On June 8 voters in the 4th supervisorial district will choose a new person to represent them on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. On Jan. 25, four candidates fielded questions posed by Jennifer Muir of the Orange County Register and members of the audience at a public forum sponsored by Neighbors United for Fullerton. But there was one question no one asked: If you were elected, you would have a seat on the Orange County Transportation Authority Board. Would you support OCTA using Measure M funds to buy the last undeveloped portion of West Coyote Hills to preserve as open space?
Chevron’s remaining parcel of unbuilt land, from which it once pumped oil, has been a focus of contention for some years. Chevron’s subsidiary, Pacific Coast Homes, would like to build houses there, but to do that Fullerton must agree to rezone the land. Although rezoning has many supporters, it is also opposed by people (like Friends of Coyote Hills) who prefer to preserve this bit of coastal sage scrub.
Some supporters of development have said they’d like open space but since the city can’t afford to buy the land to make a park, this development proposal, which includes some open space, is the next best choice.
But what if OCTA bought and preserved the land with funds it has in hand for just that purpose?
In 1990, Orange County voters approved Measure M, agreeing to pay a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. Measure M would have expired next year, but four years ago voters were asked to extend it 30 years beyond that sunset. The extension, M2, included a new provision that 2 percent of the tax money would be spent to minimize environmental damage due to transportation development. The tax was approved by 70% of voters.
Now OCTA is deciding how to spend all that mitigation money. The Environmental Oversight Committee (EOC) is considering a plan to buy land to be preserved as open space, and West Coyote Hills is one of the sites under consideration.
The EOC will make its recommendations to the board of the OCTA for a final decision. That’s where the supervisorial candidates come in. The new supervisor will also represent the 4th supervisorial district (in which the hills are located) on the board of the OCTA.
There was strong support among the candidates for more open space in North Orange County. The popular proposal for paying for a new park was to stop funding the Sheriff’s harbor patrol out of park money. No candidate mentioned using funds from Measure M. The moderator didn’t bring up Measure M as a source of funding. No one in the audience asked about it.
For further reading….
The OCTA’s explanation of the environmental components of Measure M
My account of the NUFF forum for supervisorial candidates
Excellent article by Pat Brennan in the OC Register describing EOC’s task
The city of Fullerton’s informational page on the proposed development
Pacific Coast Homes’ page on the proposed development
Friends of Coyote Hills’ vision of the hills preserved
Sierra Club’s page on West Coyote Hills