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I casually wandered into this election cycle not really caring about West Coyote Hills. I knew some people were fired up about some houses being built, but I figured the arguments for and against would present themselves in a fairly straightforward manner. I, and the rest of Fullerton, would get to cast an informed vote for the future of our city based on the best information available.
There’s a reason I’m supposed to be a conservative pessimist. It’s so that when situations like this come up and I really should have known better, I can punch myself in the face for being dumb.
Before I start letting loose on the lack of any merit in Chevron’s arguments, I’d like to point out a few scenic items on the periphery of Conservative ethos. We have to sign a compact in blood before being let into the club, so I just want to be clear that I’m not violating any of them in this post.
1) I have no problem with local interests bringing in high priced political operatives to help make a point. I have a huge problem with high priced political operatives who suck at their jobs.
2) I don’t necessarily have a problem with building houses. I do have a problem with corporations getting special property privileges that are well beyond the reach of any private citizen.
3) I have no desire to extort private enterprise. Private investment does not necessitate public donations; however, when private investment requires public concessions, then the public has an absolute inalienable right as a sovereign body to be fairly compensated for its concession.
4) I don’t believe that every political fight should be fair. That said, when the underdog is being outspent by it’s corporate overlord by a 30:1 margin, any lies or half truths told by the overlord ought to be grounds for immediate disqualification and a one-way ticket to political purgatory (aka, Greg Diamond’s closet.)
Measure W is all about half truths and lies, who’s telling them, and what they want from Fullerton. It’s about Chevron’s money, stupid.
In August of 2012, the Fullerton City Council agendized a non-substantive change to what would become Measure W. During discussion, the council modified the title by adding ” / Nature Preserve”. This change dramatically favored Chevron’s cause and was also illegal.
In order for a ballot initiative to be valid, the initiative must have a qualifying petition and the titles must match. As the titles no longer match, state law requires that the petition process begin anew . . . which isn’t what happened.
(Two of the council members who carried the vote recently accepted a (small) campaign contribution from Chevron’s Land and Development manager. Draw your own conclusion on this. I’ve already made mine clear in another post.)
WHAT CHEVRON GETS IF MEASURE W PASSES
Chevron gets a free pass to avoid restoring all of West Coyote Hills to its pre drilling state while maintaining their rights to extract oil and gas from the parcel. This includes development rights, which they’ll use to build over 700 homes and a shopping center.
The key to understanding what Chevron gets is in the final line of the ballot question: ” . . . in Exchange for Granting the Property Owner a Vested Right to Build the Project in Accordance with Approved Plans.”
In order to grant a right, one must not already have the right. This should make things pretty clear to you: Without W, Chevron has absolutely no right to build houses on its oil patch. If Chevron did, well, then we wouldn’t exactly be voting to give it to them, now would we?
WHY CHEVRON IS DOING IT
Remediation is very, very expensive. Chevron is required to restore their well sites to their pre-production state after abandoning production. By developing over the well sites, Chevron is able to skirt their obligation to restore the well sites to their pre-production natural state and instead pursue a much cheaper path to cleaning up the property.
That’s it. It’s worth several hundred million dollars and likely rises past the billion dollar mark.
Here’s the analogy: Your kid paints over a priceless piece of art. Instead of hiring a restorative artist to remove as much of the damage as possible, you convince the owner of the canvas to allow you to commission a new artwork to be painted on the canvas. You then pull some street worker off the nearest corner and presto—new housing tract, err, you’ve cleaned up the damage your kid did. Never mind this used to be the Mona Lisa . . . but hey, the damage is cleaned up!
That’s also why Chevron has refused to negotiate for a sale price. It’s not the fair market value of the land their after– it’s the avoidance of their big dollar obligation. Selling the homes and leasing the commercial space really provides negligible benefit to the multi-billion dollar company. Getting a free pass on cleaning up their mess is good enough.
This means that by voting “No” on Measure W,Fullerton residents will get ALL of West Coyote Hills preserved in its native natural state at ZERO cost to the taxpayer. Formal abandonment and complete restoration will be supervised by the state and EPA.
Please read that again: Voting “Yes” on Measure W gets Fullerton a small piece of usable land preserved, lots of homes built, a few free goodies, and lots of long term tax-payer funded obligations (this WILL cost you money, just not tomorrow.) Voting “No” on Measure W gets all of the usable land preserved at no cost to the taxpayer. Chevron will complain about it and they’ll probably sue, but they’re also complaining about the world’s largest corporate fine for polluting in South America. They’ll lose down there, and they’ll lose here, too.
WHAT FULLERTON GETS IF MEASURE W PASSES
Fullerton gets some cash, toys, a lot of unusable space that wasn’t suitable for building let alone hiking, some sidewalks marked as trails, hundreds of new homes, a temporary water source, and all the long term obligations that go with it.
Here’s what you need to know about the cash and the toys: Chevron is required under existing law to provide public benefits to the city in exchange for building new homes. What we ought to be looking at is the difference between what Chevron is required to give the public and what they’re actually giving as part of measure W. In addition, much of the land included as open space under Measure W is not suitable for development. Either the cost of grading the land is too high or the potential for liquefaction during an earthquake is too substantial to develop.
This difference (the delta) is how we value the public benefit of Measure W. In exchange for offering Chevron (what’s potentially) in excess of a billion dollars worth of relief for allowing Chevron to not completely address the damage caused by their drilling, what are we getting?
Well, we don’t know. We don’t know because no one is telling us. Instead, we get told we get open space on land that can be used for nothing other than open space. We get told we get money for education and new technology at the library; we get told about fire trucks, we get told about trails, we get told about nature centers, we get told about water tanks; and we’re also told that if we don’t approve measure W– all of these things evaporate and we’ll never see them again.
That’s a lie. Chevron knows it and if you didn’t know before, now you do. If Measure W does not pass and Chevron (somehow) elects to build homes in West Coyote Hills, they’ll still be required to provide spaces for parks, money for schools, money for the library, money for public safety, and money for water infrastructure. You lose nothing by voting “No”. You’ll hear and see a lot of advertising using scare tactics to claim something else, but the truth is Chevron has to provide these things for any development based on existing state law.
WHY THAT SUCKS
Chevron is very good at economic evaluations. These studies intend to provide a current cash equivalent for investment return over the life of an asset. A good analysis will consider multiple cases, highlight the difference between the cases (delta) in order to inform a decision on what to do with the asset.
Chevron has looked at Coyote Hills and they’ve looked that several cases. They know exactly how much they stand to gain from Measure W and they know exactly how much they’re going to shell out if it doesn’t pass. They’ve looked at all of them and picked the one that makes them the most money.
They know that if W doesn’t pass, they’re going to be held accountable to deliver what they’ve promised– approaching a billion bucks worth of work. Because of that, they’ve decided it’s worth at least $1.5 million dollars in ads, consultant fees, advertisements, postage, hotel rooms, phone banks, and the like. That’s on top of the development agreement.
That should make you puke. If Chevron has decided it’s still in their economic interest after spending $1.5 million dollars to send you ads, you should be thinking: Wow, what the hell are they hiding? You shouldn’t be thinking: Yeah, Chevron must really care about Fullerton and this is a win-win.
WHAT FULLERTON SHOULD GET
Fullerton should get an honest campaign from Chevron. We should get all the information we need to make an informed decision on how development in West Coyote Hills impacts the value of our property, our tax obligations for our children and their children, and what’s best for our community. This may include building homes in WCH and it may not.
We should get the whole story on why Chevron isn’t entertaining options for a fair purchase price of the land. We should know why Chevron is telling blatant lies that the money isn’t there when they really mean Chevron doesn’t want to pay to clean up their mess.
We should get the whole story on why we’re only getting the minimally required public benefits from a housing development while Chevron gets a billion dollar corporate charitable donation from the city.
We should get more than a stupid fire truck we don’t need.
We should get Chevron to clean up their mess; we should get beauty, not bulldozers.
THE ADS– YES ON W
Greenwashing— the practice of using environmental empathy to further the cause of corporate profiteering. It’s the environmental equivalent
“Vote for a nature preserve!” What they really mean is “Vote to preserve our stockholder’s bottom line!” There’s no nature preserve involved in this ballot measure.
“Preserve Open Space!” What they really mean is “We can’t build on this crappy land, so we’ll leave it for you to stare at.” You can’t build a house on a cliff, so Chevron is trying to turn that to their advantage by greenwashing the facts.
“Create Fullerton’s Largest Park!” Throw some paint thinner on that one and you get: “Create Fullerton’s Largest Corporate Welfare Program EVER.” You think the bank bailouts were bad? Based on scale alone, this corporate welfare program has a significantly higher cost. All other arguments aside, if you’re a conservative– you should vote “no” based on this item alone. Vote “No” on W really stands for No on Corporate Welfare.
“Reduce a Fire Hazard!” This one is the best. Do you mean to tell me that Chevron is knowingly ignoring a public nuisance on its property? Then cite the bastards, don’t give them a corporate welfare check! Hey—that meth lab looks like a fire hazard. We better give them a quarter million so they can put in some fire sprinklers. Absolutely ridiculous.
Oh, those green signs and junkmail . . . make sure you recycle those. They aren’t exactly printed on recycled paper.
Astroturfing— creating a campaign to resemble a broad based community grassroots campaign.
The problem with fake grass is that it shows its plasticy heart when placed next to real grass.
The folks who are standing up to Chevron get no material benefit from a vote going their way. Not a thing. All they get is the satisfaction they stood up to a corporate bully. **Note, the closest I’m affiliated to the official “No on W” folks is that I like their Facebook page.
That’s honest, genuine, and real local politics. On this side of the fence, we only use water. You hop over to Chevron’s and I suggest you mind the bullshit, err, I mean the fake endorsements from fake people who falsely claim to represent real organisations.
THE FUNDING — YES ON W
$1, 500, 000. That’s about enough to buy every family in Fullerton dinner and it’s how much money Chevron is spending promoting their corporate welfare ballot measure.
Just for comparison . . .
Chevron has spent more money on postage to support Measure W than the Fullerton Police Officer’s Association and Tony Bushala have spent COMBINED in this election.
Chevron makes up that amount of money every 30 seconds. They make up what they’re proposing to contribute to Fullerton as part of measure W in roughly 10 minutes. That’s less time than you’ll spend reading this silly blog post.
And finally . . .
Chevron has donated money to each and every city council candidate who has supported measure W, either directly or through their land and development manager.
IT’S NOT ABOUT PROPERTY RIGHTS
This is the argument that probably upsets me the most. I see this being tossed around by my compatriots on the right like corporate property rights were emblazoned on Lincoln’s tomb stone or something.
The property rights issue fails to consider zoning laws. You and I have conditions on what we can and cannot do with our property, which are attached to the parcel we own. Zoning laws protect our property interest and prevent your neighbor from knocking down their house and building a strip club in its place.
Just as you or I cannot build an oil well in place of our house, Chevron cannot unilaterally declare that it has the right to build homes on property designated for oil wells. Measure W is all about getting corporate charity and changing the zoning restriction to allow Chevron to build the homes.
When we talk about property rights at the local level, we’re really talking about pretty sacred stuff. Your 5th and 14th amendment rights get pretty complicated, but in the modern era, we’re talking about the city using its power of eminent domain to acquire private property in order to develop it for private commercial interest (i.e., senior citizen’s home of 50 years condemned to build a Walmart.) To a lesser extent, modern discussion of private property rights focuses on abusive planning commissions who use stretched interpretations of existing code to extort money or concessions from property owners. It gets a little fuzzier when we get down into the weeds about water efficient landscape, but what we’re talking about is real abuse of the citizenry by an overactive state authority. We’re not talking about zoning.
When your elected officials, or those proposing to be your elected officials, confuse private property rights, something that ought to be very near and dear to your heart, with something like corporate zoning welfare– you ought to be thinking twice about how willing and vigilant they’re going to be in protecting your rights.
After all, if they’re accepting campaign contributions from and fighting for a multi-billion dollar corporation, how much time could they possibly have for poor little old you? When Walmart comes a knockin’ on your door, I suggest you take whatever offer they give you if some of these conservative pretenders get elected. That, or take a pole dancing class so you work at your neighbor’s strip club. After all, they own the property and if Chevron has a right to build whatever it wants on their land, so does your neighbor . . .
ITS ABOUT THE MONEY, STUPID
Chevron wants you to believe it’s about something else—property rights, money for schools they aren’t going to build, or free fire trucks we don’t need.
If you vote Yes on “W”, Chevron gets a billion dollar get out of remediation free card from the taxpayer.
If you vote No on “W”, Chevron does what they’ve promised all of us they’d do– clean up their mess.
[DISCLOSURE: I work for a direct competitor to Chevron. My comments here in no way reflect the opinion of my employer nor will the outcome of this ballot measure (in either decision) financially benefit me, any of my family members, or anyone else I know. I also own Chevron stock, which makes me extra pissed that Chevron spent so much of my money on this campaign.]
Check out our official response from Chevron! Thank you anonymous shill!