Tres Hermanos Controversy

Municipalities battle over scarce open land in Southern California

Development News Urbanism West
Four Los Angeles County municipalities are dueling over one of the few remaining greenfield sites in the region. (Courtesy City of Diamond Bar)
Four Los Angeles County municipalities are dueling over one of the few remaining greenfield sites in the region. (Courtesy City of Diamond Bar)

An unlikely legal showdown is taking place in southeastern Los Angeles County over one of the largest remaining tracts of open, developable land in the region.

The pristine 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, a golden, hilly landscape sandwiched between the suburban communities of Diamond Bar, Industry, Commerce, and Chino Hills, has been in legal limbo ever since former California governor Jerry Brown disbanded the state’s Redevelopment Agencies in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Before 2011, the City of Industry controlled the ranch through a local Redevelopment Agency. As the agency was dissolved, a plan, approved last year by the state Department of Finance, emerged to allow Industry to buy the ranch outright. But disagreements over how the land can be used once it is sold have touched off legal fights in the area, precluding the completion of the sale.

Initially, Industry officials were in talks with a San Diego–area utility provider to create a large-scale solar farm on the land. As the plan came to light, officials from Diamond Bar and Chino Hills sued Industry, alleging that the plan violated land-use and environmental laws and that they sought to keep portions of the site free from development. As a matter of compromise, the three cities had agreed to divide up control over the parcel and were in the process of hammering out a deal when the City of Commerce stepped in with a plan of its own.

A map showing the Tres Hermanos Ranch (Courtesy City of Diamond Bar)

The Orange County Register reported that Commerce has asked the Los Angeles County Oversight Board to sell it the property, instead. According to the report, Commerce argues that Industry waived its first right to the property by not completing the initial sale approved by the Department of Finance and that as a result, the land should be sold to Commerce. With this latest bid for the site, other potential buyers have come forward as well, including a developer with plans to build suburban tract housing on the site.

Michael Kapp, communications director for Hilda Solis, the L.A. County supervisor for the district that includes Tres Hermanos Ranch, told The Orange County Register that Commerce was in the wrong and that the right to purchase still sat with City of Industry, “who holds a right of first purchase for the sale of the property.” Kapp added, “Furthermore, even if Industry should reject the sale under the original agreement, the sale cannot be simply substituted or transferred to another jurisdiction, it would have to go out to public bid.”

So far unresolved, the episode illustrates the complicated, lengthy, and fraught relationship between land development and landscape preservation in Southern California.

The situation is mirrored 50 miles to the northwest, where the fire-prone Tejon Ranch in northern Los Angeles County is slated for a new 19,000 home community. There, developer Tejon Ranch Company is angling for approval from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to bring the large master-planned project to life on privately-owned wildland.

Amid a growing concern over the spread of development into wild areas across California following recent destructive fires and renewed efforts to curb sprawl and boost urban density, development at the fringes of Los Angeles continues, at least for now.

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