How Fitzcal Irresponsibility Drove Us Over the Cliff

“Hey, it was balanced for a few seconds!” Jennifer Fitzgerald, probably

Now that the City of Fullerton is finally admitting that our budget is not balanced!, contrary to Jennifer Fitzgerald’s campaign claims, this would be a good time to revisit how we got here in the first place.

The City of Fullerton website includes links for the minutes and agenda for the last four years of city council meetings and beyond and can be found here.  You’ll find that on October 20, 2015, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Municipal Employees Federation 1200 (resolution 2015-52), which provided increased costs of $5,595,576 over the next four years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on November 3, 2015. The resolution passed 3-2.

But that’s not all, not by a long shot.

On November 3, 2015, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Police Officers’ Association – Safety and Dispatcher Units (resolution 2015-59), which provided increased costs of $9,502,904 over the next four years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on November 17, 2015. The resolution passed 3-2.

Fitzcal responsibility.

On February 16, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Firefighters’ Association (resolution 2016-16), which provided increased costs to the city of $1,959,821 over the next two years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on March 1, 2016. The resolution passed 3-2.

On April 5, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Management Association (resolution 2016-23), which increased costs to the city of $1,175,030 over the next four years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on April 19, 2016. The resolution passed 3-2.

Also on April 5, and again on April 19, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for a revised resolution providing for raises to confidential non-represented employees (resolution 2016-24), which increased costs to the city of $391,857 over the next four years. The resolution passed 3-2.

And on December 6, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Police Management Association, which increased costs to the city of $882,492 over the next four years. The resolution passed 3-2. Oh, and if you’re interested, this was the meeting where outgoing councilmember Jan Flory berated Josh Ferguson for having the temerity to claim our budget wasn’t balanced and we were exhausting our reserves (starting at around 1:21:00).

Over the course of her first term in office (the December 6 hearing was a lame duck session), Jennifer Fitzgerald voted for pay increases totaling nineteen million five hundred and seven thousand nine hundred and fifty three dollars ($19,507,953) over a four year span – or almost five million dollars per year. And Fitzgerald’s vote was crucial for the passage of each and every one of these pay increases.

And let’s not forget the numerous “side letters” Fitzgerald approved over the years as well – including one for $500,000 on November 5, 2013, for $450,000 on March 4, 2014, for $60,000 per year on April 15, 2014 (to “adjust” Fullerton Fire Management’s pay to bring it into parity with Brea’s), and for $202,00 on November 14, 2014, plus several other agreements for less than $100,000. Oh, and let’s not also forget the $4.9 million settlement of Ron Thomas’s lawsuit which Fitzgerald also voted to authorize, which will be indirectly paid for by the city through increased insurance premiums for decades to come.

So Jennifer Fitzerald didn’t just mislead voters about our supposedly balanced! budget. – she was one of the architect of our current fiscal mess in the first place.

And the Award for Most Ridiculous Awards Show Goes to…

While there is much in government to bemoan and criticize there is apparently much to celebrate as well, at least according to the Association of California Cities – Orange County, who are soliciting nominations for the Sixth Annual Golden Hub of Innovation Awards.


Yes, that’s right. The Government has an award show.

The ACC-OC is giving out awards in multiple categories, including Elected Leader of the Year, City Manager Leader of the Year, Innovator of the year and Public Private Partnerships of the year.
Last year’s winner for Innovator of the Year was the Anaheim Fire Chief who approved an ambulance system to respond to non-urgent medical requests, an “innovation” about fifty years behind almost every emergency response system outside out Orange County. Not to be outdone, 2014’s winner of the Innovator of the Year award was this guy:

A toast to all my good ideas…

The ACC-OC is a lobbying organization, ostensibly created to lobby on behalf of its member Cities in Sacramento, and prevent the passage of legislation harmful to municipalities, but their actual priority seems to be lobbying Cities to implement the kind of statist, crony, public-private partnerships the organization itself prefers. For example, in one seminar sponsored in July 2015, ACC-OC advocated both streetcars and the Poseidon desalination plant in a seminar hosted by no less than Curt Pringle himself. ACC-OC also was one of the driving forces behind the HERO program, which facilitated construction of solar panels by converting the construction costs into high interest tax liens on residences (specifically, eight percent a year high, for a senior lien). So, not only does ACC-OC lobby Fullerton for bad legislation but we PAY them to do so with our own tax dollars.

That aside, in the spirit of this press release, can FFFF come up with its own nominees or, better yet, its own categories for the “Golden Hub of Innovation?” Maybe award Hugo Curiel Procrastinator of the Year for his failure to report the water loss at Laguna Lake until the statute of limitations against the civil engineer that performed the work had run? Perhaps a doublespeak award is in order for the fine folks at the NOCCCD for their efforts to claim that the football stadium they are trying to build with Measure J money isn’t going to be built with Measure J money. ACC-OC also needs a White Elephant of the Year award to honor tireless efforts of some staffers to push expensive and unnecessary infrastructure projects like streetcars, ARTIC or the “Great Park” in Irvine. Truly, the possibilities are endless.

Don’t Just Complain – Do Something

We’ve covered the Red Oak development before – a four story, 295 unit development at 600 Commonwealth which does not have adequate parking and would create serious traffic concerns as residents block traffic on the West side of Commonwealth to turn into the project during rush hour.

Behold… it’s coming.

On January 16, the City Council on a 4-1 vote largely approved the Project, leaving the door just barely cracked for minor revisions to the proposal. I have spoken with the developer of the project, who has discussed potentially alleviating the parking issue by adding a level to the proposed parking lot, and while this would admittedly help the parking issue if they followed through, the traffic problems would remain. Think about it – just how exactly will the Westbound side of Commonwealth be traversable during rush hour if the left lane is being blocked every five minutes by a tenant looking to turn into their home?

So what’s different about this vote? Someone decided to do something about it.

The group Friends for a Livable Fullerton has decided to not take the vote lying down and have been circulating a petition. If they are able to collect the 6,800 required signatures it will qualify for a public vote of the voters of the City of Fullerton to overturn the Council’s resolution.

Pictured: Activism

So here’s the deal: Friends for a Liveable Fullerton need signatures and even more important they need people to circulate those signatures. So if you agree that it’s time to take our City back then help the volunteers at FLF. They can be reached through their facebook page at  or via email at  and help them get the signatures they need.

Ready for Another Water Rate Increase?

Probably the biggest vote at tomorrow’s City Council meeting is the Red Oak development . Josh Ferguson has already discussed that issue in his excellent article here so there’s no need for me to pile on (just read it if you haven’t already).

What I do want to do is draw attention to another vote on the City Council. Agenda Item #8 includes the appointment of Fullerton’s representative to the Fullerton Water Board.

This is our current representative.

Now, while Jan Flory has come under a lot of deserved criticism from this blog over the years, and in fact supported three separate water rate increases in a single year while on the City Council, it is only fair to mention that she has been appropriately skeptical on the Poseidon development, which if approved will raise our water rates even further – although it is also only fair to point out that she has recently signaled she would be willing to support the project to maintain her position on the board.

Poseidon Water is a desalination developer that who wants to build a $1 billion desalination plant in Huntington Beach, and wants the Orange County Water District to help guaranty construction of the project AND agree to purchase 56,000 acre feet (eighteen billion gallons) for more money than the County currently pays to import water, for the next fifty years.

How much more? The specific amount has been something of a moving target, but this appears to be the current plan:

(Blue represents what we currently pay to MDW, red, green and purple represent the crony capitalism surtax)

Keep in mind that while (per their own admission) Poseidon is about twice as expensive as MWD water, water purchased from MWD is itself far more expensive than the groundwater which Poseidon would displace, which is, essentially, free, minus the cost associated with pumping and/or replacing the groundwater. Also, Poseidon is angling for a “Take or Pay” contract with OCWD, meaning the ratepayers buy their water first, even if we don’t need it, regardless of whether we have an abundance of free ground water, water in Lake Mead or water we will have to flush to the ocean because our capacity is full.

So who will the Council appoint? Bruce Whitaker (a Poseidon critic) was the City’s appointee from 2013-2014, until he was deposed for voting against the interests of a client of Curt Pringle & Associates, and Doug Chaffee sought the appointment in 2012, so he may seek it again. Flory wants it as well, despite no longer being on the council and no obvious base of support, so it seems to be between Whitaker and Chaffee. With opposition to the Poseidon plant growing at the county level this could be an important vote for the future of this project – and your future water rates.

All citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others (Part 2)

Since almost the beginning of this blog there has been a recognition that our current system of investigation of complaints of misconduct of law enforcement officers is completely broken, and while there has been some disagreement over the best solution there does appear to be a genuine desire to implement the most effective reform available to us under the law.

This brings me to the Civilian Oversight Ordinance.

They never said it would be easy.

Independent Civilian Oversight, as many have noted, can be completely toothless in cases where no subpoena power is given and when the Chief is free to ignore the recommendations of the Commission. That is why POPSI actually drafted a proposed ordinance and specifically addressed those concerns in the ordinance submitted to the City Council.

Pursuant to section (d) “The Civilian Law Enforcement Oversight Commission shall have the power to subpoena and require attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers pertinent to its investigations and to administer oaths.”

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All citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others (Part 1)

I have a thought experiment for those of you who work in the private sector.
Let’s suppose you are accused of some misdeed by your employer. It could something minor like rudeness to a customer, or something potentially criminal such as embezzlement, assault or even potentially murder or manslaughter.

Hypothetically

Let’s further suppose your employer comes to you and asks you about certain accusations. What do you suppose would happen if you refused to answer any questions about that incident unless you had an attorney present? And if you did speak to speak to your employer what are the chances they would agree to not use your statement against you in a criminal action? Could you refuse a polygraph test under any circumstance? And could you insist your employer never disclose the results of their investigation upon pain of criminal prosecution?

The answer in the private sector is clear cut: while you have constitutional rights in criminal proceedings (including the right to have an attorney present and against self incrimination) if you refuse to cooperate with an employer you can be fired on the spot.

Not so for many of our public employees. Thanks to the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights (Government Code §3300-3311) many of the rights afforded to all of us in criminal prosecutions are also afforded to officers in administrative actions. For example, pursuant to Government Code §3303(f), statements made under duress, coercion “or threats of punitive action” are inadmissible in civil proceedings as well as criminal. Thanks to the decision in Lybarger v. City of Los Angeles (1985) 40 Cal.3d 822, an officer can be disciplined for refusing to answer questions in an administrative hearing, but only if they are first told that the statements cannot be used against him in any criminal matter. An officer also has a right to have council present during any administrative proceedings relating to their conduct. And if there is a violation of any of these or other rights, there is no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies first (like the rest of us have to); the officer can immediately sue in Superior Court.

The combination of the protections in POBAR and the Supreme Court decision in Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court (39 Cal.4th 1272) have combined to essentially make our public safety employees above the law. Copley guarantees that any complaints against officers that are handled through the police department will be investigated at the sole discretion of that department, since the public is typically not told how the department ruled or why. Or even whether they looked into the matter at all. Remember, Chief Dan Hughes once admitted that many complaints against officers were simply tossed into the wastepaper basket, since there was no ramification for the department for doing so.

“After careful deliberation, we have concluded that no evidence exists to warrant disciplinary action. At least, not anymore.”

This does not mean that there are no good officers in Fullerton, but it does mean that there are no meaningful external check on the conduct of officers that are a problem, so long as the conduct is not so shocking it winds up becoming a national story. And even then, the protections afforded by POBAR makes firing for even the most shocking crime difficult. See for example Kenton Hampton, who is still employed by the Fullerton Police Department (and pulling in $175,958.90 in total pay and benefits as of 2015, according to Transparent California) despite his involvement in the beating death of Kelly Thomas and the beating/ false imprisonment of Veth Mam (video here) and the fact that even Joseph Wolfe may actually be reinstated despite his role in Thomas’s death.

Since we cannot rely on transparency (state law prohibits it), and we cannot rely on officers within the department to come forward (don’t forget, Copley makes disclosure of internal personnel records a criminal offense, and as Paul Irish has recently learned, even mild, non-specific criticism of department policy can get you in more trouble with your employer than standing around doing nothing while your fellow officers beat a man to death), I concluded several years ago that an effective independent Civilian Oversight Commission was the best method of placing some check on our public employees. Rather than simply advocate for the civilian oversight, those of us who were advocating it decided to prepare their own proposed ordinance, which Matt Leslie has been hosting on his Fullerton Rag blog ever since (it can be found here, although the transfer does appear to have altered the subsections in a way that makes it a bit confusing).

The specifics of and the benefits of the proposed ordinance, and the means in which this City Council could implement it, will be discussed in Part 2.

Do Not Trust the Trustees

On Thursday, November 17, the North Orange County Community College District held an the Environmental Impact Report scoping session for the Measure J funded improvements to Fullerton College.

As  you know from our previous report on this matter, the proposed improvements include a football field (estimated during the presentation to cost $4 million to build, so consider that a low floor to the likely final cost) but does not include improvements to the Veteran’s Center. When this discrepancy was addressed, Fullerton College President Greg Schultz gave the following explanation:

  1. We have to understand that the NOCCCD cannot do everything it would like to do with Measure J funds, so they have not been able to make the improvements to the Veteran’s Center at this time;
  2. The stadium will be funded through other funds, not Measure J money and he promises to not use Measure J money to build the stadium.

Let’s take these two responses one at a time, shall we?

First, the characterizing of the veteran’s center as just one of many improvements that the NOCCCD would like to perform is extremely dishonest. Let’s re-wind the clock again to back when NOCCCD sought voter approval for their $574 million construction bond:

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See? FFFF Can Do Puff pieces too!

While the focus of this blog is rightly on the many problems and challenges faced by the City of Fullerton, I’d like to briefly mention a bit of a positive story, just this once.
Many of you know Thom Babcock, who was one of the members of the group behind the 1994 Recall, who most recently served as Fullerton’s representative on the Metropolitan Water District from 2012-2013 and is a friend of this blog and many of its contributors. This it Thom:
babcock
Since 2014, Thom and his granddaughter, Alyssa, have participated in Catarina’s Club’s pasta drive, which helps feed motel kids in the Anaheim area. Thom estimates that he and his granddaughter have collected 125 pounds of food for the drive and $300 in donations so far, but if any of our friends at FFFF would like to help add to the total, you can contact Thom by Sunday (Nov. 20) at [email protected] to drop off any additional donations of pasta or pasta sauce. There’s a lot to be cynical about in our political environment but there are good people and causes in our community and if you can help a lot of kids in need will appreciate it.

Don’t Kneel to Fullerton College’s Football Stadium Demands

So who’s up for a proposed construction project that could “substantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings” and could “create a new source of substantial light or glare would adversely affect day or nighttime views in the area” according to the Environmental Impact Report?

Doesn’t sound appealing? Well, you may want to attend the scoping session on Thursday, November 17, 2016, at 6 pm, at the Fullerton College Student Center, Rooms 224, 226 and 228 (don’t ask – I’ll be wandering around campus myself) and let them know.

I should note that this little boondoggle is not the City’s doing, for once. For this we can thank the North Orange County Community College District and their Board of Trustees. The Master Plan Initial Study, which discussed the Environmental Impacts on Section 6.3, can be found here: )

fc-map

Pictured: Sherbeck Field. Not pictured: Rooms 224-228. Also not pictured: The football stadium that already exists across the street.

Some time ago, the NOCCCD Board of Trustees were considering the idea of building a football stadium on campus, thus sparing their football team the humiliation of playing football at <gasp> a high school stadium – and one that’s less than 100 yards away from the campus proper, to boot. Residents of the Princeton Circle neighborhood objected, and the plans for a football stadium appeared, to the residents at least, to be scrapped. Now the trustees are looking to add 4,500 stadium seats and field lighting that could remain on until 10 pm. In addition, while I have not independently verified this, nearby residents contend that the proposed lighting would consist of six 100 foot tall LED towers, which if true would cause a significant amount of light pollution.

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Fullerton’s Real Volunteer of the Month: the Taxpayer

Forbes Magazine has a very timely look at some of the highest paid city managers in California. Look who made the list at number 10?

img_1278-3

And note that this is before the $10,000 savings from having to avoid the cost of defending a potential DUI charge is factored in.

Of course this just scratches the surface of Fullerton Taxpayers’ generosity, because Felz is only our third highest paid public employee, and he was the fourth highest paid the night of the Sappy incident. The highest, of course, was the man who made sure he would never be charged in the first place.

Doug Chaffee owes us all his parking space for the next meeting.

Thanks to Jack Dean at Fullerton watch for the heads up on the full article from Forbes, found here: I strongly recommend reading the entire piece to get a sense of the scope of waste in California government in general.