DIAMOND BAR — On the rolling hillsides along the western edge of San Bernardino County, road crews are grading a thoroughfare that will link the rapidly growing but isolated community of Chino Hills with the Orange and Pomona freeways.
But to get there, commuters will drive straight through the heart of Diamond Bar, a prospect that worries residents groups that fear the extension of Grand Avenue could paralyze a community already clogged twice daily by rush-hour traffic.
"We're going to be the only way out of Chino Hills," said Diamond Bar resident Gary Lawson, who formed the Stop Grand Avenue Expressway Committee last month. "We'll be taking the entire load of the 17,000 homes that are being built, as well as the 9,000 homes that are already there."
Grand Avenue now ends just short of the San Bernardino County line in Diamond Bar. The extension would take it to Peyton Drive east of Chino Hills.
Lawson is critical of both San Bernardino County Supervisor Larry Walker--who represents Chino Hills and is a strong proponent of the extension project--and Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, whom he accuses of deceiving Diamond Bar residents about the project's impact on their community.
In return, Lawson has been criticized not only by Walker and Schabarum, but by the leader of another residents group concerned with Grand Avenue. Gary L. Miller, who founded Concerned Citizens for Diamond Bar Traffic Control in August, said Lawson is spreading misinformation and needlessly antagonizing Schabarum.
"You don't continue to kick a man and then expect him to work with you," Miller said. He said his group has frequent contact with Schabarum's office and he believes the supervisor will protect Diamond Bar's interests.
Lawson said the two groups differ in that Miller believes residents should refrain from aggressive activism until San Bernardino County traffic engineers complete a traffic study on the extension project later this month.
"We're very dissatisfied with the option of waiting when there are 150 graders on the other side (of the hill) pushing this thing through," Lawson said.
Although concerned with the same issue, each group is generally critical of the other and each claims to have the largest membership.
"This issue has torn the community in half, just like Grand Avenue will," said Phyllis Papen, president of the Diamond Bar Improvement Assn.
To illustrate the rush-hour problem, Lawson's group plans to marshal its forces at 4 p.m. Friday at the corner of Grand Avenue and Diamond Bar Boulevard. Miller's group, which will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Diamond Bar Library auditorium, will not participate in the rally.
Although Lawson said he hopes to attract more than 300 residents to the demonstration, the guests of honor, he said, will be Walker and Schabarum.
However, Walker said he will not be able to attend because of a prior commitment to perform Naval reserve duty. Schabarum has no intention of being there, said his deputy, Ray Andersen.
"He's seen the flyers (announcing the rally) and they are not in any way accurate about what's going on there," Andersen said. "There's just a lot of people politicking for the (upcoming City Council) election who are trying to get some publicity and (Schabarum) doesn't want any part of that."
Lawson's group wants the opening of the Grand Avenue extension to be delayed until other roads serving Chino Hills are adequately improved and until Diamond Bar voters decide in March whether to incorporate as a city.
Miller said an agreement between Walker and Schabarum already requires that San Bernardino County complete other Chino Hills road projects before Grand Avenue is extended. He said his group will insist that the agreement is strictly enforced.
However, Walker said Diamond Bar residents are being unduly concerned about increased traffic on Grand Avenue and called Lawson's estimate of 40,000 cars a day "asinine." He said San Bernardino County will spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on traffic signals and other improvements in Los Angeles County to handle traffic problems.
Walker said his request to delay the opening of the Grand Avenue extension is out of the question.
"As soon as we can get it built, we're going to open it," he said. "I've got thousands of constituents in Chino Hills who need that road. . . . When you talk about not opening up Grand Avenue, you're talking about drastically damaging the quality of life of every resident in the Chino Hills."