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Cedar Glen Gets Renewal Project

Redevelopment status is OKd for badly burned community in the San Bernardinos.

March 24, 2004|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

To boost reconstruction of a neighborhood among the hardest hit in last year's wildfires, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to launch a redevelopment project in the mountain community of Cedar Glen.

The decision was unusual, county officials concede, because redevelopment areas are primarily used to initiate development in blighted urban neighborhoods. But they point out that Cedar Glen suffered heavily during the October and November firestorms because many roads were unpaved and too narrow to carry firetrucks, and the aging water system hampered firefighters trying to douse the blaze.

Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, who represents Cedar Glen, said the redevelopment project is not meant to help residents rebuild burned homes, but rather to improve streets and infrastructure for those who do rebuild. Redevelopment will allow the county to borrow money for the work and repay it from property taxes as home values in the area increase.

"It's a unique use of this tool, but I believe it will be a good use," Hansberger said.

Cedar Glen was developed in the 1920s and 1930s with rustic mountain cabins for vacationing Los Angeles residents. Many of those cabins have since become permanent homes on tiny lots along narrow mountain roads, surrounded by pines. The fire destroyed 350 homes in the community.

Redevelopment projects have been controversial in some areas because state law gives redevelopment agencies the power to force the sale of property and build low-income housing.

County officials do not plan to build low-income housing and don't foresee the need to acquire property. A public meeting Tuesday on the creation of the project drew only two residents from the Cedar Glen area, both of whom praised the idea. Pat Grimwood, a Cedar Glen resident who lost two homes in the fires, called the redevelopment project the "best and only alternative we have" to improve the community's roads and water system.

Only days after the fires were extinguished, Peter Brierty, San Bernardino County fire marshal, complained that some roads in Cedar Glen were too narrow to allow even one fire engine to pass, particularly in spots where residents parked RVs or boat trailers along the shoulder.

Brierty said firefighters tried to protect homes on narrow roads without fire hydrants and on cul-de-sacs too small to allow a fire engine to turn around quickly to escape.

Much of Cedar Glen has been served by Arrowhead Manor Water Co., a private firm placed in receivership last year after the death of its owner. The company has also been cited by the state Department of Public Health for failing to respond to customer complaints and orders to make upgrades.

Grimwood said he hopes the new redevelopment area can upgrade the water system and merge it with a larger, established utility agency that serves neighboring communities.

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