The state shouldn’t meddle in the West Coyote Hills project

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.

Steven GreenhutUnder 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.

Read the rest of this column in the Orange County Register . . .

This entry was posted in 29th State Senate District, 65th Assembly District, Bruce Whitaker, Josh Newman, Recall, Sharon Quirk-Silva, Steve Greenhut, West Coyote Hills. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The state shouldn’t meddle in the West Coyote Hills project

  1. kent morris says:

    Mr. Greenhut mentions property rights and taking a “balanced” approach that would include both open space and housing…

    First of all, he probably doesn’t live in Fullerton so has no stake in whatever happens to our city, just like Chevron, which is an absentee landowner (sorry, but the “property rights” argument in this case is not an acceptable excuse to destroy the quality of life in our city)…

    Secondly, those who want to preserve West Coyote Hills in its entirety have nothing against property rights, as long as they can exercise their democratic and legal right to vote against its development, as a majority of Fullerton’s voters did in 2012, when Measure W was soundly defeated…

    Thirdly, if a private company was planning to build an airport or power plant next to his house (tantamount to the environmental effects of Chevron’s proposal for West Coyote Hills), I would wager that he would probably be amongst the first to complain and protest…

    Fourthly, the 510 acres of open space that he refers to as a “monstrosity” is actually a very small percentage of the larger Coyote Hills that was once completely owned by various oil companies and then turned into housing, so the residents of Fullerton have been compromising for a long time…

    Lastly, if Mr. Greenhut is so concerned about the housing crunch in California, why doesn’t he encourage people to find housing in some other state, like Kansas?

  2. Stephen Greenhut ought to pay attention to the will of the people, who not only resoundingly voted against Chevron’s development plans in 2012, but subsequently elected two state representatives who were very clear about their support for saving Coyote Hills from development for future generations, instead of paving much of it over for luxury homes. Let Senator Josh Newman and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva do as much as they can to save Coyote Hills! (www.coyotehills.org). It’s one of the reasons people sent them to Sacramento. Too bad for Stephen Greenhut and his Libertarian extremists who see no value in the state investing in the health and well being of Californians. The majority of voters last year do understand the importance of preserving this land, and we expect some action from our state representatives to help make it so.

    Yes, housing is expensive here, but you know what is in even shorter supply? Open Space, and developers aren’t very good at making it. If there is a single useful thing the state government can do, it is to help save whatever is left of our native environment, even if naysayers like Mr. Greenhut and his ilk would rather carry water for an oil company.