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For Immediate Release, August 12, 2011

Contacts:  John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416
Diane Bonanno, Friends of Coyote Hills, (714) 572-9911
Scott Thomas, Sea and Sage Audubon Society, (949) 293-2915

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Fullerton's Prime Open Space,
Where Project Would Harm Gnatcatchers, Coastal Sage Scrub

FULLERTON— The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Coyote Hills, and the Sea and Sage Audubon Society filed a lawsuit Thursday to protect one of the finest remaining open-space areas in north Orange County. The 510-acre site in Fullerton is threatened by the West Coyote Hills development, approved by the city in July, which would be sited in north Orange County’s largest unprotected open space. The site is home to one of the largest populations of coastal California gnatcatchers, a threatened bird species that depends on vanishing coastal sage scrub habitat. The 760-home project would destroy the bird’s habitat on the site and fragment the remainder.

“The project would eliminate habitat for nearly a quarter of the gnatcatchers on the site,” said John Buse, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But that’s just the direct effects — the remaining gnatcatchers would have to subsist in the scattered pockets of coastal sage scrub left by the development.”

In 2010, the Fullerton City Council voted to reject the West Coyote Hills project after a long and contentious review process. The project’s developer, a Chevron subsidiary, subsequently sued the city, which settled this lawsuit by agreeing to reconsider the project. The city did so in July, reversing its previous decision.

“It takes time to preserve a treasure — and that’s just what Coyote Hills is poised to become, an educational and recreational asset to the million residents in this densely developed, park-poor region,” said Diane Bonanno of Friends of Coyote Hills, a group that has worked to preserve the site for a decade. “We’ve also launched a referendum campaign to overturn the city council’s decision to turn the site into another large development complex. Volunteer signature gatherers are active throughout the city.” 

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, challenged the city’s failure to disclose and eliminate the project’s effects on gnatcatchers, other rare species, global warming, water pollution, and other aspects of the environment.

“The city has failed to recognize how devastating the impacts of this project would be,” said Scott Thomas of the Sea and Sage Audubon Society. “The severely fragmented open space carved out by the plan could not adequately meet the needs of gnatcatchers or other sensitive species, nor would it meet the open space needs of the citizens of the area.”

The groups are represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger of San Francisco.

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