Tag Archives: coastal sage scrub

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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Chevron Gets a Do-Over

In a 4:1 decision, the Fullerton City Council voted last night to reconsider Pacific Coast Homes’ proposal for a residential development in West Coyote Hills. Sharon Quirk-Silva cast the only dissenting vote.

It was only a matter of time before the matter came before the council again after having been voted down last May, after several months of public meetings and many years of contention. That decision temporarily stopped development, but it left open the question of what would happen to the land. Pacific Coast Homes, a subsidiary of Chevron, is unlikely to let it sit idle indefinitely.

Some expected the company to bring a new proposal to the council, which is likely to be more favorably inclined after several members were replaced in last November’s elections. Two of the three members who voted against the plan are no longer on the council.

But instead of starting the whole process over, Pacific Coast Homes (PCH) responded to their defeat by filing a suit against the city then offering to drop it if the council reversed its decision in a new vote.

PCH may bring a new proposal before the city at any time — the 6-month waiting period set in city code has already expired — but that would likely be the beginning of another protracted struggle. Last night’s settlement means that the council will vote on exactly the same plan that they denied last May. If the city introduces any new conditions, the settlement is void, though, according to Jeff Oderman of Rutan and Tucker, the law firm representing the city in the dispute with Pacific Coast Homes, the suit will not be renewed if the council votes in favor of development and then development is stymied by a third party.

“Anybody … that doesn’t agree with a decision that the council has made just sues the city and then they get, like, do-overs?” — Fullerton resident Elaine Mitchell, during public comments

“At any point PCH could bring this back through the regular process,” said council member Sharon Quirk-Silva, “and there’s a reason that they don’t want to bring it back through the regular process — and that’s because then you would have to go out and start the process again. I understand. That’s time, it’s money. It means many, many public engagements, it means re-looking at the EIR (Environmental Impact Report). I understand why they do not want to do that… But a decision was made… If you’ve seen council members up here over the years, you’re gonna know that we get on the soap box for something, and mine has been process, process, process. And that is something that I won’t waver on, it’s something that I believe in… Chevron certainly has the right to bring it forward, but under the threat of litigation is something that I do not support and I will not support this tonight.”

Pacific Coast Homes has spent years in negotiations with the city to build on their depleted oil fields in West Coyote Hills. In 1977 the city adopted the West Coyote Hills Master (Specific) Plan to guide the development of 1000 acres of oil fields in anticipation of Chevron’s decision to stop pumping oil. Since then about 420 acres have been developed. The plan in contention now is for the remaining 580 acres.

To move forward with the plan, the council would have to agree to rezone the land, which is now zoned for oil and gas. Rezoning has been opposed by those who wish to restore and preserve the land as one of the few remaining examples of coastal sage scrub.

In July of 2009, the city launched a series of meetings intended to involve the public in a decision-making process culminating in a vote of the council the following May.

July 8, 2009 – Informational meeting

July 27, 2009 – Parks and Recreation Commission

July 29, 2009 – Energy and Resource Management Committee

August 3, 2009 – Traffic and Circulation Commission

March 10, 2010 – Planning Commission – meeting one

March 18, 2010 – Planning Commission – meeting two

May 11, 2010 – City Council – meeting one

May 25, 2010 – City Council – not-s0-final decision

Pacific Coast Homes’ argument is that they have negotiated in good faith, modifying their plans to meet all objections, and the city council voted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, violating the 1977 agreement. Opponents to the plan insist the 1977 agreement was not binding and that the land is part of a diminishing habitat that should be preserved.

Members of the public expressed opinions on both sides of the argument, eight for the settlement agreement, eleven against.

Organizations for development:

Open Coyote Hills (This appears to be a coalescence of a group that has long advocated for the opening of the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve. Ward is a former mayor who negotiated successfully for the donation of a portion of Chevron’s land to be set aside as a preserve, but the city has never had the money to open the preserve to the public. Opening the preserve is one of the conditions of the development.)

Fullerton Chamber of Commerce

Pacific Coast Homes (Jim Pugliese, project manager at Pacific Coast Homes, is on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce.)

Organizations opposed to development:

Friends of Coyote Hills

Sierra Club

Sea and Sage – This is the Orange County chapter of the Audubon Society.

The next vote is tentatively set for May 17.

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Edging Closer to a Development Decision

Jim Pugliese, project manager for Pacific Coast Homes, presents their plan to the Fullerton City Council at a public hearing on May 11, 1010 (Photo Credit: Cindy Cotter)

The Council should decide soon

Finally, after 30 years of conflict and negotiation, Fullerton City Council is on the brink of deciding whether to let Pacific Coast Homes, a subsidiary of Chevron, build on the last of Chevron’s abandoned oil fields in West Coyote Hills. Tuesday night the developer and a small army of consultants (two rows of seating were reserved for them) presented the project to the council as protesters marched outside. That was followed by 62 questions from the audience.

On May 25 the council will listen to public comment and are then expected to vote.

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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.

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