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Battle brews in the hills of Montebello

March 6, 2008 | 12:49 pm

Montebellohills002_2The directions to Montebello Hills do not seem very encouraging.  Get off the 60 Freeway near the former dump, drive past the mall and then look for the chain-link fence. Yet behind that fence sits a rare commodity in densely developed Los Angeles: nearly 500 acres of open space-- rolling hills and canyons studded with brush and cactus. One could almost ignore the humming oil pumps.

A proposal by the landowner, PXP, would open up the hills and oil field in the northeast corner of Montebello to the public, according to Eastern Group News and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. But there's a price: The owner would gain the right to build about 1,200 homes on 166 acres, leaving the remainder as open space (including operating wells), a park and a refuge for the endangered gnatcatcher.

Sound like a good deal? Not so fast, say the folks behind the Save Montebello Hills Task Force. They worry about the possible environmental impact and skeptically ask how much access the public will actually get.

There have been previous efforts to develop the hills, where oil has been pumped for more than 80 years and whose eastern fringe was the site of the original San Gabriel Mission. For many longtime residents, the notion of finally being able to wander through all that space is an attractive one.

“I’ve always wanted to come to the hills, ever since I was a little girl,” Carmen Salinas, 61, told Eastern Group News. “You think I haven’t thought about climbing up that hill?”

--Jesus Sanchez

Photo: Jeff Yann