The state has set aside $ 28.5 million in its annual budget to help City of Fullerton officials purchase more of the former 510-acre West Coyote Hills oilfield, preserving hundreds of acres of the property in open space.
Pacific Coast Homes, owned by Chevron, was approved to build up to 760 homes on nearly 200 acres of West Coyote Hills, but agreed in 2015 to authorize the purchase and natural preservation of portions for housing. This is in addition to the trails and open spaces he had already planned.
MP Sharon Quirk-Silva, who helped secure state funding with Senator Josh Newman, said the rolling mountain range is “really the very last over 500 acres” of unused land in the northern part. county, which she says is under served in terms of open space.
“North County is home to much denser communities, where some families never even imagined taking trails,” Quirk-Silva said. “A lot of times we think about saving space, but who do we save it for? “
She and Newman helped set aside $ 15 million in 2018, which allowed city officials to purchase 24 acres of land on the east side of Gilbert Street.
City officials initially focused on the eastern portion of the property to preserve 217 contiguous acres alongside its 72-acre Robert E. Ward nature reserve.
Quirk-Silva in 2011 was the only Fullerton City Council dissident to approve Chevron’s proposal to build single-family homes and townhouses in West Coyote Hills, saying at the time that she wanted to keep some open land.
The following year, residents voted against the development deal that city council had approved with Chevron, a movement preservation group that friends of Coyote Hills hoped to put an end to the oil company’s plans. When Chevron agreed in 2015 to divide the property into nine neighborhoods, allowing the city and a nonprofit to buy portions, Friends of Coyote Hills filed a lawsuit, arguing that the 2012 public vote should have stopped the project. An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled against the group in 2016, and they lost an appeal two years later.
The 2015 agreement allowed the city to purchase a neighborhood on the east side of Gilbert Street, adjacent to the 72-acre Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve, and opened up more plots of land for eventual purchase.
“It has been a very long, very long process, with so many people in the community coming together for over 20 years,” Quirk-Silva said of efforts to hide pockets of the vast landscape. And the goal was to say firmly, ‘We believe this is a space that should not only be protected and preserved, but open to members of the northern Orange County community. “”
Bob Hayden, chair of the Open Coyote Hills committee, said the latest injection of funding will likely go towards the purchase of one of the neighborhoods on the west side of the property, with some focusing on improving the land purchased. But he fears the process will take a long time, noting that the city has yet to enter into receivership the 24 acres purchased with state funds set aside in 2018, which make up two neighborhoods on the property.
“We hope that construction of the first trails will start around September 1 and that will be a positive step,” said Hayden. “But closing the escrow on Quarters 1 and 3 is really key to getting things done.”
For Quirk-Silva, seeing more funding going to the preservation of West Coyote Hills with the help over the years from community advocates and lawmakers feels “very rewarding, very fulfilling,” she said. “But it also reminds me of the generations who may be able to use this space long after I’m gone.”