Contrasts in Architecture Are Rare in Fullerton

Last month I was walking Independence Mall in Philadelphia and admiring the history and reflecting on what it would have been like in 1776.  As I crossed Market Street to go look at the Liberty Bell I looked left and right scanning the streets.  Then something caught my eye.  The antique cityscape had something shiny and new nestled in between two pieces of historic-looking buildings.

The structure has jutting polished metal forming right angles and contrasts sharply against the backdrop of American history.  The building’s unusual placement on the historic Mall speaks volumes of its purpose, though no billboards announce what that may be.

As I circle the Mall admiring the formation of our Country, my mind and camera wander back to the building, now more striking than when I saw it just moments ago. Seeing the building on the Mall and recognizing the unusual beauty of its presence in that location has caused me to question the direction the City of Fullerton has traveled for decades.

A recent FFFF post brought to light the Redevelopment Design Review Committee’s selections of less than inspiring architecture.

I used to have the strong opinion that modern designs just would not work in our downtown.  After long debates and discussions with friends and my visit to Philadelphia I am confident that it can work well.

Entrepreneurs looking to raise the bar and make their place in Fullerton should look to innovative designs which will stand in contrast to our old and confused architecture.  More importantly, when every other building is a bar or tattoo parlor, business owners need to look at ways of setting their establishment apart from the rest of the herd.

Will Merging Water Districts Help or Harm Fullerton?

Earlier this month Terri Sforza wrote about a possible merger between Metropolitan Water District and the Orange County Water District. For years the Orange County Register has pointed out the redundant and ridiculous overlaps in these two agencies and how it makes sense for taxpayers, or rate payers depending on your view of payments to government bureaucracies.

How much money would be saved by such a merger seems to be open to debate but Sforza thinks at least $1-million right from the start.  Putting the $1-million in perspective, Sforza notes that it is just a drop in the $300-million revenue bucket for the agencies.

What could go wrong?

Currently, the Orange County Water District is a “member agency” of the MWDOC.  These multiple layers of bureaucracy removes the people, water users and voters, further from the decision-making table.  Perhaps a merger will bring Fullerton voters and water users closer to the table of managements’ fiduciary responsibility to the people they serve.

As it stands, Fullerton voters get one single vote from Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead who represents Fullerton voters on the OCWD Board of Directors.  That is one vote out of ten cast on each issue before the Board.

No one knows what a merger will mean for Fullerton.  All we can do is wonder if a bigger water agency equates to a better water agency for those who foot the bill.  If history has taught us anything it is that bigger government is not better government.

REMINDER:  The Water Rate Study Ad Hoc Committee’s last meeting is tonight at 6:30PM at Fullerton City Hall.  Don’t be shy, we’re in this together.  Speak now or pay later!

The Water District’s $571,400 Ethics Office

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is spending $571,400 to fund their internal Ethics Office according to the approved 2011 budget.

Sometimes you've got to ask yourself "why?"

According to the District’s website, the Ethics Office “helps maintain an ethical culture at Metropolitan by enforcement of ethics-related rules and laws; education for directors, officers and employees; and enhancement by promotion of the District’s six core values.” Are MWD employees so unethical that they need this office?  Maybe, but they don’t seem to be doing a very good job of educating employees and board members.  I vaguely recall an attempt 2 years ago to get a 25% retroactive pension spike.

That’s $571,400 to “help maintain an ethical culture”.

The funds pay for one Ph.D. and two others identified as an educator and an administrative liaison.  With failed overhead like this, it is no wonder the MWD Operations & Maintenance budget projects an 18.4% increase in salary and benefit costs as well as a 23% increase in construction related costs and a 23% increase in Water System Operations!

It’s also no wonder why Fullerton’s water rates are anticipated to nearly double.

This Monday, May 23rd, the City will be holding a public meeting with an ad-hoc water rate committee in the City Council chambers at City Hall (303 W. Commonwealth) at 6:30PM.  I encourage ALL Fullerton water users to attend.  You will be given an opportunity to voice your concerns and let committee members know where you stand.

If you would like a copy of the Fullerton Water Rate Study Ad Hoc Committee Briefing, please email me at [email protected] and I will email it to you.

City of Fullerton’s Proposed Budget Unveiled – $274.9-Million To Be Spent

The City of Fullerton unveiled the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

The budget appears to be largely a rearrangement of the deck chairs with no real cuts proposed.  There are proposed cuts in certain projected spending to help make up for significant increases in employee benefits.

There were no explanations about the benefits increasing which Councilmember Whitaker took issue with.

Councilmember Quirk-Silva reminded staff that last year there were several ideas proposed for generating revenue and increasing fees such as the tow franchise which will be heard by the Council later this year.  Quirk-Silva expressed appreciation that the tow franchise was moving forward but would like to know about the other measure proposed last year.

One of my major concerns continues to be the infrastructure.  As Public Works Director Hoppe pointed out, we still have a nearly $150 million dollar paving deficit to deal with.  The current paving plan does not adequately address this nor does this proposed budget.  I hope the council members and City Manager Joe Felz will give serious consideration and address our infrastructure with this budget.

Below are the summaries for the proposed budget. (click on image to read)  The big question remaining in my mind is how does $274.9 million in taxpayer expenditures next year benefit my family, my neighborhood, and the quality of life in my community?


Fullerton Water Rates – Disgust, Distrust, Anger, and Fear

Last night’s Fullerton City Council meeting brought out a number of people concerned that their water rates will be going up.  I would like to thank each and everyone of them for taking an active interest in our City!  A few of them stood and spoke before the council and many approached me after the meeting.  They expressed a wide range of emotions and sentiments.

Disgust. Distrust. Anger. Fear.

There was the universal disgust that goes with the realization that Fullerton’s leadership has been absent for decades.  There was the feeling of distrust that comes when someone feels they have been lied to about where the money goes.  Many were angry that this report was not commissioned decades ago.  Then there was fear.  Many are fearful that the few businesses in Fullerton who are heavy water users will soon pack up and head out of state to more business-friendly areas.  Others are fearful that they will have to leave, unable to afford the higher costs.

Those who sat through the 2-1/2 hour meeting observed many things.

Most notably, at least one councilman had serious trouble staying awake for the meeting.  Death by PowerPoint I believe was the cause.

Mayor Jones repeatedly used Hitler as some sort of misplaced analogy to the gross mismanagement of our water system for nearly a century.  There were several people who were clearly disgusted with his remarks.

Mayor Pro Tem Bankhead, who is a representative for the City on the Orange County Water District Board, bragged that the board hasn’t raised their tax on the City’s pumping efforts in a year even though a few key executives received raises.  OCWD charges Fullerton taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $236 per acre-foot of water that the City pumps.

The franchise tax was mentioned several times.  I pointed out that the tax should be eliminated completely which would allow the City to NOT raise water rates AND address the urgency of the neglected system.  I did misspeak on one key matter.  Specifically, I said that it would be better for the general fund to take the 10% hit rather than the taxpayers.  Actually, the water utility franchise tax ($2,474,860 FY2011) accounts for about 1% of the total budget ($180,802,880 FY2011), not 10%.  Cutting the franchise tax would increase the water fund from $27,728,430 FY2011 to $30,203,290!

So, the bottom line is that we have the funds to fix the water system but the City Council will need to adjust the City’s priorities.

Those in land development, engineering, construction or anyone else who rides Fullerton’s roads knows that the City’s priorities are out of order.  City Hall places too much emphasis on housing and transportation boondoggles while ignoring the skeleton and muscle of the City’s infrastructure.  It causes me to question whether or not our City leaders (are there any at City Hall?) have planned for repairing and replacing our roads.

Those interested in protecting the City’s infrastructure from further neglect while protecting the pockets of taxpayers are urged to attend the Water Rate Study workshops in the coming weeks and months.

Pillage and Burn. Emergency Redevelopment Meeting Today!

An urgent meeting is scheduled for this Tuesday afternoon at City Hall.  While most meetings are scheduled for 6PM or later, this one is set for 4PM, forcing many to leave work early in order to speak at the meeting.

The urgency of the council/Redevelopment Agency meeting comes after Governor Brown announced his intentions of squashing Redevelopment Agencies as component of saving money and redistributing funds to their normally allocated destinations.

This afternoon’s Agenda has only one item:


In a nut shell, City Hall sees their glass house shattering and is looking to pull out as much money as possible from the Redevelopment Agency in order to install street lights in the Lemon/Truslow area, stabilize the slopes along Harbor Boulevard just below the YMCA, work on Hillcrest Park, and build a parking garage at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

In all, the City/Redevelopment Agency is looking to move $14,100,000 from the Redevelopment agency coffers to the City of Fullerton coffers to help cover some of the upfront costs associated with these projects.

If any of those mentioned sound familiar it’s because just last Tuesday the City Council decided to ask Congress for some money to address them.

This sounds like the scheme of someone who desperately pulls out every bit of equity from their house ($14.1M from RDA’s tax increment), maxes out all of their credit cards ($29M in tax bonds) for that new sports car (town homes and condos and garages) knowing they are about to get slapped by a court-ordered judgment (governor’s proposed budget) that will surely leave them penniless.

Once again, the lack of leadership has manifested itself by the procrastination of City Hall to tackle our crumbling infrastructure.  Water-mains continue to erupt forth from our streets like Old Faithful while the ever-expanding potholes begin to resemble the Grand Canyon.  At this rate, residents will be able to sell tickets to the spectacle as our city sinks into the abyss of municipal doom.

Roach Coach Invasion

The Orange County Register is reporting that the Food Truck Jamboree is coming to the Hyatt Regency Irvine January 27th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Imagine if Downtown Fullerton had something like this but on a weekend.  Maybe add some music and activities for the kids.

Unfortunately, many communities do not support food trucks because they compete against brick and mortar restaurants and generally have lower operating overhead.  Local government doesn’t like food trucks for a few reasons.  Their tax structure is such that they pay their sales tax within the city/county which they’re based and not where the tax was collected.  Some cities have began regulating food trucks in an effort to capture tax revenue and level the playing field for local businesses.  The fact that the trucks can drive into a city, sell food for an hour or two, then drive out of the city has caused code enforcement officers to take notice and issue citations for not having a city business permit.

Sadly, redevelopment agencies give cheap taxpayer funded loans to new businesses to come into town and compete against long existing and well established businesses, many of which are already struggling under the weight of employee benefits, higher taxes, and a depressed economy.

So, as one arm of a community attempts to level the field, another arm, the redevelopment agencies, cuts deep ruts and pits for the losers while building up a taxpayer funded framework for their chosen winners.

I support food truck operators in their endeavor of the American Dream and prosperity.  I don’t see the trucks as a threat to local business so long as everyone adheres to the often cumbersome regulations governing businesses and food safety.

Food trucks may not always be the healthy choice when it comes to food consumption but they will certainly help to spur some healthy competition.

Mayor Pro Tem Makes Sexually Suggestive Remark At Council Meeting

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting Fullerton Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead said “Mayor, if you need any help, I would be more than happy to help you!”  At that moment Mayor Dick Jones had his arm around a Miss Fullerton contestant while the Mayor Pro Tem seemed to study the young ladies.  You can watch the exchange here.  Forward the video player to 0:20:00.

The unsavory comment, captured on the City’s cable TV feed, reflects a good example of poor leadership and disgraceful public service.  Mayor Pro Tem Bankhead was first elected to the Fullerton City Council in 1988.  If he can complete this term without a sexual harassment law suit and another recall election, he will have served for 26 years.

Cal State Fullerton Reporter Slammed for Speaking Truth

A California State University of Fullerton student reporter has come under attack for quoting me in the Daily Titan.

Ally Bordas wrote a brief article for the Daily Titan on the financial mess at CSUF and pointed out the irresponsibility, waste, and hypocrisy within the university’s management. In her article, she quotes my blog post Cal State Fullerton President – Lifestyles of Our Rich Public Employees at the El Dorado Ranch.

CSUF Daily Titan scared by the truth

The CSU media specialist didn’t like the fact that Ms. Bordas used my post and even less that it was pulled from the 4F blog. Unfortunately, the story was pulled from the Daily Titan and Ms. Bordas has had to endure a lot of questions on her fact checking.

The fact remains that the words she quoted from me are based on the official legal agreement between the State of California and the Chapman family who donated the El Dorado Ranch. You can find the document at the Orange County Recorder’s Office by asking for Instrument No. 1989-334761 of Official Records. You can also email me at [email protected] and I will email the 28-page PDF to you.

Here are a few facts to consider about the El Dorado Ranch that the agreement spells out:


Will Redevelopment Borrow Another $29,000,000 Tonight?

Acting as the Redevelopment Agency, the City Council will be voting on a $29,000,000 bond tonight. City staff estimate the total cost to taxpayers for the bond at about $45,500,000 over the next 16 years. $45.5-million! The RDA is the only agency that can issue bonds without voter approval. It is completely unethical for our elected council members to break out the taxpayers’ credit card while our library’s hours are reduced, workers are furloughed, and employees salaries are cut. Shame on the Redevelopment Agency staff and shame on any council member who votes for this bond!

Why should we be upset about the RDA spending $29,000,000? Because, as the OC Register reported in July, the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency spent $22,700,000 to evict 600 low-income residents, bulldoze their homes to make room for a few low-income condos. This is on top of another half-baked idea to move a McDonald’s 150 feet at a cost of $6,000,000 to taxpayers. $6-million to move a burger stand 150 feet! Fortunately, the RDA gave into public pressure and the project was shot down.

Some council candidates like to point at Downtown Fullerton as a shining example of the great work Redevelopment does. Indeed it is. Had we not “revitalized” our downtown, we would have fewer calls for police and fire to respond to drunk and disorderly conduct.

Please take a minute to think about the untold damage done by our own City Hall under the direction of our City Council, often acting as the Redevelopment Agency.