Wrong “Facts”, Wrong Decision on Coyote Hills

On November 17, 2015, the Fullerton City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to approve Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes’ Vesting Tentative Tract Map (VTTM) for the West Coyote Hills development. In doing so, they ignored the voters’ 2012 virtual mandate of no development on West Coyote Hills. The 61% of votes against Measure W was a decisive veto of the City Council’s 2011 development approval. This VTTM proceeding was illegal. It should not have occurred absent of the development approvals that were nullified with Measure W. The City Council ignored their constituents and rationalized their decision with misinformation. They have all but challenged the public to defend their constitutional right to referendum.

Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald rationalized that the Measure W only affected the Development Agreement. While it is true that Measure W was a referendum on the Development Agreement approval, it should have had an effect on the other development approvals such as the General Plan Revision and Specific Plan Amendment. The City wrote those approvals in such a way that the Development Agreement had a domino effect. If terminated, the other approvals contained language that nullified themselves. Councilmember Doug Chaffee agreed that this should have been the effect of Measure W.

Councilmember Fitzgerald may have relied on the City attorney’s advice that page 8 of the Development Agreement allows the City to choose to not terminate the Development Agreement in the event of a referendum. So the City Council can get around a referendum? Didn’t we just agree that Measure W invalidated the Development Agreement? So why is page 8 still valid? Oh, well in that case the City Attorney said, a referendum only lasts a year anyhow. What he conveniently left out was that the nullified approvals are not automatically reinstated after a year. The developer has to reapply. Chevron did not reapply. They went straight to the VTTM instead. The VTTM may not be approved without the development approvals. So in effect, the City Council let Chevron run to the home plate by skipping all the bases.

Councilmember Fitzgerald also criticized the Friends of Coyote Hills for not seeking acquisition funds in the last 2.5 years. Critics of the Friends of Coyote Hills used to argue there was no money at all for acquisition. Now they criticize the Friends for not applying for those funds. The critics are as misinformed as ever. First and foremost, getting to first base with these grants require a willing seller. Chevron was not a willing seller until the VTTM was approved 11/17/15.

But that didn’t stop the Friends from trying. In 2007, we submitted an application to the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. In 2008, we submitted an application to the California Department of Fish and Game. In 2011, we applied for the OCTA M2 mitigation fund. In all cases, we were turned down due to a lack of a willing seller. OCTA even reached out to Chevron-PCH in writing inviting them to participate. Chevron-PCH declined. In 2015, we applied and were awarded a $1M matching grant from a private charitable foundation.  Furthermore, we then turned over all of our past grant applications and supporting research to the City’s grant writer as she geared up to reapply for grants with the same agencies.

Aside from gaming the democratic checks and balances, the most damaging result of the City Council’s action is to upzone West Coyote Hills, essentially making public acquisition of the 510-acre property impossible, especially given the one year time frame. It is a disingenuous offer for acquisition. I have nothing nice to say to any Councilmember who would pretend otherwise.

To Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes I say, there is still an opportunity for you to make good and fast money on this deal with plenty of good will for your parent company to boot. At the moment, you’ve got the highest possible valuation you can for this property. You’ve done your job.

Make a land donation to the County of Orange and take a tax write off. You hold the key to the last significant opportunity for an open space park in this underserved region that includes La Habra, Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton and even parts of south LA. Public agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife, Rivers and Mountains Conservancy W, Department of Fish and Game, OCTA (M2 Environmental Mitigation Fund) have long been interested in preserving this precious habitat. We can form a coalition to work with Chevron Corporation to make this financial decision profitable.

Suppose Coyote Hills is appraised for $150M, a tax write off can mean a savings of $57M* and long lasting good will for Chevron: call it the “Chevron Nature Preserve at Coyote Hills” and your name will forever be associated with a community jewel. Donald Bren did just this in 2014 by taking a tax write-off for 2,500 acres of entitled open space in the city of Orange after a decade plus battle with environmentalists. The land then became part of OC Parks. Chevron-PCH can create another win-win story here in North Orange County.

 

* Chevron paid over $1B in Federal and State taxes in 2014. According to their 2014 Annual Report, they are in the 38% tax bracket. Pacific Coast Homes is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron. Income and loss can be rolled up into the parent company’s balance sheet.

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