Appeals Court Sidesteps Constitutional Issue

The 4th District Court of Appeals sidestepped the people’s referendum right issue when it ruled against  on their Measure W lawsuit on 12/6/18. The judges framed this lawsuit more narrowly as business contract between Chevron-PCH and the City of Fullerton even though the subject of the 2012 Measure W referendum, the West Coyote Hills Development Agreement, was codified through a City ordinance which is subject to referendum.

The City wrote the West Coyote Hills development approvals so that if the Development Agreement was terminated, the other approvals such as the General Plan amendment, Specific Plan, and even the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be overturned.

The Friends of Coyote Hills sued the City of Fullerton after they gave final vesting rights to Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes in 2015, despite the people’s successful referendum that should have terminated the Development Agreement.

The appeals court ruled that while the Development Agreement was approved through an ordinance, the City and Chevron had the final say in whether it would be terminated even after a referendum because that was what they wrote in the Development Agreement.  The people’s referendum veto was therefore moot (which means it made no difference whether you voted YES or NO on Measure W). Since the City and Chevron chose not to terminate the Development Agreement after the referendum, the other development approvals stand.

While it’s not surprising that the appellate court avoided ruling on a constitutional matter, this case leaves the door open for the City of Fullerton and other California cities to write ordinances that deprive people their referendum veto, a right granted by our state’s constitution.

In recent years, the State Supreme Court has overruled Orange County courts when cities overstep their powers to make land use decisions at the cost of people’s right to participate.

In December 2016, the California Supreme Court unanimously sided with the citizens of Orange to reaffirm decades of well-established planning law that supports the right of voters to use the referendum process to challenge local land use decisions.

In March, 2017, the California State Supreme Court sided with the Banning Ranch Conservancy against the City of Newport Beach.  The Orange County Register reported that “The case hinged on a simple question: Did the city of Newport Beach violate its own municipal ordinance in 2012 when city planners approved development at Banning Ranch, even though voters in the city had previously said they wanted the land to remain open space?”

We are working with our attorneys to plan our next steps. We  have until 1/15/19 to file a petition to the State Supreme Court to review this case.

In the meanwhile, a generous donor has already kickstarted a $20,000 challenge grant to support our continued effort to save Coyote Hills. Please step up to the challenge and make a donation . Email us for more information at information@coyotehills.org or call 657-325-0725.

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