The Parks & Rec Manipulation of Public Comments

Readers of this blog know good and well the many failures of the Pine Forest Stairs at Hillcrest Park, not to mention the $724,000 bridge to nowhere that will soon become reality.

What you probably don’t know about are the shenanigans used by City Hall to influence the City Council vote.

Funding for the bridge, fountain, and “Great Lawn” improvements was approved on a 3-2 vote (Whitaker and Sebourn: No) at the May 16 City Council meeting.  A couple weeks earlier, I made a records request for documentation on Hillcrest Park.

Jennifer Fitzgerald’s appointee to the Parks and Recreation Commission, Gretchen Cox, made public comments in support of the project.  Having skimmed through the e-mails provided by City Hall the day before, I thought to myself, wait a minute, portions of her comments sounded awfully familiar.

As it turns out, my suspicions were correct.  A week prior, Parks & Recreation Director Hugo Curiel had one of his employees, Doug Pickard, e-mail Gretchen Cox a list of “talking points” to assist her in making attacks on Councilmembers Sebourn and Silva:

Portions of the e-mail were in fact used by Gretchen Cox during public comments.  Let’s go back and compare the e-mail to what she actually said.  This ought to be fun! (more…)

The Grand Opening of the Stairs

The grand opening of the “Pine Forest Stairs” connecting Lions Field to Hillcrest Park was this morning.  I didn’t count but I’m guessing 30 people in attendance, about a third of which were City staff or elected/appointed folks.

A short 10-minute ceremony marked the grand opening:

Those of you strapped for time should watch this excerpt featuring Jennifer Fitzgerald.  Listen very carefully as she avoids using the word “bridge” when referring to the Great Lawn.  She’s so excited!

No other councilmembers besides Chaffee and Fitzgerald were in attendance, though former councilwoman Jan Flory joined them.

The event was somewhat unusual in that a number of people who probably see me as a City Hall adversary took it upon themselves to strike up a conversation, which was nice for a change.  Doug Chaffee and his wife Paulette Marshall were very friendly, as was Gretchen Cox, Parks and Recreation Commissioner.  From the City staff, John Clements and Don Hoppe were nice as well.

After everyone took a trip up the stairs, can you guess which councilmember found a reason to be nasty to me?  This isn’t a difficult question.

Fullerton’s Most Useless Bridge

Yesterday, I wrote about the hideous stairs at Hillcrest Park and alluded to the City Council being asked to spend another $5.7 million on Hillcrest Park improvements.  This is Park Dwelling Fund money — an important distinction I will get to in a minute.  You can read the full Agenda Letter here.

A portion of that $5.7 million is slated for the construction of what would become Fullerton’s most useless bridge, if funding is approved next Tuesday night.  No, it won’t be painted orange, and I don’t know the exact type of bridge.

This is just a crude rendering of where the bridge would sit, scaled as best as possible using the City’s drawings.

Here’s the official drawing from the City.  The bridge across the creek is clearly visible below:

I keep scratching my head as to who would ever use this bridge.  It doesn’t align with any current or proposed trail, nor does it connect the park to crowds of people just dying to enter the “Great Lawn” as they want to call it.  The nearest City parking is FOUR spaces at Harbor and Valley View, 425 feet away.

Why would someone opt to walk another 425 feet, over the bridge, to access the “Great Lawn” when it’s right in front of their parking space?

When these parking spaces fill up, the few people desiring to use the bridge will probably just leave their cars at Ralph’s or Chase Bank — or just not bother using the bridge at all.   The next closest City parking lot at Hillcrest Park is 900 feet away on Valley View.  Either way, taking the bridge is the least convenient route to the lawn.

Second closest is the combined Hillcrest/Lions Field parking lot along Brea Blvd.  That measures out to 950 feet away on Google Earth, if, and that’s a big if, you can find parking there at all.  On the weekends, that lot is jammed full of cars with youth sports in session at Lions Field.  During the week, Parks and Recreation has the bright idea to lease parking spaces to St. Jude Hospital for employee use.  They also want to lease Lions Field to Hope International University, presumably during the week as well.  While your chances of finding parking there are questionable at this point, let’s just say you succeed.  From that parking lot, there is direct access to the “Great Lawn” without needing to use a bridge, cross the creek, or walk alongside Harbor Blvd.  A park road already exists.

As an aside, do you think it’s fair for park users to siphon parking spaces away from Ralph’s or Chase Bank and the other businesses there?  I sure don’t.

Park Dwelling Money

All of the proposed Hillcrest Park improvements are scheduled to use cash from the Park Dwelling Fund.  This is the fee charged to developers for every dwelling unit they build.

But wait a minute?  Can’t the Park Dwelling money be used for other, more reasonable purposes, besides a useless bridge?

YES.

Chapter 21.12 of the Fullerton Municipal Code covers this.

21.12.040   Use of funds.
All money collected as fees imposed by this chapter shall be deposited in the park dwelling fund and shall be used solely for the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of public parks and recreational facilities in the City, as proposed by the City’s Five Year Capital Improvement Program.

 

Translation:  The $5.7 million could be used on things people actually want, such as acquiring land within Coyote Hills.

Really, people.  If you think this is a stupid use of funds, this is the LAST chance to do something about it.  The project itself has already been approved, but not the funding.  That’s what they’re seeking approval for Tuesday night.

Send the City Council an email:  [email protected] or attend the meeting on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 6:30pm and plan to speak during public comments.

Park Barrel Spending … Literally

I’d rather be filled with pork.

Further review of the budget document dump offers lots of worthy material.  Why not examine the “15” Parks and Recreation Fund, shall we?

The only justification they can provide for $15,000 of Landscape Maintenance Supplies is “Substantially increased use of trash can liners in several parks“.  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Not long ago, I wrote about their brainstorm to launch fireworks from the top of Hillcrest Park on the Fourth of July.  Included in that proposal was an idea to use Lions Field for Fourth of July festivities.

When youth sports are in session (i.e. most of the year), your chance of finding a parking spot at Lions Field in the evenings and on weekends is nearly impossible.  Parking along Brea Blvd. is also used up for the same reason.

That’s okay, when Joe Felz’ Hillcrest Park stairs to nowhere are open — and the kids aren’t playing ball — people can park their cars at Lions Field and climb the hideous stairs when nobody is around, right?  Wrong.

Under this proposal, parking at Lions Field during the day, everyday, will be scarce, if not completely unavailable.

That’s because the footer of the Parks & Rec Proposal offers this wonderful idea:

  1.  Lease the Lions Field to Hope International University, most likely during the day, since youth sports already use it on the nights/weekends.
  2.  Lease the Lions Field parking lot to St. Jude for employee parking use. 

Just as the stairs are a terrible waste of money and devoid of any logic, so too is the idea to lease parking spaces to St. Jude for profit.  This is how Parks & Recreation operates:  (1) waste a ton of money on something completely unnecessary that benefits less than 1% of Fullerton residents, (2) realize there isn’t enough money to support it, (3) come up with some scheme to siphon money away from the end user.

Leasing the Lions Field parking lot creates yet another reason for Fullerton residents not to use the stairs.

Oh, and by the way, the Park Dwelling Fee is slated to increase from $11,700 to $12,015 per unit.

I think the time has come to reduce — or even eliminate — the Park Dwelling Fee so that nonsense like the stairs isn’t affordable anymore.  The $12,015 per unit would be far greater used to fix Fullerton’s streets, water mains, and sewers.

The Dan Hughes Sense of Entitlement

Disney Danny.

City Hall did something really helpful this week.  The Clerk’s Office worked with Administrative Services to post very detailed budget documents online in advance of next Tuesday’s City Council budget workshop.  I asked if this could be done and they made it happen 24 hours later.  Thank you!

Budget detail of this depth has never been provided to the public.  This is a big step in the right direction, and likely never would have happened if Joe Felz was still in charge.

The files are posted here:  http://cityoffullerton.com/gov/departments/admin_serv/city_budget/2017_18_proposed_budget_information.asp

From this cache of documents, we are able to see the type of General Fund waste that Dan Hughes justified during his tenure as police chief.  The next time you call the Police Department and are told no officers are available to respond to a call for service, just remember where his priorities were.

Much of this is charitable and/or personal expenses.  Dan Hughes was Fullerton’s highest compensated employee in 2015 with $358,403 in wages and benefits.  He should have paid these expenses out of his own pocket, or simply not at all.

Let us not forget that it was the City Council — led by Fitzgerald, Flory, and Chaffee — that let him get away with shenanigans like this.

One can only hope the current City Council sees fit to finally end this nonsense.

Burn Down Hillcrest Park?


Another City Council agenda, another questionable proposal by Parks & Recreation.

Next Tuesday, the City Council will consider a new location for the Fourth of July fireworks and celebration.  The Fullerton Union High School stadium is no longer available for such purposes.  News of the impending change has been known for some time, yet Parks & Rec waited until 2½ months before July 4th to bring this to the council for a vote.  Great planning!

Have a look at the agenda letter:

“Although considered, some of the these venues don’t have the sufficient capacity to hold the expected crowds and comply with Fire Department’s ingress / egress requirements; adequate firework firing zones / fall-out zones; or are too costly.”

Say what?  Three sentences later, they propose to use Hillcrest Park as a fireworks launch area.  Yes, the same Hillcrest Park identified by the State of California as being within a “Moderate” Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ).  The same Hillcrest Park that lost many trees during the multi-year drought.  The same Hillcrest Park that had 50 to 75 trees planted on Arbor Day to replace what was lost during the drought.  I think you get the idea.

No mention is made whether the Fire Department approves of this idea, only that the City’s “pyrotechnic consultant” gave the green light.   One would think if the Fire Department expressed concerns about hazards at CSUF, Amerige Field, or the softball fields at FUHS, they would be just as concerned about mature trees at Hillcrest Park going up in flames.

Lions Field

For the sake of discussion, assume fireworks launched from Hillcrest Park will be deemed “safe”.   How prudent is it to have festivities at Lions Field?  The City spent an extra $1.7 million to install synthetic turf there in 2010.  With extra foot traffic and “vendors, attractions, main stage, VIP and staff area…” using the field, preventing turf damage will be nearly impossible.  Have they taken this into consideration?  Probably not.

The agenda letter suggests “ample capacity” for necessities like parking.  Lions Field and the lower Hillcrest parking lot have about 170 parking spaces.   Everybody else will have to park their cars at North Court (like in previous years), the Elks Lodge, along Brea Blvd, at private businesses, or in adjacent neighborhoods.  Parking problems will be an issue no matter where the festivities are held, unless, of course, CSUF could be used, which leads me to ask…

  • Why is CSUF not a viable location?  The agenda letter makes reference to another site being “too costly” but is devoid of specifics.  I can only assume the location being referred to is CSUF.  How much would it cost?  Has the City approached CSUF for leniency on fees?  What did they say?
  • What about Fullerton College?  Did the City approach NOCCCD about hosting the event there?  What did they say?
  • What about the Parks and Recreation Commission?  How did they vote on moving the venue to Hillcrest/Lions Field?  Oh, wait, the matter was never brought before the commission for a discussion and vote.   Had the meeting not been cancelled, this would have made for a timely discussion at the March 13, 2017 Parks & Rec meeting.

This type of nonsense has, embarrassingly, become business as usual for the Parks & Recreation Department.  The commission is regularly bypassed on important issues. When those issues are presented to the City Council for a final vote, the department does so on an absolute last-minute basis — often with erroneous or incomplete information — leaving no time for a continuance, or for other options to be explored.

The residents of Fullerton deserve a lot better.  I wish the City Council and City Manager would put their foot down and say enough is enough.

Woe to the Charitable Donor

The City — but mostly the police department — periodically receives donations from various groups.  The donors range from businesses like McCoy Mills Ford, to local service groups such as the Elks Lodge, Rotary Clubs, Ebell Club, or even Fullerton residents.  Before anyone pummels me in the comments section for something I didn’t say, I have nothing against these groups and I’m sure their intentions are good.

That being said, I suspect nobody realizes how their money is being (mis)spent once it leaves their hands and enters the City coffers.

  • After acceptance by the City Council, the money is generally moved to the “95” Trust/Slush Fund where donations, deposits, and other miscellaneous cash is kept.
  • The 95 Fund is not part of the City’s budget.  The City Council does not currently vote on expenditures from this fund.
  • The 95 Fund is not audited, or included — like other funds — in the City’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

Lax oversight and false promises should not come as a surprise.  Such is the case when the Fullerton Rotary Foundation gave $500 for the police Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).  Former Police Chief Dan Hughes made the following claim in his agenda letter to the City Council:

Below are the procurement card transactions for the last two-plus years on the RSVP account.  Remember, Dan Hughes said the money would be used for supplies and equipment

Apparently food is considered “supplies” and awards and trophies are “equipment”?

Dan Hughes made other questionable assurances about donated money.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no such fund (account) in memory of FPD officers Jerry Hatch or Tommy De La Rosa.  Nothing appears in the Chart of Accounts for either of their names.  (anybody in the know, feel free to correct me)

Paul Hatch, who donated $500, is the father of deceased FPD officer Jerry Hatch.  One has to wonder if Dan Hughes told the elder Hatch that, indeed, there was a fund in his son’s name — when, in reality, there probably isn’t one.

The Fullerton PD, like many others, has an Explorer program for teenagers.  If we take the website at face value, the meetings and duties resemble a college class coupled with part-time job.  Surprise!  The procurement card purchases tell a different story.  Pizza parties, bowling, airsoft games, trampoline jumping, $2100 of coins, and enough kettle corn to induce a coma.  They even charged some RSVP expenses to this account by mistake.

The check registers for the same time period show a handful of checks issued:

October 14, 2016 — Learning for Life  $18.75
September 16, 2016 — Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Advisor Association (OCLEEAA)  $300.00
August 19, 2016 — Andrew Coyle  $127.16 
March 4, 2016 — Learning for Life  $41.25 
December 11, 2015 — Learning for Life  $250.00  
October 23, 2015 — Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Advisor Association (OCLEEAA)  $300.00 
March 13, 2015 — Learning for Life  $355.00  

Moral of the story?  They spent more on bowling, pizza, and buffalo wings than on any educational materials for the explorers.

A sad state of affairs.

End the Overnight Parking Ban

Tomorrow night, the City Council will consider a move toward repealing the citywide overnight parking ban between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00am.  This is a long overdue and welcomed change that would significantly improve the lives of many Fullerton residents.

I’ve lived in Fullerton my entire life.  Never once have I heard someone complain that a car was illegally parked on a city street in the early morning hours.  The only complaints are from people who have been cited.

The overwhelming majority of us are asleep, at least partially, during those hours and aren’t aware, and couldn’t care less, if a car was left parked on the street.  Our quality of life is not impaired one iota by another person making use of a public asset during the night hours.

In the Agenda Letter, Director of Community Development Karen Haluza provides an insightful history into the overnight parking ban, which dates all the way back to 1924 when Fullerton was converting from dirt to asphalt roads.  Spencer Custodio at the Voice of OC also penned a nice article on this subject.   Both are well worth the read.

The City’s Nonsensical 1970 Findings

Besides having no use apart from generating citation revenue, the irony of the many justifications the City made in 1970 for preserving the ban apply more appropriately to daylight hoursThe findings were as follows:

(a) In that frequent sweeping of litter, refuse and trash from streets is required to
prevent disease and unsightly appearances and such sweeping can be done
most economically and efficiently while vehicles are not parked thereon, and

I’m not aware of any City street sweeping taking place between 2:00am and 5:00am.  As far back as I can remember, street sweeping has been as predictable as trash collection on a specific day of the week during daylight hours.

(b) In that frequent police patrolling of streets is required to deter, prevent and detect
criminal activity and there is greater need for such patrolling between the hours
of 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. than at other times and such patrolling can be done
most economically and will best accomplish its purpose while the streets are free
from parked vehicles, and

There is no “frequent police patrolling of streets” between 2:00am and 5:00am.  Many Fullerton residents out and about during those hours have stories of FPD patrol units parked in inconspicuous locations around town with the officer sound asleep, provided nothing else is going on.

(more…)

Fitzgerald A No-Show at Important Budget Workshop

The City Council held an important budget workshop Tuesday evening.  Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald was nowhere to be found.

She claims to have had a prior commitment, but I was also told she wasn’t aware of the meeting, or something silly along those lines.  Knowing the date and time of meetings, and attending them regularly, had never been a problem for her in the past.  The only exception that comes to mind is a recent family emergency, in which case her absence was totally justified — I’m not about to rag on her for that.

Vacant seat Fitzgerald

One has to wonder if she purposely ditched the meeting to avoid accountability on her bogus “Balanced Budget” claim, which was — again — disputed by City staff and others during the 2+ hour meeting.

She doesn’t seem to handle accountability very well.