Fullerton’s Design Standards

Stucco, stucco, and stucco, Fullerton likes a da stucco and brick veneer

Big Downtown Developer (Me) Finishes Historic Project

After many years, and many splinters, my brother George and I recently finished our latest project.

For those that bought into the anti-recall propaganda that I’m some sort big-time developer, well here you go: I moved a 375 sq.ft. house about 200 feet and restored it!

To read more about my big downtown development project please read the article by The OC Weekly’s Brandon Ferguson, here.

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A 4F Record Year

Well, Friends, 2011 was a record year for our humble little blog. We’ve had 2,013,945 visitors, and counting. I wonder what next year will bring for a blog that all began here, the day I questioned the ridiculous and deteriorating Redevelopment Styrofoam light fixtures at the downtown plaza.

See what I mean?

Styrofoam, the Redevelopment material of choice...

That was just three short years ago, and since then we’ve taken on every Sacred Cow of Fullerton’s reactionary old guard – from ridiculous Redevelopment boondogglery to a police department stewed in rampant corruption. And we’re not done yet, not by a long shot.

Stick around as we continue to poniard the pompous and demand accountability from the unaccountable. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll experience a whole range of emotions. We promise.

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Contrasts in Architecture Are Rare in Fullerton

Last month I was walking Independence Mall in Philadelphia and admiring the history and reflecting on what it would have been like in 1776.  As I crossed Market Street to go look at the Liberty Bell I looked left and right scanning the streets.  Then something caught my eye.  The antique cityscape had something shiny and new nestled in between two pieces of historic-looking buildings.

The structure has jutting polished metal forming right angles and contrasts sharply against the backdrop of American history.  The building’s unusual placement on the historic Mall speaks volumes of its purpose, though no billboards announce what that may be.

As I circle the Mall admiring the formation of our Country, my mind and camera wander back to the building, now more striking than when I saw it just moments ago. Seeing the building on the Mall and recognizing the unusual beauty of its presence in that location has caused me to question the direction the City of Fullerton has traveled for decades.

A recent FFFF post brought to light the Redevelopment Design Review Committee’s selections of less than inspiring architecture.

I used to have the strong opinion that modern designs just would not work in our downtown.  After long debates and discussions with friends and my visit to Philadelphia I am confident that it can work well.

Entrepreneurs looking to raise the bar and make their place in Fullerton should look to innovative designs which will stand in contrast to our old and confused architecture.  More importantly, when every other building is a bar or tattoo parlor, business owners need to look at ways of setting their establishment apart from the rest of the herd.

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ABOLISH THE RDRC!

Update from admin: It’s 2011 and we’re still still catching stanky wiffs rising from the bog of mediocrity known as the RDRC. Yep, they’re still slowing and stalling residential additions,  nitpicking the architectural details of private projects and using the know-nothing force of government to bear down on hapless homeowners trying to improve buildings that aren’t even visible from the public street. And so again we say…

The Fullerton Redevelopment Design Review Committee (RDRC) must be abolished. The committee was created in the 1970′s along with the Redevelopment Project Areas with the goal of fostering good architectural designs within them.

The trial run period is over. The RDRC and its associated bureaucratic process has failed – failed to improve design in either the project areas themselves, or in the ever growing number of projects in which city staff has required RDRC review. Actually the reverse is true. The failure has been spectacular.

who says affordable housing has to look ugly?

Who says affordable housing has to look good?

The pages of this blog has been nauseatingly filled with examples of RDRC failure-projects dutifully approved by a compliant and complacent RDRC. Rather than promoting innovative and creative work-excellence, in fact, the RDRC has enabled city staff penchant for the phony, stucco, and brick veneered banalities intended to comfort the worst of middle brow aesthetic preferences.

hc1

Over the weary years the RDRC has been the precinct of local architects looking to promote their own interests within the city. Numerous examples of conflicts of interest were exposed in the 1990′s. And the city council keeps appointing to the RDRC dingbats, talent-free Pecksniffs, and interior decorators, to whom you wouldn’t entrust the design of a birdhouse. The existence of this committee provides the city council with a little political cover on potentially controversial projects, but accomplishes very little else.

it didn't look so bad on paper

And so we say: Abolish the RDRC! People developing their own property without subsidy or without legislative action by the City should be able to design their projects without city oversight; those receiving subsidy or significant zone changes should be required to use architects who have been published in reputable professional journals. Maybe when this happens we can have increased freedom for private owners and design excellence for City sponsored projects. Presently we have very little of either.

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And The Winner Is…

Effervescent Emancipator! Dinosaurs, brick veneer, burning money? Yes, Friends, it’s outta here! Touch ‘em all!

Congratulations to the Fullerton Savage for the winning entry in our city seal contest. Fullerton truly has much to be proud of.

Savage, your new Nancy Sanchez CD is on the way.

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Fullerton Transit Center: Amerige Court on Steroids?

We just received the following notice from Friends for a Livable Fullerton:

The Fullerton Transportation Center “Specific Plan” is an approximately 40 acre project at the southeast corner of Harbor and Commonwealth. Built over the next few decades, it will take up over 6 full city blocks at one of our prime city intersections and will have a huge effect on our historic downtown and on alternative transportation for years to come. Maximum buildout would be about 2 dozen (!) 3- to 9-story buildings:

1,560 multi-family residential units
100,000 square feet of retail
100,000 sf office space
120-room, 120,000 sf hotel

Note the density and scale compared to the surrounding area:


While the plan doesn’t yet have specific building designs, the approval of this Plan and its 2,290 EIR will allow it to proceed.

City Admits Many Unavoidable Impacts

An unusual aspect of this plan is the large number of City–admitted significant environmental impacts the City Council will be called upon to “override” due to the project benefits outweighing the impacts:

Read the rest of this entry »

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“Would you support our efforts to make our neighborhood historic?”

I received this post from a Friend who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that you may understand after you read this post.

Think historic neighborhoods. Immediately, one’s mind goes to such places such as Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and others where houses, landscape, and layout reflect a distinct architectural coherence.

What we don’t think of is the hodgepodge of homes built over a span of more than fifty years within the boundaries of Skyline, Frances, Luanne, Canon and Lemon here in Fullerton. True, the neighborhood has a sort of charm. But this four block area (oddly denuded of trees) doesn’t fit the definition as historic.

Yet, for over twenty years, this neighborhood has been besieged by a small but persistent group to designate itself as such. The original movement came about when a neighbor (who has since moved away) decided the mix of 60’s ranch homes, 30’s Spanish Mediterranean  and 80’s boxes needed to be protected.

Why? Because the empty lot behind her house, which she had enjoyed as her own personal open space, was going to have a house built upon it.  This led to a movement asking for historical designation, with one very vociferous neighbor putting out a letter decrying such crimes as pink flamingos in yards. It ended when a flock of roving pink flamingos went from yard to yard, to rebuke this snobbishness. It was clear then, as it is now, that the historic designation is more to control everything from the color of homes, the installation of skylights, solar panels, to pink flamingos in yards.

In more recent years, the issue was raised again when a member of the Fullerton Heritage group moved into the neighborhood.  This woman could often be seen taking photographs of her neighbor’s homes. She personally crossed the boundaries of neighborliness by posting a photo of one on their website as an example of “muddled and conflicted” architecture. Battle axes were raised when during a neighborhood meeting, an argument ensued. This busybody sat in the back, mute –rendering herself all but invisible. At no point did she offer any explanation why this issue meant so much to her that she was willing to pit neighbor against neighbor.

The reasons for not wanting this ridiculous designation are simple.

1.     There’s no consistent architectural coherence in the boundaries of Lemon, Skyline, Frances, Luanne and Canon. While there are individual examples of historically significant architectural styles, as a neighborhood – it lacks consistency and coherence.

2. It would give Fullerton Heritage – and the City Planning Department far too much power over our neighborhood. Note, they already have ultimate veto power over designs submitted to the city for everything from new development to remodeling in other neighborhoods designated as a historical zone. In one neighborhood, they vetoed the homeowner’s request to install a skylight. Such oversight is petty, and subject to the changing whims of the board.

3. This will lead to more “fake old” McSpanish architecture. Another uninformed member of the Fullerton Heritage group noted at a meeting at Hillcrest Park that she thought the predominant style in the neighborhood should be “Spanish Mediterranean,” whatever that means.

4.     The $1000 fee for the designation doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of actual staff time. In addition, this doesn’t cover the costs of ordered revisions by the owner’s architects or engineers. Fees like this are never gotten rid of, rather, the fee could be raised and the neighborhood would have no control over the amount they have to pay.

5.     The city of Fullerton has a permit process already in place. This is an added layer of bureaucracy with not only more additional staff time needed, but oversight from an outside organization (Fullerton Heritage).

6.     A small cadre of neighbors has already been vociferous to the point of rudeness about things they don’t like: the color of a neighbor’s home, plantings, flamingos, and more. Worse, their gossip has hit people in ways that have become personal. While we realize they are voicing their opinion, we’d hate to give them permission to authorize or disapprove on any official level.

At some point one must work with and trust the neighbors.  Most of the neighbors who support this notion have lived in the area for 40 years without the intervention of the city. Why they think they should leave future generations with a law to be enforced long after they have enjoyed their own latitude –is for reasons of ego.  While the notion of a historic neighborhood seems appealing, in reality it is cumbersome, vague and will leave future homeowner’s with no choice but to deal with more government and bureaucracy. It was clear twenty years ago as it is now:  these people need to get a life.

All we can do is work with one another, and be neighborly but not meddlesome.

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When is An Historic Resource Not An Historic Resource?

As quickly as you can, Grasshopper, snatch the park from its owners...

When it’s Fullerton’s Hillcrest Park, of course. Then it’s a resource of a different kind: an opportunity for City Staff to play upon the sentimentality of Fullerton’s park and history lovers to destroy the very resource that is ostensibly being saved.

They did it 15 years ago and they are doing it again.

I went to Saturday’s latest public meeting to “save the park” and witnessed something quite remarkable. Just like last time the City staff has employed a consultant to remake the park in its own desired form, replete with new facilities it can market or operate, while ignoring the true needs of the old girl.

But this time the ludicrousness of the whole operation became apparent immediately. A representative of the landscape architect hired to foist the exploitative plan informed us all what was wrong with Hillcrest Park. It has bad chi. And all these years we just thought it was neglect by the parks and police departments. Chi. Hmm.

So what’s the solution to clean up the chi and get things all aligned, nice and proper?

A restaurant, for one thing, down by the duck pond; and a new park entrance; new retaining walls along the Brea Creek and an abandonment of the interior roadways might just get that troublesome chi back in balance, we were informed.

Ye Gods! Chi. What’s next, park feng shui?

Use the Force, Luke...

I don’t know how much we’re paying these yahoos to further destroy our park, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. And I’ll also bet that Redevelopment money is picking up at least part of the tab. And ultimately the only way to pay to comprehensively destroy this historic resouce is to use big piles of Redevelopment money to do it. Redevelopment destroying historic resources. That’s not a new theme.

Hillcrest Park is on the National Register of Historic places but nobody seems to treat it like it were. Only last year the City embarked on massive alterations to the north slope of the park without review by the Landmarks Commission.

Well, good luck Hillcrest. And in the meantime may the chi be with you.

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One Big Happy $23 Million Community Center

Last week, before all of the excitement about Coyote Hills and the one term history of Pam Keller, the Fullerton City Council approved the conceptual plan for a new community center.  This eighth wonder of the world is to be built right across the street from city hall and the main library.  The existing Boys and Girls Club and the Senior Center will be demolished to make room for it.

This $23 million mostly redevelopment funded project is supposed to be necessary because half of the city’s Parks and Rec programs are farmed out to other cities, and it would be so much nicer to have them under one new roof right downtown, near the new lingerie shop.  The fifty plus year old B & G Club is considered to be beyond repair and the senior center, which isn’t really that old in the grand scheme of things is somehow inadequate.  OK, so neither is an architectural masterpiece, but is it really necessary to tear them both down for this new combined community center?

The idea seems to have been to somehow “activate” the corner of Commonwealth and Highland, making it more a part of the library/city hall/police station/baseball field district.  To that end, the architect has included one of those pretty, and pretty useless medians down the center of Commonwealth, and a little welcoming plaza on the north side.  Placing the huge double gymnasium right up against Commonwealth doesn’t do much to activate the corner, however.

The kids, seniors and everyone in between can all interact as part of one big happy community, except that they still have their own buildings, just closer together than the current ones are, for more togetherness, I guess.  There is a third building they do get to share, just to teach them all a lesson.  You see, it’s a “multigenerational facility”, except that not everyone wants to be so together.

Several seniors have expressed concerns about having to be so close to boisterous young people while they are busy trying to relax with people of their own age group.  As far as I know, no youngsters have yet complained about having to be close to old people, but who knows if anyone asked them during the long, long planning process.

Kids enter from the Commonwealth entrance while seniors use an entrance from the larger, southern parking lot adjacent to the senior center.  This arrangement makes sense if no old people have to ride the bus to get there.  You see, the bus stop is way out on Commonwealth, so seniors would have to walk through crowds of kids all the way down the central axis of the project, to get to the safety of the senior center, which is closest to the railroad tracks.

A seventy-five year old man at the hearing asked why the noisy gym and swimming pool weren’t placed nearest the railroad tracks instead of a facility used by the aged.  The ever helpful and certainly senior Dr. Dick Jones suggested that seniors were hard of hearing anyway before voting to approve the plan.  Not to be outdone, even more senior Don Bankhead addressed a concern about the new Commonwealth median restricting bicycle traffic by asserting that it is perfectly legal to ride on the sidewalk in Fullerton —presumably right through seniors exiting a bus.

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In Fullerton It’s Only Over When Staff Says Its Over

I don't mind being led around just so long as I don't know where I'm going.

I don't mind being led around just as long as I don't know where they're taking me!

A few items in 2009 have caused me to reflect on the way things go in Fullerton, the way things have always gone, in fact. My poodle friends have a saying: la plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose. Man, that’s Fullerton all over!

In Fullerton, no screw-up, no cluster f, no civic disaster ever goes away if the city staff doesn’t want it to. They’ll dig in their heels and start the ol’ push-back as soon as it looks like something they really want is about to get torpedoed.

Consider the absolutely horrible decision to relocate the McDonald’s outlet at a jaw-dropping cost of six million bucks. Not even the most compliant council could swallow that one, and ours pulled the plug on it (so we thought, foolish us!) last summer. But within a a few weeks, the Redevelopment staff cooked up a “new” plan for the brainless “Fox Block” scheme. And guess what? It too, involved relocating McDonald’s – just not all the way to the corner. Geez, wasn’t anybody paying attention? That episode was so bad that it really crossed the line of insubordination. But did anybody on the council say a word? ‘Course not. This is Fullerton!

Of course the real problem is is the sort of people that we keep electing to the City Council. The mentally lame, the incompetent, the inert; people who by political and personal inclination identify with the bureaucracy instead of the citizens and taxpayers of Fullerton; people who dodge responsibility. Of the current crop, only Shawn Nelson really seems to take offense at being lied to and led around by the nose like a prize bull. And speaking of bull, Sharon Quirk seems to have finally realized that her advisors have their own agendas that more likely than not are incongruous with the interests of the rest of us. Well, that’s some progress, anyway.

What will 2010 bring? More of the same, no doubt. This is Fullerton. If there’s any hope for us the brain-dead gerontocracy must go. And by gerontocracy I mean the ossified geriatric thinking displayed by councilmembers of all ages, and the interests they represent. Of course Bankhead must go. Jones, too. And Keller. But if they’re replaced with stooges like Marty Burbank or Pat McKinley what the hell’s the difference?

Well let’s throw out a few issues to track to see how bad, or good, things will be in 2010 as far as accountability goes:

Will the council finally once and for all end the Fox Block scam?

Will Keller, Quirk, and Nelson stick to their promise to put the issue of term limits on the June ballot?

Will the council quit wasting time and energy on the idiotic Transportation Center master plan?

Will the council give up on the bogus Redevelopment expansion?

Will the council ditch the moronic “at-large” members of commissions altogether?

Will the council demand accountability on the UP park scandal before they sink another dime into more Redevelopment of it? Will they tell the city manager to quit making unilateral policy decisions?

Will the council have the courage (very little required really) to forget the useless UP ROW “trail”?

Will the council quit subsidizing and encouraging illegal behavior by downtown bars and dance halls?

Well, really, the list is endless and the Friends could no doubt supply their own favorites. Bon chance!

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