Local News

City Council to Consider Rescinding Bastanchury Creekside Housing

New City Council date: Monday, Nov 2, 6:30pm. Residents may attend in-person or watch and eComment: fullerton.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.

Parks, trails, and open space advocates throughout Fullerton are concerned about the City Council’s decision to convert a 7-acre parcel known as the Bastanchury Tree Farm (BTF) from open space to development through the Surplus Land Act (SLA). Even in its unmaintained state, the park has substantial recreational, historic, cultural, and ecological value. There were historic adobes and Indian archeological sites nearby, and a natural, seasonal creek runs through the park, supporting a healthy riparian habitat with native trees and a wide variety of local wildlife.

Native trees, such as Coast live oak, California black walnut, and California sycamore, grow in the natural, seasonal, Bastanchury Creek. Photo by Jensen Hallstrom

The purpose of the Surplus Land Act is to encourage more opportunities to build affordable housing through use of public surplus property, but it has guidelines for the definition of surplus, and once the definition has been met, an option for cities to find ways to use the land as parks or open space. Because the property is now recognized as listed in the General Plan as a Park, the property “has an Agency use” and does not meet the definition of surplus.

The staff report says that the fact that there is not a restrictive deed “provides the City Council with the legal authority to make a determination as to whether the subject property is in fact ‘surplus’.”  But the absence of a restrictive deed does not relieve the City of its obligation to stand by their 1977 Agreement with the adjacent housing tract. The City also would need to officially change the Land Use designation before they can declare it to be surplus.

On June 14 and again on August 18, the City Council was asked to declare the Bastanchury Tree Farm as surplus, but was not made aware of the following critical information: the current “Parks and Recreation” land use designation in the Fullerton General Plan, nor the name of the Park. If they had known this, they would have realized that the Tree Farm already had an “agency use” and would not be considered surplus.

A mature, native California Sycamore tree (Platanus racemosa) grows in the Bastanchury creek. Native willows and black walnuts grow in the understory. Photo by Jensen Hallstrom

Residents of Peppermill HOA, the adjacent property, claimed that they’d been told for decades that the land had been dedicated for park purposes. Although there is not a deed restriction for park purposes, the City now recognizes the community’s assertions as correct:

• There is a Land Use designation in Fullerton’s General Plan as “Parks and Recreation.”

• It appears as “Bastanchury Greenbelt” on the table of public parks.

• As a condition of the City’s approval of development of the adjacent housing tract, the adjacent 7-acre parcel was accepted from the developer as part of the developer’s parks and recreation requirements, through purchase.

• It was purchased by the City for use as a park, as a condition of tract approval.

In addition, the tract houses were built smaller because of the adjacent intended park use, and although the park has never been officially developed, the site has been used for decades as a de facto park and trail.

The Bastanchury creek supports a riparian forest because of the seasonal floods of stormwater and urban water runoff that is channeled from streets. This increased access to water for trees during the growing season means that native trees that grow near the creek can grow to giant sizes and live extraordinarily long lives. Photo by Jensen Hallstrom.

At its November 2 meeting, Council is considering three options:

1. Adopt a proposed resolution to rescind the declaration of the property as Surplus Land because, “it is the City’s intent to develop the site for parks and recreation purposes and therefore does not meet the definition of surplus.”

2. Retain the Surplus Property declaration and direct Staff to include requirements for the developer to preserve a specified square footage/acreage of the property for use as publicly accessible open space at no expense to the City.

3. Retain the Surplus Property declaration and Notice of Availability (for development) with no changes or amendments.

Residents of Peppermill HOA feel that the Agreement they made with the City to sell them the land for park purposes should be honored.

Friends of Fullerton Waterways (FFW), feels that the City should keep the Bastanchury Tree Farm property as an open space or conservation area since it has substantial recreational, historic, cultural, and ecological value.

The City could seek conservation funding to develop the Tree Farm as a nature park for a much lower cost than a typical turf park. Given the City’s financial issues, continuing to land-bank the parcel, possibly even with lease income for a while, is a reasonable and low cost path to take, as it preserves the open space quality but remains available for public use.

Affordable housing is currently being proposed at three other surplus properties, including two in north Fullerton hills, and thousands of other affordable housing units are being planned over the next few years.  Properties at 1600 West Commonwealth Avenue (a portion of the city yard) and 3151 North Euclid Street (the tank farm) already have developer interest, and will have upcoming development decisions for medium- or high-density affordable housing projects. Another property at Rolling Hills north of Beechwood School has been declared surplus but notice has not yet been circulated to developers. All but Beechwood will have public transit access, as does the Bastanchury Tree Farm.

To reach Councilmembers, phone or e-mail: (714) 738-6311 / Council@cityoffullerton.com.

For more info about FFW, call or text (714) 729-3019 or email together@SaveFullerton.com or visit www.SaveFullerton.com.