The 4th District Court of Appeals side-stepped the people’s referendum right when it ruled against the Friends of Coyote Hills on their Measure W lawsuit on December 6, 2018.
The judges framed this lawsuit more narrowly as a business contract between Chevron-PCH and the City of Fullerton even though the subject of the 2012 Measure W referendum, the West Coyote Hills Development Agreement, was codified through a City ordinance which is subject to referendum.
The City wrote the West Coyote Hills development approvals so that if the Development Agreement was terminated, the other approvals such as the General Plan amendment, Specific Plan, and even the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be overturned.
The Friends of Coyote Hills sued the City of Fullerton after it gave final vesting rights to Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes in 2015, despite the people’s successful referendum which should have terminated the Development Agreement.
The appeals court ruled that while the Development Agreement was approved through an ordinance, the City and Chevron had the final say on whether it would be terminated even after a referendum because that was what they wrote in the Development Agreement. The people’s referendum veto was therefore moot. Since the City and Chevron chose not to terminate the Development Agreement after the referendum, the other development approvals stand.
While it’s not surprising that the appellate court avoided ruling on a constitutional matter, this case leaves the door open for the City of Fullerton and other California cities to write ordinances that deprive people their referendum veto, a right granted by our state’s constitution.
In recent years, the State Supreme Court has overruled Orange County courts when cities overstep their powers to make land use decisions at the cost of people’s right to participate.
In December 2016, the California Supreme Court unanimously sided with the citizens of Orange to reaffirm decades of well-established planning law that sup- ports the right of voters to use the referendum process to challenge local land use decisions.
In March, 2017, the California State Supreme Court sided with the Banning Ranch Conservancy against the City of Newport Beach. The Orange County Register reported that “The case hinged on a simple question: Did the city of Newport Beach violate its own municipal ordinance in 2012 when city planners approved development at Banning Ranch, even though voters in the city had previously said they wanted the land to remain open space?”
The Friends of Coyote Hills have until January 15, 2019 to file a petition to the State Supreme Court to review this case.
A generous donor has already kickstarted a $20,000 challenge grant to support the Friends of Coyote Hills’ continued effort to save Coyote Hills and preserve the public vote.
If you can make a donation please go to the Friends of Coyote Hills website at www.coyotehillls.org or call 657-325-0725.
A view of West Coyote Hills, one of the last large open spaces left in north Orange County.
Categories: Local News