Ronald Reagan once infamously said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, I’m here to help.’”
Local land use decisions are perhaps the toughest faced by any community. Here in Fullerton, we’ve wrangled as a community for 40 years about what to do with West Coyote Hills, a 510 acre privately owned parcel in the northwest area of town. Through community meetings, City Council debates, negotiations with the land owner and citizen organizations, ballot initiatives and lawsuits, we’ve worked tirelessly to come up with a plan that finally had widespread support in our town. The culmination of that effort was a bipartisan, unanimous decision by the Fullerton City Council in 2015 on our “Path Forward” that saves 300 acres of West Coyote Hills for open space. It provides an opportunity to preserve even more land if funds can be raised to do so. It requires the land owner to pay for all the oil clean up on the entire property and it requires the land owner to pay millions for maintenance of the park land and open space in perpetuity. This agreement opens to the public the Robert Ward Nature Preserve and it creates 10 miles of new hiking and bike trails and vista points. In exchange, the land owner will be able to move forward with building homes on the West end of the property. This agreement does all of these things without any taxpayer funding.
And now here comes Sen. Josh Newman and the state to “help,” but as so often happens with a top-down government solution, Senate Bill 714 is a misguided bill that ignores the community while it creates more problems than it solves.
SB714, which has so far sailed through the state Senate, creates the “West Coyote Hills Conservancy program, to be administered by the State Coastal Conservancy and to undertake projects and award grants in the West Coyote Hills area, as described, for purposes relating to improvement of public access, and the protection, restoration, and enhancement of natural resources in the area.” Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? The state is finally paying attention to the beautiful asset that is West Coyote Hills. Sen. Newman will claim that creating a conservancy for West Coyote Hills will help the public access and enjoy the land. But the development plan in place already preserves over 60 percent of the property, delivers valuable community assets, and creates one of the largest regional parks in North Orange County. Why, then, would…