Deer Creek: Fighting for Accountability


Over the next five years, CURE would spearhead a multi-faceted campaign for government accountability – a campaign that would ultimately expose the inherent dangers of imprudent, shortsighted land use decisions along the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains.

CURE brought together teams of engineers, water and flood control experts, citizen advocates, lobbyists, nonprofit advocacy organizations, and lawyers. Appearing at public meetings, and working behind the scenes in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, they repeatedly disputed government officials’ insistence that breeching the levee would not expose residents to potential floodwaters. CURE commissioned several engineering studies and also took the battle to court, filing seven separate lawsuits aimed at saving the levee.

 channels designed and built by the Corps were substantially too small, leaving down-slope communities with insufficient protection.

In contesting the plan to build housing project just below the debris basin, CURE asserted that destroying the levee would eliminate use of spreading structures which the Army Corps previously estimated recharged an average 3,300 acre feet of water annually.  CURE also raised awareness about the threat to the area’s rare and endangered wildlife habitat.

The Deer-Day Alluvial Fan is state-designated as Significant Natural Area #110 because the vegetation there is a unique variety of coastal sage scrub called Riverside Alluvial Fan Sage Scrub. This type of habitat is classified as G1 or “Globally Imperilled.” In addition, the California state parks system joined other scientists in identifying the state’s 232 most critical wildlife corridors. One of these – State Corridor #37 — runs through the Deer-Day Alluvial Fan area.

CURE’s work finally attracted the support of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), owners Deer Creek landscape-3-VERT-258x358of Ontario International Airport, located about eight miles below Deer Canyon. LAWA hired its own flood control consultant, who concluded that the debris basin provided even less protection than CURE’s experts had found. With LAWA’s involvement, the state and county could no longer dismiss the assertions of a small environmental organization and had no choice but to address the science behind official claims about Deer Creek’s flood control capacity.

LAWA’s research confirmed that the Corps’ science was seriously flawed, as CURE had been asserting for years. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, which owned an easement over portions of the levee, also refused to allow its demolition after concluding that doing so was unsafe and could expose Los Angeles to liability.

In the course of its efforts to protect the Deer Creek levees, CURE learned the importance of teaming with other stakeholders. CURE partnered with a variety of environmental protection and public interest organizations, including Taxpayers for Common Sense, the California Environmental Law Project, National Wildlife Federation, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Endangered Habitat League.

In the end, CURE and its allies were unable to stop the residential development. The Deer Creek levee was bulldozed in 2001. Over the next several years, thousands of homes and several public schools were built just downstream of Rancho Cucamonga’s flood basins. In the turn-of-the-century, go-go years of insanely appreciating home values, big developers like KB Homes, Lewis Corporation, Toll Brothers and other smaller outfits continued to build near the base of the mountains there.