The Fox Theater Fiasco: Pick A Card…Any Card…

Gee, what a choice!
Gee, what a great choice!

No, not that one!

That’s the way Redevelopment likes to choose its favored developers. A kabuki-like pantomime is undertaken by issuing an RFP (Request for Proposals). In the end the process presents the decision makers with a choice that is essentially no choice. To illustrate the point, Loyal Friends, we go back in time almost ten years to examine how the “Save The Fox” movement got off to a rousing start.

let's hope we don't end up going around in circles...
Let's hope we don't end up going around in circles...

In 1999 after catching the wave of the Save The Fox movement, the City issued an RFP for private developers to take over the job of restoring the Fox and developing the adjoining area. The City had committed to build a parking structure and hand over other developer goodies. Proposals were received in August. In October the Agency was presented with the lucky winner, Staff’s choice – “Berkman/Chaffee” a local restaurant owner and a politically-connected lawyer turned low-income housing credits entrepreneur. Paul Berkman was there to provide credibility to run a “dinner theater” and Doug (Bud) Chaffee’s job was to look like a land developer. The only problem, as it soon transpired, was that Berkman refused to promise a dinner theater, only movies. And Chaffee had never “developed” anything but heavily subsidized housing.

Good Lord that's awful...
That isn't very good, is it?

To complicate matters a second proposer named Dana Morris of Morris productions, who believed himself to be in the running, actually showed up at the meeting  desiring that the elected officials, not staff, decide who might get the gig. His idea was to create an performing and fine arts academy on the site that would, in turn, generate all sorts of ancillary business opportunities downtown and not compete with existing businesses.

To the acute embarrassment of staff, Morris managed to organize a slew of supporters, including a backer who promised to help finance the venture. They asked for more time to prove their bona fides.

On cue, some of Fullerton’s usual lefty suspects got up to promote Berkman/Chaffee although their proposal was dubious, at best, and despite the fact that neither partner had any experience doing what they claimed they were going to do. There were strong undertones of religious bigotry pulling their adherents along, for it had become known that that Morris was affiliated with BIOLA, and in some peoples’ minds that was anathema.

Nuh-uh. Not in our city!
Nuh-uh. Not in our city!

To add hypocrisy to the mix, people who had never shown a dime’s worth of concern when the City acquired property in downtown Fullerton were suddenly horrified by the thought of a non-profit foundation paying no property tax!

The council finally voted 4-1 (Flory dissenting, naturally) to continue the item so that Morris could clarify certain financial points in his proposal. In the intervening time, as Morris later told us, he was treated with such overt contempt and continuing hostility by Redevelopment Director Gary Chaplupsky that he finally abandoned his proposal as simply not worth the aggravation. We have only his word for what happened, but given the Redevelopment Agency staff’s propensity for prevarication over the years,  we are inclined to accept it. And so a plausible concept for the Fox was lost because the staff did its level-best to thwart a reasonable proposal and award the deal to their favored team – the team that could be counted on to play ball.

Gee, Paul, I don't remember this being so hard...
Gee, Paul, I don't remember this being so hard...

And now Patient Friends, we finally return to our title. At the hearing in October, 1999 it slipped out that of the eight original proposals only two were even deemed worthy of consideration; and the City Council was never informed that one of the other six actually came from the janitor at the Hub Cafe! Of the two “finalists” it was clear that Morris never stood a chance, thus effectively limiting the Agency’s choices to none. This “planning and activity” as our faithful reader “Jack B. Nimble” characterizes it was nothing but a sham, a fact that later became evident when the Berkman/Chaffee partnership permitted its agreement with the City to lapse, and was never heard from again. And so a feeble concept had gained traction even though (excluding Morris) there was not one credible respondent to the proposal. But in government circles, that’s all it takes to gain momentum!

Here's your card, sucker...
Here's your card, sucker...

4 Replies to “The Fox Theater Fiasco: Pick A Card…Any Card…”

  1. The original goal of the Foundation was to save
    the Fox. Thankfully, and to the credit of many
    donors, including Ms. England, and a forward
    thinking City Council, that goal was accomplished.
    Since that time, the Foundation has been and
    remains the sole owner of the Fox. At no time
    since taking ownership of the Fox has the complex
    been in jeopardy of being sold and there are no
    future plans to sell. I believe Dr. Jones’ comments
    with regard to taking back the Fox were taken out
    of context. The Foundation is now focused on
    rehabilitation and operational planning.
    excerpt taken from mid-may 2007 fullerton observer, another fine example of fullerton observer’s insightful reporting. It is these incidents that makes me a grateful reader of FFFF

  2. But now that I think about it, the Council still had one choice: THEY COULD HAVE VOTED NO!

    But this is Fullerton and hindsight is 20/20.

  3. Do we have a grand total for taxpayer subsidies for this project yet? Will the Fox ever be viable without subsidy? Or will we be footing the bill even after construction is complete?

  4. Travis, the Fox will never be viable, hence the subsidy. The subsidy itself represents a commitment to preserve a public icon – a community value is expressed. The value of that value (!) can be debated until the cows come home.

    That’s why attaching the Fox to another large housing project makes absolutely no sense, and has never really been justified – just taken for granted. This is the result of typical Redevelopment metastasis: we’ll take your good intentions and run with them until we get something we want: a new toy to play with.

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