Last night, in what may be the beginning of the end of a thirty-year struggle, the Fullerton Planning Commission sent a proposal for the development of Fullerton’s last sizable open space to the city council with the recommendation that it be approved. In a five-to-one vote, the commission said yes to zoning changes that would allow Pacific Coast Homes, a subsidiary of Chevron, to build houses and commercial property on depleted oil fields in West Coyote Hills.
There’s still one more approval needed. The city council will make the final decision, but getting a favorable recommendation from the planning commission was a big step.
Jim Pugliese, project manager for Pacific Coast Homes, was exhausted at the end of the six-hour meeting, but happy with the vote and already looking ahead.
“Now the real work begins,” he said.
A proposal, after all, is not the same as a blueprint. There are many specifics that need to be worked out before building can get underway.
One issue that needs clarification is the question of water supply. Although the city says it has enough water for new homes, there is nonetheless a public perception that increasing the demand when water prices are rising and residents are asked to conserve is bad planning. Chairman Dexter Savage said that water was a matter of particular interest to him. He doesn’t want his bill to go up.
Don Means, vice president of Pacific Coast Homes, said that Chevron has acquired water rights along with mineral rights in the course of doing business and is trying to trade some of those rights in order to supplement Fullerton’s water supply. More detailed information will be available to the city council by the time they vote on the development proposal, he said.
Vice Chairman Doug Chaffee was particularly concerned that no low-income housing had been included in the plan. Fullerton doesn’t have an inclusionary rule (which would require a certain proportion of housing units in a new development to be affordable), but the city’s general plan sets goals for affordable housing, he said, and he would like to see at least an acre or two of senior housing near the commercial center in the project proposal.
“We’ve not been approached around affordable housing,” said Pugliese to the commissioners. “If the city wants to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.”
Several groups made presentations to the commission.
Wendell Hanks, speaking for Friends of Coyote Hills, opposed the project, making a strong case for preserving the last open space in a region of high density. In an allusion to the oft-mentioned chain link fence that surrounds much of the property in question, Hanks concluded in a booming voice, “Mr. Chairman, help us tear down that fence!”
He was followed by Theresa Harvey, executive director of the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce, who argued that development would be good for Fullerton. (The Chamber’s official position is provided on their website. Click “Coyote Hills” on the right. Chevron is a platinum sponsor of the Chamber.)
Next several members of the Coyote Hills Committee (Tom Dalton, Molly McClanahan, and Chris Heusser) presented their argument in favor of development. Their group was originally formed by then mayor Bob Ward after whom the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve was set aside. But the city has never had the money to open the preserve to the public. Chevron’s proposal includes provisions to maintain the preserve and build an interpretive center there.
The committee believes that Pacific Coast homes has revised its plans over the years and taken into account the concerns that were raised, and they want that preserve opened to the public and properly managed.
“We have seen their proposal evolve over the last decade,” said Heusser. “Compromises have been made, people have listened.”
After they spoke, Hanks was concerned. “They killed us,” he said.
Individuals had their chance to express opinions once the groups were done. More than 40 people took a turn at the podium, with a large majority opposing the project.
Finally public comment was closed. After some discussion about how to proceed, Commissioner Wade Richmond spoke up.
“I’m ready to move forward” he said. We’ve got the same groups here, we’ve read same material, we’ve heard the same arguments. Two more weeks of reading [this] stuff and I’ll be crazy. I’d like to get back to a good murder mystery.”
He moved that the plan be forwarded to the city council with a recommendation to pass. After his motion was seconded and commissioners voiced various concerns, they voted. Doug Chaffee opposed the motion, Dave Musante wasn’t present, and everyone else voted in favor.
A date hasn’t been set for the council to hear the issue.