Coyote Hills Development-Unanswered Questions

There are several things I’d like to know if it were up to me to decide what to do with West Coyote Hills, the last of Chevron’s played out oil fields in Fullerton.

Chevron is seeking a zoning change that would allow them to build homes on their land. Some people are happy with the proposal, which includes bike paths, hiking trails and funding to maintain a nature preserve. Others say the preserve isn’t enough, and the whole of the undeveloped land should be saved as open space. The argument’s been going on for years.

My questions:

1. Who should lay the plans for the last open space in the city? The city has the legal right, I’m told, to zone city land however it wishes. Have city planners given any serious consideration to laying out their own independent plan for the depleted oil fields? Isn’t this an opportunity too good to pass up? And if the city were to develop its own plan, would it choose to build more high-end housing?

If you don’t specifically bring up the hot-button issue of development in West Coyote Hills but instead ask people what Fullerton needs, would they say more expensive houses in the hills, or would they say parks and affordable homes?

Or something else?

2 . What’s up with the gnatcatcher? The designation of the California gnatcatcher as a protected species slowed down development plans because some of the small birds are living in the hills. Would building houses really threaten the birds? A biologist has said that the number of gnatcatchers in the Hawk’s Pointe development next door actually rose after houses were put in.

Who cares about gnatcatchers anyway? Was the point of protecting the gnatcatcher merely to save the bird, or was it to save the ecological niche in which the bird naturally thrives? Is a gnatcatcher nesting in a gated community as good as a gnatcatcher nesting in coastal sage scrub? Do we need scrub land?

3. Are people in the developed hills struggling with contamination? Opponents of development cite possible dire consequences of building on a contaminated oil field, but Chevron’s oil fields in Fullerton, La Habra and La Mirada were extensive and have since been largely developed. Have there been any serious consequences so far? Is there some difference in this last bit of land that would make it more prone to contamination problems than east Coyote Hills or Hawk’s Pointe?

4. Would traffic be better or worse? Opponents of development say that building more houses would increase traffic which would mean more congestion and more pollution. But a traffic engineer from the city has said that traffic is down recently even though other new residential developments are already in place.

It’s also true that one way to decrease air pollution is to reduce commute distances by building affordable housing near jobs. Who spews more exhaust into the atmosphere–a Fullerton High School teacher commuting from Chino or one who makes a short trip down out of the hills?

So would new housing be a net gain or a net loss?

5. What have other cities done? How has brownfield redevelopment been handled in other places? Are there examples of successes and of failures that might be instructive?

6. Who paid for those experts? I was impressed by the array of experts available to answer questions at the March 10 meeting of the Planning Commission. Who hired those consultants? Can we assume they are unbiased?

7. Could we keep all the land as a preserve? It has been suggested that anyone who wishes to preserve the land can make Chevron an offer, buy the land, and build a preserve. Is there money available? Measure M is a suggested source of funding, but how much money is needed and are OCTA’s pockets big enough? Are there other sources of funding? Is Chevron genuinely interested in a bid?

8. And what about that alternate plan? On the front page of their mid-March issue, the Fullerton Observer featured a plan designed by Cal Poly students which concentrates housing in a smaller area than currently proposed thus preserving more open space.

How seriously should we take the students’ plan? Is it a viable option?  Is anyone with decision-making authority taking is seriously? Should they?

I’d like to write a post for each of these questions. I will if I can. But I know how long it takes me to research even smaller issues, so the chances of my finding answers in time to be of any use are pretty slim. If you’ve got any answers, help me out. Comment here or email me at I want to hear from you.

Background info:

An extensive compilation (by the city) of planning documents and reports related to the development of West Coyote Hills.

The developer’s website describing the planned project. Pacific Coast Homes is a subsidiary of Chevron.

City’s website for the Robert E. Ward Preserve. This land was donated by Chevron, but the city has never had the funds to open it to the public. The proposed development plan includes funds to open and maintain the preserve and an interpretive center.

Hawk’s Pointe is a residential development in West Coyote Hills on Beach Boulevard adjoining the land currently being considered for development. (This isn’t a very interesting website, but if you’re confused by references to Hawk’s Pointe, this might help.)

What’s a brownfield? Let Wikipedia explain.

The Audubon Society discusses the California Gnatcatcher, one of the birds on its watchlist.

Arguments against development:

The Friends of Coyote Hills, a grassroots organization that wants to stop development and preserve open space.

The Sierra Club also hopes to prevent development.

OCTA is looking for land to buy and preserve with Measure M funds in order to mitigate transportation development projects elsewhere. Coyote Hills is one the locales under consideration. Read the Orange County Register story here. It has been suggested that there are other sources of funding available as well. That’s important because lack of funding is often cited as the primary reason for not preserving the undeveloped hills in their entirety.

Arguments for alternative development plans:

It’s my impression that there hasn’t been a lot of serious thought given to alternative plans for development. The argument seems to have been framed in terms of either accepting or rejecting the developer’s proposal. (Though there has been a great deal of negotiation, and the present plan has changed significantly from the original.)

The Orange County Business Council says we need more affordable housing to meet workforce demands, though they have not, so far as I know, expressed an opinion on this specific development plan. Doug Chaffee of the Planning Commission raised concerns about affordable housing, suggesting that the proposal be amended to include some low-cost senior housing.

The Fullerton Observer ran a front page story about an alternative development plan devised by students at Cal Poly. It concentrates housing in one area and leaves more open space. You can find the article here at the Observer’s website by opening their mid-March issue.


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