Edging Closer to a Development Decision

by Cindy Cotter on May 13, 2010

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.

Protesters carried signs and shouted slogans outside council chambers at the May 11 hearing on the development of West Coyote Hills (Photo Credit: Cindy Cotter)

Longstanding issues

Development opponents raise a whole host of issues, from water conservation to traffic to earthquake hazards, but I think it’s safe to say their primary goal is to restore and preserve this small bit of coastal sage scrub, a dwindling habitat unique to western coastal areas.

But no firm offers to buy and preserve the land have been made although Friends of Coyote Hills, a grass-roots group opposing development, says there are possible funding sources, such as Measure M.

Proponents of building appreciate the benefits, including 352 acres of open space, funding to open the 72-acre Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve (which has long been neglected and fenced off), bike trails and walkways open to the public, as well as 760 new homes.

A few new issues

Although many of the same issues are raised at every meeting, last night did include a few fresh items.

Six-acre park gone: The city has withdrawn its request for a park within the project area after the California Department of Fish and Game said park lighting would be too disruptive of the wildlife. The hills are home to protected species, like the oft-invoked California gnatcatcher.

Water rates shouldn’t rise. Jim Pugliese, project manager for Pacific Coast Homes, is trying to broker a water delivery deal with Brea and La Habra so that Fullerton won’t suffer a water price increase when new housing pushes up water usage. That deal isn’t set, but Richard Jones, the city attorney, said development could be made contingent on an agreement being reached before the project is initiated.

There’s oil in them thar hills: Councilwoman Pam Keller’s questioning revealed that although oil pumping ceased in the late 1980’s, there’s still an estimated 5-6 million barrels in the hills which Chevron will still own.

“It’s standard practice in the industry to retain mineral rights,” said Pugliese.

Jones explained that Chevron could not drill on land that had been sold to home owners, but could conceivably retrieve the oil some day by slant drilling from another location in Fullerton or in a neighboring city.

Housing density: Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva asked the developer to look into the issue of “transfer rights” and SB 375 prior to the next meeting on May 25. SB 375 is intended to diminish sprawl and thereby reduce travel-related pollution. It includes provisions for transferring the right to build low-density housing from one place within the city to another.

“I would ask you to look into that,” she said.  “If we don’t want that kind of [high-density] housing up in Coyote Hills, would we be willing to do a transfer of right agreement that helps protect the property-owner and we put it in another place which would be more acceptable – for example, right by a transportation center that we happen to have in Fullerton? It’s something to look at.”

Can the golden goose really afford all this? Throughout the evening Councilman F. Richard Jones persistently questioned how Pacific Coast Homes could afford all the concessions it was making to the city and how homeowners in the new development would be able to afford the costs that would be passed on to them.

“I have a question,” Jones said. “$10 million to the schools, $5 million here, and giving money for Laguna Lake, the library, a whole lot of things… a fire station. We’re talking about a whole lot of dough. Are these houses going to cost $2 million apiece? We don’t want to get started and all of a sudden see the fence go up again.”

Later Jones expressed the concern that homeowners would be responsible for road maintenance since most roads in the project area would be private.

“Is this a Mello-Roos type of thing?” asked Jones, referring to an arrangement whereby road maintenance costs would be included in the property taxes of homeowners within the project area.

“No,” said Pugliese.

Jones: “That does make the cost of living there significant if you have private homes that have to maintain roads, does it not?”

Pugliese: “Well, it is a burden on the homeowners’ association, yes.”

As for whether the developer would have to set exorbitant prices for the new housing in order to be able to pay for all the perks they were offering, Pugliese said prices for the new homes would be mixed, ranging from “semi-affordable townhomes up through half-acre estates” and that Pacific Coast Homes believed they could make a profit, though there is one sticking point…

The amount of an endowment by Chevron to Fullerton to restore and maintain Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve is in dispute (Photo Credit: Cindy Cotter)

Funding Robert E. Ward: The city and the developer have not reached agreement on staffing of the interpretive center for the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve. Pacific Coast Homes will endow the preserve. The city wants enough money in the endowment to employ the equivalent of three full-time staff, but the developer wants to fund one part-time person. Negotiations are ongoing.

Earthquake Hazard: Lawyers representing the Friends of Coyote Hills wrote a 7-page letter that was hand-delivered to the city council on the day of the meeting. The gist is that legally required studies of potential earthquake hazards within the development area are inadequate. The letter concludes: “…we request that the City Council deny approval of the West Coyote hills Project until the seismic hazards have been fully analyzed and mitigated in compliance with the SHMA [Seismic Hazards Mapping Act] and CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act].”

The letter was not addressed at the meeting.

The end is nigh… maybe

These council hearings are the culmination of a process begun 10 months ago.

First there was an informational meeting for the public on July 8 of last year. Next three city committees considered pertinent aspects of the development proposal. All voted to approve it with the exception of the Energy Resource Management Committee which wanted some revisions to improve sustainability.

Parks and Recreation Commission, July 27, 2009
Energy Resource Management Committee, July 29, 2009
Traffic and Circulation Commission, August 3, 2009

Next the Planning Commission held meetings on March 10 and 18 at which they heard the proposal, considered the recommendations of the three committees and took public comment before themselves recommending approval of the development project.

On May 25 the council should vote, though if they approve development, Friends of Coyote Hills may challenge the decision in court.

A trail that skirts the edge of the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve in the West Coyote Hills, July 4, 2009. Most of the preserve is currently closed to the public. (Photo Credit: Cindy Cotter)

{ 2 trackbacks }

Will the West Coyote Hills Saga End Tonight?
May 25, 2010 at 9:17 am
Chevron’s Devlopment Plans Voted Down
May 26, 2010 at 6:24 pm

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