Project Approved – Huerta del Valle Education Center is Entitled

On January 20, 2021, the City of Ontario voted to approve the Huerta del Valle educational center project for entitlements. We started the project as students at Cal Poly Pomona many years ago. This proves that with determination, anything is possible, inclusive of getting planning approval for a pro-bono project that defied planning norms. This moment serves to remind us of the role that architecture can have. Participatory design can empower communities and advance organizations working towards social change.

Parcels merged ✅
Zone changed ✅
Project is Entitled ✅

Thank you to Councilman Ruben Valencia for assisting with the project at a key moment, and to Fausto Reyes for being our champion at the City.

Thank you to Jerry Burke and Cash Sutton for countless hours of engineering work and Engineers Without Borders for sticking with this project for years.

Thank you to Chuck Mercier, Cathy Wahlstrom, and Rudy Zeledon of Ontario Planning.

Thank you to our friends who supported the project and helped fundraise for it in 2016, when we crowdsourced $18,000.

It took about 6-7 months to receive feedback from the corrections entitlement submission correcting the redlines. Items of importance were a right-of-way dedication, back-flow devices, separate water service, and fire extinguisher and street light upgrades. It was debated between the City departments who would cover the cost of the public improvements. The last corrections after we got the second set of redlines was separating the sewer and water service, pointing out that the existing back-flow was there.

The meeting went smoothly and was approved by motions from the department of planning and from the department of building over zoom teleconferencing. Moments leading up to the hearing, Arthur and Necils realized that the agenda provided an opportunity for submission of public comments, so we submitted the letters written by community members and the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District just before the 12:00PM deadline.

Ahead of the hearing, we sent chocolate gifts to the City to ask about the status of the project. Further, Fausto, the planning commissioner and landscape architect on the project, asked Rudy, the director of planning, for an update on the project. Shortly after, Charles Mercier, senior planner, sent us the last comments and we hastily assembled a submission with the revisions to the utility systems map and conceptual grading plan. The Ontario Municipal Utilities Commission had to provide the remaining clearances to get the project onto the agenda. It was up to the last day, and Maria went to the City to see the engineer in person to get the remaining clearance. After this, the project was finally confirmed to be on the agenda and was voted on a week later.

HdV Huerta del Valle Educational Center Aerial Render East

Friday – July 31, 2020 – Development Advisory Board Submittal

On July 31, we submitted drawings to the city for entitlement/development advisory board approval. The drawings were accepted using the discretionary permit form.

This has been a long-awaited moment; this was the culmination of our best attempt at securing a future for the project and plotting a path forward. Through this process, the parcels for the community garden were joined into a single parcel using a lot line adjustment that the city initiated. The parcels are also in the process of being rezoned to open space zone, whereas they used to be low density residential.

The submission was signed by Jerry Burke, PE, Engineers Without Borders. The submittal included rendered plans and elevations of the buildings, site plans, rendered conceptual landscape master plan by Fausto, and conceptual grading plan and WQMP by Jerry Burke.

Leading up to the submission, in June, we were informed that the Planning Department had verbally okay’ed the plans and that we should proceed with the building department to acquire construction permits. This was more than unexpected, since we had been in talks with planning for more than a year regarding this submittal and a path forward for the project. We proceeded to seek a compromise allowing us to complete our scope of work and entitle the project. We informed planning that the project was not going to continue unless we could secure their approval for it. The Planning Department requested us to present the project to an internal audience, and we used this as a bargaining chip to have the city seriously consider our request to continue with the submittal.

The Planning Department had us present the project to an internal audience and Necils did an outstanding presentation. Prior to the presentation, the city agreed that we would submit the drawings for some form of planning approval. Such an approval would enable us to fundraise knowing that we had the go-ahead from the city.

The absence of having such confidence had led to the pausing of the project in the past. Knowing that Cathy, the director of the planning department fully supported the project, it was time to secure the city’s commitment going forward. In the past, the project was not fully supported by the previous head of the planning department.

The first thought to compromise was to secure a letter from the planning director. However, we wanted to ensure that the letter captured the information and design intent of our drawings. Due to this, the city, Chuck in particular, proposed getting the drawings reviewed by the Development Advisory Board instead of the Discretionary Permit submittal. According to the city, the Discretionary Permit was not needed since the project was too small. At the moment, we do not know whether there were additional reasons for the city’s initial refusal to carry out the Discretionary Permit submittal as we had planned for months.

In any case, on Wednesday, we submitted 14 sets to the city, in hopes that our path forward is secured and we can submit for construction permits in subsequent months.

During the submission, we were also informed that the city secured funds for the parking lot improvement.

For the final deliverable, we created an updated rendering from an aerial photograph, and polished the rendered elevations after passing our Engineers Without Borders approval process a couple weeks prior. The rendering was a team effort; Necils composited the image, Fariba added the people, Kirill produced the base render and tweaked the buildings. The printing process was long and arduous, it took several days of printing and assembling the 350 full-size sheets. Everyone worked together to print and organize the sheets.

Necils, Nathan, Fariba and Kirill worked to produce this submittal.

Friday – May 18, 2018 – Meeting with Planning

On Friday, we had a meeting organized by the planning commissioner, Fausto Reyes, through the councilman for the district.
Cathy Wahlstrom is now the director of planning and the conversation we had was a departure from the conversations we’ve had before in the best way possible.

Cathy brought up that they are looking into lot consolidation for the parcels and rezoning the R parcels to OS-R (open space recreation zone), which would permit all of the uses including library and kitchen. We were ready to propose a zone change per Jorge Loor (landuse aid) and a lot tie per Larry Schlossberg (planner and architect who was on the line), and it’s great to see that the planning director is thinking the same thing. Ontario has already amended the zoning code to allow gardens on R zoned parcels due to this project.We had a lengthy conversation with the city inspector who sat in on the meeting. Brad Mimlitz (rammed earth builder was on the line) discussed the rammed earth construction process, which involves having a deputy inspector on site and geological testing of the concrete. The planners were receptive to the construction methodology and Brad’s expertise. Cathy was affected by the VR render for the classroom, and liked the interior space a lot.

We discussed utility improvements with Cash, specifically a dedicated service entrance and pedestal for the project to comply with Cal Green and support the uses of the educational center.

We discussed overall site improvements with Fausto Reyes (planning commissioner), including improving the current parking lot for formal use by the garden, accessibility, and overall site design.

We gave planning two sets of our site sheets, surveys, alongside the redlines we picked up for our amphitheater. We will await planning comments in the next weeks, which should determine the scope of the permit we will be pursuing. Most likely it will be site, grading, amphitheater, and shade structure on the first permit.

Once we hear back and have an approval for the layout of the shade structure and set backs, we will be ready to have the kickoff meeting and begin structural engineering and redesign of the shade structure.
The stereo rendering is available here:




huerta del valle anniversary 5 years

Saturday – April 7, 2018

During the last two weeks of March, Necils and I worked on a site presentation model requested by Maria Alonso, the director of the garden for the 5th anniversary of the garden. The event was a huge success, with 9 hours of dance, booths, talks and more than 900 attendees. It warmed our hearts that kids engaged with the model and role played around it while community members pointed out their plots of land within the community garden.

The week before, I met with Fausto, and he had a few suggestions for the plans. We also collected our old grading plan from him and the redlines for the amphitheater set. The task is now for Fausto to organize a meeting with the planning and building department.

Clare Haas Claveau from Engineers Without Borders has been persistently looking for volunteers for the engineering portion of the redesign of the shade structure. Currently, we are discussing the scope of work with Mike Dadik, a structural engineer with a many years of experience. In other news, I (Kirill) passed the first division/test of the Architect Registration Examination on April 16th.





Huerta del Valle Library interior rendering - work in progress

Wednesday – Febraury 7, 2018

Now that the new year is in full swing, we’ve been in contact with Fausto Reyes, and we have had several meetings with him. We were directed to him through Ruben Valencia, the councilman for the site in Ontario. Fausto sits on the planning commission and knows the people above the director of planning, which we think would help. He’s been massaging the project a little bit, and we’ve made several changes to the layout of the shade structure. He also advised to add that we will be grading and filling an area offsite currently used as a parking lot for both the garden as well as the adjacent park. His advice is to fill the area with decomposed granite to improve it as a parking lot. He is due to set up meetings with the department of parks and maintenance to position the project appropriately with the departments. It’s been hard to get a hold of him lately but this is so far the strategy, and he’s the champion of the project at this stage within planning. We have a meeting scheduled with him this week. He also spoke with Scott, the director of planning. Scott said that he would like to see the project done in phases, with permitting and approval for the amphitheater and shade structure done before the two main structures. The fact that the Scott, the director of planning, is talking about the project in terms of phases versus only being interested in the first two structures being built is already an improvement from our perspective.

Besides that, we’ve been focused on producing more presentation drawings as well as adding detail to the elevations, specifying finishes, and choosing window assemblies to be in the best shape possible once we finally do go to the meeting with planning.

Here is a link to the stereoscopic interior rendering of the library that we’ve been working on:



On a side note, after 5 years and one quarter, I (Kirill) am done with my architecture degree and minor in Regenerative Studies. A lot of people have a diploma, but this one is mine. The last three months of my education were paired with holding a full-time design job and a long commute. Only after those three months I came to understand how difficult it was for my classmates who held jobs with rigid schedules while going to school.

Fausto Reyes meets with Huerta del Valle

Wednesday – October 4, 2017

This past Wednesday, Maria, Arturo, Necils and I met with Fausto Reyes, a landscape architect who holds a post on Ontario’s Planning Commission. He was appointed by Ruben Valencia after Ruben won as a councilman in 2016. Fausto lost his post as the planning commissioner prior by helping Ruben Valencia run for City Council in 2014. With a population that is officially seventy percent Hispanic, Ruben and Fausto seemingly are two of the very few members of the Latino community that hold high positions within city government. Fausto consults for the cities of Chino and Montclair, often doing plan-checks as these cities do not have an in-house licensed architect. Needless to say, the breadth of Fausto’s experience is vast, and we were very lucky to connect with him. He knows Scott Murphy, the director of the planning department, very well.

Recounting some of his experience, Fausto told us that many projects get stuck in plancheck not necessarily due to the city not liking the plans, but rather due to planning imperatives and the projects not conforming to the city’s planned vision for those parcels.

Fausto looked over the plans and work, and was very receptive towards it. He took home the landuse agreement, our presentation booklet as well as our current construction set. He said that there are three possibilities on why the city does not like the project: materials, the fact that there are structures planned, or a decision from the city manager or one of the councilmen.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the decision Fausto faced was whether or not to implicate Ruben Valencia. He said he would first speak to Ruben, and then he would have a private conversation with Scott Murphy to find out exactly why the city doesn’t want to go ahead with half of the educational center. Fausto said he is likely overstepping his boundaries by engaging with the project in such a way, but said that he isn’t afraid losing his position over this.

In the meantime, he said we should reach out to the representative for the 35th congressional district. Arthur said Norma Torres (U.S. Representative) has frequented the garden, and Fausto, Maria and Arthur entertained the idea of asking her to write a letter of recommendation to the planning department on behalf of the garden.

Currently we are waiting to hear back from Fausto on what Scott Murphy earnestly thinks of the project. We all agreed that the step after would most likely be a large meeting between Scott and everything we can muster from our side. The task at hand in terms of the actual work is to continue work on the construction set to ensure its maximum completeness and to produce interior renderings for each of the buildings, which can potentially be used as selling points to planning.

Huerta del Valle Ruben Valencia Ontario City Council

Monday – September 18, 2017

Several months ago, when we turned in our grading plan, we hit the first major roadblock to the project from the planning department. Karen Thompson said that planning hadn’t been taking the project seriously until now– they failed to raise a number of zoning concerns early in the project. During our first meeting with planning, we got verbal approval from the director of the planning department, Scott, to go ahead and submit plans. The educational center hasn’t changed in design significantly then. The issue of several of the structures lying on property lines was never brought up before, nor were codes brought up which prevent assembly uses at the garden. Needless to say, this dealt a moral blow to me personally and we were at a loss of how to proceed. Meanwhile, I was finishing my senior project for school. Eventually, we got in contact with Michael Dieden of Creative Housing Associates, who agreed to mentor us pro-bono on how to navigate the political process which is the only possible option for getting the center built in the same scale and function as we had envisioned. Since then the city has tried to negotiate to only build the shade structure and amphitheater. We started investigating our limited options as the worst case scenario doesn’t exactly do justice to three years’ work of many, many people.

Several months pass…

We met with Ruben Valencia yesterday, Ontario’s City Council member. We talked over a booklet of the programs the garden offers as well as the renderings of the project and precedents. Maria and Arthur talked about what can be done to work closer with the city and better integrate the programs. I had the impression that he had spoken prior to planning before this meeting. Although completely supportive, he talked about zoning and lot lines in the same terms as planning. Specifically he said that it wouldn’t be fair to allow certain uses on the site that others aren’t able to do on the R-2 lots. Funnily enough, no part of the center is permitted in R-2 as it has public uses. The master plan hadn’t changed at all since two years ago, and only last spring the city started raising zoning issues.

Ruben hinted that we could look at getting a variance, but also said that he is limited to what he can do as a council member as they are prevented from micro-managing projects, and it is looked down upon. When I asked if he could make a meeting happen with the directors of building and planning departments and us, he said that might be unfair treatment. Instead, he gave us the contact information of his appointee, a landscape architect working for the city. We are currently arranging a meeting with the landscape architect, Reyes Fausto.
Larry Schlossberg, an architect at Gruen Associates to whom we reached out through Michael Dieden of Creating Housing Associates, wrote to us what we must get out of the consequent meeting with Fausto Reyes: “You need to determine what sort of entitlement you need: variance, zone change etc. Ontario may have some entitlement mechanism that I am not aware of. Then you need to determine what the entitlement process is. Is there an application, public hearings etc? The city will have a process which will need to be followed. The zoning regulations can not be causally waived by anybody. Maybe the existing land use agreement can be amended”.
On an unrelated note, we ran into Corinna Gebert, an architect who designed the farmPOD for Root Down LA through an Open Architecture Collaborative event. Corinna kindly provided the images above as courtesy for us to use as precedent in our presentation.
Currently Necils and I are working on updating the construction set a little bit so that it’s in the best possible shape for the meeting with Fausto.
Russel Gulke from WestLAND group signing the survey

Tuesday – January 3, 2016

By now, we thought that we would have had at least the amphitheater permitted as well as the shade structure. Sadly, we’ve hit a few snags. In the past four months since the last update, we got several large things done. The most important was Cordie Qualle and Kenny Reyes from Blair Church and Flynn‘s pro-bono completion of the grading plan, which we submitted right before Christmas. This was done thanks to Russell Gulke’s pro-bono work on the survey of WestLAND Group (pictured above, and huge thanks). We also submitted the amphitheater, and received feedback on a few fixes we must do with regards to guardrail details.

However, since this is the first submission since we got the survey, it came to the plan-checkers attention that our structures lie on property lines of the three lots of the garden. We were under the impression that we would be able to merge the lots, but it is becoming apparent that the building department does not see that as the ideal solution. As a result, we have a meeting with Karen Thompson of planning to hear the news/verdict. I am incredibly anxious, because there’s a lot at stake. If we have to redesign the site plan, then a lot of the buildings could potentially need to change. The shade structure would have to be completely re-designed.

We also got back redlines for the grading plan and they are exhaustive. We’re being asked to present a geology report even though one was submitted.

In terms of the shipping container structure, we’re still working on the structural engineering and it has not gotten into review. Ali is still at it, but Chris left the project because he was working 10 hour days at spaceX, and unfortunately has t been able to co tribute much since our last update. We are glad to have Kathy Rhee on board with us to lead the engineering of the shipping container structure with Ali.

Mohammad Shaikhsaheb has been working on the electrical engineering for the solar array. Last month Michael Byrd, the service planner for Edison (electrical utility) created the work plan for a dedicated three phase line to be opened up for the educational center. It was hard to reach him and figure out where the power will cone from, but now we have our own transformer planned.

The next steps are to:
-be notified on whether the site-plan will need to change
-finish the electrical engineering for the
–submit shade structure shade structure
-revise the grading plan
-submit amphitheater
–finish structural engineering for shipping container kitchen/clubhouse
–finish architectural drawings for library to start engineering of the rammed earth library

signing the EWB earth wall builders contract Maria Alonso Arthur Levine Brad Mimilitz

Monday – August 1, 2016

It has roughly been a year since Hana and Kirill left for Denmark. Necils is in Hong Kong, finishing his Cal Poly summer abroad program and going to Japan within the next week.

While we were away, so much has changed at the garden; all of the land is now planted and it’s very green. It was great to be back.

Today we signed the engineering and building contracts with Brad Mimlitz of Rammed Earth Builders and Peter Jarratt, paying the $1000 towards the engineering cost from the kickstarter fund.

While we were away, we arranged a percolation test, which was done for $1000, also from our kickstarter fund. It was done at a discount rate by Clarence Jiang, GE, QSD, Salem Engineering Group, who we would like to thank for the work. The report is viewable here:,%20Community%20Garden,%20Campus%20Ave%20and%20Maitland%20Ave,%20Ontario-1_copy.pdf

We needed the percolation test to aid the design of the drainage for the amphitheater, and design the grading plan. Kenny Reyes, EIT, Assistant Engineer from Blair, Church & Flynn has been doing the work on the grading plan pro-bono under the guidance of Cordie R. Qualle, PE MCE. We would like to thank both for devoting many hours to the project.

We would like to thank Russell Gulke, PE, LS (Cal Poly, Pomona 1989) from WestLAND Group (Group, Inc. Land Surveyors – Civil Engineers – GIS) for providing a survey for the site (a $3,000+ job) pro-bono for us.

We would like to thank Christopher Nielsen for spearheading the structural engineering for the shipping container structure.

We would like to thank Mohammad Shaikhsaheb for working on the electrical plan and solar system design pro-bono.

Finally, we would like to thank Hessah Alzayed for doing the lighting design for all of the structures pro-bono!


Huerta del Valle Community Garden Launches Campaign to Fund Construction of Educational Center

Press Release 01/02/2016

Contact: Kirill Volchinskiy – volchinskiy [at]

Hana Lemseffer, Necils Lopez, Kirill Volchinskiy

For immediate release:

Students design passive, sustainable education center for community garden out of recycled materials

Three students from Cal Poly Pomona’s architecture department have been working for more than a year on a the design of an educational center for the Huerta del Valle Community Garden. A crowdfunding campaign has been launched in order to raise funds for the engineering of the library and cover the construction budget for the kitchen/playhouse structure. The remaining two structures have already been submitted to the city and are in the revision stage; we are expecting construction permits for those in the spring of 2016.


Each structure in the educational center exhibits a different set of sustainable strategies, setting a precedent for ecological architecture in the greater LA area both in terms of passive design and building from recycled materials. The two enclosed buildings are passively heated and cooled, without the use of additional energy. The whole complex will have a net-zero carbon footprint. The educational center will be built out of rammed earth, two recycled shipping containers, tires otherwise headed for the landfill, and a large solar array. The construction of the educational center will expand the garden’s mission, creating a vibrant space with a capacity for further community action and analysis.

Radically sustainable architecture is an important asset for environmentalism and resource conservation, as 40% of all energy is consumed by buildings in the US. In this project, however, the story starts from the base: a community garden. What is its importance? Community gardens solve environmental justice issues prevalent in disadvantaged American suburbs. They give people the option of eating organic and sustainably-grown produce, reducing pollution and obesity. This community lives in one of the most polluted areas in California according to CalEnviroscreen data (91761). Low-income families in areas like this rely primarily on fast-food and produce grown with pesticides. Gardens like this help communities increase their self-reliance and boost their health. The community already has numerous educational programs in place, from a literacy program for local kids to ecological awareness programs for adults and youth, but no place to hold these.

Building a permanent, public safe-space for the community to organize and come together inspires them to expand their programs and create more community gardens throughout the industrial wasteland of Los Angeles. People find value in producing and calling something their own. Gardens like this provide people with this opportunity. This reinforces the local economy, and has positive ramifications across a wide range of issues.

Our hope is to set a precedent for other communities and make the dream of a community garden every mile a reality.

The Engineers Without Borders team of UCSD (Ashwin Kannan, Ali Ismail, Jackie First) and Fariborz Tehrani are leading the complementary engineering effort for the kitchen playhouse as well as other engineering requirements.

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