Suffering The Stolen Sidewalk Saga

Gone, but not quite forgotten…

Two months ago I reminded the Friends that the never-ending story of the stolen Commonwealth public sidewalk was alive and well. The provocation was a closed session agenda item listed as “significant exposure to litigation” between the City of Fullerton and Mr. Mario Marovic, the owner of the building at the northeast corner of Harbor and Commonwealth. Marovic had submitted some sort of claim against the good folk of Fullerton, often an aggressive gambit to stall and temporize.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

A quick rehash of the facts: Marovic took over the space from the decamped Florentine crime family and immediately gained access to the “bump out” on the sidewalk; and he then began remodeling it along with the rest of the first floor space for his new bars. He had no authority to do so because, of course, the City acquired responsibility to dispose of the building add-on after the Florentine’s bugged out on their lease with the City. In his application for CUPs for the new bars Marovic even included the City owned space as his own.

In the late summer of 2022 Marovic was well-along with his remodel even though his CUP hadn’t been approved, but the issue of the egregious bump out resurfaced, thanks to FFFF. In September, 2022 the City and Marovic reached an agreement that was signed by Eric Leavitt, our esteemed City Manager, and not the Mayor at the time, Fred Jung.

The terms of the agreement were simple enough, and FFFF has shared them before. The thrust of the deal was that Marovic could open his new bars (including the bump out) and he would then undertake to remove the bump out and restore the public sidewalk. Here is the actual clause describing terms and deadlines of the deal:

As you can see, demolition was to have begun at the end of March, 2023 – almost ten months ago – and be the rework complete by July, 2023 – five months ago. Marovic opened his businesses, alright, but never started demolition, and probably didn’t meet any of the other deadlines, either.

A little late, Kimberly…

So when is an agreement not an agreement? Apparently, when it’s written and approved as to form and content by Kimberly Hall Barlow, the obnoxious member of Dick Joneses “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm” crew.

I almost know what I’m doing…

It’s interesting to note that Barlow didn’t approve the six month old agreement until March, 2023 – 4 days before demolition was to supposed to have started.

Of course Dick Jones and his fine stable of attorneys have been bungling the case of the stolen sidewalk from the very beginning, including personal conflict of interest, embracing ludicrous legal rationale at the behest of the Florentines, and even countenancing forgery on an official City document by Joe Florentine.

Still, one has to wonder what our elected officials themselves have done about this. Clearly the unwillingness of the City to enforce a legal agreement, signed by Marovic stems from fear of legal action. But Marovic is undeniably in breach of the contract he voluntarily signed, even though there is zero evidence that it was signed in good faith.

The City can and should begin the process of revoking Marovic’s CUP, the permit that has allowed him to make a lot of money over the last 10 months while failing to live up to his side of the bargain. As owner of the bump out the City has every right, at least, to revoke the CUP that covers its own property, as gotten fraudulently.

The City can also notify Marovic that it intends to remove the building addition itself, since he won’t do it, and bill the scofflaw for the cost.

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

Of course neither of these remedies will take place, because this is Fullerton, where the elected officials are feckless and beholden to the Downtown Liquor Cartel; and because they insist on, decade after decade, following the dismal advice of Dick Jones.

Mario’s “Bump Out” Heist Subject of Litigation?

This item popped up on tonight’s City Council Closed Session Calendar.

Could this relate to the northwest corner of Commonwealth and Harbor? If so we are dealing with one Mr. Mario Marovic, who opened two bars on this property that he owns at this corner. Why anticipated litigation? What claim did he make against the City? Let’s review a bit of history, shall we?

Sit down and grab some sidewalk, fratello…

By now the Friends are well-familiar with the Saga of the Florentine Stolen Sidewalk, one of Fullerton City Hall’s more egregious and embarrassing fuck-ups, a high bar to clamber over, indeed.

Back in 2003 the Florentines purloined the public sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue by putting a permanent structure on it without permission. The whitewash was that the City would now lease the land under the building addition to the Florentines. And the Florentines owned the addition, not the owner of the adjacent building to which the addition was attached! In the lease the Florentines were held responsible for removing the addition at the City’s discretion.

But the underlying problem of who owned what and who was responsible for what, never went away.

The comic opera took a new turn in 2020 when the Florentine Mob bugged out, abandoning their addition and their responsibilities for their sidewalk leasehold. Who owned the “bump out” as the encroachment was now charmingly referred to? Why, the people of Fullerton, of course. We assumed ownership, and responsibility. But this didn’t stop the owner of the attached building, Mario Marovic, from trespassing into the bump out and from beginning to modify it as he was remodeling the rest of the old Florentine establishments for his new bars.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

What a mess, all predictable and all avoidable had the City staff and the City Council done the right thing back in 2003. Well, if the Queen had…never mind.

The most recent twist became public last fall when, behind the scenes, our feckless City Council made deal with Marovic. He could assume the Florentine ground lease, and open his new establishments; in return, he would be responsible for removing the encroaching structure from the City sidewalk, and all would be well with minor embarrassment to the City. Marovic’s deadline to start demolition was the last week of March 2023, to be complete by July.

Still crazy after all these years…

Well, March came and went. So did April, May, June, July, August, September, and now October; and nothing has started. Nada. Marovic has been in breach of the agreement for seven months, reaping revenue from his saloons and from our property, too.

I really hope this item about a claim made by Marovic because it will inevitably raise the issue of his delinquency, although if it is, and this being Fullerton after all, I suppose the Council will end up letting the scofflaw keep renting our bump out on our sidewalk and maybe even pay him for the honor. It would be yet another effort to keep the City from more institutional embarrassment. Can’t have that, can we?

Here’s what should happen since the City has inexplicably decided not to go after the Florentine Mob for damages. The City should suck it up: cancel the existing ground lease with Marovic, demolish the bump out once and for all, and replace the open wall with whatever was there before this whole damn thing started.

Ground Zero for Inertia

My latest essay detailed the problem of corporate inertia and described how Fullerton’s government as a corporate body displays all the problems associated with stagnation, ossification and an inability do things any differently. And then of course, there’s the arrogance and secretiveness.

Here’s a prime example of a culture that is in need of electric shock therapy.

Last April I wrote a post about how the the City and property owner Mr. Mario Marovic had come to an agreement in the fall of 2022 about the latter’s removal of the infamous Florentine hijack of the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue. In return, Marovic got to open his two new saloons on the corner.

We now know what a foolish bargain it was for the City.

Marovic was supposed to start demolition the last week in March. That was five and a half months ago. As of mid-September this has not started, and there is no sign that it will ever start. Why not?

Cheers!

Some people may suspect that Mr. Marovic has cast his bread upon the City Council water, so to speak, either above or below the table. But there is also a more likely scenario: the City is simply continuing to cover up its own incompetence in the long, sad history of the sidewalk theft.

No, I wasn’t asleep. I was praying…

And at the center of this tale? City Attorney Dick Jones, who is the only player who has been involved in this mess from the proverbial Day One, and who continues, no doubt, to dispense his legal wisdom that has been so disastrous, and has included turning a blind eye to his own conflict of interest, and justifying forgery of an official City application.

There’s also a bigger picture.

The government of Fullerton has developed a noxious habit of ignoring its own rules and regulations in the downtown area; it has systematically ignored the scofflaws who own the bars, and in fact has coddled and pampered them. Both bureaucrats and elected have continued to portray downtown Fullerton as an achievement, a great success, a municipal asset, when in fact, the saloon culture has never been anything but an annual $1.5 million drain on the City’s budget.

Of course the pages of FFFF are full of stories that confirm the nature of the stasis that defines our city’s governance. What is the solution? That’s the theme of a future post.

Um, We still Want Our Sidewalk Back!

Trouble ahead…

Last fall, in a deal with property owner Mario Marovic, our esteemed City Council agreed to let him open his two new bars on the northeast corner of Commonwealth and Harbor if he would demolish the infamous Florentine Mob “pop-out” that took away half the sidewalk.

No, I wasn’t asleep. I was praying…

There’s no need to rehash the embarrassment of how the pop-out happened back in 2003 or how our City Attorney looked the other way for 20 years even as he personally bought and sold property in the immediate vicinity. These stories have been described in great detail elsewhere here on FFFF.

This time around, the remedy for the Humiliation That Wont Die was given a deadline; in the words of the agreement: Demolition/Construction shall commence no later than March 27, 2023 and be completed no
later than July 2023.

Cheers, Mario!

Obviously, this date came and went three weeks ago with no overt evidence of compliance. Unforeseen delays are accounted for in the agreement, but were there any? Who knows? Is anybody in City Hall even remotely curious? Again, who knows?

Cynical folks have been speculating that the demolition of the addition and reconstruction of the City sidewalk under it will simply not occur; after all, Mr. Marovic’s businesses are open and our feckless council is not composed of people who have the stomach for making people do things that they are legally required to do. This is Fullerton, after all. Some of the original restore-the-sidewalk contingent are dead or have gone batty. And Mr. Marovic is not the sort of chap who will forgo wining and dining councilmembers he needs to make this problem to just go away for another 20 years.

Another possibility is another legal struggle, a tussle in which our distinguished City Attorney will continue to give expensive appallingly bad advice at the expense of the taxpayers.

There is always a chance that Marovic will stick to the agreement, but what the odds are of that happening remain unknown.

The Less Things Change the More They Stay the Same

Here’s a link to a video we recently received, depicting some of the fine patrons of Downtown Fullerton on a typical week-end evening:

https://www.instagram.com/tv/Cb8yWPBpbp4/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

It’s sort of fun to watch this mob enjoy a brief bout of fisticuffs between two of their own, especially when one of the pugilists gets cold-cocked and further beaten while lying helpless on the ground. What simian fun!!

Look familiar? This crap has been going on for almost 20 years thanks to our craven politicians who were bought and paid for by bar owners.

Speaking of bar owners the fight scene above (not apes) takes place in the fight ring/parking lot behind the Matador bar, whose owner, Mario Marovic is opening two new saloons on the corner of Harbor and Commonwealth, and who still hasn’t give back the sidewalk fraudulently acquired by the Florentines way back in 2002.

WE WANT OUR SIDEWALK BACK!

In Fullerton City Hall, nothing is forgotten quite so quickly as the past, particularly if that past includes malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence or prevarication.

That’s why FFFF has made it our mission to remind folks about such egregious rip-offs as the Saga of the Florentine Sidewalk, in which a sleazy restaurant put a room addition on a public sidewalk and got away with it.

Here’s the now relevant part: The disgraced Florentine & Co. quit Fullerton last year, and the building’s owner, Mario Marovic is in the process of remodeling the exterior and interior of the building even though he doesn’t yet have the proposed CUP – so he must be pretty confident he’s going to get it. The matter comes to the Planning Commission tonight.

The staff report, as usual, is full of irrelevant crap, and completely ignores the the theft of the sidewalk, a land grab that was eventually made legal by a revised lease – with Florentine. The report also shares Marovic’s plan for the corner space at Harbor and Commonwealth, keeping the permanent structure built by Florentine!

The theft continues…

Now that’s not very good, is it.

I doubt if anybody on the Planning Commission remembers the sordid history of this building, and you can be sure that no one on staff remembers or cares to remind them. But now is the time to get this sidewalk back!

The Case of the Florentine Case

It’s true that the gears of justice grind slowly and no where is that more true than in the case of the Florentine forgery. You remember that, right? Joe Florentine, proprietor of the family amalgamation of restaurants on the corner of Harbor and Commonwealth deliberately altered an official planning document so that he could pursue the Conditional Use Permit that he had never bothered to get. That was in January 2020.

Jail is for the little people…

The document was changed to make it look like Florentine was the owner of the property simply because he had a business there. His specious legal theory was backed up by City Attorney Dick Jones, who had his own conflict of interest in the matter and never should have been involved in the first place.

Poor Joe. A victim of circumstance…

To their credit, the Planning Commission refused to deal with the matter and the application was dropped. But the forgery was not forgotten, as desired.

Domer-Decorations
Hitching to Desert Center

The real owner of the building, Mario Marovic became involved in a lawsuit with the City over this complicity by both the City Attorney and the City staff – most notably City Manager Ken Domer and Planning Director Matt Foulkes. When that case was settled to Mr. Marovic’s satisfaction ($25,000 courtesy of you and me) he proceeded to file a criminal complaint with the Fullerton Police Department.

That was over eight months ago.

Finally, we hear from folks at City Hall that the case is finally making its way to the District Attorney. Why it has taken the sleuths at the FPD almost nine months to refer this case to the DA can only be explained by a reluctance of the cops to make their compadre public employees look bad. The evidence was right there, on video. The perp admitted what he had done. A blind man could have processed this thing expeditiously. Well, fair is fair, I guess, and Fullerton’s City Managers have never once said or done anything to correct the rampant corruption in the police department.

Matt Foulkes. The spin out left casualties…

Well, the hapless boob Domer is gone, kicked out after several years of gross incompetence and mismanagement; Foulkes fled to Buena Park – a step down – but presumably a step ahead of the axe. Both should be damn glad this issue hasn’t come up sooner because both were complicit in the forgery – and that in itself is a felony.

The Cost of The Florentine Sidewalk Scam

Gone, but not quite forgotten…

Of course everybody is now familiar with how, in 2003, the Florentine Mob successfully put a permanent building on an area that only had an “outside dining” encroachment agreement. The details of the case reveal an incompetence and misfeasance on the part of city staff that is truly mind-numbing, the principle party being F. Paul Dudley, Planning Director, who “approved” the illegal permanent structure as it was being built in June, 2003. He also  seems to have personally approved a loan to the Florentine crew, and rental terms on the space that weren’t approved by the City Council.

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

Of course it wouldn’t be Fullerton unless our legal-eagle Dick Jones also played a part in the fiasco, and in the inevitable cover-up. He actually put his signature on a completely different agreement in August, 2003 – two months after Dudley did his sleazy back-room deal. How’s that for staggering incompetence?

The gun was smoking badly…

Note that “for some reason” the agreement was not formally executed until August. For some reason? Jesus H., Jones, did you even bother to ask why you signed something that was obsolete, or why in Hell you were signing it?

So the embarrassing enclosure was allowed to continue in July, 2003 even though the furor continued for months, and the deal was finally buried in 2004 whereby the parties involved, Shawn Nelson, Don Bankhead, Dick Jones, Mike Clesceri and Leland Wilson surely hoped it was forever interred.

Well, now it’s 2020. The legal party responsible to remove and restore the encroachment area has fled the scene, and the embarrassment of the Florentine addition that squats on public property, remains.

The owner of the rest of the building, Mr. Mario Marivic is apparently embroiled in a legal fight with the FloMob, and good luck to him. But good luck to us, too. Because we, the citizens of Fullerton, have an unowned room addition on our right-of-way, and the people on the hook for its possible removal are gone. Mr. Marovic is under no obligation to remove the structure, and he is not even under any obligation to pay the measly 25 cents per foot that the egregious F. Paul Dudley “negotiated” with the Florentines. The City’s options are limited: it can terminate the encroachment and pay to remove the building addition itself, or it can negotiate a new lease agreement with Marovic, and the sidewalk stays as is. Either way, the public loses.

So this Ghost of Incompetence Past continues to haunt us almost 20 years after the con was consummated. Mr. Dudley has been six-figure pensioned, and the inept councilmen who were indifferent to the notion of government accountability are dead or moved on. But Attorney Dick Jones is still around, profiting off of the gullibility, incompetence and militant ignorance of our “leaders.”

Florentine Forgery/Fraud Case To Go to DA?

The family goes way back…

By now the Friends are well-aware of the attempt by Joe Florentine, the scofflaw proprietor of a restaurant and bar in downtown Fullerton, to fraudulently alter and submit official documents in pursuit of a Conditional Use Permit.

He even admitted it.

Reliable sources have indicated that a criminal investigation has been opened by the Fullerton Police Department based on a complaint filed by the property owner, Mario Marovic, and passed along to the District Attorney’s office.

Now the felonious miscreance of a Fullerton Florentine family member is about as newsworthy as a mailman bitten by a dog – no surprise there. Rather, the key facts of interest in this case are that Mr. Florentine had lots of help inside City Hall, including the Planning Director, the City Manager, and of course our top-notch City Attorney, Dick Jones, who finally had to recuse himself from dispensing laughable advice due to a conflict of interest.

Domer-Decorations
Hitching to Blythe…

Apparently, City Manager Ken Domer knew exactly what was happening and was determined to proceed with the fraud anyway.

It’s hard not to believe that some fall out from this conspiracy will land in the proximity of new Councilmembers Fred Jung and Nick Dunlap, who will certainly be averse to the radioactivity. The City Manager is already on the thinnest of ice after blowing $130,000 on a marginally legal PR campaign to promote Measure S, and then unsuccessfully trying to spend another 90 grand just before Christmas to hire an expert to try to fix the budget shortfall.  City Managers are protected by contract but there is no contractual protection for a person who has violated the law. Will we soon be hiring a management search firm?

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

As always, Jones and Meyer are likewise compromised by their corrupt and incompetent and self-serving practices. But Dick Jones, like Talleyrand, always seems to be able to keep his head on his shoulders despite all the revolutions.

Leaving Fullerton even worse off than she found it…

 

And what was the role of Mayor-for-hire Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was the evident and malignant influence around so much of the Fullerton’s recent mismanagement and the cover-ups that inevitably followed? It’s difficult to believe that she wasn’t pushing this through for the benefit of her pals, the Florentines.

Finally, if in fact, City leaders are found culpable in this conspiracy to commit fraud, what is the legal exposure to the taxpayers of Fullerton for both the legal costs incurred by the property owner in the case, and for other damages he may have suffered?

As FFFF learns more about the status of the case we will certainly share it. City Hall probably won’t.

 

Fingerprints, Fingerprints…

No two are alike…

Last Wednesday the City of Fullerton Planning Department and its Director – a guy named Matt Foulkes – set an item before the Planning Commission. It was a CUP amendment that would help The Florentine Mob bring their shaky agglomeration of scofflaws businesses into compliance with an ever-weakening system of controls for out-of-control bar owners in Downtown Fullerton.

Poor Joe. Read. Weep.

But Lo and Behold, Florentine had no okie-dokie from the property owner, Mario Marovic, to pursue said amendment as is required by Fullerton’s own code. Not much of a quandry, right? Cut and dried, right? Crystal clear?: Come back when you gt Marovic’s signature on our form.

And yet for some reason our esteemed and well-compensated staff decided that the issue wasn’t clear at all; that the very notion of property ownership was open to interpretation, and that a completely irrelevant legal case dredged up by Floretine’s personal consigliere was applicable and definitive; and, that an application form obviously doctored by Florentine was just fine and dandy.

Hmm. The plot thickens with a fraudulent document!

Now, how do you get from Point A to Point B? Well this is Fullerton, more especially Downtown Fullerton, where lawless saloon owners have been ignoring the law for years with the obvious connivance of staff and city councilpersons and city attorney.

The very history of the Florentine’s operation is a testament to the way some people in this town not only get special treatment, they get a free pass to ignore the law. Building in a public right-of-way without an encroachment permit? Check. Illegal night club? Check. Operating in in violation of conditional use permit conditions? Check.

What I have heard from pretty reliable sources is that the lowest-level planner, Christine Hernandez, the poor sap whose name appears on the staff report to the Commission, was directed to process the application by her boss, Matt Foulkes; and that Foulkes in turn, was directed by his boss, City Manager Ken Domer to make sure this was approved. At this point it doesn’t take a rocket engineer to figure out that there is only one force in Fullerton irresistible enough to try to push through an illegal land use application and to make allegedly professional staff turn a blind eye to a forged document that violated their own law. Do I have to spell it out? Okay: Jennifer Fitzgerald, our lobbyist-mayor, that’s who.

Yes, that is the answer!

Nobody has been propping up reckless bar owners more than Fitzgerald, ranging from massive taxpayer subsidies for cops and clean-ups, ignoring nuisance violations, and even going so far as to pimp an utterly ridiculous district map concocted by the gin joints to dilute council control over their week-end war zone. Whenever a bar owner steps on his weenie or needs a favor, Fitzgerald throws herself into breech to help a pal out.

Play it again, Ken…

If I’m wrong Fitzgerald will get an apology. But I’m very confident I’m not wrong. And this time the truth may come out, even though this is Fullerton. Mr. Marovic’s lawyer is bound to demand all communications on this matter between staff and councilmembers, and godspeed, to that, say I.

Let’s find out whose fingerprints are on the latest Fullerton municipal humiliation.