On Tuesday night, the Fullerton City Council voted down an appeal to the City Planning Commission’s approval of a development plan with Chevron for Coyote Hills.
This very contentious decision comes out of a negotiation that has been decades in the making.
The contested land in Coyote Hills was previously used for oil drilling by the current owner, Chevron. Chevron has been seeking to develop the land since the late 70s.
In November 2012 the residents of Fullerton voted, with a healthy margin of 60.8 percent, to oppose a development deal with Chevron that would allow them to build 760 residences in Coyote Hills in Measure W.
The vote suggested that Fullerton residents were in favor of more open space in Fullerton as opposed to increased residential development. After the vote, Chevron was not allowed to come back to the table with another deal for a minimum of one year.
Since the vote, new development plans have surfaced and are moving forward.
At the Tuesday night meeting, residents voiced that the City Council has chosen to forget that vote and go on with plans in spite of a perceived mandate to the contrary.
The new deal had recently been approved by the City Planning Commission and still includes residential development by Chevron. But, the plan also allows for land that it currently owns to be purchased by the highest bidder in one year’s time.
This comes as quite a shock to members of the Friends of Coyote Hills movement. The group has previously been amenable to purchasing the land at a fair price in a reasonable amount of time, but now there is concern that an outside contender with more available capital will purchase this land.
Another group who holds an interest in the case is Open Coyote Hills. However, this group of residents is more concerned with making the best possible deal rather than creating the most open space for Fullerton.
In the open forum portion of the meeting, concerned residents addressed issues such as water conservation and increased traffic as additional reasons for denying the deal with Chevron.
“We’re disappointed. I think there were many, many issues. They [the residents] feel like their votes were ignored. Sixty-one percent, they sent a very clear message to the council and that seems not to have taken with them at all,” Angela Lindstrom said, president of Friends of Coyote Hills. “This started out as a park issue, a quality of life issue and environmental water issue, and it’s completely turned into, now, a voters’ rights issue.”
The City Council chambers were filled with Friends of Coyote Hills supporters, who at one point were told by Mayor Greg Sebourn to sit down or risk tripping and hurting themselves.
Supporters of the decision voiced that this was the best deal that could be expected. They said 60 percent of the land to be used as a reserve and visitor’s center was a fair amount considering that the majority of the land was left for “open space.”
Supporters also contend that the city does not have the funds to purchase nor upkeep a new park if they were to develop the open space on their own. In the new deal, Chevron will be footing the cost of development and maintenance.
“I believe that the council made a prudent decision that is in the best interest of the community. It fulfills what we’ve been looking for, which is maximized open space within a fiscal reality,” Bob Hayden said, chairperson of Open Coyote Hills.
The city council returned from a short recess after the open forum to give individual council member comments and finally give their decision as a whole not to appeal the decision made by the planning committee.
“These are tough decisions. We don’t make the decisions because of election issues. I know this is not good for my election prospects. But that is not why I was elected,” said council member Jan Flory. “This is a very, very decent compromise.”
Council member Doug Chaffee, though sympathetic to the goals of the Friends of Coyote Hills, also voted against the appeal to the planning committee decision. He believes that Fullerton may be able to raise the funds to buy the land through grants.
He commended the Friends of Coyote Hills for already raising an impressive amount of $1 million in grant money.
Though the council seemed rather final on the matter and the Open Coyote Hills group was satisfied with its decision, Save Coyote Hills will continue to pursue the best course of action to achieve the most open land out of the development deal with Chevron. They may be moving on to take legal action against the city for its actions after the 2012 Measure W referendum.
“I think there’s been many concessions over many years by many people, and we have reached, I think, a compromise. Is it perfect? No. It’s far from perfect,” Mayor Sebourn said. “But I think that it gives us an opportunity that we don’t have without it.”