CollegeTowndistricts

CollegeTown, the contentious plan to re-designate 88 acres of land south of Cal State Fullerton for higher density development, comes before the Fullerton Planning Commission Wednesday night, February 10, 7:00 p.m. For months residents in the area surrounding the proposed plan area have organized to better inform their neighbors about the potential impact of creating a Specific Plan to govern dramatically increased development in what is supposed to be a walkable, downtown-like district where CSUF students can live, eat, and shop. Think Westwood in Fullerton, and then take a look at Westwood these days…

Opposition to the plan is so great that there is a website called Our Town Not College Town dedicated to stopping it:

http://www.ourtownnotcollegetown.com

Here is some official language from the agenda item:

“The applications include a General Plan Revision to change existing Community Development Types from Office, Commercial, High Density Residential and School to Specific Plan; Zoning Amendments to change zoning classifications from O-P (Office Professional), C-2 (General Commercial), and R-5 (Maximum Density Multiple-Family) to SPD (Specific Plan District) and to adopt the College Town Specific Plan; Abandonment of a portion of Nutwood and Commonwealth Avenues; and initiation of proceedings for formation of a Parking Management District and Property Based Improvement District.”

It’s the planned closure of parts of Nutwood and Commonwealth Avenues that really has nearby residents up in arms. With traffic already congested at peak (and other) hours in this area, neighbors are livid that the city plans to close parts of two major feeder roads to the adjacent 57 freeway, seemingly without a viable alternative to alleviate the resulting traffic on neighboring streets.

The Planning Commission is generally pre-disposed to approve the plan, in the opinion of the Rag, with some changes, simply because City Hall wants it to happen. The mixture of extreme property rights advocates and Chamber or Commerce cheerleaders will see to it that the developers get a chance to make the massive amounts of money they covet, without the nuisance of formulating an even close to adequate plan for traffic circulation. The rationale given will be that housing students next to the university, and building nearby services for them that won’t require them to drive outside of the district, and will ultimately reduce vehicular traffic, but is there a commitment to public transit anywhere in the plan?

The Rag encourages readers to attend the meeting (which will also be televised locally and live-cast from the city’s website) and let the Planning Commission know that the plan for an endless stream of cars and ever-growing blocks of high density development are not the only ways to plan for a livable future in our city.

LiveItUpRecto

“Hit the Bars.” What OCTA thinks you should do downtown on New Year’s Eve. (You can probably forget about the jazz).

UPDATE: Commenter, and public transit advocate, Jane Reifer alerts readers that bus lines do not actually run until 2:30 a.m, January 1. OCTA is providing free bus rides until that time, but readers should consult OCTA’s individual route schedules to find out when their last bus leaves downtown Fullerton. Ms. Reifer has helpfully supplied some of those times in the comment section below. For complete bus schedules, check OCTA’s website: www.octa.net.

The Orange County Transportation Authority would like to make sure you get home safely New Year’s Eve by offering free bus service until 2:30 a.m., January 1. Discouraging people from driving drunk is a good idea, but sending a mailer to local residents encouraging them to “Live It Up!” in Fullerton’s downtown might be confusing to anyone who is planning to attend the city-organized alcohol-free First Night celebration, scheduled to take place in the middle of the same downtown.

First Nights are offered nationwide by participating cities. Fullerton advertises itself as the only city in Orange County to offer a First Night celebration, a family friendly alternative to traditional drunken revelries of New Year’s Eve. The city’s website describes it as an “annual alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts and will look to include children’s activities as well as live music, art galleries and a 10-minute fireworks show finale that will cap the celebration at midnight”. First Night Fullerton has been generally well attended. After a 2012 budget-related cancellation, the city increased sponsorship in order to provide what it claims is a cost neutral event.

FirstNightEmail

What the City of Fullerton invites families to experience (enjoy the cover bands!).

First Night has been celebrated downtown since before the area became saturated with bars and restaurants with full liquor licenses in the past decade. The alcohol-free event has existed fairly peacefully alongside the party district on one the major drinking holidays of the year, but OCTA seems to intent on confusing the two activities in a large postcard mailer recently sent to residents. “LIVE IT UP!” implores a headline on the front side of the card, along with instructions to “Go ahead and celebrate in Downtown Fullerton,” and “Hit the bars. Listen to Jazz. Enjoy a great meal. Or, attend First Night Fullerton. No need for a designated driver..,”

LiveItUpVerso

“You really can’t beat free!” Free advertising for downtown bars, that is. How did the alcohol-free First Night get mixed up in this business?

In addition to being evidently clueless about the closing of Steamers, Fullerton’s only jazz club, over six months ago, OCTA seems awfully confused about what First Night Fullerton is supposed to represent. The back side of the card even features a multicolored map of the downtown area, complete with the locations of entertainment stages, the fireworks show, a “Kids Lane” with a giant bouncer, and nearly twenty different restaurants and bars, and their proximity to the bus lines offering free rides to presumably inebriated patrons.

It would be tempting to assume that someone at OCTA just didn’t get the message about First Night Fullerton, but the Rag’s conversation with a member of the transportation agency’s marking department proved otherwise. OCTA reportedly worked with both the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Fullerton to develop the mailer, which suggests a major conflict of interest between simultaneously promoting both a family friendly, alcohol-free night out and a roster of bars and restaurants who want to attract patrons on New Year’s Eve. The Chamber of Commerce, which receives taxpayer money from the City of Fullerton’s budget, ought to know the difference between the two, but was evidently comfortable colluding with OCTA to invite drinkers to downtown Fullerton in the middle of an annual family event designed as an alternative to a liquor-soaked New Year’s Eve.

The aforementioned OCTA marketing staffer who worked on the promotion acknowledged that the mailer should have explained in more detail what the First Night celebration was about, and that oversight, on that point, “was kind of missing.” She also acknowledged that the bars and restaurants had not paid to have their names listed, leaving residents to wonder why an Orange County government agency privileged free advertising of privately owned food and alcohol establishments over an alcohol-free public event organized by the City of Fullerton.

It could be argued that inviting prospective patrons to ride the bus both removes the danger of drunk drivers and frees up parking for First Night patrons, but how did OCTA get into the business of free promotional mailers in the first place? The agency, which regularly cuts bus services during the rest of the year ought to find ways to provide critically needed transportation for those who depend upon it during their long work weeks instead of inviting even more drinkers to our downtown area in the middle of an event designed to help families celebrate a safe holiday.

Those readers wondering if their vote against Measure W three years ago meant anything will have a very clear answer from Angela Lindstrom’s article below. When the Fullerton City Council unanimously approved Chevron’s new development, they ignored not only the proper process for doing so, but cited incorrect information about efforts to preserve the last significant open space in North O.C.

Coyote Hills View

By Angela Lindstrom, Board President, Friends of Coyote Hills

Reprinted from the Friends of Coyote Hills website:  http://www.coyotehills.org

On November 17, 2015, the Fullerton City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to approve Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes’ Vesting Tentative Tract Map (VTTM) for the West Coyote Hills development. In doing so, they ignored the voters’ 2012 virtual mandate of no development on West Coyote Hills. The 61% of votes against Measure W was a decisive veto of the City Council’s 2011 development approval. This VTTM proceeding was illegal. It should not have occurred absent of the development approvals that were nullified with Measure W. The City Council ignored their constituents and rationalized their decision with misinformation. They have all but challenged the public to defend their constitutional right to referendum.

Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald rationalized that the Measure W only affected the Development Agreement. While it is true that Measure W was a referendum on the Development Agreement approval, it should have had an effect on the other development approvals such as the General Plan Revision and Specific Plan Amendment. The City wrote those approvals in such a way that the Development Agreement had a domino effect. If terminated, the other approvals contained language that nullified themselves. Councilmember Doug Chaffee agreed that this should have been the effect of Measure W.

Councilmember Fitzgerald may have relied on the City attorney’s advice that page 8 of the Development Agreement allows the City to choose to not terminate the Development Agreement in the event of a referendum. So the City Council can get around a referendum? Didn’t we just agree that Measure W invalidated the Development Agreement? So why is page 8 still valid? Oh, well in that case the City Attorney said, a referendum only lasts a year anyhow. What he conveniently left out was that the nullified approvals are not automatically reinstated after a year. The developer has to reapply. Chevron did not reapply. They went straight to the VTTM instead. The VTTM may not be approved without the development approvals. So in effect, the City Council let Chevron run to the home plate by skipping all the bases.

Coyote Hills Phasing Plan

Councilmember Fitzgerald also criticized the Friends of Coyote Hills for not seeking acquisition funds in the last 2.5 years. Critics of the Friends of Coyote Hills used to argue there was no money at all for acquisition. Now they criticize the Friends for not applying for those funds. The critics are as misinformed as ever. First and foremost, getting to first base with these grants require a willing seller. Chevron was not a willing seller until the VTTM was approved 11/17/15.

But that didn’t stop the Friends from trying. In 2007, we submitted an application to the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. In 2008, we submitted an application to the California Department of Fish and Game. In 2011, we applied for the OCTA M2 mitigation fund. In all cases, we were turned down due to a lack of a willing seller. OCTA even reached out to Chevron-PCH in writing inviting them to participate. Chevron-PCH declined. In 2015, we applied and were awarded a $1M matching grant from a private charitable foundation.  Furthermore, we then turned over all of our past grant applications and supporting research to the City’s grant writer as she geared up to reapply for grants with the same agencies.

Aside from gaming the democratic checks and balances, the most damaging result of the City Council’s action is to upzone West Coyote Hills, essentially making public acquisition of the 510-acre property impossible, especially given the one year time frame. It is a disingenuous offer for acquisition. I have nothing nice to say to any Councilmember who would pretend otherwise.

To Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes I say, there is still an opportunity for you to make good and fast money on this deal with plenty of good will for your parent company to boot. At the moment, you’ve got the highest possible valuation you can for this property. You’ve done your job.

Make a land donation to the County of Orange and take a tax write off. You hold the key to the last significant opportunity for an open space park in this underserved region that includes La Habra, Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton and even parts of south LA. Public agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife, Rivers and Mountains Conservancy W, Department of Fish and Game, OCTA (M2 Environmental Mitigation Fund) have long been interested in preserving this precious habitat. We can form a coalition to work with Chevron Corporation to make this financial decision profitable.

Suppose Coyote Hills is appraised for $150M, a tax write off can mean a savings of $57M* and long lasting good will for Chevron: call it the “Chevron Nature Preserve at Coyote Hills” and your name will forever be associated with a community jewel. Donald Bren did just this in 2014 by taking a tax write-off for 2,500 acres of entitled open space in the city of Orange after a decade plus battle with environmentalists. The land then became part of OC Parks. Chevron-PCH can create another win-win story here in North Orange County.

 

* Chevron paid over $1B in Federal and State taxes in 2014. According to their 2014 Annual Report, they are in the 38% tax bracket. Pacific Coast Homes is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron. Income and loss can be rolled up into the parent company’s balance sheet.

 

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