I’m All for Saving Coyote Hills… Unless It Can Actually Be Done

Recently, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and State Senator Josh Newman took significant actions to help preserve Coyote Hills as a natural open space park in park-poor North Orange County. They authored state legislations Assembly Bill (AB) 510 and Senate Bill (SB) 714 that would provide $15M initial funding for the purchase of the land, and establish a state supported Coyote Hills conservancy program that will continue to gather funds and steward the transition of Coyote Hills into a park.

The Orange County Register’s 7/1/17 editorial “Coyote Hills, State shouldn’t meddle in Fullerton project” criticized these legislations as the state meddling in our local affairs. They misinformed readers that a park conservancy means eminent domain and loss of local control. Fullerton’s current Mayor Bruce Whitaker chimed in: “The state is continuing to remove local control over these sorts of issues … These things are best left to the locals.” This was echoed at the 7/18/17 Fullerton City Council meeting.

Actually, saving Coyote Hills as a park was a virtual mandate of Measure W, the people’s successful 2012 referendum which rejected the City of Fullerton’s approval of Chevron-Pacific Coast Home’s development plan for West Coyote Hills. Since the City has refused to honor our referendum, local residents spearheaded by the Friends of Coyote Hills had to resort to taking them to court. Local residents worked with Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and Senator Josh Newman on the legislations to realize a Coyote Hills park for our community.

The Register criticized SB 714 for creating a Coyote Hills program under the California State Coastal Conservancy (http://scc.ca.gov) because in theory the Coastal Conservancy has the power to acquire Coyote Hills by eminent domain. Presumably, “local control” is better because the City of Fullerton would never use eminent domain and certainly not on Coyote Hills, right?

Wrong. Both the Coastal Conservancy and the City of Fullerton have the authority of eminent domain. The difference is the Coastal Conservancy has never used that in its 40 years of existence (and probably never will, according to Mary Small, its Chief Deputy Executive Director), whereas the City of Fullerton has used eminent domain repeatedly, including resolutions in 2001 that condemned two areas of West Coyote Hills for a fire station and water reservoir in anticipation of the new development.

Interestingly, the City described those as “friendly” condemnations. You might ask, if it was friendly between the City and the property owner, Chevron, why use eminent domain to make the purchase in the first place? Here is one possible reason: http://thelawdictionary.org/article/how-can-i-avoid-paying-taxes-on-land-that-ive-sold/.

The California State Coastal Conservancy has a long and successful history of working with local Orange County communities and agencies to fund their parks and beach improvements including Crystal Cove State Park, Huntington Beach Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Santa Ana River Parkway, and even Fullerton’s own Laguna Lake Park.

SB 714 creates a Coyote Hills conservancy program that will be supported by the Coastal Conservancy resources and staff who have expertise and connections in acquisition funding, park planning, regulatory compliance, sensitive habitat planning and management, project management, and public outreach. They are an invaluable resource to administer and coordinate planning, funding and activities across multiple agencies for multi-year programs. So in short, Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva and Senator Newman are giving the people’s mandate for a Coyote Hills park funding and “legs”.

Orange County is known as a “donor” county, meaning we pay more in state tax than we get back in benefits. As a local resident, I am grateful that my elected state representatives are working hard to put our state tax dollars to work for us locally in Orange County.

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