FFFF supports causes that promote intelligent, responsible and accountable government in Fullerton and Orange County
Author: Mr. Peabody
Mr. Peabody is a Child of Aquarius, a former hard drug user, and a devotee of lawn bowling. He abandoned a profitable career as an curb address number painter to fulfill a lifetime dream of mastering the zither.
Ahmad is a film producer, we’ve been led to believe – by Zahra himself – although the body of work is a bit thin. So thin, in fact, as to be transparent. But last Tuesday he gave every indication that a Zahra production need not be a moving picture.
The casting call went out to gullible kids and even those of advanced age who should know better: a protest is needed. The underserved, bikes, trees, arbols, clean air, chubby kids finding health and happiness, all in jeopardy; in other words the ludicrous Trail to Nowhere, a $2,000,000 boondoggle vanity project whose only function was to make an appearance on a future Ahmad Zahra campaign mailer. Streetside they presented a pretty thin line whose handmade signs revealed the lack of imagine one associates with Fullerton Observers.
The protesters spoke, too, wasting lots of the council’s time, repeating the same nonsense previously scripted by Zahra
Zahra’s acolyte named Egleth Nunccio actually tried to get 18 minutes of talking time by taking the time allotted to five women standing behind her. Some of those responding to the casting call gave indication that they were nothing other than paid crisis actors employed to bulk up the chorus. Some make a sad presentation and sure didn’t look like rec trail advocates.
So the production came and the production went off. The protesters had been told by their handlers that there was a chance the rejected State grant could somehow be clawed back from the brink of termination by a council suddenly enlightened or frightened by the Zahra music-less comedy. It can’t. Surely, Zahra knew this even as his little band wasted everybody’s time. His real goal was once again to look like he was accomplishing something. And more importantly, the petulant Zahra wanted to embarrass his colleagues.
And there are people in Fullerton who still wonder why Zahra can’t get himself chosen Mayor by his fellow councilmembers.
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?
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.
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.
You know, we hear a lot about the “brain drain” a situation in which some corporate entity or other suffers from an exodus of its senior managers, generals, archbishops, or whatever titles fit the type of organization.
The same thing pertains to government corporate bodies, too: when department heads head for the hills we hear of the loss of senior talent and expertise that bodes ill for whatever the agency’s mission might be. Lamentations are cried about the loss of “institutional memory” a sad situation in which the accumulated wisdom of the agency is undermined, sapped, or otherwise depleted.
But is this a bad thing?
Let’s reflect on the very nature of corporate behavior. Sure, the mission remains: enrich the shareholders, protect the nation, pass on spiritual uplift, fix the potholes in the road. But of course there’s more. The corporate mindset leads to gigantism, arrogance, defensiveness, self-righteousness and above all avoidance of outside scrutiny.
In effect, the mission of corporations becomes encrusted with the dead weight of the various pathologies that they engender. The consequence is not accumulated wisdom, but rather a culture of ossification that is static, slow, non-responsive and self-satisfied. They lose flexibility, agility and effectiveness.
If we consider Fullerton’s history over the past 30 years it becomes fairly evident that the culture of our government demonstrates the symptoms of ossification. The same types of issues are dealt with in the same kinds of way: bureaucrats display the same kinds of attitudes and behaviors; our elected representatives are replaced and yet never seem to change in their understanding of their jobs. The emphasis in City Hall is as much directed toward self-preservation of the status quo as of taking care of municipal problems; avoiding accountability is more important than fixing the streets. Avoiding loss of control and scrutiny by the public have been, and are the key goals, it seems, of the people we elect and the people we pay to work for us. And protecting the corporate culture is always of paramount importance.
The pages of FFFF are replete with examples over the past 30 years that will amply support my thesis. In my next post I’m going to share one of these examples: a problem that was created by the City over 20 years ago, and which lingers today.
During the recent Trail to Nowhere kerfuffle one of the big problems the limo liberals had was bending their brains around the possibility of a multi-modal facility that might improve circulation and offer development flexibility, particularly in light of the massive development the City staff is going to try to cram into the 30 acres adjacent to the UP right-of-way.
Bikes and traffic don’t mix, came the anguished cry of people like Egleth Nucci and Shana Charles who would have never ridden a bike, or even ambled a long the Trail to Nowhere, and ignoring a world full of urban examples where bicycles and cars get along just fine.
These same self-appointed “experts” seemed unconcerned that their beloved trail would have to negotiate intersections at both Highland and Richman Avenues.
To find and example of a space shared by trail and car lane, all these Option 1/trail-only people had to do was look across Highland to their much bragged about “Phase I.” Here’s a satellite image:
Please note that the Phase I portion accommodates both a roadway and a recreation trail! Land o’ Goshen! Is it really possible? Well, of course it is. The trails cult has already built, and often described this existing configuration between the closed UP Park and Highland Avenue as the inevitable prelude to Phase II; but now for some reason, a paved portion west of Highland is verboten.
Oh, well, one thing we can expect in Fullerton, and that is a complete lack of reason and intelligence when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s more important that the so-called professionals do what they want, and there will always be enough dopes in the City to go along and to even be a called a “community.” And then there are those politicians like Ahmad Zahra who decide to score cheap points patronizing their constituents by giving them “nice things” that aren’t nice at all.
After years of being fenced off by the Parks and Rec. Department, the Fullerton City Council voted to reopen the Union Pacific Park in the 100 W. Block of Truslow Avenue. The park, brainchild of former Parks Director Susan B. A. Hunt, cost several million dollars to be acquired and built in the early 2000s but was almost immediately shut down due to soils contamination. The City failed to perform its due diligence in purchasing polluted property and building a park on it. Adding insult to injury, the park became a magnet for anti-social behavior. So the fence stayed up.
And up. For almost 20 years.
And yet somehow this long-running civic embarrassment became the all-important anchor for the foolish trail project that City staff kept promoting. While the trail screamers were lamenting south Fullerton’s park poorness (more on that later) they never bothered to reflect on the City’s shameful history of incompetence delivering open space at the UP Park.
Mayor Fred Jung decided enough was enough and at the last City Council meeting suggested that the the fence around the park be removed and the park opened for a neighborhood whose patronizing patrons say is “desperately needed.” Well, good. More open space for the community to desperately enjoy while the UP Park ad hoc Committee, the same committee that was ignored during the trail propaganda saga, can figure out what its future is. Councilmen Nick Dunlap and Bruce Whitaker agreed and the motion was approved 3-2.
It’s a truism that cherished ideas of bureaucrats never die, despite the best efforts of people with common sense to kill them.
And so the previously proposed recreation trail from the poisoned UP Park to Independence Park is back in the news. How do I know? Because of a typical propaganda piece in The Fullerton Observer. This “article” is so lame, so badly written and so full of bias for this idiot idea that I am reproducing it in its entirety.
Revitalization of Union Pacific Park Gets Approved
In a remarkable display of community engagement, the City of Fullerton organized a public meeting on June 29th to gather input from residents about the revitalization of Union Pacific Park and the construction of the Union Pacific Trail. The conference aimed to hear the public’s desires and ideas for these projects, with the park set to be refurbished and the trail transformed into a fully realized pathway connecting Union Pacific Park and Independence Park.
During the meeting, various discussions ensued, with attendees grappling with visualizing certain areas based on maps and images. To gain a better understanding, the proactive community decided to schedule an on-site visit to the park and walk the trail together.
Egleth Nuncci took the initiative to collect participants’ contact information, and on July 8th, an enthusiastic crowd, including new faces, gathered for the expedition. With the valuable assistance of the Parks and Police departments, the walkers could explore the proposed trail route safely. Among the participants were notable figures such as Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Meza, Active Transportation committeemember Anjali Tapadia, and Fullerton School District Board Members Ruthi Hanchett and Aaruni Thakur.
As they traversed the trail, they encountered rough terrain filled with rocks, weeds, and litter. However, despite these challenges, everyone recognized the trail’s immense potential as a seamless pathway connecting the parks. After the enlightening walk, the project options were brought before the commission.
Option 1 was to create a simple trail with a bike lane, fully funded by grant money from the city.
Option 2 involved building an additional road alongside the path, but this would require city funding as the grant wasn’t sufficient to cover road construction.
Passionate voices emerged during the commission meeting, with many walkers advocating for the trail-only option, urging against sacrificing greenery for a road. Commissioner Meza thanked everyone who participated in the community walk, including city staff members, for their invaluable insights.
Ultimately, the commission voted in favor of the trail-only option, a testament to the power of community involvement and the collective vision for a connected, green, and vibrant future. The decision now heads to the council for final approval, further exemplifying the democratic process at work in shaping the future of Union Pacific Park and Trail based on the voices of the people it will serve.
The title suggests something has been approved, which isn’t even true – par for the Observer course, of course. We are told that the City of Fullerton organized some sort of field trip along the UP right-of-way and that a remarkable display of community engagement occurred. We learn that “notable” figures showed up; notable to whom? We are left to wonder. In a hilarious and ironic comment we learn that there was some police presence to escort the limousine liberal entourage along the rocks, weeds and litter. Clearly somebody thought this jaunt could be unsafe, and somebody was right. However the proposed trail will somehow alleviate all this unsafeness.
The Observer tells us about the boundless potential of “seamless” pathway between parks (if you don’t count Highland and Richman Avenues). At least these people have given up peddling the lie of connectivity between this route and anything else at either end.
What’s really strange is that in this article the “community walk” somehow morphed into a “commission” meeting with a vote taken to eliminate a multi-modal option (a direct contradiction to the position already laid out by the Fullerton City Council). And the Observer sums up fulsomely by claiming preposterously, that some sort of democratic process took place and the voices of the people, rather than the stupid idea of a couple stubborn and insubordinate bureaucrats, won the day.
What really happened is that on June 29th a select gaggle of hangers on was invited to walk the length of Alice Loya’s pipe dream. The Parks Commission met on July 10th to get the one-sided report of what happened and to make a recommendation (not an approval) to the City Council. The staff report for this meeting makes no mention of the council’s previous position on these topics: namely that the area should be treated as a whole – not a piecemeal collection of bad ideas, and that furthermore, a multi-modal approach to the right-of way be considered. This last option was never considered at all. The report also ignores the fact that the UP Park ad hoc committee has committed itself to nothing as yet.
In other words, Parks staff wiped the slate clean and regurgitated that same garbage they tried last time. Same old strategy that has worked so well for them in the past.
In December, as the Friends will remember, the City of Fullerton sold a public parking lot to a so-called developer for $1,400,000. The “developer” had the task of building a boutique hotel and an apartment block. FFFF has already documented the ridiculous density the City has bestowed upon the project. So let’s revisit the topic of land value, a calculation based on the number of residential units a developer can cram onto a parcel of land.
In this case we know precisely how many units are proposed because the development agreement tells us. There are going to be 141 apartment units and 118 hotel rooms – rooms that will undoubtedly be converted to low income housing when the hotel concept fails. Dividing 259 units by $1.4 million gives us $5400 per “door” as they say in the biz.
Does that number seem low? I didn’t really know, so I contacted some pros at Land Advisors who informed me that a more typical number is in the range of $60,000 to $65,000 per unit in these parts, which produces a land value of about $15.5 million and above.
So the “economic development” geniuses in City Hall got the City Council to agree to a massive reduction in value for the sale of the land, a reduction that could be in the neighborhood of $14,000,000.
Now we all know that government and its agents shield themselves (or try very hard to) from accountability for this type of incredible giveaway. It’s not a crime to be stupid, and so there the issue of legal malfeasance can be fuzzy without proof of corruption. But here there is the issue of misfeasancethat in this case justifiesthe initiation of a recall of the elected representatives who voted for this evident gift of public funds.
And those three representatives are Ahmad Zahra, Shana Charles and Bruce Whitaker.
Now, undoubtedly, these three politicos would argue that they had great reasons for “subsidizing” this boondoggle, and that those excellent reasons are well-worth the $14,000,000 they happily pitched at the developer, an individual, we must remember, who brought this unsolicited proposal to the City. But the City, remember, never did its due diligence by opening up this concept (or any other) for a submission of qualifications by those who might have been interested. No. Not even after several years had gone by and the proposer had been granted several extensions of a Exclusive Negotiating Agreement and the proposal kept metastasizing.
Are a “boutique” hotel at the train tracks and yet another overbearing apartment block so important that they justify the $14,000,000 giveaway? Well, I would challenge Charles, Whitaker and Zahra to prove it to voters in their districts.
I’ve been relating the newest bit of Fullerton nonsense lately, to wit: the unfolding, bureaucrat driven, unfolding the disaster now know by the funny name The Tracks at Fullerton Station.
So far, we’ve found out that the 141 unit density of the apartment half of this hermaphroditic monster was based on the entire site size, despite the fact that that the “boutique” hotel, all 118 units, sits majestically on the other half. In essence, the Transportation Center Specific Plan limit of 60 units an acre – which is already ungodly dense – has been multiplied by two-and-a-half times, and the environmental documents that have already been approved by the City Council neglect to address this incompatibility with existing governmental strictures.
But it gets even worse.
It’s axiomatic that government minions will invariably cough up “solutions” to non-existent problems. It’s called job security, and the results, as these pages have amply demonstrated over the years, are never subjected to the embarrassment of scrutiny and accountability. This concept is not different.
At the recent Planning Commission hearing we learned that the project in question involves the complete remodel of the existing parking area just north of the Santa Fe Depot, south of Santa Fe Avenue. This further elimination of parking is being proposed to accommodate a brand new bust lane and stop. Why? No intelligent reason was forthcoming. Here’s the site plan:
The existing OCTA bus stops and canopies are only a couple hundred feet away. Is this deemed too far for the scant few travelers who use both bus and train? Of course not. Obviously some “transit” dreamers are hard at work, making work – for themselves.
And now notice at the right of the site plan the proposed hotel juts into the existing Pomona Avenue right-of-way. This will require an abandonment of part of a public street which would require an official abandonment. This is being done to provide outdoor eating for the proposed ground floor café. In order to provide an alternative, our thoughtful staff floated the idea of non-permanent elements in the same area, only requiring the issuance of an encroachment permit. Here’s the architect’s vision looking south along Pomona Avenue:
This wet, hot mess was all approved by the five gourds sitting on the Planning Commission dais. Soon it will make its way to the City Council. Will it pass, as the sale of the property did in December? Will the three who voted to virtually give away this useful public land – Whitaker, Charles and Zahra – vote to double down on their foolishness and approve the monstrosity, the unnecessary bus stop and the abandonment?
So last time I resurrected the disaster of the proposed “boutique” hotel at the Transportation Center and noted that the land had already been sold – even before the so-called entitlements were in place. It was all crammed into the end of the year to avoid compliance with the new State requirements for getting rid of “surplus” land. The fact that the land in question is not surplus – it provides much needed parking for commuters and our esteemed downtown revelers – doesn’t seem to have entered any decision makers’ noggin. Common sense be damned, this is The Tracks at Fullerton Station.
But I discovered the real travesty while watching the Planning Commission hearing on the proposed site plan and conditions for a hotel use.
See, the hotel concept somehow metastasized over the past five years to include a standard, massive housing block – yet another cliff dwelling – giving indication that not only was the new developer trying to cram his pockets with all he could get, but that that this new element may have been needed to ensure success for the whole endeavor.
And here’s where the swindle comes in. The density of the apartment block was developed using the entire site area. So our sharp planners took the 1.7 acre site and multiplied it by the Transportation Center Specific Plan limit of 60 units per acre. That’s 99 units. Then, because the developer was proposing 13 “low to very low” units he got a “density bonus” of another 42 units, per State law. If you’re counting, that’s 141 units.
But wait! Those 141 units sit on only 60% of the property, the other 40% being dedicated to the hotel.
Think about that. The whole site is being used to justify the massive density on only a portion of the site. Meantime the hotel proposal has an additional 118 rooms on its part of the site. Friends, let’s do some math. 118 plus 141 equals 259 units for the entire site, or a jaw-droppingly massive 152 units an acre, 2.5 times the density allowed in the Transportation Center Specific Plan!
How do I know the percentage of use for hotel and apartment block? Because the developer is asking for, and getting, a legal parcel division that shows separate parcels for the hotel and apartment. And here’s the Tentative Parcel Map submitted to the Planning Commission:
Based on the developers own Tentative Parcel Map, the land underneath the apartment component amounts to 42,684 square feet, which is 98% of an acre. This entitles him to only 59 units per the Specific Plan. Adding the State density bonus of 40% brings the allowable total to 83. But he’s getting 141. And a hotel with another 118 roomson the same 1.7 acres.
Finally, I have to point out that the City Council itself – specifically Zahra, Charles and Whitaker already approved a Mitigated Negative Declaration for this half-baked obscenity in December, even though it clearly violates the Specific Plan that all the planners kept nattering about. That isn’t legal, although this, is Fullerton, meaning that nobody gives a damn.
I would like to report that the Planning Commission was all over this scam and was outraged. But of course I can’t. Instead the 5 commissioned turnips quibbled over electric car charging stations and other gnats on their way to swallowing this camel whole. Honestly, you could take five average people off Harbor Boulevard and you would end up with a more intelligent and sensible commission.
Well, that’s enough of that. My next post is going to be about the idiotic solution to a made-up bus station problem.
There are all sorts of names for boobs and knuckleheads that keep making the same sorts of mistakes over and over again. Boob and knucklehead just sprang to mind first.
And so there are many descriptive terms for the collective known as the City of Fullerton, an entity that just can’t seem to help itself avoid the avoidable.
Exhibit A for the prosecution: the idiotic “boutique” hotel at the Transportation Center, brainchild of the corrupt and fortunately departed Councilcreature-for-hire, Jennifer Fitzgerald.
FFFF has followed the 5 years-long trajectory of this nonsense as it has metastasized into a giant tail-wagging-the-dog embarrassment that leaves a sensible person almost speechless. As the remote plausibility of a hotel brought forward, unsolicited, by an unfunded “developer,” Westpark, became obvious to even the densest observer, a new consortium including TA Partners proposed another prison block apartment attached to the hotel.
In December 2022 there was still no concrete plan, just promises of this and that. But time was running out for people in City Hall who are addicted to this deal. See, it involved the disposal of public property that had been developed as parking for Metrolink riders; this meant declaring it “surplus” despite its obvious utility, and starting in 2023 the State of California was requiring surplus land be offered up to the low-income housing cartel. What to do?
Get rid of the property ASAP was the City’s solution, before the end of 2022 – even though there was no final plan or entitlements in place. There was no approved site plan and project density details to hold to the sale – either by the City or by the “developer.” The development agreement protected the City’s interest in the property – up to a point, but created an entanglement of interests during and after escrow and incrementally pulled the City into a potential morass of unintended consequences.
So the sales agreement and the deeding of the City property was approved before the end of the year. Fred Jung and Nick Dunlap wisely opposed this fiasco, but were in the minority. FFFF just posted the story of Shana Charles’s dumbass rationale for approving, and of course Ahmad Zahra was all for this because he probably believed he could squeeze some cash out of TA Partner’s Johnny Lu along the way. The third vote? It came from none other than Bruce Whitaker, who seems mostly just confused, and even less inclined to show diligent energy that ever.
All along, Whitaker seems to have bought into the nonsense that this property was legitimately surplus, despite its obvious utility to the people of Fullerton. Not wanting subsidized housing, he was willing to go along with the stupid hotel concept; but even he should have balked when the mess ran of the highchair and spilled on the floor. But he didn’t, doubling down on his own incompetence and in the end getting what he didn’t want in the first place.
So the sale went though, followed in the next few months by land use discretionary review and approval instead of all this happening at the same time which is the way it should have happened. Any problematic results of this mismatch may become apparent soon.
The finalized proposal came before the Fullerton Planning Commission last week. I’ll be describing that in the next post.