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Check Your Citrus Trees!

The California Citrus Research Board is asking local homeowners to help in the fight against a deadly citrus disease that is threatening  California orange growers and has struck for the first time in California right in our own backyard. Citrus greening has been detected in in Hacienda Heights. It wreaks havoc on citrus trees, first ruining the fruit, then killing the tree, and there’s no cure. It’s spread by a bug that’s been steadily advancing through California from Mexico, but not all bugs carry the disease, and till now no diseased trees had been found in the state. As is typical, the first diseased tree was found in a private yard, so officials are trying to recruit homeowners in the battle to save a major state industry.

Here’s an article in Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

And here’s my earlier post on citrus psyllids.

UDATE (April 3, 2012): The California Department of Food and Agriculture will hold an informational meeting about citrus greening in the City of Industry Thursday night.

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Voters to Decide Fate of West Coyote Hills in 2012

Chevron’s plans to develop the last significant open space in Fullerton have been stymied once again. Last night, after the success of two petitions opposing the development agreement between the city and the oil company, the Fullerton City Council decided to let voters settle the question in an election in November 2012.

It’s been a long and bumpy road to reach this point. Most of the former oil fields in north Orange County have already been developed. The remaining land in Fullerton has been the focal point of a pitched battle between those who favor Chevron’s plan for an upscale residential development complete with open space and trails, and those who prefer to leave the land wild as an example of the west coast’s dwindling coastal sage scrub.

In July of 2009, the City of Fullerton launched a well-attended series of public meetings at which Chevron’s plans were explained and voted on, first by a series of committees and then by the council. That process concluded nearly a year later in May of 2010 when the council, in a vote that surprised many, turned thumbs down on development. Chevron didn’t give up. Instead they filed suit against Fullerton, arguing that the city had failed to negotiate in good faith; since Chevron had met all objections with a series of modifications, compromises and deals, they felt their plan should have been approved.

Next Chevron offered to drop the suit if the council would reconsider its vote. In April of 2011 the council, whose membership had changed after the November elections, overturned its decision of a year earlier and voted to approve Chevron’s plan after all.

But that wasn’t the end. Friends of Coyote Hills, who have fought to preserve the hills since the group’s formation in 2001, collected signatures on four petitions for referendum, two of which succeeded. That gave the city council the option of reversing their decision themselves or leaving the question to the voters, a process sometimes called “the people’s veto.” Last night they voted to put it on the ballot. Now Fullerton voters in the November 2012 election will decide whether honor the development agreement with Chevron or overturn it.

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Suit Challenges West Coyote Hills Development

The Center for Biological Diversity issued this press release today:

The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Coyote Hills, and the Sea and Sage Audubon Society filed a lawsuit Thursday to protect one of the finest remaining open-space areas in north Orange County. The 510-acre site in Fullerton is threatened by the West Coyote Hills development, approved by the city in July, which would be sited in north Orange County’s largest unprotected open space. The site is home to one of the largest populations of coastal California gnatcatchers, a threatened bird species that depends on vanishing coastal sage scrub habitat. The 760-home project would destroy the bird’s habitat on the site and fragment the remainder.

“The project would eliminate habitat for nearly a quarter of the gnatcatchers on the site,” said John Buse, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But that’s just the direct effects — the remaining gnatcatchers would have to subsist in the scattered pockets of coastal sage scrub left by the development.”

In 2010, the Fullerton City Council voted to reject the West Coyote Hills project after a long and contentious review process. The project’s developer, a Chevron subsidiary, subsequently sued the city, which settled this lawsuit by agreeing to reconsider the project. The city did so in July, reversing its previous decision.

“It takes time to preserve a treasure — and that’s just what Coyote Hills is poised to become, an educational and recreational asset to the million residents in this densely developed, park-poor region,” said Diane Bonanno of Friends of Coyote Hills, a group that has worked to preserve the site for a decade. “We’ve also launched a referendum campaign to overturn the city council’s decision to turn the site into another large development complex. Volunteer signature gatherers are active throughout the city.”

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, challenged the city’s failure to disclose and eliminate the project’s effects on gnatcatchers, other rare species, global warming, water pollution, and other aspects of the environment.

“The city has failed to recognize how devastating the impacts of this project would be,” said Scott Thomas of the Sea and Sage Audubon Society. “The severely fragmented open space carved out by the plan could not adequately meet the needs of gnatcatchers or other sensitive species, nor would it meet the open space needs of the citizens of the area.”

The groups are represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger of San Francisco.

Contacts:

John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416
Diane Bonanno, Friends of Coyote Hills, (714) 572-9911
Scott Thomas, Sea and Sage Audubon Society, (949) 293-2915

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Council Ok's Chevron's Development Plan, Opponents Plan Referendum

Last night the Fullerton City Council voted 4-1 to approve Chevron’s plan to build 760 houses on 510 acres of depleted oil property in West Coyote Hills, thus overturning the Council’s earlier decision in May 2010. The reversal was expected. The vote in 2010 was close, and city elections in November had changed the makeup of the Council, replacing two of the council members who had voted against development.

Last night’s vote fulfills the terms of a settlement Chevron proposed for a suit it filed against the city last August for a failure to negotiate in good faith. The terms of the settlement required that the council take a second vote and approve the project. Chevron could simply have begun the process of seeking a zoning change all over from scratch, but that would have meant repeating an expensive and time-consuming process.

Friends of Coyote Hills, a group formed ten years ago to oppose development in favor of preserving open space, announced today that it will begin collecting signatures of registered Fullerton voters to petition for a referendum in the hopes that the voters of Fullerton would overturn the City Council’s decision. Enough signatures would halt development until an election could be called.

A referendum, if it succeeds, will still not settle the issue. Voters would not be able to vote on an alternative to Chevron’s plan, merely to nullify the Council’s vote, so the question of what to do with Fullerton’s last significant open space would remain.

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Council Votes on Development Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night Fullerton City Council will vote — again — on whether to allow Chevron to build homes on its depleted oil fields in West Coyote Hills. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the council chamber at city hall.

History: Chevron has been pumping oil from West Coyote hills since they bought the land from Murphy Oil in the early 1900’s (though Chevron was known as Standard Oil at the time). The oil field is largely depleted now, and Chevron would like the city to rezone it so that Pacific Coast Homes, a Chevron subsidiary, can build houses. They first presented their plan to the city in the early 1970’s. By 1977 a development agreement had been reached between Chevron and the city.

Ten years ago most of the land had been developed. Connie Spenger, a long-time Fullerton resident, watched the losing battle to stop the building on a portion of the oil property in La Mirada (east of Beach and north of Rosecrans) and decided Fullerton activists needed to be better organized. She founded Friends of Coyote Hills, which has been fighting to preserve the land ever since.

Chevron’s plan is to build 760 homes on large lots, leaving about half the land unbuilt, with parks and trails. They would also help open Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve, a contiguous piece of land which the city already owns but which it has never restored for public access.

The Approval Process: In July of 2009, the city held the first in a series of meetings to inform the community of the proposal and allow for public input. There were two information sessions, then a series of committee meetings in which city committees considered the plan as it affected their area of concern and then voted on whether to recommend the plan to the Planning Commission. Next the Planning Commission held two meetings to consider the recommendations of the committees and make their own recommendation to the Council.  Then the Council held two meetings. At the second meeting, on May, 2010, the Council voted against development.

It was understood that there would eventually be another vote. After 6 months Chevron could come back and start the process over. But they chose another approach. Rather than starting over on a lengthy and expensive task, they waited until after city elections had installed a new council that is likely to look more favorably on their proposal and then filed suit against the city for failing to negotiate in good faith. After all, they’d gone to a lot of trouble to try to meet every objection, hiring experts in many fields to fine-tune their plan. What grounds did the city have to vote against them? What was the point of the city requesting changes to the plan if they were only going to vote it down anyway?

Then Chevron offered to drop the suit if the city took a second vote and approved the development so Chevron wouldn’t have to start over at zero. Hence tomorrow night’s council meeting. If the council votes against the project, Chevron will go forward with the suit.

What I Hate about the Process: Some people look at Chevron’s suit as a kind of blackmail, but I don’t see that as the real issue. Sure it’s an unsavory tactic, but I can see Chevron’s point. They have negotiated in good faith. They’ve modified their plan repeatedly in an attempt to meet every objection. Now they’re supposed to start over and go through it all again? How many times?

But there is a problem here. There was opportunity for public input at every step. Over and over again both supporters and opponents stood in line to take their turn at the mic, ask questions, and offer opinions. In a sense the process was a model of community involvement, but that was largely a sham. Yes, the plan was challenged and amended to reflect public concerns — and that’s commendable — but the framework of the process was never opened up to consider the best use of the land, merely the much narrower question of whether to approve this use.

Opponents quibbled endlessly over a myriad of details — parking, earthquake safety, water supply, air pollution, endangered species, trail access, building materials, landscaping — but what else could they do? The only question on the table was whether to pass this plan. They could attend a meeting of the Transportation and Circulation Commission, for example, and present their argument that the city would be better served if the entire stretch of land was restored to a wild state and preserved, but at the end of the meeting the commission could only vote on how they thought Chevron’s plan would affect traffic. Period. So opponents who had a vision of gnatcatchers  calling in wild elderberry trees were reduced to critiques  of bus stops and traffic flow. And every meeting was structured the same way. Even some commissioners and committee members complained that they felt their hands were tied. Time and time again Chevron’s plan was presented and explained, people gave their arguments for and against, and then Chevron’s plan was voted on. No other plan was ever given serious consideration.

This is a model that works well in other cases. If, for example, the owner of a bar would like to serve food (and drinks) on an outdoor patio and needs a variance, he presents his plan, there’s some discussion of its merits, and then a vote. No one thinks it makes sense to offer an alternative plan, like: I think you should dig up the pavement and plant a tree. Or put in a child care center for patrons with kids. Or create a refuge for wounded pigeons.

But deciding what to do with a large plot of land — the last open space in the city — when the original use for the property is about to be abandoned is a different proposition by orders of magnitude. This isn’t a decision about whether a storefront can have awnings or a homeowner can build a higher wall than usual. It’s a decision about how to use a serious chunk of property in a situation where the city residents are deeply divided. Chevron bought the land and they pumped the oil. They intend to keep the mineral rights so they can keep drilling if they wish (slant drilling). Should they be entitled to more than that? Should it be up to an oil company to decide how a large portion of Fullerton is zoned once the oil company is done with it?

The zoning question is also a decision about residential housing in an environment where young families are seeking housing farther and farther away in order to find anything affordable. Is more high end housing really what the city needs? Or would homes that a high school teacher or a nurse could afford be of more benefit to the community?

I’m not trying to answer those questions. I don’t know whether moderate-income housing or the restoration and preservation of this last bit of coastal sage scrub would be a better use of Chevron’s brownfields than the high-end housing they intend to build. But I wish someone were seriously asking that question rather than narrowing the discussion to the merits of one plan.

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Property Rights

The following is a guest post by Judith Kaluzny, a divorce lawyer and mediator in Fullerton.

Private property rights, like free speech rights, have limitations. Some Fullertonians are bleating about the alleged rights of a very prosperous multinational corporation to a zoning change to permit residential dwellings for affluent people upon a hazardous land area.

Meantime, the city is at work to remove private property rights from Larry Klees, the owner of a small downtown residential property where he provides low income housing for six people. April 19 the city council in a closed session authorized the law firm of Jones & Mayer to take whatever action is necessary to place the property at 138 West Malvern Avenue into receivership.

A recorded grant deed for former oil field property in Huntington Beach sold by Pacific Coast Homes/Chevron Land & Development Company contains a final paragraph as follows: “Grantee acknowledges that the real property has been used by former owners for oil field production operations and/or as oil storage tank farm for the storage of crude oil and petroleum products; that residual contamination is commonly found on properties that have been in such use; and that these residual substances include chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”

Fine print on the pages of the deed seem to indicate that it also applies to other Chevron property including West Coyote Hills.

In addition, the Coyote Hills map in the EIR geology section shows two landslide zones where houses are to be built, actually the densest–attached–housing is in one of these. Also a liquifaction zone is there. The soils are the same friable soils that are across Euclid from CH, where the path is permanently closed and the hillside is eroding away. As also in La Habra, same soil structure, and severe erosion on properties there. It is also the bull’s eye of the Puente Hills Blind Thrust Fault which, if there is a moderately severe quake, is project by the USGS to be the worst economic disaster in the history of the USA. See USGS comments on the 2006 EIR.

The Klees property is not attractive in appearance. Described by one person, “I think its a unique property that is truly so evocative it could be used for film locations. It appears to be some type of worker or bracero housing and the property runs down to the barranca.

And there is a complaint by a “citizen” October 12, 2010, to code enforcement but the lines for investigative notes are entirely blank. The allegations relate to interior conditions in one unit not specified. But Klees had no notice that the city wanted to take over his private property and redevelop it at his expense.

Klees said one of his cottage rental units had been severely damaged by a tenant he was evicting six months ago. The tenant attacked him; he called the police November 3, 2010. Klees believes it was this disgruntled tenant who made the latest complaint to code enforcement, now known as community preservation.

But the Klees property will give no one cancer or birth defects nor slide down a hill. But he does not get the respect for private property that it seems some people think the city owes Chevron.

Question: does the city knowing these risks on the Chevron property become liable for the harm to the future residents if the council approves this land for residential purposes?

———-

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in writing a guest post on the proposed development of West Coyote Hills or on any other topic that would be of interest to residents in and near the hills, email me at CindyCotter@gmail.com

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West Coyote Hills Hearing Postponed

5/11/2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE PRESS RELEASE #09511
Subject : West Coyote Hills public hearing postponed
Contact : Joan Wolff, Planning Consultant, Community Development Department    (714) 738-6837
Sylvia Palmer Mudrick, Public Information Coordinator, Fullerton City Manager’s Office    (714) 738-6317

The planned Tuesday, May 17, public hearing before the Fullerton City Council on the proposed West Coyote Hills project is being postponed until July.

The new date for the hearing will be Tuesday, July 12.  The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber of Fullerton City Hall, 303 W. Commonwealth Ave. The request to postpone the hearing was made by the applicant, Pacific Coast Homes. Al Zelinka, community development director for the city, said the reason for the request is that the applicant and city staff “identified a procedural oversight pertaining to review of the proposed project by the Orange County Airport Land Use Commission.” The 510-acre West Coyote Hills site is bounded on the north by La Habra, on the east by Euclid Street, on the west by the Hawks Pointe development, and on the south by Rosecrans Avenue.  Gilbert Street divides the property from north to south. Pacific Coast Homes proposes to build a maximum of 760 housing units in an approximate 180-acre portion of that area.  Other components of the project include a 5.2-acre neighborhood commercial development, and approximately 283 acres of open space and recreational uses, including the 72-acre Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve.    Further information about the public hearing or the project may be obtained by calling Joan Wolff, planning consultant for the city’s Community Development Department, at (714) 738-6837. Persons requiring special accommodations to attend the July 12 meeting are asked to notify the Fullerton City Clerk’s Office at (714) 738-6350 prior to that date.

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