By Steven Greenhut | California’s latest budget has been the source of outrage for a lot of big reasons. The $125 billion general fund busts spending records. It’s built upon the backs of taxpayers, who will pay higher gas taxes and vehicle-license fees to fund all the new priorities. The budget includes some controversial “trailer” bills that gut the taxpayer-friendly Board of Equalization and put a thumb on the scales of an Orange County recall election.
But there’s one particular little outrage that speaks volumes about what’s wrong in Sacramento. It involves a long-simmering local dispute over 510 acres of land in Fullerton known as West Coyote Hills. The former site of oil production, this vast tract of open space in congested north Orange County has been slated for a mixed-use project that strikes an ideal compromise.
Under the city plan, around 55 percent of the land would be set aside for trails and open space, with the remaining portion developed into 760 much-needed houses and some related commercial development. The costs would largely be borne by the Chevron-owned developer. The foundation of the current plan was adopted 40 years ago, but environmental groups have battled relentlessly to set aside all of the land as a preserve.
There’s been a long a tempestuous history over those decades, which is par for the course with any proposed development in California. There was a 2012 referendum on the city’s plan, along with the expected lawsuits and local battles. It’s pointless to rehash the detailed history, but suffice it to say that no-growthers have many tools to stop development in this state.
The overall result can be seen on the front pages: Median home prices in the county are approaching $700,000. There’s a similar housing crunch in all of California’s major metro areas. It’s all about supply and demand. State and local governments, prodded by environmental groups, make it nearly impossible to add significantly to the housing supply.
The state budget includes $15 million to acquire the Fullerton property. Two bills — one sponsored by Fullerton’s Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, and the other from Democratic Sen. Josh Newman — are making their way through the Legislature. Quirk-Silva’s bill would ensure the $15 million is spent on the West Coyote Hills Open Space Project, and Newman’s would include this project as part of a state environmental conservancy.
Quirk-Silva issued a statement saying the state funds would “be used for the purchase of the remainder of the 510-acre West Coyote Hills project site.” Of course, that sum won’t be enough to purchase a property that has reportedly been valued at $145 million, but the goal is to buy it parcel by parcel and ultimately conserve all the land.
The purchase has been in the works for a long time, but it doesn’t hurt, from the Democratic perspective, to tout this preservation project in a legislative district that has gained statewide attention given that Newman is subject to a recall because of his support of the gas-tax increase. If Newman loses the recall, that would cost the state’s Democrats their supermajority in the state Senate.