Local Government

Supreme Court Declines Review of Petition on Case Against Chevron & City but Friends of Coyote Hills Remain Hopeful of Saving the Land

A portion of the open space West Coyote Hills. City Council ignored 61% of voters who rejected the Chevron 760-home development in the 2012 election. -photo by Ira McNabb

In bad news for protection of the public vote and citizens’ constitutional right to petition their government, on February 27 the California Supreme Court denied a request from Friends of Coyote Hills to review its case against Chevron/PCH and the City of Fullerton.

In response, the Friends of Coyote Hills have planned a rally in front of City Hall on Tuesday, March 5 at 5:30pm, prior to the evening’s city council meeting, to encourage the current council to save all the land.

Several lawsuits and finally the petition to the Supreme Court were filed after the previous council ignored the results of the referendum Measure W in which 61% of local voters rejected the council approval of Chevron’s 760 home housing development for West Coyote Hills.

After the news from the Supreme Court came out, Friends of Coyote Hills President Angela Lindstrom still had a positive outlook on the possibility of saving the entire property saying, “The Friends and the City can continue the fundraising momentum to save all of West Coyote Hills. Everyone has a part in solving this problem. We raised $30M in a contentious environment. Think what we can do when everyone is on the same side! Let’s pick ourselves up and save all of Coyote Hills as a park and preserve for now and the future.”

Reacting to the Supreme Court announcement she said, “It came as a great disappointment today when the California State Supreme Court denied our petition review our Measure W lawsuit. It doesn’t mean they don’t think it’s important or that they side with the City or Chevron or The Friends, but that they had too many other cases to review.

What does this mean for voters’ right to referendum? It’s hard to say when the tactic used here may be repeated elsewhere. Some other brave civic group will have to fight that battle, and perhaps set a legal precedent we were not able to do here.

What does this mean for the effort to save Coyote Hills? The development entitlements for West Coyote Hills stand. It will now cost a lot more to buy the land. The 2016 appraised value of $150M for the property may be the selling price.

It’s a good time to review our accomplishments since 2001 – Eighteen years of fighting to save all of Coyote Hills for a park for our community. We’ve been lucky to enjoy this quiet and beautiful open space neighbor that staved off horrendous traffic, blight and noise. It anchored me to the City of Fullerton, and called upon my best self to help save just this little piece of nature and last piece of our community’s natural character.

Our Measure W referendum – your votes – helped to persuade Chevron to set aside a tract adjacent to the Ward Nature Preserve as open space, moving 59 housing units to other tracts on the site. That more than doubled the Ward Nature Preserve.

Our lawsuit gave us and the City more time to raise funds to buy the land. In fact, most of the nearly $30 million of funds raised to-date were done in just the last couple of years.

Through our efforts, the City now has access to funds to purchase two other tracts near the Ward Nature Preserve to save the entire east side of Coyote Hills. Had we not taken action, the entire West Coyote Hills site would have been developed starting in 2016 to early 2017!

To recap, our effort to save Coyote Hills has not been in vain. We’ve saved the site east of Gilbert directly adjacent to the Ward Preserve.

So where do we go from here? Acquisition of the rest of the site is now much more expensive. But ironically, I no longer believe this is a money issue: this is a people issue.

Chevron can agree to sell the rest of the property by allowing us say two years to raise the money. The Council can agree to do something great and lasting by working with the Friends to keep looking for funding.

Since the land is now valued at its highest entitlement, Chevron can take advantage of donating the land to the maximum tax write-off. They can take advantage of Federal and State Conservation tax incentives to donate part of the land to reduce income taxes paid by Chevron Corporation. And that’s without doing the work of developing the site over several years,” she said.

 


Fullerton City Manager Ken Domer made the following statement after the Supreme Court review request was denied: “Essentially the case is over with the judgment in favor of the City and PCH.
A few things of note: The lawsuit by PCH (ED: Chevron) against the City is required to be dismissed and that is expected to be done in a relatively short time frame.
The City can now proceed with negotiating purchase of Neighborhoods 1 and 3, which is set forth in the Vested Tentative Tract Map. That process is mostly laid out in the VTTM, and I believe there is a two month window (but it can be extended) to do so. I will be organizing staff to get all of our grant opportunities in line for those purchases to include the $15 million from Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva.
Most importantly, the initial trail improvement component will begin so we can get Chevron/PCH to do the initial trail segments so we can start having public access to sections to include the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve.”

 

Due to efforts of the Friends of Coyote Hills the West Coyote Hills acerage east of Gilbert has been saved. There are ideas on how to save the remaining property. Stay tuned and visit www.coyotehills.org for more information 

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2 replies »

  1. “But ironically, I no longer believe this is a money issue: this is a people issue. Chevron can agree to sell the rest of the property for $120M ($150M-$30M) by allowing us say two years to raise the money.”

    Why would the property owner agree to this since they’ve (in addition to the city) had to defend something like 6 separate legal actions (apparently all successful)

    Just curious……

  2. The city did not have to go to court to defend its decision to side with Chevron against 61% of its own voters. It would have been cheaper to side with voters and settle the $1 million lawsuit that Chevron/PCH brought against the city for rejecting its 760-home development plan for the property.

    Now – unless the city and Friends of Coyote Hills are successful in attracting grants and other funds to buy the property – we will see those homes built on the last open space in our area. That loss of open space is something that will not come back.

    In addition, for Chevron to build homes on the oil & gas degraded property it has to be cleaned up to residential requirements which are stiffer than open space requirements. Chevron could benefit by not having to put up the costs to clean up and develop the property, which by the way will require any homes built to have methane vents even after clean up.

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