Wednesday, April 20, 2011 | The Fullerton City Council voted Tuesday night to accept a settlement offered by Chevron that ends a $1 million lawsuit over the Council’s rejection of the oil giant’s plans to develop the last large tract of open land in the city.
The settlement agreement, however, requires the city to approve the 760-home residential development in the northwest corner of the city when it comes up again for a vote May 17. The City Council rejected the development proposal last May, but two members of the three-member majority who voted against it are no longer on Council. The suit was filed in August.
For years, volunteer groups have opposed Chevron’s plans and urged the City Council to reject the development because of additional traffic, school and environmental issues.
The Orange County Transportation Authority offered to include the Chevron property in land it plans to buy and maintain as open space to offset the environmental impact of freeways. But Chevron declined, in part because it didn’t think the transportation authority had enough money to pay fair market value for the land.
Funds for transportation authority projects, including land purchases, come from sales tax revenue. Due to the Great Recession, the tax revenue has been down.
According to a Feb. 14 letter that Chevron sent to the transportation authority, the drop in sales tax revenue “has resulted in the mitigation program lacking sufficient funds to purchase WCH (West Coyote Hills), especially considering that numerous more worthy projects are competing for funding throughout Orange County.”
With almost no discussion Tuesday, Council voted 4-1 to approve the settlement with member Sharon Quirk-Silva casting the only opposition vote.
During their discussion period, council members spent most of the time explaining why campaign contributions from Chevron received by three of the members who supported the settlement had no bearing on their votes.
Council member Bruce Whitaker, an aide to Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Fullerton) said the $1,500 he received from Chevron for his campaign last year might be about the same as he received from opponents of the development project. He did not identify those donors.
Added Councilman Don Bankhead, who got $2,700 from Chevron, “the amount of money he (Whitaker) received from Chevron and I received from Chevron was far less than I received from others in the city.”
Even before the vote, Mayor Richard Jones signaled what the council majority was likely to do.
So far, Jones said, the suit has cost the city $35,000 and “that’s what we want to do, get it off our backs today.”
Supporting Jones’s position was the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce and Open Coyote Hills, an organization whose most prominent members include former city council members.
Also in that group is Marilyn Davenport, the Fullerton member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee who has been assailed nationwide for sending an email that depicts President Obama as an ape.
Opponents of the settlement included the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and residents who complained the city got nothing from the settlement.
“The settlement is not a good deal for the city,” said Diane Bonanno, who represented the Sierra Club. “Why do you need to railroad the agreement through?”
She said the only reason for the council to approve the settlement is if it intends to also approve the development project.
Chevon has been working on the project since 1998.
At one point during the public discussion, Jones said “I’ve been on the council since 1996 … so many years I’ve had to hear this over and over again.