The Fullerton City Council Tuesday night approved a 760-home development proposed by Chevron on one of the last open stretches of land in North Orange County.

Opponents immediately issued a news release saying they would begin a signature drive to force the issue to a vote by city residents at the next election.

That action is similar to one undertaken by a neighborhood group in the Orange Park Acres section of Orange, which turned in more than 12,000 signatures Tuesday. They too are trying to halt development of one of the last open recreation areas in Orange.

The 4-to-1 vote in Fullerton came after about five hours of testimony from residents who jammed the City Council chamber, filled the City Hall lobby and crowded into a room in the library next door.

Mayor Richard Jones and council members Don Bankhead, Bruce Whitaker and Pat McKinley supported the Chevron proposal. Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva cast the opposing vote.

In April, the council voted to settle a $1-million lawsuit filed by Chevron after the previous City Council rejected the project last year. Under the settlement, Chevron agreed to drop the lawsuit if the current City Council approved its project. The settlement won’t be final until all obstacles to the project, including a referendum, are resolved.

In a city known for its often-virulent politics, the issue has created two highly vocal camps, and representatives of both sides Tuesday night cheered speakers who backed their positions.

Supporting Chevron’s plan was Open Coyote Hills, an organization that includes several former City Council members. The opponents to Chevron’s plan are organized as Friends of Coyote Hills.

In general the Open Coyote Hills group said the Chevron plan is as good as the city can expect, including about 300 of the 510 acres turned over to the city for trails. The oil company, which is building the project through a subsidiary, Pacific Coast Homes, also will pay the city and school district about $30 million in fees and provide $5 million as an endowment to maintain the open space.

Supporters say the project also will provide enough money for the city to open a tract of undeveloped land named after former Fullerton Mayor Robert Ward, who worked to create open space in the city. That land has been fenced off because the city hasn’t allocated the money to provide public access.

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

Opponents of the Chevron project have argued that turning the land,  which has been oil fields for more than 100 years, into a housing project will dramatically increase traffic, crowd schools and present environmental dangers from old wells. Chevron officials said all wells have been safely shut down or soon will be.

In addition, opponents have argued that much of the land Chevron plans to turn over to the city for open space is so steep or rugged, the company can’t build on it anyway. At one point the company was going to give the city a six-acre parcel for a park, but city officials turned it down because the slope was so steep it couldn’t be used for ball fields. Chevron instead agreed to pay the city about $2.5 million.

“Although we are greatly disappointed in the City Council’s decision, the Friends of Coyote Hills are committed to exhausting all administrative and legal means in the pursuit of doing right by its community,” the organization declared in a news release.

“The Friends of Coyote Hills will begin the referendum process to overturn the City Council’s approval of Chevron’s development proposal,” it added.

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