by Raechel Fittante
photography by Christie Reed
Just past the point where the northern borders of city and county meet, a vast expanse of land takes over called the San Gabriel Mountains. It shares a border with north La Verne in the historic Johnson Pasture area with its golf courses, $1 million houses, probation camps and gated communities. Standing with one’s back against the towering mountains, one can see rolling forested green hills, dirt roads leading to paved city roads and an ocean of suburbia shimmering to the horizon. The connection in the foothills just above northern La Verne is one of a nature community; the bustling city suburbia that laps at the hillsides is seemingly worlds away.
According to Glenn Girard, owner of the Marshall Canyon Equestrian Center, the scenic Los Angeles County trails are “as good as it gets.” The Equestrian Center is nestled just back a bit from Esperanza Road, enveloped in the refreshing calmness of the hillsides. Those who venture far into the canyon lands may indulge in all of the treats nature has to offer.
Those strolling through the hillside trails — whether on foot, horse or bike — might hear nothing more than the call of the wild, produced by echoing bird calls, the rustle of squirrels darting this way and that through the brush, or the soft whistling sound the wind makes blowing gently through the tree-rich terrain.
Perhaps it is this same peace and community that allow two probation camps for so-called “bad boys” to be just up the road from half-million dollar houses located just on the border of northern La Verne and Marshall Canyon.
Ask, and the answer is that there has never been a problem.
“The camps were here before any homes were even built,” says Michael Cobas, probation officer who spends 56 consecutive hours out of his week at Camp Joseph Paige, Fire Camp 17, where probation officers have nothing more than handcuffs for emergency situations. “We have no mace, no night sticks,” Cobas says. “It is all very open. There are no fences to keep them in.”
The northern hills are somewhat self-contained. Those on them are either working to protect them from potentially destructive fires, enjoying the miles and miles of untouched canyons, or employed through some division of county or city. The trails serve as a transverse city line connection from San Dimas to Upland and reveal a beautifully preserved piece of Southern California’s history largely untouched by the bulldozer.
Driving north on Esperanza, one may be instantly hit by the differences between lower La Verne and northern La Verne. There is really no defining border, although Baseline Road is the dividing line in the minds of the residents. Instead, it is as if an imaginary serpentine line slices through the hills like one of the rattle snakes, so typically spotted in the area. Much wildlife lives deep in the forest hills. Among those observed are bobcats, coyotes, bears and deer and an occasional mountain lion.
“Wildlife has been observed in the areas of northern La Verne, Claraboya, Padua Hills, Glendora and Baldy Village. The population in numbers of black bears has increased somewhat and migrated into these areas over the past three years,” says Dr. Harvey Good, chair of the University of La Verne Biology Department.
Although it is considered canyon land, it is not all shaded by trees. Often, during the hours of the summer day when the sun is highest in the sky, the heat beats down like a heavy drum, and it feels like a tame, dry desert excited by steaming humidity.
“I wouldn’t recommend coming up here without water,” laughs Gail Roberts, La Verne resident who has frequented the trails of Marshall Canyon with her horse for four years. Roberts and friend Jill Lee, of San Dimas, who rides her pure Arabian horse Zeus three times a week, describe the trails as very convenient. “There are all kinds of terrain for the horses to ride on,” says Roberts. “However, it is too hilly to even want to run them.”
Lee’s favorite time of year on the trails is when it rains. “It is quite nice,” she says. “In spring, all of the streams flow, and the countryside is alive with wildflowers. It is beautiful.” Roberts pleasantly affirms, “It is quiet. One gets to see all the changes in in the seasons.”
Across the road from where Lee and Roberts ride their horses is a wooden entrance sign that leads up to the Los Angeles County Fire Suppression Camp 17. Up the road, past a “no trespassing” sign, is a small, high tech fire department. The fire department and probation Camp Paige, located just beyond, are connected.
Camp Paige sits between the arms of the mountains that rise behind it like guarding soldiers. It is one of only two probationary fire camps in Los Angeles County, the second being in Tujunga. Uniquely, the probation camp is directly correlated with the fire suppression department. One would not function quite as well without the other.
The fire suppression camp is actually a fire department directly in charge of first alarm responses for seven cities’ fire needs plus fire prone areas such as La Verne’s hills, Pomona’s hills, Ganesha Hills, Turbo Canyon, Webb Canyon and Hacienda Heights’ hills.
A lone car drives up Esperanza Avenue, turns right and stops at a gate that marks where the public street meets a private community. Entry comes with a press of the button for those who know the code. A hiker is not quite fast enough. The gate closes, blocking his entrance to the trail heads that begin just on the other side. He will not be entering Marshall Canyon Park from this location.
Along Esperanza Avenue, there are about five or six gated neighborhoods not accessible to the public. While this is not a problem usually to the residents of northern La Verne, it is an annoyance to nature enthusiasts who desire to enter the trails that begin behind the gates.
The gated communities are allowed to flourish off the public streets, says Dr. Tom Harvey, 14-year La Verne City Council member and dean of business management at the University of La Verne because they are not paid for by La Verne taxpayers. The communities were developed as separate communities by a private developer, not by the city. This means that the streets off Esperanza and Golden Hills Road were built by the developers and paid for by the homeowners.
“Let us step back for a minute,” says Dr. Harvey in defense of the gated communities. “Esperanza Road is not paid for by La Verne taxpayers. The conditions put upon the developments to develop them were that the homeowners, aside from their own association fees, have to pay $1,400 a year for the street. It is a public street but also a separate entity from the rest of the city.”
The gates arose because the associations that maintain the communities pay for the landscaping. Dr. Harvey says that the associations wanted the communities patrolled, as do many others, and it became easier to just to gate the areas. “The homeowners associations did it for safety,” says Dr. Harvey, illustrating that because homeowners pay association fees of or in excess of $175 a month, it is the associations’ right to gate the neighborhoods.
The homes located in or around the canyon or the Live Oak Reservoir, are more expensive compared to houses located below Baseline Road. “In the development around the reservoir, the homes run $220,000 for the smaller homes and $300,000 for the larger homes,” says Dr. Harvey. “However, within the county off to one side of La Verne, prices for homes can run anywhere from $600,000 to $1 million.”
The hills are still vulnerable to developers. Presently, Lewis Homes is erecting a small-scale city of homes called the Vistas, in the vicinity of the probation camps. The most expensive model in the Vistas is almost 5,000 square feet and runs from $460,000 to $538,000. However when one inquires about the model, she may be told that it is temporarily sold out. The homes are selling faster then they are being built. The construction is on-going, although each development will top off at about 180 houses each, meaning the area will grow with an estimated 3,200 people.
Only the steepness of the slope will stop La Verne’s construction. “We have what is called a hillside ordinance,” says Dr. Harvey. “We cannot build on any slope that is more than 25 percent grade.” He claims this is the last large-scale La Verne project. “We are not expecting to build much more, except for five houses here or there-minor infield stuff. The hillsides are precious to people.”
To residents of the area who know this first hand, this is good news. This is a place that co-exists with nature and is seemingly worlds away from suburbia.
Maintaining a Buffer Zone
There are many misconceptions that people have regarding relationships between man and animal. One of those is that animals that live in the canyon are violent, deadly creatures, willing to tear through anything in their paths. However, it is often people who pose a threat to nature’s wild animals by intruding on their grounds and building on the animals’ territory. Back yards of some north La Verne homes melt into the canyons. Nature is the wild child that was ruling the hills before people started planting houses upon the land; yet some people who live here seem to forget that the wildlife should be respected. There have been occasions in the past when wild animals have come in contact with people, and the results are disastrous.
The latest publicized attack by a mountain lion happened about three years ago in Live Oak Canyon when a cougar killed a Siberian American Husky. Recently, though, there have not been any new attacks.
“People have to be aware that they are living on the buffer zone between city and wilderness,” says Dr. Harvey Good, chair of the University of La Verne Biology Department, who is also on the board of directors for the Pomona Valley Humane Society. “We are encroaching on their environment.”
Dr. Good says that there are preventative methods people can take to ensure that their home environments are protected from wild animals — animals that are not looking for trouble in the first place and are only acting in a manner indicative to their nature.
First, people should not leave food outside under any circumstances. “Sometimes, people purposely feed animals, either to attract them, or because they think that they do not have enough food on their own,” says Dr. Good. “This is never a good idea. Do not feed them or leave food outside, even in a trash can.”
He describes a situation when the Humane Society was called upon to investigate why a family of coyotes was hanging out in a particular backyard of a family that had a pool. The family had not been feeding the coyotes and could not figure out why their backyard was the target.
“We traced it back to the adult male who is the head of the coyote family, and we deducted that the male remembered being fed in the past by a family who had lived in the house previous to the current owners. He was bringing his family back to be fed, where he thought was a sure place to get food,” says Dr. Good.
Another way to prevent accidents with animals, according to Dr. Good, is to avoid carelessness. “Never leave small pets and small children outside alone,” he says, explaining how the animals know no better, and people are the ones who need to take responsibility for their actions as well as take precautions to avoid disaster.
Areas highly populated with wild animals include Marshall Canyon, just north of La Verne, as well as Claraboya, Padua Hills, Live Oak Canyon, Webb Canyon and Baldy Village.
“No matter how frequent animal sightings may be, there is one thing you should remember when you happen to see one — that you’re lucky,” says Glenn Girard, owner of the Marshall Canyon Equestrian Center, who sees animals practically every day due to his location directly in front of an entrance to the canyon where he frequently rides his horses.
“Animals are more afraid of you than you are of them; and they have every reason to be,” he explains, nodding his head. “Every reason.”