Large-scale urban development will soon replace the San Bernardino County Dairy Preserve. Last December, the city of Ontario completed its annexation of more than half of the 15,000-acre swath of farmland, and the City of Chino either has annexed or plans to annex the remainder.

Ontario's plans for what the city has tabbed the "New Model Colony" call for development of 31,000 homes, 5 million square feet of retail space and 5 million square feet of industrial space. The annexation of 8,200 acres increased the city's size by one-third to 49 square miles.

Chino finished annexing about 1,500 acres in May 1999, and city officials are now in the early stages of master planning 5,500 neighboring acres, which the city intends to annex in the near future. Because of flooding concerns, Chino's development plans are not as aggressive as Ontario's. Still, Chino earmarked hundreds of acres for industrial development and could zone up to 2,000 acres for new residences. Although Ontario and Chino officials have reviewed each other's plans, and major thoroughfares are proposed to connect the two towns, the cities have not coordinated their planning efforts. And critics say Ontario's land-use plan is simply "more of the same."

The San Bernardino County Dairy Preserve — often called the Chino Ag Preserve — has been the heart of the Southern California diary industry for decades. According to 1997 state Department of Food & Agriculture figures, San Bernardino was the number three dairy producing county in the state (after Tulare and Merced counties) with $440 million in annual production. However, rapid urban development in San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Riverside counties has surrounded the dairy preserve, and about half of the 400 dairies have moved during the last 10 years.

"It's been the focus of decades-long controversy, with environmental interests, development interests, agricultural interests and municipal interests all in competition," said James Roddy, San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission executive officer. During the 1980s, San Bernardino County officials promoted the continuation of agriculture in the area, Roddy said. At the same time, the county, Chino and Ontario bickered over spheres of influence, with both cities attempting to assert control over the entire preserve.

During the early 1990s, county officials concluded that agriculture should be phased out, so LAFCO began a series of studies to determine spheres of influence, Roddy explained. In the end, Ontario got the bulk of developable land.

In January 1998, Ontario adopted a general plan amendment and environmental impact report for the 8,200-acre New Model Colony, which lies south of the Pomona (60) Freeway and west of Interstate 15. The plan spreads about a dozen neighborhood centers across the area, with larger commercial centers surrounded by high-density residential uses at the east and west ends. Village greens crisscross the area, and there will be a town center near the middle. The majority of land will go for single-family homes, which could be developed at 4.6 units per acre, but the plan does mandate a mix of housing types, said James Ragsdale, the city's project manager. The city hopes to get some higher-end homes, of which it currently has few.

To accommodate the projected 500,000 daily vehicle trips at buildout in 2030, the city proposes three north-south parkways of six or eight lanes each, connecting with the 60 Freeway, and one six- or eight-lane east-west parkway connecting the large commercial centers and Interstate 15. The neighborhood centers make bus service, which could tie to the nearby Metrolink train, a strong possibility, Ragsdale said. There will be pedestrian links to neighborhood centers and schools, and the town center will favor walkers, he added.

The city is preparing a public facilities implementation program, which will include financing plans and development fees. Once that is complete later this year, development may commence. Initiating development will be expensive because the area has almost no infrastructure, Ragsdale warned.

The Sierra Club and the Endangered Habitats League sued Ontario, claiming the city's plan lacked an adequate traffic impact analysis, and did not mitigate the loss of biological and agricultural resources. The city won the lawsuit, but environmentalists have appealed.

Endangered Habitats League Executive Director Dan Silver said Ontario deserves credit for planning activities centers. But, he said, the plan ideally would contain denser development in those centers, more open space and agriculture other than dairies. Also, all area jurisdictions, including Riverside County, should plan for more employment centers and transit-oriented development, Silver said.

Chino's cut of the former dairy preserve lies south of Ontario's New Model Colony and northeast of the Corona (71) Freeway. Much of the 1,500 acres Chino annexed last year is constrained because it lies below the top of Prado Dam, a nearby Santa Ana River flood-control project. Nearly 900 acres at elevations below the existing dam height are designated for open space, said Chuck Coe, Chino community development director. (Orange County, which lies downstream, is responsible for acquiring land or flooding rights.) Another 320 acres are below the elevation of the planned 10-foot extension, and that property is zoned for agriculture, including the continuation of dairies. The northernmost 600 acres are set aside for industrial development, probably in the form of distribution centers, warehouses, light manufacturing, and business parks.

Exactly how the city will designate the 5,500 acres it intends to annex in a couple years remains underdetermined, Coe said. A significant portion lies below the Prado Dam flood line, and two prisons and Chino Municipal Airport — all nearby — are other considerations. Still, Coe expects the city could make available up to 2,000 acres for residential development.

"We're running out of residential property in the city proper. The City Council and the staff sees a tremendous opportunity to accommodate a master-planned community. This is a chance to have residential uses with a high standard," Coe said.

The city is working with consultants and reaching out to the public in a process akin to a general plan update, with focus group meetings, field trips and website updates. A large regional park in areas subject to flooding is one possibility, Coe said.

"This is going to have a significant effect on the form of this community for years to come," said Coe, noting that the two annexations will increase Chino's size by nearly three-quarters.

While people prepare to move into the dairy preserve, the cows are heading north to the San Joaquin Valley. In February, the Kings County Planning Commission approved plans for four giant diaries between Hanford and Corcoran. J.G. Boswell Co. plans to put up to 47,000 cows on 6,000 acres.

Kings County originally approved the diaries in January 1999, but the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment sued to force preparation of an EIR because of concerns over water and air pollution, insects and odors. The county completed an EIR and reapproved the project.

Plans for a 28,000-cow dairy in Kern County, near Bakersfield, have received stiff opposition from residents in recent months.


Chuck Coe, Chino Community Development Department, (909) 591-9812.
James Ragsdale, Ontario Planning Department, (909) 391-2506.
James Roddy, San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, (909) 387-5866.
Dan Silver, Endangered Habitats League, (323) 654-1456.