National Nonprofit Exits Fullerton Open Space Negotiations

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The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation nonprofit, has pulled out of an agreement to help acquire 510 acres of Chevron open space land in Fullerton known as West Coyote Hills.

No public reason has been given for the nonprofit’s withdrawl from the negotiating team and city officials said they will continue to seek financing to acquire the land.

An email from the trust to others involved in the negotiations cited, among other factors, Chevron’s “price expectations” for the former oil field that the company wants to turn into a housing subdivision.

The Chevron property has been the subject of a years-long struggle between the oil company and park supporters over plans by Chevron subsidiary, Pacific Coast Homes, to build houses and condominiums on the site.

Fullerton, like most of north Orange County, is considered park poor because political leaders in the 1950s and later allowed development without providing for community park space.

This April, Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee announced an agreement had been reached between the Trust for Public Land, Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes, Friends of Coyote Hills, which is a group of Fullerton open space supporters, and the city of Fullerton to give the city and community groups time to seek funding to acquire the property prior to any development.

The Trust for Public Land or TPL has been instrumental in saving other significant California landscapes from urban development, including 4,000 acres near Mt. Diablo called Cowell Ranch.

The nonprofit works with private landowners to preserve undeveloped land and was working with Chevron to establish a purchase price and other terms of acquisition.

Negotiations broke down, and in August TPL representatives sent an email to Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz and Friends of Coyote Hills member Angela Lindstrom withdrawing from the agreement.

The email, obtained by Voice of OC, said in part, “…in view of Chevron’s price expectations and the current public funding environment, our continued involvement in West Coyote Hills is unlikely to add significant value to any conservation outcome the parties might otherwise achieve on their own.”

When contacted by a reporter, Tim Ahern, director of media relations at TPL, said only that the nonprofit no longer is moving forward with the project.

Nevertheless, the city is continuing its efforts to acquire the property. City Manager Felz and Chaffee confirmed separately that they are actively working on the issue and will be negotiating directly with Chevron.

Chaffee said he feels “more involved” now than when TPL was handling the negotiations.

According to both Chaffee and Felz, the city’s next step will be to obtain its own appraisal before seeking grants or other outside funding to acquire the property. Angela Lindstrom of Friends of Coyote Hills is supporting the city’s continued efforts and said she remains hopeful the area will be preserved.

Development in West Coyote Hills was a divisive issue in the elections two years ago.

This November, two council seats are up for election, but West Coyote Hills has so far not featured prominently in the candidates’ statements. Of the seven candidates running, only two have gone on record as opposing development in West Coyote Hills– current mayor Chaffee, a Democrat, and Green Party candidate Jane Rands.

In addition, Pacific Coast Homes has a lawsuit pending against the city.

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