Local Government

Coyote Hills Friends Petition Supreme Court

The Friends of Coyote Hills has filed a petition with the California Supreme Court to review our Measure W lawsuit against the City of Fullerton and Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes.

At issue is the City of Fullerton’s handling of the people’s 2012 referendum called Measure W. The City wrote a Development Agreement ordinance so that no matter the outcome of the election, the City and Chevron get the last say, regardless of the people’s vote. The 4th District Court of Appeals sided with the City, ruling a business contract is more important than voter rights.

The California constitution grants its people the right to make or veto laws through the initiative and referendum process. The right to petition our elected representatives to redress grievances is at the root of the American government.

In 2011, the Fullerton City Council approved a Development Agreement (Ordinance 2011-3169) that gave Chevron entitlement to develop on West Coyote Hills. A terminated Development Agreement triggers the auto-nullification of the other development approvals such as the General Plan and Specific Plan Amendments. Fullerton voters overwhelmingly vetoed the Council’s approval with a 61% vote. Yet the Council refused to act.

For nearly three years after the Measure W election, the City repeatedly refused to clarify what action they would take and when. They even refused to answer what the status of the Coyote Hills development approvals were – such as the zoning change and General Plan.

On October 2015, the City revealed they had agreed with Chevron to move the terms of the Development Agreement into a tract map agreement, thereby evading the 2012 referendum. The tract map is not subject to referendum so the 2012 approval of the Development Agreement effectively moved forward. The people’s vote meant nothing.

Our state constitution grants voters the right to referendum, but the language is not prescriptive enough to prevent cities from trying to outsmart voters by playing shell games such as rescinding a law after a referendum petition is filed and then repassing one – practically identical with the first – a short time later. Another version of this game is to pass other laws with parts of the referended law in it to restore the referended law. Compare this to the City of Fullerton moving the referended Development Agreement into a tract map that is not subject to referendum.

In 2016, the State Supreme Court stopped Kern County from repealing an old ordinance that allowed marijuana dispensaries when the people referended an ordinance that prohibited Marijuana dispensaries.

In 2016, the Supreme Court also stopped the City of Orange from trying to outsmart their voters. The City of Orange found a General Plan version that it said was the “real” General Plan so that the people’s veto of the City’s revised General Plan to pass a development approval was moot.

These games infringe on our constitutional right, disenfranchise voters, and rob the public of meaningful participation in land use decisions. The judicial branch of our government must step in to rein in runaway powers of the legislative branch.

We must hold our city government accountable.  If not, the City of Fullerton will have legitimized their referendum shell game for itself, other cities and counties to play on its voters.

A generous donor has already kickstarted a $20,000 challenge grant to support the Friends of Coyote Hills’ continued effort to save Coyote Hills. To help, please go to their website at www.coyotehillls.org/donate or call 657-325-0725.

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