The Abdication

Lots of Indians, but no chiefs…

I’ve been watching Fullerton politics and governance for for a long time – since 2008 or 2009, in fact. One thing that has consistently struck me is the way in which Fullerton’s elected officials have completely and almost happily abdicated their responsibility to determine the direction of policy.

It has always been the goal, in principle if not in practice in modern representative democracy, that policy would be established by electeds, and administrated through a protected civil service bureaucracy.

Determining policy – the philosophical direction you want the town to take – isn’t easy in the “City Manager” form of government, a form deliberately created to remove any sort of executive authority from elected representatives. But with that set-up came something else, too: the difficulty of people’s representatives in establishing policy direction, and doing it without violating the Brown Act strictures on open meetings.

Nevertheless, the responsibility is still there, even if it easier to have photo ops, and ribbon cuttings and the like. Sadly our electeds have failed; failed with remarkable banality and complacency. Former Councilman and Fullerton Police Chief Pat McKinley once illustrated the point when challenged for his “failure to lead.” He exclaimed that councilmen weren’t there to lead – that was the City Manager’s job.

Lately the policy role abdication has been seen with the regurgitated, spit out, re-consumed and regurgitated again noise ordinance, an ongoing embarrassment that has plagued honest citizens for over fifteen years. I read the staff report on the recent noise effort, a report that justifies a decision to actually increase acceptable levels, protect offenders by including an ambient noise mask, and locates the noise metering away from the source whence it can be muddled by an equally noisy neighbor.

The staff report is nothing but a list of events that have occurred since 2009 when the City Council last expressed a coherent position. Nowhere in the staff report is there any discussion on the policy decisions behind any of the activities. Why not? Because there weren’t any. In the same way that the incredibly costly, drunken binge known as Downtown Fullerton has escaped any intelligent policy conversation, the noise nuisance issue, a subset of the former, has evaded policy discussion as City staff – behind the scenes – has diligently avoided doing anything to enforce existing code, and worked very hard to reduce the requirements.

So what has happened is a vacuum in which each new action seems disembodied from policy conversation; that’s because it is. And our council steadfastly refused to have an open and honest conversation of what it wants, abdicating its responsibilities.

One size fits all…

There is a long list of issues that our elected representatives should be addressing from an overarching policy level and aren’t. This sort of thing takes thought; and some hard work in ascertaining whether your city employees are really doing the thing you want; or not, as in the case of the Trail to Nowhere. It’s easier just to ram through the Consent Calendar on the nod, rubberstamp the ridiculous, clean your plate like good kids, and move on to the photo ops and the trophy ceremonies.

The Sound of Music

Business is booming…

Over the past two decades FFFF has documented the mess our City government has made of the financial sinkhole know as Downtown Fullerton; how laws and rules have been ignored to help the myriad bar owners, and how what is undoubtedly a fiscal municipal liability continues to be characterized as some sort of wonderful accomplishment.

Matt Foulkes. The spin out left casualties…

Planning Directors and Redevelopment Drones came and went: Dudley, Zur Schmied, Zelenka, Haluza, White, Foulkes, each one as useless as the one that came before, and each willing to put the scofflaws’ interest ahead of the citizens.’ To be fair, the political interference was there, too, nowhere better exemplified than in the case of our now-departed Mayor-for-Hire, Jennifer Fitzgerald, who had a for sale sign on her back. And of course City Attorney Dick Jones was there every step of the way to add obfuscating smoke into the downtown atmosphere.

dick-jones
Staying awake long enough to break the law…

Nowhere is the Fullerton downtown dysfunction better seen than in the complete hash the bureaucrats in City Hall have made of the noise situation. At first, the noise ordinance was simply ignored by the cops and by code enforcement. And for the past 15 years the City has made a concerted effort to allow amplified outdoor music downtown, to delay action (we’re still studying it), and to water down whatever official rules were on the books.

For the past four years nothing has happened and of course the nightclub operators have continued to take advantage of Fullerton’s de facto unwillingness to enforce anything.

And now the issue has finally resurfaced yet again, and once again the effort is likely not to work for us, but essentially, to admit defeat and allow the raucous free-for all to become official.

In December a new stab at a noise ordinance addressing outdoor music was placed on the table in front of the City Council.

Evidently the proposed ordinance was so bad that the our otherwise malleable City Council turned it back for rework. I don’t know what was in it because the City Clerk’s webpage doesn’t work. But supposedly the thing will be coming back on Tuesday the 29th and hopefully we will be able to see what sort of surrender our staff is coming up with.

Fullerton’s Nuisance Noise and The Ongoing Saga of Incompetence and Corruption. Part 4

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if government bureaucracies do the things they do because of incompetence, venality, or favoritism. In the never-ending story of Fullerton’s noise regulation all three seem to be uniquely intertwined.

What is inescapable is that the City of Fullerton has striven mightily to separate the issue of nuisance noise emanating from downtown outdoor areas from both enforcement and illegality.

SlidebarMotto
A few thou here and there worked wonders…

In 2011 the ridiculous Transportation Center Specific Plan finally made it legal to propagate amplified outdoor music, thus making Jeremey Popoff’s Slidebar appear honest, although he still didn’t have a legal Conditional Use Permit. But the new regulations for noise had no more effect than Popoff’s missing CUP because the City – cops and code enforcement – refused to enforce the regulations.

A standup guy walking tall.
.

What to do? Hmm. What about throwing the issue into a miasma of bureaucratic paper shuffling so that nobody would notice what you were doing, and downtown scofflaws could actually be absolved, de jure as well as de facto?

In August, 2014 the City tried this pitch with the idea that the Noise ordinance would be updated along with great swaths of the existing land use law to make thing, you know, easier to figure out. But downtown noise played a prominent part in the discussion, if not really in the staff report. The council approved noise studies as a mechanism, a cynic might say, to avoid cracking down on Popoff, Jack Franklin’s Roscoe’s, and their ilk, because that is exactly what happened.

I’m not going to do my job and you can’t make me…

2015 rolled around and the Community Development “professionals,” led by newly minted Director Karen Haluza, were again yakking it up about revising the Code. Well, these things take time, you know, and in the late summer of 2016 the City Council finally got around to passing Ordinance 3232, a revised Code, still, with intent of instilling commonsense and clarity. The definition of amplified music was scratched out pending future action.

But whatever the motivation, the ever-shifting sands of sound gave the bureaucrats, aided and abetted by the perpetual dishonesty of City Attorney Dick Jones, the pretext they needed to bat away complaints about the illegal noise – because the issues was under study and consideration!

New in town, but he caught on quickly…

The vicious circle took yet another revolution in June of 2018 when the Council was persuaded by yet another new planning director, Ted White, to pass a Resolution of Intent to once again revise the land use codes in the interests of commonsense and clarity. Of course the Noise Ordinance and downtown noise was actually a key driver in this conversation, too. Mr. White took it upon himself to introduce a new downtown noise map where any outdoor sound would be permitted; but, the standards – 70 decibels outside and 65 decibels inside – were not to be applied to the source, but to the sensitive receptor, and the burden of proof was clearly laid at the feet of the victim, not the perpetrator of the nuisance. The bureaucracy seemed oblivious to the Armageddon of Noise they were trying to create or the sensibilities of residents adjacent to the riot zone.

The Planning Commission was finally scheduled to review the latest iteration of musical chairs in November, 2018; but the discussion was mysteriously continued for three months until February, 2019 by which time two opponents of amplified music, Nick Dunlap and Ryan Cantor had been removed from the Commission. A coincidence? Who knows? Stay tuned…

 

 

Fullerton’s Nuisance Noise and The Ongoing Saga of Incompetence and Corruption. Part 2

Al Zelinka. Failing to the top.

In the past 10 years or so, Fullerton has had four different planning directors: Al Zelinka, Karen Haluza, Ted White, and most recently an individual named Matt Foulkes. Pop quiz: what else do these folks have in common?

Haluza. The closer you looked, the worse it got.

Time’s up. Answer: none of them enforced the city’s noise ordinances, and each seemed to be dedicated to ignoring zoning and land use regulations in downtown Fullerton. We’ll get to the “why” of it in a later post. For now I want to point out the trajectory of this mess. As scofflaws like Jeremy Popoff’s odious Slidebar and the Florentine Mob’s various enterprises refused to comply with our laws, the Planning Directors noted above began an ongoing project to lower and lower the legal bar until even the lowest nematode could wriggle over it.

Ted White didn’t leave his fingerprints…he thinks…

Now if we contemplate this downward spiral of our “experts” in the Planning Department and Code Enforcement we notice that it hit a virtual rock bottom in January 2019 when Matt Foulkes pretended that he didn’t know what a property owner was and approved the submission of an official document forged by Joe Florentine pretending that he, Florentine, was an “owner.”

Matt Foulkes. The downward spiral is complete.

Of course all of this malfeasance was amply documented here on the FFFF blog. And guess what? Nobody in City Hall cared; or to be more precise, nobody cares, still. See, in Fullerton incompetency and blatant corruption are so common on the part of our City Attorney, Dick Jones and the cadre of drunk, venal and just plain dumb City Managers and staff that our threshold for outrage is as low is almost worn away.

But not quite. Stay tuned for noise. And by noise I mean the noise generated by city staff to ignore, dilute, obfuscate and dodge the Noise Ordinances.

Fullerton’s Nuisance Noise and The Ongoing Saga of Incompetence and Corruption. Part 1

Flory in search of the proverbial yard arm.

FFFF has published lots of posts about the way in which our highly paid “experts” in City Hall have made it their business to run interference for the numerous scofflaw bar and “club” owners downtown when it comes to ignoring annoyances like Conditions of Approval and the municipal code’s Noise Ordinance.

In City Hall, doing the right thing just wasn’t gonna happen…

Both topics have been addressed in the same way: if they can, they simply ignore the situation. The blind eye approach has worked most of time. When it hasn’t, Step 2 is invoked. Step 2 is to diligently pursue making the laws laxer, so lax in fact, that the lawbreaking is no longer lawbreaking. This bureaucratic gambit is really nice because the Planning Department Staff can always claim that something is in the works that will address the situation. Of course that’s a lie. What’s really happening is that the department is trying really hard to come up with a legal absolution so low even the lowest douchebag can slither over it.

You can take the douche out of the bag…

At every step of the way, the scofflaws – Jeremy Popoff of Slidebar fame and the Florentine Mob spring most readily to mind – lubricate the gears of Fullerton’s small town political machine who have seemed ever-ready to support the law breaking.

While we here at FFFF have extensively covered the abuse of CUPs and other land use issues, the history of the ongoing issue of nuisance noise traces a perfect trajectory of incompetence or casual corruption, or most likely, of both.

The story spans three city managers, four planning directors and a whole slew of elected ciphers who would rather defend purveyors of nuisance over the right of their constituents to quiet enjoyment of their property.

 

Downtown Rules Apply or They Don’t

welcome-to-fullerton

I’m in Downtown Fullerton as I type this post. Specifically I’m at an office space some friends and I are thinking about renting for our podcasts, the same office space I used for the live video on Flory’s appointment. I’m here because I wanted to reshoot that video owing to the technical and delivery problems of my first ham-handed efforts and I wanted to see how practical this space is for our purposes at night.

I knew the train schedules and checked the sound levels with a decibel meter for quality and started figuring out some of the technical things I wanted or needed to change. Then 8pm hit and I encountered something I hadn’t really planned around – live music emanating from across the transportation center.

Let’s get to brass tacks here; it was coming from the Slidebar – a favorite punching bag of commenters here on FFFF and some of the people I know around town. But this is a problem for me because generally I LIKE the Slidebar. I know Jeremy and he’s always been civil with me. I know Josh and he allowed me to take photos inside the bar back when I shot bands for a hobby. I have little desire to bother people I have no beef with personally and who have been cool with me historically.

SlidebarMotto

When I go after things I try to focus on issues and the people I think are causing the problems. I spill a lot of digital ink railing against Fitzgerald, Silva, now Zahra and so forth because I think they’re bad leaders and corrupt politicians – but I try to leave their personal businesses and family lives out of my posts, comments and claims as best I can because that’s not where my interests rest unless those things prove to be connected to some form of political corruption, grandstanding or malfeasance.

But tonight I got irritated. I got irritated because this city plays favorites and that favoritism, while common everywhere, shouldn’t exist from government and shouldn’t impinge on my ability to do my work in an office I want to rent. Further, the city lies about basic provable things because they think nobody will bother to call them out on their nonsense. I saw this when Fitzgerald ran all over Fullerton claiming our budget was balanced. I saw this when the city lied about Red Oak’s bonafides to convince the council to approve a zone change. I saw it and heard it again tonight.

(more…)

Bruce Whitaker’s Cash Cow

The other evening the Fullerton City Council discussed the issue of letting bar owners cram more of their top-shelf patrons into downtown Fullerton night clubs, a move that the bar owners ludicrously claim will actually help with all that mayhem that occurs on a typical week-end evening. As a tangent, the idea of taxing the generators of all the trouble came up.

Here is our esteemed Mayor, Bruce Whitaker, calmly explaining why some sort of public revenue generating scheme would a bad idea.

This is so disingenuous in several aspects that it’s hard to know where to start. The idea that the private business interests are the best at providing some sort of “management” at the lowest cost is absurd given the fact that the taxpayers are already  providing vastly subsidized security and maintenance in the downtown war zone.  It is the o-so trustworthy bar owners (that Whitaker claims have the biggest stake in a smoothly operating downtown) who benefit from public services they aren’t paying for.

Whitaker knows very well that the open air saloon known as Downtown Fullerton costs the taxpayers more than $1,500,000 per year. It’s a classic money pit. The irony is rich. The idea that the city government might milk DTF is absolutely absurd. The fact is that Whitaker’s bar-owner campaign contributors are making money on the backs of the rest of us – and Whitaker – despite his rhetoric – knows this damn well.

The real point is that once again Whitaker and his spineless council colleagues are going to bat for their saloon owning pals, people who have stolen public sidewalks, habitually violated the City’s noise ordinances, whose patrons wreak havoc on our streets and on themselves every night. Whitaker and the City Council have not only turned looking the other way into a full-time job, they have gone out of their way to prop up and publicly subsidize the booze peddlers they enabled in the first place.

And as usual, the rest of us pick up the bar tab.

Slidebar Rock-N-Roll: The Nexus of Nuisance

We’re getting used to things like a City Manager involved in a crash getting a free ride home and no questions asked; for years downtown bars and night clubs have been masquerading as restaurants; Hell, we even had one club owner build a room addition on a public sidewalk and get away with it. How many FPD crimes large and small  have been hushed up, made to go away? Who really knows?

But if ever a Fullerton resident wanted to find an example of how there are two sets of standards that apply to folks in our town, he need look no farther than a greasy institution called The Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen.

Playing the standards...
Poor misunderstood lad…

When it comes to double standards, no one quite succeeds like Jeremy Popoff, proprietor of the Slidebar.

Even if you are not a boozed up troublemaker from Norco, you may have heard of this place and its owner. This was the establishment from whence came the phony call that eventually cost Kelly Thomas his life five years ago. But this isn’t the story of a bar that wanted to get rid of a “nuisance.” No, this post is about a nuisance. A big one.

See, the Slidebar transforms into an entertainment venue at various times during the day, and every night. But the Slidebar has no Conditional Use Permit to so operate as required by the Fullerton Municipal Code. Why is that? Most likely because such a CUP would formally require noise monitoring. And there’s the problem.

Here’s a noise sampling from just outside this venerable establishment:

The Slidebar has been violating both the City’s noise ordinances and the noise levels established in the Transportation Center Specific Plan for years. The cops won’t do anything about it and neither, apparently, will the people paid to enforce the city’s code.

How come?

Stories have been circulating for years that the Slidebar treated Fullerton cops to free food and drink. Is this true? I don’t know, but it certainly gives pause – for a lot of reasons, maybe the least of which is an FPD lack of appetite for clamping down on this public nuisance.

And consider this: Mr. Popoff has made it his business to grease the political gears in Fullerton via campaign contributions. Big time. And is it any surprise that this fine establishment regularly hosts election night parties for incumbent city councilmembers?

I think I need a shower...
I think I need a shower…

Here’s a fun story from the Orange Juice Blog about our lobbyist-councilperson, Jennifer Fitzgerald, partying it up with the Slidebar proprietor, perhaps star-struck by Mr. Popoff’s low-grade celebrity and other mysterious charms. This was at precisely the same time that Mr. Popoff became such an expert at demographics and cartography that his districting map was chosen at the last minute by our feeble city council – unanimously. The sole purpose of that map was to illegally carve up downtown Fullerton – an indisputable “community of interest” – into five districts, thus ensuring that the downtown residents would never have a say in the governance of the open air saloon where they live. And the completely nonsensical ballot statement in favor of this gerrymandered embarrassment was written by none other than…Fitzgerald.

But back to the CUP and noise issues: would it be too cynical to suppose that Popoff’s connections to Ms. Fitzgerald is one of of the reasons this business continues to break the law with impunity?

 

Roscoe’s “Famous” Deli is Appealing to the Council.

Will the City Council uphold the noise Ordinance or will they break the rules for a prominent downtown businessman? The Fullerton Planning Commission instructed Roscoe’s to stop playing loud live amplified music outdoors on a patio built without permits. Click here to download a copy of Roscoes City Staff report Click here to watch the Planning Commissions meeting in streaming video, however, scroll to 1:37:25 in the video to get to the beginning of Roscoe’s public hearing.  Click here to learn how noise affects the quality of life.