The Norbertine Code

Monks and canyon dwellers go mano a mano in Silverado Canyon

The Norbertine Code

The roads into Silverado Canyon's rustic, tucked-away Eden crawl east, away from the foothills of Orange and into the Santa Ana Mountains. The canyon people know each turn and can name the ghosts of those who once walked their dusty curves—and, along the way, built a little paradise among the oak trees, California poppies and Mariposa lilies.

Canyon people are stoked by a hand-me-down pride, the kind that burns like a mule-headed sun on an August afternoon. And whether one is warmed by their pride or scorched by the fire depends on where one stands along the roads.

Do you stand in God's country, a vast but vulnerable tract of dirt and wood, crawling with wildlife, and dappled with native plants and ancient creek beds, all desperate for man's protection? Or do you stand in eternal fields ripe for the harvest of 21st-century homes and a patch of land that God's priests believe He has given them to build a sanctuary away from the heavy footstep of modernity and its ever-deafening roar?

Ed Amador—the 57-year-old president of the Canyon Land Conservation Fund, a nonprofit group of about 400 members dedicated to preserving the wildlands of the Santa Ana Mountains and canyons—knows where he stands. The Silverado Canyon resident's pride burns hot for the history and heritage of the place he has called home for nearly 20 years. And it has been rekindled by what one group of canyon residents says is the latest incursion of outsiders.

In January, the Norbertine Fathers of Orange, an order of Catholic priests that has long practiced the monastic life at St. Michael's Abbey on El Toro Road near Cook's Corner in unincorporated Silverado Canyon, bought the property commonly known as Holtz Ranch, where, in the early 1900s, Joseph Holtz built his home near the old Carbondale mine, and where his family, over the course of 80 years, grew fruits, nuts, corn and barley; tended 160 bee colonies; and raised turkeys.

The sparse remains of the ranch, including an old storage building and stacked-stone pillars, stand among desolate fields and woodlands, where the Norbertines want to build a new abbey and high school, complete with athletic fields, guest houses and a cemetery for monastery members, a sacred space carved from the serene landscape at 27977 Silverado Canyon Rd. They believe they have a sacramental connection to the property, as priests used to say Mass on Sundays in a mission chapel that was on the Holtz land, a mission that was a part of St. Cecilia's parish in Tustin.

Amador, a barrel-chested man with brown eyes often hidden by sunglasses, speaks with a canyon man's passion as he says a faux-rustic abbey bustling with believers would bring a curse on the land instead of a blessing from heaven.

"It's real simple," he says. "It's a severe injury and fatality, a cancer the county's been put on alert about."

Indeed, it has. The Canyon Land Conservation Fund and other vocal, anti-development canyon groups are raising awareness at public meetings, putting civic officials on notice that they've won other wars against development along Silverado Canyon Road, and they're ready to tangle again.

In 1977, anti-development groups beat back developers seeking to stick more than 400 mobile homes on the site. A developer in 1989 dropped roughly $1.25 million into plans for 167 homes before turning tail and running.

In 1999, Las Vegas developer Marnell Corrao, which developed the Wynn and Bellagio resorts, bought 320 acres at a reported $5 million, with designs to build 12 mansions on about 70 acres. Court battles ensued when Trabuco Canyon resident Ray Chandos, who, at 62 years old, has lived in the canyons for nearly 30 years, led his Rural Canyon Conservation Fund in filing a successful civil complaint, saying the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) did not properly address impacts on water quality and coastal sage scrub mitigation. A supplemental EIR was drafted, but soon afterward, anti-development residents cited a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that said there was evidence of the federally endangered Southwestern Arroyo Toad, a three-inch, brown-and-cream-colored critter that breeds in water and was thought to be extinct in the region.

What dust-up over development would be complete without critters getting caught up in the crosshairs? The developer said earlier studies showed only the toad's larvae in the area. They had a friend in Bill Campbell, supervisor for the county's Third District, which includes the Holtz Ranch, who reportedly said he heard that critics of the development may have planted the larvae.

The county pushed ahead, as the Board of Supervisors, with Campbell presiding, approved the project in 2007. The canyon people lost an appeal in San Diego Superior Court. The developers eventually pulled up stakes and sold more than 120 acres to the Norbertines. According to the most recent figures from the Orange County's Assessor Department, the patch of land is valued at more than $6.1 million.

It's a fight for one of the last remaining pieces of Orange County's wildlands. Developers have bludgeoned anti-development activists recently—Dana Point approved the desecration of oceanfront land in 2004 so that developer Headlands Reserve LLC could erect a gated tract of multimillion-dollar homes—who, though bloodied, punch with as much strength as they can muster. In the highlands surrounding Fullerton, the vocal Friends of Coyote Hills group has for years tried to stop Chevron's Pacific Coast Homes from building the controversial West Coyote Hills estate-homes project. The Fullerton City Council's most recent action on the matter was to send the development agreement to voters in November. But this time, the canyon people insist they're ready.

* * *

Saint Norbert was born in 1080 near the banks of the Rhine in Xanten, near Wesel, Germany. A man who found his heavenly calling relatively late in life, St. Norbert gave up lustful pursuits at age 30 while riding to a village near his hometown. That's when he was thrown from his horse, which was struck by a thunderbolt. He remained prone in a near-dead state for about an hour, so the story goes. Having decided to consecrate himself to the penitent life, St. Norbert became a priest at 35.

Later, he founded a religious order in the diocese of Laon, in France. The order was established in the forest of Coucy and was little more than a handful of disciples living in wood-and-clay huts. The priest eventually rose to become the Bishop of Magdeburg in Germany, where he died at the age of 53. According to St. Michael's, its priests were vaunted teachers in secular and religious schools alike in Hungary until, in the aftermath of World War II, as the communists suffocated Eastern Europe, private schools were nationalized in 1948. The priests faced imprisonment.

The Norbertine Abbey of Csorna saw two small groups of monks flee for the United States on different nights in July 1950, leaving the religious community to languish under communist suppression. In 1957, Cardinal James McIntyre invited the monks to teach at Santa Ana's Mater Dei High School, which was then part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. About a year later, McIntyre allowed the priests to start a new foundation, one that would continue to practice their religious traditions.

In 1961, they bought their first property and opened St. Michael's Junior Seminary and Novitiate. Later, the school would start a college-preparatory program for lay students, and by the 1970s, St. Michael's thrived as a small high school, rather than a seminary, according to abbey history. By 1995, St. Michael's Abbey Preparatory School touted itself as the only one in the American west to provide an all-male residential study program for Catholics seeking a secondary education.

At the same time, St. Michael's Abbey sought to blend the traditions of old-school Catholicism with the best of modern teaching. St. Michael's became fully autonomous as an independent priory of the order in 1976, and in 1984, Rome elevated the community to abbatial status, according to the abbey.

It grew its community from a handful of members in 1961 to several dozen today. In its effort to expand over the past several years, St. Michael's scouted the county for a new location, including land off Ortega Highway. The new location keeps it in the neighborhood and is already zoned for a church and school. The priests say the hunt for a new home was brought on by the "geological instability of our present site in Trabuco Canyon." According to the abbey, a piece of its school building was lost in the El Niño downpour of 1998, and the school bled enrollment.

But the peaceful abbey has also been squeezed by housing tracts, and another proposed development, called Saddle Creek-Saddle Crest, loomed over it for years. The monks vow to keep half of the Holtz Ranch land as undeveloped open space, integrating gardens, orchards and gravel pathways among buildings made of wood, stone and other natural materials. They plan to keep the existing Holtz Ranch stacked-stone entry pillars and believe the project will complement the character of the canyon and become an area landmark.

Father Gregory Dick says canyon residents can expect "nothing different than what they've experienced from us in 50 years. It's not like we're blowing our horns by any means, [but] we've been [here] longer than most of the people in the canyons. It's also true that many people didn't even know we were up on the mountaintop, which speaks to itself."

The monks also say they have God on their side. The Reverend Eugene J. Hayes, the abbot at St. Michael's, wrote in a newsletter posted on their website that the Lord is leading the Norbertines to the land flowing with creeks and honeybees. "The Lord has a plan, and He knows what it is and how He will bring it about," he wrote. "All we must do is cooperate and receive the things He wills to give us. Ultimately, this is what our lives come down to: being generous in opening ourselves to receive the things the Lord wishes to give us, in being unstinting in our cooperation even when we don't see the larger picture, even when things don't make immediate sense to us. Because our Lord wants to give us more than we can fathom, and in preparing us to receive, He must often stretch our capacities—and stretching is challenging, painful and requires cooperation."

He—God, that is, and Hayes, for good measure—isn't getting much cooperation from many of the canyon people, though.

"It's completely out of place with a teeny, little, already-dangerous, very-busy road with lots of bicycles on the weekend," says Chay Peterson, a 25-year canyon resident and co-founder of the Canyon Land Conservation Fund. Peterson, 51, would like to see Holtz Ranch return to its natural state. She recalls the days when the Holtz family still visited the property on weekends, when there were remnants of old turkey cages and canyon residents would take photos with the family.

Over time, the family stopped visiting, the old buildings were abandoned, and local kids would make mischief in the historic structures. Perhaps the property can be preserved for an open-air museum, Peterson says. She could see bees and turkeys back on the plot of land, a place that could become a cultural center where kids would learn about old America and settler ranches. Anything but steeples in the sky, she reasons.

"I always felt peaceful looking at it," she says. "Here's a piece of old ranching America right here at the entrance of our little town. It was perfect. And then when they removed the buildings, it was kind of shocking. I had to look at the land differently."

Peterson is also looking to heaven. While the monks believe God has given them the land, Peterson, a Christian, is seeking divine intervention against what she and other canyon residents see as an intrusion. They may forgive the abbey's sins, but they won't forgive its trespasses.

"There are other Christians who call me now, and they feel really disturbed by this, and they're praying the land gets preserved," she says. "The [abbey's monks are] not looking out for the interests of the community. They're looking out for their own interests. To a lot of Christians in the community, it's considered a selfish move on their part, and I feel strongly in that direction."

But Dick says the monks, like most canyon people, are also looking for solitude. They welcome anyone to visit their monastery on El Toro Road to get a glimpse of what can be expected at their new home.

Whether the Norbertine priests will love their neighbors as they love themselves remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: They preach the gospel of property rights.

In a May 3 letter to Phil McWilliams, president of the Inter-Canyon League, Susan K. Hori, an attorney for the Norbertines, said the abbey was aware his group had used a portion of its property for parking on the area commonly referred to as "The Riviera" during special events at nearby Silverado Community Center. Hori said St. Michael's, as a gesture of goodwill and support for the group's goals, would like to "discuss arrangements to accommodate your group's occasional use of the site."

In a letter to naturalist Joel Robinson, Hori warned that the abbey was aware of a tour he leads along the Riviera. "We trust and hope you will confirm that 'along the Riviera' means that you and your event participants will be walking along Silverado Canyon Road, adjacent to the Riviera, and not venture onto the Riviera or the remainder of the property and that any examination of the creek be outside of the boundaries of the property," Hori wrote.

Hori went on to write that the Holtz Ranch property is not a refuge for local wildlife, as stated on a website promoting the event, "but rather a private landholding designated for development in the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan" and that the Riviera itself is private property, where trespassing is prohibited, and not an accessible piece of old California, as also was stated on the event website.

Robinson replied by email to Hori, saying the area is a historic public right of way, that it's dangerous to walk on the road, and that his description of the area is accurate. "Wildlife do occur throughout the property, and the proposed development is not within the guidelines of the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan," Robinson wrote. "It is a historic piece of old California and totally visible for anyone to see."

Not all canyon residents are rabidly anti-development. Among them is Tom Smisek, a canyon man since 1970 who fondly recalls when the area had little bars and restaurants, even a shooting range. Documents such as the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan, which many canyon folks cite to stop new construction, are actually not intended to kill all development in the canyons, but rather give officials guidelines for the balancing act of honoring property rights and keeping the rural character of the area intact, he says.

In recent years, Smisek says, "environmental wackos" have cherry-picked the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan whenever they wanted to kill proposed buildings, and they've stubbornly fought projects as minute as a new barn. They have a hypocritical attitude, he argues, in wanting the wild trails and hills for themselves and no one else, even opposing new parks because restrooms, trash cans and parking lots would supposedly scar the land.

According to Smisek, these wackos have complained about traffic from development, but they have no problem with the caravans of cars and bicycles that accompany their Earth-first fund-raising booze-fests. Canyon residents who hate development won't think twice about cutting fences and tearing down no-trespassing signs, slashing tires on tractors, or dumping sugar into gas tanks on construction equipment.

The monks bear witness. "We're very disappointed," Dick says. "There's been vandalism of signs we've put up. We're in it for the long [haul] . . . and willing as possible to be good neighbors."

If environmentalists want to set a good example, Smisek reasons, they should raze their houses, let their properties return to their natural states, and leave.

But not all canyon folks are wild-eyed natives with a flower in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. Smisek says there are three groups of people in the canyons, the largest being the kind who have a live-and-let-live attitude and had moved there to get away from city life and its politics. That group is flanked on one side by a small but vocal association of environmentalists, and on the other by what Smisek believes are "reasonable thinkers," those who would fight against the likes of Starbucks and Wal-Mart, but have no problem with new homes that fit the landscape or businesses that could bring life back to the quaint downtowns.

An owner of 15 acres himself, Smisek says he's neither anti-environment nor pro-development. He just wants a return to the old days, when the canyons were bustling with community-oriented businesses and new neighbors who moved in for the same reason—country living in Orange County's back yard.

And the Norbertines will likely make great neighbors, says Smisek, who has visited the abbey at El Toro Road. "It's not that they don't have a track record in this area," he says. "It's absolutely landscaped. It's quiet and serene. They're going to build some stuff a little bit bigger, but they're peaceful. They're not about raising hell. They're trying to blend in and be harmonious. . . . They're going to be good neighbors, and they want to do the right thing."

* * *

Still, while the Norbertines say their move is motivated by geological shifts to their property, many canyon residents see them playing a game of musical chairs, as the noise of Orange County chases the monks to a place of solace.

"When the Saddle Creek-Saddle Crest development threatened their area, they went out and marched and protested development around them, that they were there first and had a view and didn't want that ruined," recalls Peterson. "And we're telling them that we have a rustic community. Please listen to us. Please don't impact that. And then they send their attorney, and we get no-trespassing signs everywhere. I'm not in a position now to feel for them the way they would want a neighbor to because they're not being neighborly."

Irvine-based Rutter Development Co. wants to build 65 homes at 18514 Santiago Canyon Rd., northwest of the intersection of Live Oak Canyon and El Toro roads, a tractor drive from the abbey. The project, which is under review by the county, is now simply called Saddle Crest and would gobble nearly 114 acres, with roughly 80 acres designated as open space.

The project was originally called Saddle Crest-Saddle Creek (with a proposed 187 homes) and was part of the old 4-S Ranch owned by Erwood Edgar, an old-timer who had left his imprint on the planning documents for the canyon areas, the earliest of which was the Foothill Corridor Plan. After Edgar died, the ranch was passed on to his son, who sold it to Texas-based land speculator Asset Recovery Fund in 1999.

The speculator proposed developing a project known as "Santiago Land Holdings" but fled when the canyon people squared up to fight, ultimately selling to Rutter Development, which ambled in with a 187-unit project, including 46 homes set for Saddle Crest along Santiago Canyon Road and the remainder, known as Saddle Creek, located along both sides of Live Oak Canyon Road. More than 1,000 mature oak trees would have been destroyed, Rural Canyon Conservation Fund's Chandos says, some with 6-foot-thick trunks.

The county's planning commission approved the project in December 2002, when there was a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors—specifically, the Third District seat that oversees the area where the project is located. Todd Spitzer had left the seat open following his successful election to the state Assembly.

Rutter Development's project went to the Board of Supervisors and was approved in January 2003 without a representative from the district in which the project sits. Chandos and a gang of environmentalist groups, including the Endangered Habitats League, challenged the board's decision and lost in Orange County Superior Court, but they later won in the 4th District Court of Appeals; the judges there agreed that approval of the project was flawed because both it and a proposed amendment to the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan were inconsistent with the county's General Plan.

The judges found that the project would cause an unpermissible increase in traffic on Santiago Canyon Road, that the specific plan amendment would've relaxed regulations otherwise applicable to the project, and that the EIR failed to properly mitigate the "significant impact" of construction interference from noise, supply depots and vehicle staging areas. So Rutter Development sold the Saddle Creek portion of the project to the Land Conservancy and the Orange County Transit Authority.

Was it another victory for the anti-development canyon people? Yes, but in Dave Eadie, the president of Rutter Development who has more than 40 years in planning and land-development experience, they may have run up against someone just as stubborn as they are.

Suited, booted and speaking with the calm cadence of an executive who wasn't at his first planning rodeo, the syrupy-voiced Eadie attempted on May 23 to charm the planning commission into seeing that a series of proposed amendments to the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan and the county's General Plan would help public officials balance development and environmental preservation. The most controversial amendment may be one that deletes the word "natural" in relation to the determination of the 66 percent open-space requirement and allows for development grading in areas designed as open space.

Following Eadie's lead, Mike Huff, a certified arborist and forester, attempted to quell concerns that Rutter Development's project ties a yellow noose around 151 oak trees. Huff told the commission that most of the trees in the area were damaged in recent fires and not good candidates for relocation. "Oaks can be relocated, but it's not an ecological or really a very humane thing to do to the oak, to be honest," he argued. The developer's proposal includes preserving 75 percent of the current oaks and planting 281 replacement trees, so that in 10 years, the area would boast 2,000 healthy trees.

Planting trees isn't the only way Rutter Development has offered to help county officials. According to the county Registrar of Voters, the developer pitched in $1,700 to Patricia Bates' 2010 campaign for election in the Fourth District, as well as $1,800 each—the maximum allowed under law—to Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Janet Nguyen in their most recent campaigns and Spitzer, who rolled over Deborah Pauly to take the Third District seat on the heels of his 2010 firing as a senior prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney's office.

Spitzer, whose oversight will include the proposed project site, did not return phone messages seeking comment about development in the canyons. But a canyon man who has been more than willing to speak out about Rutter Development's project was at the Planning Commission meeting to rebuke Eadie and Saddle Crest.

Chandos also appeared at the commission meeting, as though he were a legendary prizefighter, and delivered several haymakers on behalf of his group, which first petitioned the county to establish what became the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan. "The proposal before you is a case of the tail wagging the dog, the tail being a single development project and the dog being the entire Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan and the Orange County General Plan," Chandos said.

Speaking for many canyon residents, Chandos argued that Rutter Development's proposal is a radical, far-reaching overhaul of these longstanding policies. They fear such amendments would open the door for developers to run roughshod over the rest of the county's open spaces. "I can't imagine a better recipe for widespread planning anarchy and confusion," Chandos told the commission.

Shortly after the meeting, Chandos admitted that the long battle against development in the canyons has wearied him and others who continue to fight. "It's very time-consuming," he says. "We're all paying for it in time taken from work, the lawyer bills. We've got lawsuits going. We have to sue the county all the time. We have made progress in getting around 1,000 acres since the plan was passed, so that's been encouraging."

* * *

The canyon roads are busy now, as summer invites visitors to cycle, hike or drive along the same routes laid down long ago by those who shared the same love for the land, with its faithful landscapes and surprising treasures. The long days awake to songs of native birds and the rustlings of predators and prey. Broiling afternoons buzz and moan with the sound of motorcycles and a steady stream of cars.

Smisek says canyon people are a unique breed. Sure, they scrap as though they're wildcats when it comes to development issues, but when a disaster such as flooding or fire hits, they come together quicker than anyone else he knows. But anti-development folks have a Chicken Little attitude about any talk of development, he says. "It's the old 'not in my back yard' attitude," he explains. "Now that we're here, we don't want anybody else here."

As evening falls on the canyons, their visitors, renewed by the life-giving panoramas and discovered-again landmarks, head home, perhaps to the coast or the sprawl of their native cities. The tired sun drowns in the west as the canyons flicker with headlights, until the footfall of man quiets and the night creatures live again.

Then Smisek asks a question that can be answered a thousand ways—or no way at all.

"Save the canyons?" he asks. "What are we saving them from?"

 

This article appeared in print as "The Great Monk Invasion: Does a Norbertine monastery in Silverado Canyon spell doom for God's country?"

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41 comments
Grace O'Malley
Grace O'Malley

The Silverado folks should not be angry with St. Michael's Abbey. Instead, they should be angry with the Holtz family, who sold their farmland to developers years ago. If anyone wanted to keep that land vacant, they should have bought the land at that time & donated it to the city or county. The people who are complaining now should "put their money where their mouth is," buy that land from St. Michael's & donate it to the city of Silverado.

Lwalker
Lwalker

Eamador's one-day old blog (which is posted out of chronological order) says that his comments about the Abbey being a “sever injury and fatality, a cancer. . .” were misquoted. So if Mr. Amador is correct, did OCW libel him? Or if Mr. Amador is incorrect, and he did make that statement, perhaps Mr. Amador;s latest blog libels OCW! So OCW, any comment? Do you stand by Mr. Amador's quote in your article or was he misquoted?

Carynb
Carynb

I recently moved to the canyon, and I had no idea...How a community could except anyone with open arms. I have never seen it in my life time. The landscape is so serene, and breath taking, that you don't even realize you are home. I feel that every day. I just want outsiders to know that 1. the speed limit is 25...no matter if you are a car, walker, or bicker, cyclist. 2. don't touch. 3. Waive HI and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you

TBickley
TBickley

So Tom are you suggesting that the developed areas of OC are free from backward characters, alcoholics and drug addicts? You've got to be kidding me.

Tommcmurray
Tommcmurray

I absolutely welcome this development. Silverado Canyon has been "Left Behind" the rest of Orange County in terms of becoming a modern, safe, upstanding community. I drive my car, ride my bike and walk through this canyon every year. I have encountered many, many backward characters, from alcoholics to flat out drug addicts. Let the Development come! The Catholics will surely raise the spiritual well being of this backward canyon. Let's "Grow Up" Silverado Canyon. This time is now. Thomas MacMurray

Ed Teach
Ed Teach

In paragraph 5 of this article, the author mentions that the Holtz Family farmed their land from about 1900 to 1980. They ploughed the land, dug wells, planted orchards, raised crops, built barns & chicken coops, etc. In paragraph 14 the Holtz Ranch is described as "one of the last remaining pieces of O.C's wildlands." Wildland?!? The property has only been vacant for 32 years. What's so "wild" about that?

Jim Hook
Jim Hook

Saint Michael's Abbey has been around since A.D. 1180. They have survived fires, floods, wars, invasions, Muslims, Nazis, Communists. It looks like they have time on their side....

Ed Teach
Ed Teach

Saint Michael's Abbey mailing address (not location) has been "Silverado CA 92676" for many years. The only reason little Silverado Canyon still has a post office is because of the large amount of incoming mail for St. Michael's Abbey. Just ask the Post Office staff ... they will tell you. No ... actually they won't say anything ... they are afraid of getting their tires slashed & homes spray-painted by "environmentalists."

Tibor Machan
Tibor Machan

It is not an invasion when you purchase land fair and square and build your abode on it. Calling it that is insulting--did you invade where you live now? Did your friends, parents, and so forth invade their current residences? Must you be of a certain religion these days to come to by property and live in Silverado Canyon?

Bob
Bob

It's equal opportunity.

Lwalker
Lwalker

If these Silverado people want to control everybody's use of the canyons, then we should stop supporting them every time they have a disaster. Let's stop spending county money up there and let them take care of their fires, floods and mudslides by themselves.

mesa short sales
mesa short sales

The Fullerton City Council's most recent action on the matter was to send the development agreement to voters in November. But this time, the canyon people insist they're ready.

mesa short sales
mesa short sales

The canyon people know each turn and can name the ghosts of those who once walked their dusty curves—and, along the way, built a little paradise among the oak trees, California poppies and Mariposa lilies.

Virginia
Virginia

While this is a very creative and entertaining piece of journalism it is quite unfortunate that it is written to entice the reader to believe that the opinion of ALL folks who live in the canyon is being represented. There is a very large, although silent majority of educated residents that love this canyon we call home but do believe in owner property rights. None of us want to see a typical downtown development, but threatening of property owners, the County, the Board of Supervisors etc. certainly isn't conducive to peaceful canyon living. These radical anti-development groups have already cost taxpayers thousand of dollars including putting the Silverado Modjeska Recreation Parks District at risk over a prior judgement against this property. Enough is enough many canyon residents say! We have already lost our school, restaurant, local canyon markets and our post office is in jeopardy of closing as we don't have a large enough population to support thriving commerce anymore. Quoting an odd statement in the article made by Mr. Amador, "It's real simple. It's a severe injury and fatality, a cancer the county's been put of alert about." One might respond by saying.... be careful what you wish for in threatening the County who provides resources and assistance especially during times of disaster. Silverado may soon be on the list of abandoned California Ghost Towns...

Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy

A few years ago, my fiance, my two young kids and I started off on a hike up Black Star Canyon Road. After a few minutes, this guy in a pickup pulled alongside us and demanded to know what we were doing there. I politely told him we had checked beforehand and were told it was a public road, and we were just hiking. With that, he became very angry, jumped out of his truck and said, "Some people who have gone up this road have been shot at, and folks are pretty good shots out here." And with that, he pushed forward his truck's seat cushion to reveal a rifle. I told him we didn't want any trouble, and that we had read in the OC Register that it was a scenic hike, and we also checked beforehand with the Sheriff's Department. He said he didn't give a damn what the Sheriffs said, that they weren't welcome either. And so, we turned around and went back down the road as he shadowed us. I was scared, but mostly for my children and fiance. This guy was freaky. When we got to a phone, I called 911, but the Sheriff's Department said people were often threatened on that road by residents, that even Deputies had been threatened. I asked if they would send out a Deputy because of the guy brandishing a firearm, and they said no. That place is like another planet right in the middle of Orange County. Good luck to the Norbertine Fathers.

Protocel
Protocel

The canyon people know each turn and can name the ghosts of those who once walked their dusty curves—and, along the way, built a little paradise among the oak trees, California poppies and Mariposa lilies.

fnpfan
fnpfan

So, an “open air museum” would be better than a secluded abbey? I’d take an abbey over a museum any day—a public attraction would obviously be worse for the traffic on the “teeny, little, already-dangerous, very-busy road with lots of bicycles on the weekend.”

Pat Hunt
Pat Hunt

What do I want to save our canyons from? From the real "terrorists" who want to cut down trees, grade hills, pollute streams, destroy natural habitats, drive away God's creatures and erase the beauty He created-all for profit. I enjoy sharing the beauty of the canyons with anyone who appreciates and respects this wonderful place we live in whether they are residents, bicyclists, hikers or just out for a drive. I feel truly blessed and believe we owe it to future generations to preserve this beautiful land we call home.

Tomsmisek
Tomsmisek

I am all for saving open space... buy it and save it. Don't expect property owners to pay taxes on land you would like to use Tom

jac
jac

I highly encourage everyone to get their facts straight. St. Michael's Abbey has a wonderful website that includes scientific studies, renderings of propsed buildings, a Q&A section, a geological map that is quite interesting, and an invitation to visit the current Abbey. The monks are being more than generous in their offer to SMRPD in reference to the Rivera. The author of the article did research on how the Monks came to the US, but the research into the project was not reflected in the article. If the activists are quoting the Sil-Mod Plan,they need to refer to 2 sections in the plan. Page 1 paragraph 2 states"In calculating densities or lot sizes allowable under this plan, gross acreage should be used; all references to acreage in this text means GROSS acres. Then proceed to page 4 Section titled Planned Community Opportunities, the first sentence states "Three areas are identified for possible "Planned Communities" at higher densities than those on the Specific Plan Land Use Map: HOLTZ RANCH- Medium density (3.5-5.0 du/ac). Since the Holtz Ranch is 320 acres that means the Sil-Mod Plan allows 1120 to 1600 residences to be built on the ranch. Most "Planned Communities" also have churches, schools and athletic fields within them. Be happy the Abbey is not looking to build what they are allowed to under the Sil-Mod Plan because no one wants what the plan actually allows. The Holtz Ranch is zoned Agi-1. Under that current zoning Churches, Schools and Sports fields are allowed. You can oppose the Abbey being built on the Holtz Ranch but do it based upon other reasons then it violates the Sil-Mod Plan because it doesn't. Also, don't say you are the voice of the canyon, as there are most likely more people in the canyon that you do not represent.

missmolly
missmolly

I didn’t know this was going on, so I really appreciate the coverage and the detailed background information. After taking all of it in… I’m still having trouble understanding what the big deal is. There’s obviously no shortage of passion, not to mention different perspectives, in this community, but it seems they’re making a mountain out of a molehill. The Fathers want to create a place of solitude and keep over half of the site as open space? Makes a lot of sense to me.

Month5
Month5

You haven't read their plan. Housing for students whose parents will be dropping them off and pick them up every weekend, housing for 85 men less than half of whom will be working on sight, the rest commute to jobs of site or are unaccounted for, 250 to 300 attendees at Sunday services, too many building to count when you start looking at maintenance buildings and other support structures, an screening the beautiful existing view from the road. Most of the traffic will be on weekends which is when the road is busiest with bicycles, motorcycles, and other outdoor enthusiasts. They claim to want to be good neighbors, but their actions speak louder than their words.

DC Wooldridge
DC Wooldridge

Gym, high school, athletic fields. Doesn't sound much like cloistered monks busy growing grapes in some Sound of Music narvana. Traffic will clog the Canyons already busy roads. John Michael Covas is right about the impact on county resources and the need to move cautiously without playing follow the leader.

Gina
Gina

We’re talking about a reclusive group of monks like they’re a threat to our existence. Emotions run high when people’s homes and quality of life are involved, but honestly, I can’t think of a better occupant for that land. I think time will show all the sky-is-falling rhetoric is silly.

RT
RT

There are clearly two sides to every story. Tom Smisek thoughtfully represented the opinions of many reasonable folks in the canyons who believe that the Fathers are a great fit for both this property and this community. Thank you, Tom, for telling our side of the story and giving us a voice.

Eamador
Eamador

Look there is Measure M Funds to help the Norbertine Fathers. These poor guys have fell in the same trap the last 3 major developers have : The County tells the developer its ok to build but the local taxpayers and homeowners say: "NO!" This has been happening since 1977. A Conservation alternative is needed as local land use policy is very poorly handled in rural Orange County.

Lora Roberts
Lora Roberts

go build a commercial building some where commercial, not rural..........if houses are too much for the environment,, then this certainly is...

Hmgrande
Hmgrande

Unfortunately the plan for the Norbertine development is extremely unsympathetic to the site and the character of the canyons. Incredibly poor site planning turned what could have been a project (on a smaller scale) that the community might have welcomed. One that was spread and more hidden that better preserved the land and made the development blend in to the environment. The strip mall mentality of the current plan is boiler plate. I am commenting as a planning professional with a Masters Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a specialty in Environmental Planning. I think we all would prefer the site to be donated as open space to save the remaining habitat. However, posting no tresspassing signs, requiring lease agreements for parking for events on the Riveria are further alienating residents away from this development as is the plan. I hope we are saving the canyons for future generations so others can enjoy the lifestyle that is quickly disappearing in the OC. I like most others would like to see the Ranch remain undeveloped. And by the way, I am a Catholic.

Chalynn Marie Peterson
Chalynn Marie Peterson

It is easier to throw out the term "NIMBY" than it is to sit down and look at the facts. OC open space is shrinking acre by acre. Someone needs to hold back the dozers and keep balance. The environmentally minded canyon residents also happen to be the hosts of the recreational hikes, rides & nature walks, as well as outreach events that lure the city dwellers out of their stucco homes and into the woods.

Chalynn Marie Peterson
Chalynn Marie Peterson

Great in depth article Josh...wow...did your homework! Funny how Tom sees environmentalists as "whackos" who wouldn't bat an eyelash at endangering their reputations and jobs for childish malicious activity. Surprised he didn't give his usual response "Bigger houses make better people". I do hope that Todd Spitzer comes out in favor of our specific plans and helps OC Planning remember their role in developing the plans with the people of the canyons. We need to start seeing the land through the eyes of the creatures who need it for survival and also people like Joel Robinson who teach others to love and respect it...it is the last of the wild OC.

L May
L May

Thanks, Tom. Nice to know you draw the line somewhere. Everyone, chant with Tom and me "no Walmarts in Silverado!". It would be nice if people who don't support the Sil-Mod Specific Plan would stop the name calling. The biggest myth about those of us who seek to preserve the Specific Plan is that "we got ours and don't want anyone else out here". NOT TRUE! New residents are welcomed with open arms. In the 16 years I've lived here there have always been houses for sale. Nobody is stopping anyone from buying one of those. What we don't like is someone moving in here because the love the rural nature so much, then want to change it all.

marty108
marty108

Ed, are you saying the church should fund our local post office for services because of the lack of taxes they pay that benefits the community?  I think your on to something.

Eamador
Eamador

Virgina I was misquoted I did not say that and aplogize if you were upset. Tom Sismek and I are friends and we bumped into each other at the post office and we both agreed this article really put this issue "out there" but we were misquoted in the article.

marty108
marty108

Yes we did, and that is exactly what we signed up for.  

marty108
marty108

Well said Pat.  I don't think we are asking anything more or less then the way we live.  

 

Work around the environment don't make the environment work around you. 

 

Turn your lights off at night.

I Remember
I Remember

As an appointed (NOT elected) parks board member, Tom, you really need to brush up on Measure M.

Eamador
Eamador

In 2010 the Inter Cyn League sent Sheriff Hutchins a letter stating canyon roads including the one to the Abbey project is on are: "Hazardous, narrow... creates dangerous/disruptive conditions for motorist and bicylist" With the Abbey's total capacity for car traffic is for 726 people. This increases a dangerous condition Both the OC General Plan and the Sil-Mod Plan agree that the Canyons "shall" remain rural in character. Increasing a dangerous traffic condition is not rural in character.

marty108
marty108

Please turn your lights off at night so we can see the stars.  That's what some of are asking for.  

 

We all should be able to view the window into the gods. 

JohnMichael Covas
JohnMichael Covas

One thing that no one has mentioned is the fact that the property while valued at $6.1 million (according to the OC Weekly) is now off the tax rolls because religious organizations pay no real estate taxes in California. If the property were assessed at anywhere near that figure the county would collect some where in the neiborshood of sixty grand in taxes. The property will probably house close to a hundred and fifty residents (including the students) and will consume scarce county resources for law enforcement, fire protection and other general fund disbursements. That means in reality that either services are going to be reduced because of lack of money or that the money is going to be made up by increased real estate taxes on the residents of the canyon. That's not very neighborly, Abbot Hayes. I have lived in silverado canyon for almost 40 years and I know Tom Smisek and let me point out that Mr. Smisek, the self-appointed honorary sheriff of silverado, has never met at development project in these canyons that he didn't like.

truth=peace
truth=peace

Obviously, an ant walking across the landscape needs an acre to move!! Come on. I think there is more bigotry here than meets the eye. If a school for Environmentalism was put on this site in the same exact format as the monks layout (who by the way - own the property) you would all change your tune. Sounds like the "ant" or in this case "frog" is more important than a human? Hmmm. What creatures are inhibited by your dwellings being where they are in the canyon? The shoe is on the other foot now!

Ed Teach
Ed Teach

The Holtz Ranch is "... the last of the wild OC"??? It was a farm/ranch for 80 years. It has only been vacant for 32 years. You call that "wild"?

 
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