The twisted narrative of how the Florentine Family’s “Tuscany Club” managed to expropriate a public sidewalk is yet another tale of woe showing how badly our elected officals and their alleged professionals have manged to screw up Downtown Fullerton.
Back in 2003 the Florentines made an agreement with the Redevelopment Agency and City for an “outdoor dining” lease on the Commonwealth Avenue sidewalk at the intersection with Harbor Boulevard (forget for a moment that any outdoor patrons there would have to spend their time looking at the architectural monstrosity across the street).
Now, outdoor dining to you or me would suggest an open air space surrounded with a moveable fence or rope, and with furniture that could be picked up and taken inside. Well, that’s not what it meant to the Florentines who started construction of a foundation and a masonry wall in the public right-of-way! Sure, there were outcries of anger and dismay among the community over this blatant grab of public property, but these seemed to fall on deaf ears and the construction kept going until in the end the whole thing was completely enclosed. A private room addition right there on the public sidewalk!
Many months passed by, but the issue refused to die quietly. Finally, a big hearing was held, ostensibly to explain the situation to an outraged group of citizens. Mr. Florentine proclaimed his innocence – a victim of circumstance! The Director of Development Services, an obviously affronted F. Paul Dudley, stood up to say how he had been in control the whole time, had done nothing wrong; and that if he had to do it all over again he would do the same thing!
The only problem with this near-tearful oration was that Dudley had no authority to let any one put a building on public property. Only the Agency and Council could do that – after a public hearing. So the building was an encroachment into the public’s right-of-way, and the offending structure should have been immediately removed. Naturally the Fullerton City Council went along with the sham. After all, nobody really expects accountability or responsibility in Fullerton, right?
Sometime later the terms of the lease of were officially (and very quietly) modified, effectively whitewashing the whole sorry mess; but not before some valuable lessons were learned by careful observers about how things work in Fullerton.