Coyote Hills Vista

Angela Lindstrom, Friends of Coyote Hills

The 4th District Court of Appeals side- stepped the people’s referendum right issue when it ruled against the Friends of Coyote Hills on their Measure W lawsuit on December 6, 2018.

The judges framed this lawsuit more narrowly as a business contract between Chevron-PCH and the City of Fullerton even though the subject of the 2012 Measure W referendum, the West Coyote Hills Development Agreement, was codified through a City ordinance which is subject to referendum.

The City wrote the West Coyote Hills development approvals so that if the Development Agreement was terminated, the other approvals such as the General Plan amendment, Specific Plan, and even the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be overturned.

The Friends of Coyote Hills sued the City of Fullerton after it gave final vesting rights to Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes in 2015, despite the people’s successful referendum which should have terminated the Development Agreement.

The appeals court ruled that while the Development Agreement was approved through an ordinance, the City and Chevron had the final say on whether it would be terminated even after a referendum because that was what they wrote in the Development Agreement. The people’s referendum veto was therefore moot. Since the City and Chevron chose not to terminate the Development Agreement after the referendum, the other development approvals stand.

While it’s not surprising that the appellate court avoided ruling on a constitutional matter, this case leaves the door open for the City of Fullerton and other California cities to write ordinances that deprive people their referendum veto, a right granted by our state’s constitution.

 
In recent years, the State Supreme Court has overruled Orange County courts when cities overstep their powers to make land use decisions at the cost of people’s right to participate.

 
In December 2016, the California Supreme Court unanimously sided with the citizens of Orange to reaffirm decades of well-established planning law that supports the right of voters to use the referendum process to challenge local land use decisions.

 
In March, 2017, the California State Supreme Court sided with the Banning Ranch Conservancy against the City of Newport Beach. The Orange County Register reported that “The case hinged on a simple question: Did the city of Newport Beach violate its own municipal ordinance in 2012 when city planners approved development at Banning Ranch, even though voters in the city had previously said they wanted the land to remain open space?”

 
The Friends of Coyote Hills have until January 15, 2019 to file a petition to the State Supreme Court to review this case. A generous donor has already kickstarted a $20,000 challenge grant to support the Friends of Coyote Hills’ continued effort to save Coyote Hills and preserve the public vote.

If you can make a donation please visit the Friends of Coyote Hills website at www.coyotehillls.org or call 657-325-0725.

The empty seat on the Fullerton City Council should be filled by election, not by appointment.

Diane Vena

(Reprinted from the Fulleton Observer and the Voice of OC)

When Jesus Silva was sworn in as the District 3 Fullerton City Council Member at the December 4 City Council meeting, he vacated the remaining two years of his at-large seat on the Council.  At the December 18 meeting, the new City Council should schedule a special election for the Fullerton voters to determine who will fill the remaining two years of his at-large seat rather than appoint his replacement.

On November 6, a majority on the Council approved a change to the Fullerton Municipal Code that no longer requires a special election to fill a vacancy on the City Council. The revised code still allows for a special election, but it also now gives the Council the power to appoint a council member for the second half of a four-year term without an election.

Residents who were able to attend that Council meeting while the polls were still open on election night, spoke in opposition to this change and expressed concerns that the Council was making this change just in time so that it could appoint a replacement if Silva won his bid for District 3.

Council Member Fitzgerald dismissed the residents’ concerns saying, “We are not having that debate (about whether the Council will appoint a replacement).” She and Council Member Whitaker each stated that the change was simply to align with a new state law – enacted in 2015.

But Fullerton’s code prior to the Council’s changes, last updated in 2011, was not out of synch with the latest version of California Government Code 36512. While the state law does allow a city council to appoint a replacement for the second half of a council member term without a special election, it does not require a city to adopt that option. Section (c)(1) explicitly states that “a city may enact an ordinance that requires that a special election be called immediately to fill every city council vacancy.”

When this important decision comes before the Council on December 18, the argument in favor of appointing will likely be that the cost of holding a special election is too much. When City staff introduced the ordinance at the October 16 meeting to change the code, they estimated a cost of $391,532- $428,150 to run a special election and $224,055 – $260,866 for an all-mail ballot election, which the City might be able to hold if it meets specific criteria in Elections Code Section 4005.

But how much is “too much” when the rights of voters to determine one of five people to represent a city of 130,000 for two years is at stake?

When the Council considers what our voting rights are worth, hopefully it will also consider the opportunities at which it failed to avoid the potential need to fill a council vacancy during the transition to by-district elections. The Council made the decision that created the potential for this vacancy when it chose to place District 3 on the ballot in 2018 knowing that there were two current council members residing in that district and that both would likely run and if the more recently elected was to win, he would have to vacate his at-large seat.

If the Council then argues that it had to put District 3 on the ballot in 2018 to “be fair” to Council Member Sebourn who, upon nearing the end of his at-large term in 2018, would otherwise not be able to run for re-election in his district, that problem was also created by the Council. In August of 2016 it chose the district boundaries. To avoid placing then Council Members Chaffee and Sebourn both in District 2, it approved a map that cut-out a small segment of District 2 to put Council Member Sebourn into his own district, District 3, where no other council member lived until Silva was elected in November 2016.

Voting rights are priceless and should not be taken away to fix any of the problems the Council created. We elect a council member to be one and only one representative on the Council. Making an appointment would give the council members more representation than they rightfully have. The Council makes important decisions that have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on all who live in Fullerton. Those decisions should only be made by voter-elected representatives.

It is unfortunate that when Fullerton is trying to increase voter representation on the Council through a change to district elections, there is now a move to decrease it, which is what would occur if an appointment rather than a special election is used to fill the vacancy on the Fullerton City Council.

Dec. 5 Water Ad Hoc

Matthew Leslie

Fullerton has a Water Ad-Hoc Committee for the purpose of reviewing “… anticipated cost increases for maintenance and operations, as well as robust funding for the water system infrastructure.The Water Ad-Hoc Committee reviewed the last approved water rate increase in 2013, which saw a “phased five-year rate increase ending in Fiscal Year 2017-18,” with the last increase occurring just six months ago on July 1, 2018.

Ratepayers (aka Fullerton residents–you) are invited to attend the meeting tonight and provide input on the Ad-Hoc’s next recommended set of increases over the next five years. The plan calls for a 13% increase beginning in 2019, followed by additional increases over successive years, ending in 2019. The committee has been meeting since August of this year to “vet water rate increase scenarios proposed by the Stantec Consultants for recommendation to the City Council,” according to an article by Water Ad-Hoc Committee member Jane Rands in the Early December, 2018 edition of the Fullerton Observer.

The city’s cited reasons for a planned increase in water rates includes our crumbling water infrastructure, the “final expansion of the Orange County Water District’s Ground Water Replenishment System and “other costs,” but the Fullerton Observer notes that an increase in 2014 “intended for the city to be able to step up water mainline replacement from one mile to six miles per year. Over the last five years of increases, however, the City has not replaced more than two miles in any single year for several reasons.”

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