Fullerton’s City Lights – FUBAR From the Word Go – Part I

We're From The Fullerton RDA And We're Here to Help!
We're From The Fullerton RDA And We're Here to Help!

Damn. Another Fullerton Redevelopment Agency saga of screw up. This one is a bit long and I bring it to you Dear Friends of Fullerton in serial form.

Way, way back in the early 90s the Redevelopment Agency was still trying to figure out how to buy down the ever-increasing affordable housing set-aside monies it had illegally accumulated over the years, and which a lawsuit had forced it into spending. One type of project that was acquiring some cachet at the time was the SRO – Single Room Occupancy – a long term hotel-type rental for people in fairly marginal economic circumstances. The County had pledged a million bucks of its own to sweeten the deal.

The City solicited proposals. One came from the Bushala family for a site they already owned at Harbor and Truslow. Their partners were to be Baronne-Galasso who had done numerous similar efforts in San Diego, and their architect, the well-published Rob Quigley. http://www.robquigley.com/

The City entertained a second proposal from a gent named Caleb Nelson who seemed to be living out of his truck, along with the very silent “San Gabriel Partners” whom the public never saw. The City staff went so far as to select a site for Mr. Nelson since he owned nothing and couldn’t find City Hall without a map. Unfortunately, the chosen site on Commonwealth Avenue, included the historic Grimshaw House, a Victorian stick-style house c. 1894 that had mysteriously been left out of the 1979 historic survey – maybe because a block building then housing a thrift store had been plunked down in front of it and it was easier just to ignore.

The Grimshaw House, c. 1894, formerly on Commonwealth Avenue
The Grimshaw House, c. 1894, formerly on Commonwealth Avenue

For reasons too complicated to explain here, there was no way the City staff was going to do business with the Bushalas. Some bad blood there!  So behind the scenes an ambush was orchestrated by a couple of city council members, senior staff, and an enterprising housing tax-credit entrepreneur, Doug Chaffee, to undermine both the Bushalas as slumlords, and Baronne-Galasso as bankrupts at the final hearing.  On a 4 to 1 vote the SRO project was awarded to Caleb Nelson in the Spring of 1993. An opportunity for forward-looking architecture had been deliberately squandered.

Once the deal was done Redevelopment moved in to vacate the property. The historic Grimshaw House, intentionally put in harm’s way by the City, became an attractive target and was set on fire – twice – by an arsonist.

Oh, well.
Oh, well.

It was finally razed. A rare Nineteenth Century house, the oldest remaining structure in Downtown Fullerton, and connected to one of the early pioneer families of the County was gone – with nothing but sighs of relief from the good folks at the City.

Things Are Going Just Great!
Things Are Going Just Great! Have A Sucker!

Years passed. 1993 rolled into 1994, and 1994 into 1995 with nothing happening on the site. Despite the City’s attempt to portray him as a sound individual, it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide the truth about Mr. Nelson  and what he might be able to build, given the resources at his disposal.

Does It Come With A Balcony?
A Room With A View - And A Balcony

And this where the story gets really interesting…

Read the rest of “Fullerton’s City Lights”: Part 1 – Part 2Part 3Part 4Epilogue

17 Replies to “Fullerton’s City Lights – FUBAR From the Word Go – Part I”

  1. This is so disgusting. Thank you for bringing this into the light. Why would anyone support the redevelopment agency after all of this?

  2. Let me guess what happens next. Surely the city went back to Bushala and asked if they could still get the deal done with the site already owned by a private party offering to partner with an incredible architect. I mean, the deal sounds too good to be true right?

    Even our city wouldnt be dumb enough to miss the opportunity to have Quigley design a building downtown on a private citizens dime right?

    Well, if they did pass up the deal with Bushala, it must have been for a rock solid national company that was going to build some quality designed building that would make us all proud.

    At least we can all rest easy that there is no way our city was ever foolish enough to take the deal from Caleb and give it to some one man band developer out of LA promising nothing but a stark, stucco, five story nothing building that would be the eye sore of downtown and subsidized to the hilt to boot. Right?

  3. I guess I’m lucky there is a feature on this blog that notifies me of follow up comments.


    I am just sitting here in utter amazement at how things have gone on this SRO. I didnt really remember the first part of the story that you have brought to light. I certainly did not remember that historic house being destroyed (how in the world did you have a photo of that handy?)

    I just want to believe that what I am piecing together for the remainder is not true. I understand the staff may have historically resented the Bushala family but to completely cut off our noses just to spite a family when no one else in the city knows or cares? This just seems twilight zone esque.

    Is there someone from the city that can explain why/how this deal was not a purposeful effort to screw up a good situation?

  4. Dave, the Harpoon has retired to his cave in Hillcrest Park. You’ll have to wait for the next installment.

    I doubt if anyone at the City even remembers this. Embarrassments are easily forgotten by their perpetrators. Or “working for the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency means never having to say you’re sorry.”

  5. This was just an old house. It was not on the list. If it’s not on the list it can’t be historicaI.

  6. (how in the world did you have a photo of that handy?)

    Glad you asked that, Dave. FFFF has an impressive inventory of Fullerton Redevelopment fiasco images.

  7. It’s a shame when the city loses it’s dignity and way..mainly, that they are here to serve the public good, not their own interests and agendas. I personally have had staff whisper in my ear of Bushalas with words of malicious jealousy. We’ve all watched one ugly project after the next get built. How hard is it to demand more from staff and developers on projects where the peoples money is being spent. Particularly if it’s a subsidy!
    Personalities aside, the spending of tax dollars demands a high level of integrity AND efficiency on the part of all involved, not the least of which is our council/red agency. And if they don’t know good architecture, they should ask. I mean, how hard is it to look at the original vintage styles and see that what’s built now to immitate what’s old is not indeed flattering at all. If it can’t be done at reasonable cost, then chose another style that’s authentic, that will last and stand the test of time. It doesn’t take much..isn’t that what we hired our electeds to do?

  8. Hey, you guys. How about a post on all the historic buildings in Fullerton that have burned down?

  9. Silence Dogood II, “I personally have had staff whisper in my ear of Bushalas with words of malicious jealousy”, FOR GOD SAKES, WHO ARE THE BUSHALA’S? AND WHEN YOU USE THE FOUR LETTER WORD “city” WHO ARE YOU REFERRING TO?

  10. And since then Rob Quigley has gone on to design scores of other notable projects including the new San Diego Public Library (!!), while Fullerton is known as a place to fall asleep staring at cheap stucco garbage buildings after throwing up on the sidewalk outside of a a bar. Fullerton: Planning Skid Row for the future.

    Did anyone see the city council meeting last night? Is there anything left to fight for?

  11. Well, several things, but here are two of them:

    1. Despite efforts by Shawn Nelson to stop the McSpanish and/or “contemporary” design mess put forth by The Olson Co. for the Richman affordable housing project, the council went ahead with it as planned. The worst part was the Olson claimed it would cost half a million more for what they charitably called their contemporary design. That claim was disputed, but a majority council vote let the project go forward. At least there is supposed to be some commitment to LEED standards.

    2. The council, on a split two/three vote with Jones and Bankhead dissenting, voted to proceed with developing a design for the renovation/destruction, etc. of the community center/boys-girls club, senior center. Don Bankhead asked (very sensibly it seemed to me) if he could see some sort of simple conceptual drawing of the project before committing over a million dollars to a design process. No one could produce one, and they went ahead with the allocation anyway. Watch it yourself here in case I mixed up any of it up. It was late.


    What distressed me most was just watching the council trying to figure out what made a good building. We really need to hold some sort of an educational forum about the subject. That is, if there is anything left of Fullerton to save at this point.

  12. Oh, and we are going to pay $ 5 million dollars to move a McDonald’s closer to a high school to make room for the Fox Block. As far as I know this has long been part of the Fox Block plan, which involved tearing down several perfectly good bungalows on the now vacant new site.

    Not content to look like just any McDonald’s, the new building style imitates that of the adjacent high school, making it….yes, McSpanish Revival.

    You can see the lovely rendering here:


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