate the building code (and it would have to be pretty massive to do so) is approved. If it does go beyond the bounds of the building codes, it would need a variance (permission to violate code). In this case, the variance would be reviewed at a public meeting by the CV Town Council. It can’t make a final decision, but can only make a recommendation to the county. The county will then hear the case, and the neighbors’ arguments, in a public hearing at Regional Planning in Los Angeles. However, my experience has been that Regional Planning is not sympathetic to issues of privacy and neighborhood compatibility.
What are the gigantic holes in the ground at the top of many neighborhoods in CV, and why are all the streambeds in CV encased in concrete?
The holes are called debris basins and the concrete streambeds are flood control channels. They are a radical solution to a radical problem.
Our valley was formed over thousands of years by massive floods of water and rock that poured down out of the mountains every few years. These rock-and-water floods are called debris flows and they are deadly – nothing can stop them. During a big storm in 1933, debris flows killed scores and destroyed hundreds of homes in CV. After that horrible event, the federal government stepped in with the debris basin concept.
It works like this: A rock-and-water debris flow roars down out of the mountains. Instead of tearing a path through the neighborhoods below, it’s funneled into the debris basin. As the debris flow pauses in the basin momentarily, the rocks separate from the debris flow and sink to the bottom of the basin. The now clear water flows into the flood control channel, and races harmlessly down to the ocean. The straight, smooth concrete flood control channels are designed to move the water out of CV as quickly as possible, so as to be ready for further debris flows.
It’s a mechanical solution to a natural phenomenon.
Were the San Gabriel Mountains above us once forested?
Yes, especially in the canyons Pickens, Shields, Dunsmore, etc. The big cone Douglas fir was the native tree here. They were completely logged out in the late 1800s and, for whatever reason, never re-grew. A few lone survivors can still be found in the upper reaches of those canyons. You can find thick forests of the big cone firs further back in the Angeles National Forest, and it’s interesting to look at them and imagine our own mountains looking that lush and green.
In Deukmejian Park in Dunsmore Canyon, volunteers recently planted 50 or 60 big cones and it will be fun to watch them grow tall in the next few years.