The following editorial ran in the Orange County Register yesterday, March 6:
Coyote Hills needs all its friends now
A decades-long battle over one of the largest undeveloped tracts in north Orange County has drawn closer to its conclusion, after the California Supreme Court last month declined to hear a case from an open-space preservation group that’s battling to stop development on the former oil field.
The city of Fullerton rightly declared victory.
Meanwhile, Friends of Coyote Hills has vowed to keep pushing its agenda, although its path forward is murky.
The group should applaud the large tracts of open space that are being set aside in West Coyote Hills and move on. Indeed, the project is an artful compromise, as it has been for quite some years now.
It allows Pacific Coast Homes, a subsidiary of Chevron, to build as many as 760 homes in a county that’s desperately short of housing.
The project sets aside more than 60 percent of the 510 acre site as restored habitat and open space, providing public access to an area long hidden behind chain-link fences. Because of state funding, the city might further reduce the project’s size.
Fullerton had approved a larger project in 1977 once oil production had ceased on the land.
The real battle heated up in 2001, when activists organized to halt construction on what they viewed as a biodiversity hotspot.
The city has taken a middle ground and approved various environmental impact reports between 2003 and 2011. In 2012, voters approved a referendum rejecting the development agreement.
The city viewed Measure W as an advisory vote.
The fracas was unnecessary given that neither the city nor the activists ever had nearly enough money to just buy the property.
Ultimately, the Friends were rebuked twice by Superior and Appeals courts that found that the voter measure did not stop the project.
Open-space advocates now want two years to raise money or for Chevron to donate the land. Enough already.
The final project provides open space the public can enjoy, including an interpretive center.
Perhaps that center can include an exhibit explaining that development foes delay reasonable projects, cordon off open space for years and drive up the cost of housing. Well, we can always wish.