For the last, well forever really, the city has been trying to figure out how to change downtown to make it more… something. I can’t quite figure it out. By the looks of it the only goals City Staff have are to pack as many residents into as many high-density apartment complexes as possible and to hand over as much of Downtown to the local “restauranteurs” which is Ted White (Director of Community Development) for “Bar Owners”.
This past Wednesday night one such plan hit our Planning Commission. The plan was 70+ pages of muddled definitions and empty promises. I’ll summarize:
City Staff has been ignoring their jobs and our municipal code for 15+ years because reasons. It’s hard to do the job we pay them to do so they want to do less of it and they want to relax the rules so the rule-breakers have fewer rules they have to break while making piles of money.
Instead of cleaning up bad definitions and attempting to hold businesses responsible for the melees enveloping downtown each weekend, the city would rather permanently legalize downtown getting louder and more rowdy with the promises that this time, with no indication of staffing changes or practical enforcement, they’ll hold bar owners to a standard of behavior, or perhaps a guideline, or at least an amorphous shape resembling a line if you squint really hard.
It reminds me an old UN Peacekeeper joke where whenever they see somebody doing something wrong they yell “Stop! Or I’ll Yell “Stop!” Again!”. This time they mean it for realsies.
Ultimately Wednesday’s item was held until a possible study session in January and a new meeting in February, which is when we’re totally screwed. The bar owners will get everything they want and then some come February because the Planning Commission is changing. A lot.
Ryan Cantor (at-large), Kathleen Shanfield (Chaffee), Nicholas Dunlap (at-large) & Peter Gambino (Sebourn) will all be off of Planning Commission at that point.
That leaves us with Christopher Gaarder (Fitzgerald), Wayne Carvalho (Silva) & Kevin Pendergraft (Whitaker) along with two unknowns being appointed by Zahra and the winner of Wheel of Replacement Candidates.
I say we’re screwed because the only voices of reason Wednesday were all of the members of the commission that are leaving at the end of the year.
I don’t expect much from a Silva or Fitzgerald appointee but the highlight of the last meeting was Whitaker appointee Kevin Pendergraft doing the bidding of “restauranteur” Joe Florentine.
Pendergraft kept looking at Florentine between every comment, as though he was making sure his talking points were being noticed, and I couldn’t tell if Pendergraft was just on the same page as Florentine or if he was afraid that Florentine had something on him and he was scared he might say the wrong thing.
Essentially Florentine’s issue is that his landlord doesn’t like him and Florentine wants to be able to change his Conditional Use Permit. This permit, or CUP, is what restaurants downtown need to functionally operate as nightclubs. Sort of. Unless you’re well connected and are allowed to operate a bar without a CUP… but more on that in another post.
The interesting part about a CUP is that it is tied to the land and not the businesses requesting it. So if I own a parcel of land and lease it to you and you want to run a nightclub and need a CUP – you are asking to change the legal entitlements to land I own. Currently I would have the right to say yes or no to that change by virtue of signing or not signing the CUP application – because it’s my land.
Florentine doesn’t like his landlord so he wants all landlords to have to explain why they don’t want entitlements changed and essentially wants the decision, over land entitlements, to fall to the leasing party (him) and not the owner of the land. This is ridiculous. It was also kind of funny considering Florentine had the cajones to say he wanted equitability and fairness. This coming from the family that hijacked a city sidewalk.
Give Fullerton our sidewalk back and we’ll talk about fairness and equitability.
Back to the CUP mess. Nobody but a land OWNER should be able to change the entitlements to the land they own.
Here’s where we move from ridiculous to obnoxious. The only member of the planning commission to echo Florentine’s point was Kevin Pendergraft. The same Pendergraft who on 24 June 2015 demanded a municipal code change so landowners had a say in if their property was designated a historic landmark. That change was approved, by the way, so he won that battle, which was a win for good. Yay for property rights.
Thus per Pendergraft a landlord gets a say in what happens to their property for historical designation, but not in Conditional Use Permitting? So Pendergraft says yay for property rights unless a bar is on that property? This is illogical and inconsistent. It screams of cronyism and favoritism.
Working with land owners, as opposed to just business owners is also the best thing to do if you actually want to take care of bad actors in the city.
Currently the city does very little about bad actors in downtown. If what FPD told me is correct, we have a 2-man “Echo Unit” that patrols downtown for 3 nights (Th/F/Sa) a week and between the DUIs and fights they have little time for other work. The municipal code is being violated in countless ways by countless businesses. Ted White went so far as to complain at the meeting that it was too hard for staff so they just give up and don’t do their jobs. As an aside this tells me we need to fire these people and hire people willing to do the job, but I digress.
But if the city WANTED to go after people for violating their CUPs, let us say for outdoor amplified sound above the legal allowable levels (which I mention because it came up several times during the meeting), the process can take months or years if it is ever even followed up upon. Let us put that into context. It is illegal RIGHT NOW to have outdoor amplified sound without a CUP permitting it and yet multiple establishments in downtown do it anyways with little to no enforcement. Per staff there are too many rules and it’s too hard to enforce them and they don’t have the staff and so on and so on and the violators just get to rock and roll.
Remember this is all just whole proposal is the farce of “Stop or I’ll Yell Stop Again!”.
However if the city simply enforced their laws and cited businesses for violating their CUPs and the municipal code then the land owners could use basic contract law to boot out the bad tenants. If you violate the terms of your lease (by violating city code) then bu-bye bad business. It’s quick and painless on the part of the city beyond those initial citations and the adjudication of them. This would allow Fullerton and the market more freedom to self-regulate instead of expecting those appointed by council, who themselves take donations from the potential bad actor businesses, to enforce policy which they’ve refused to enforce for more than decade.
Do you really think that council members are going to allow a CUP to be pulled from the very bars in which they hold their campaign parties and fundraisers?
This is just one of the many, many, many problems facing downtown and this laughably vague, overly complicated and byzantine handout to preferred “stakeholders” needs to be split apart and addressed in the context of staffing, budgets and actual equitability to the downtown that’s supposed to belong to all of Fullerton and not just the nightlife so many of us avoid on the weekends.
If the city was truly interesting in making Downtown Fullerton a destination for all of us and they truly cared about fixing our outdated and ignored municipal code they would start with basic facts. How many businesses are currently in violation of their CUPs?
Show us a map of Downtown from the start of the Restaurant Overly District to today with 5 year increments showing us how downtown has transformed so we can get an actual picture of what has happened and what is happening. Show us how many Police & Fire calls/resources are needed in downtown with the real costs to taxpayers. Maybe, as Commissioner Cantor suggested, they could do an actual noise study to determine the ambient levels in and around Downtown before changing them.
There is a ton that the city could do to show us that they’re interested in sharing facts and fixing problems. They’ve had 15+ years to study these issues and they constantly act like they need to reinvent the wheel when citizens ask pointed questions. Instead of shifting targets and handing out more goodies to favored businesses they should show why those favors need to be handed out in the first place.
Contra the statements of our math challenged council members we obviously have budget constraints and problems that are ignored. If we cannot increase staffing and enforcement then perhaps we should once again start to put a limit on the types of businesses that require so many of our finite resources.
For years we have been asking for honesty, openness and a process that truly included the people of Fullerton, yet we continue to get nothing but city staff doing the bidding of preferred political donors.