Coyote Hills Vista

by Angela Lindstrom

Reprinted from the Early October Issue of the Fullerton Observer

The Friends of Coyote Hills vs. The City of Fullerton and Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes (PCH) appeal was heard in court on September 20, 2018. The Friends sued the City in 2016 after it approved the West Coyote Hills Vesting Tentative Tract Map (VTTM) that gave Chevron-PCH vested right to develop the site. This was despite a successful 2012 Measure W referendum that should have overturned the City Council’s approval of the Development Agreement.

 The lawsuit was first tried in October 2016. The judge ruled against the Friends, reasoning that Measure W did not overturn or terminate the Development Agreement. Rather Judge Claster said it negated the Mayor’s authority to sign this Agreement. Therefore the Development Agreement never came into effect.

While this may seem like splitting legal hairs, terminating the Development Agreement is significant because the City wrote in other ordinances that upon the termination of the Development Agreement, all of the West Coyote Hills development approvals are automatically nullified.

The City holds the view that only they and Chevron-PCH can end the Development Agreement, not voters because that is the power the City gave themselves in the Development Agreement. In the event of a successful referendum, they have the option, not mandate, to terminate the Development Agreement (Section 2.3). Since they didn’t choose to terminate it after Measure W, all other development approvals are still valid; no auto-nullification.

That raises the question: what was the point of Measure W if the people’s vote could not overturn the Council’s approval of the Development Agreement?

The California state constitution grants voters the right to overturn laws made by their government.

The City Council approved the Development Agreement. Sixty-one per- cent of Fullerton voters rejected that approval. And yet, the City took no action to end the Development Agreement.

The appeals court judges challenged both sides on whether the Development Agreement was terminated by Measure W. Does the City have the last say to terminate the Development Agreement over the people’s referendum?

If so, what would be the point of a referendum? The Friends’ attorneys argued that when the Development Agreement was terminated by Measure W, all development approvals were auto-nullified — just as the City wrote in other ordinances they approved (No. 2011-32 and 2011-33, Condition 26).

Chevron-PCH’s attorney stuck to the lower court’s reasoning — the Development Agreement was never effective due to Measure W, so it can’t be terminated and that Measure W was a single-issue referendum. Fullerton voters were just trying to strike a better deal than the City for the development of West Coyote Hills. This case is not about the people’s referendum right he said.

 The City’s attorney argued that the Development Agreement was an exchange of public benefits for the City and private benefit for Chevron-PCH (vested right to develop West Coyote Hills). They would never allow the development to proceed without this guarantee, so after Measure W, it re-codified the terms of the Development Agreement in the VTTM (which is not subject to a referendum).

In a final remark, the Friends’ attorney pointed to recent cases where the California Supreme Court upheld the people’s right to referendum over city policy making that interfered with that right.

“It’s a complex case,” concluded Judge Bedsworth. 

The judges have up to 90 days from the September 20th hearing to publish a ver- dict which will be determined by agreement of at least 2 of the three judges. 

For updates on this and other Coyote Hills issues visit