FFFF supports causes that promote intelligent, responsible and accountable government in Fullerton and Orange County
Author: The Fullerton Harpoon
The Fullerton Harpoon is a retired commerical fisherman having served many years on the Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru where he unfortunately lost the right side of his brain and his sense of propriety in a Greenpeace attack.
The good people at California’s High Speed Rail Authority, who just can’t waste our money fast enough, are moving toward a revised track alignment between Los Angeles and Anaheim. What does this mean? It means a massive boondoggle of course, spending billions to bring a “bullet train” to Orange County that won’t be any faster than the Metrolink line that covers the same distance in the same amount of time.
The new configuration would share existing tracks along the current three-track mainline, and would a add a fourth, dedicated line. And where would the fourth track alignment go? In Fullerton it would have to go on the south side of the main line tracks because there isn’t any room on the northside where the BNSF Railroad currently has two sidings right up to the edge of their right-of-way. The south side of the tracks, however do have room from the Commonwealth underpass as far as Harbor Boulevard.
Of course this would mean using the property that the Parks Department and the Friends of the Trail to Nowhere say is feasible (later on) to take their amenity to the Hunt Branch Library, and beyond. The question of how the trail could get past the BNSF mainline tracks would become moot. The trail would require a prohibitively expensive bridge with elevators; either that or a bridge a quarter mile long, or more. And there goes the alleged connectivity that the Trail to Nowhere boosters keep talking about, even if the BNSF were willing on some distant day to sell to the City.
The trail folks can pick their poison. Useless transit or useless bike trail. Of course they would have to educamate themselves first, and that’s just not going to happen in the Education Community.
A few years ago during the depths of the COVID pandemic, the Fullerton City Council voted to put a sales tax measure on the ballot. Since things were looking grim and with revenue falling off, the best course of action in City Hall seemed to be to lay it on to taxpayers. It was necessary to protect Fullerton’s quality of life, you see; or, to be more precise, to protect the pay and pensions of City employees, particularly the cops and “fire fighters” who suck up the majority of the municipal budget.
Well, the names have mostly changed, except for Ahmad Zahra, but the playbook remains the same.
At their November 7th meeting the City Council heard a report from a company called FM3 that had been tasked with producing a survey of resident concerns, and, significantly, to poll them about how to raise revenue. And lots of it.
Who actually hired FM3 in the first place is a mystery, but it must have been our illustrious City Manager, Eric Levitt, since no record of the Council approving a contract is found in the City Clerk’s database. So far they have been paid $49,000 – most likely sneaking under their City Manager’s spending authorization.
Before delving into the presentation, it’s important to note that FM3 is a consulting operation deeply involved in promoting government tax and bond efforts, and has been supporting liberal Democrat politicians for decades. One of the clients listed on their website is Carter/Mondale! On their splash page we find the slogan: Synthesizing Public Opinion To Help Achieve Your Goals, which is code for push polling that promotes your client’s goal of raising taxes.
The company conducted its polling of likely voters last spring, The “results” were presented to the Council on the 7th.
The concerns of the citizenry polled emphasized Fullerton’s rotten roads and included a bunch of stuff that the City has no control over and is merely being used as data filler. The options were presented by the pollsters.
Notice the inclusion of budget shortfalls on the list. According to FM3, 45% of those surveyed believe budget shortfalls are a extremely/very serious problem. Really? Then the other shoe begins to drop.
First, it’s curious that somehow data relating to 2019 and 2020 are shared. Where did that data come from? And what happened to 2021 and 2022? This presentation is just nonsense.
The bland term “additional funding” to the initiated means more taxes, but probably not to those polled. Not yet anyway, for the respondents are being artfully massaged by people whose job it is to push and pass tax proposals for their governmental “clients.” The bit about providing “the level of services Fullerton residents need and want” is telling, and so is the language. How does one’s “personal opinion” qualify one to opine on all Fullerton residents? The purpose is to loosen the respondents mind into the miasma of the common good, as defined by the principle beneficiaries – City employees. Then the other shoe hit the ground.
It didn’t take very long for FM3 to roll out a couple of “hypothetical” sales tax raising ballot measures, one a general purpose tax and the other more narrowly directed to infrastructure, although including the ambiguous phrase “to maintain rapid police, fire and 911 response.” The general purpose tax only requires 50%+1 ballot majority; the special purpose tax requires a 67% majority. The latter is an almost impossible threshold to get over.
Then FM3 rolls out some interesting language in their push for a general sales tax. Notice how these alleged concerns of the surveyed mimic the language of the typical “push poll.” FM3 is using language that will elicit super-high positive responses and suggestthat others are already on board. The tiny text at the bottom of the slide tells all. But is all this dire language persuasive when it actually comes to voting?
Finally, FM3 sums it up by saying that a general sales tax is winnable. But is it? Somebody said the same thing about the City’s Measure S back in 2020 and it failed.
In the end the Council (Jung, Zahra and Charles) voted to keep the “education” process going, a process that we know is nothing other than political propaganda aimed at persuading a majority of voters and coordinating with a special political action committee set up to scare, cajole, and bamboozle the voters.
As Bruce Whitaker pointed out on the 7th, there is supposed to be a “bright line” that separates government information from government propaganda. But this line only in the abstract law. In practice the line dissolves almost completely.
By now Fullerton City Hall is aware that their partner in a boutique hotel/apartment high-rise on Santa Fe Avenue, TA Westpark LLC, is in trouble. TA Westpark Fullerton., AKA Johnny Lu has defaulted on a massive loan, previously borrowed to complete projects in Irvine.
The fallout from this embarrassment remains unknown, although there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and sooner rather than later.
One of the questions involves the transfer of the public property ownership at the site to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC before proper project approval, a desperate, and of course, totally unnecessary act. And the actual documents supporting ownership of the land in question need to be examined, too.
On December 22, 2022 the City sold the land at a huge discount to Lu. Check out the grant deed:
By now Craig Hostert, whose brain-child the boutique hotel was, is scratched out and TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a Delaware corporation, is the proud owner of the land and the transfer is signed by a “managing partner” of a whole other entity – “TA Partners.” Looks like Hosteret was bought out or walked away, abandoning his baby.
But, as they say in the infomercial, wait, there’s more. A quick check of the State of Delaware’s corporations roster doesn’t turn up any results for TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC. Hmm.
And here’s something else. A few months later a new grant deed was promulgated and recorded at the County of Orange. Here, the hard to find Delaware corporation deeds the land in question over to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a California corporation.
Something is odd here, and it’s not just the amateur hour handwritten changes on the original deed. Did the City sell this property to a non-existent corporate entity? If so, hasn’t some sort of fraud occurred? Why the shell game here, and could the original deed be considered invalid in retrospect?
We could ask these question of Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm” law firm, because I doubt the City Council will make inquiries of their ace lawyer. Getting an honest answer from ol’ marble mouth? A rare and precious jewel.
Some might think this entire fiasco is going to get worse before it gets better. I’m not sure how that’s possible.
Friends probably remember that FFFF has been relentlessly critical of the dubious scheme approved by our City Council to underwrite a downtown boutique hotel and uber-dense apartment project on a parking lot owned by the City and used by Metrolink commuters.
Here’s a reminder: three councilmembers Bruce Whitaker, Shana Charles and Ahmad Zahra voted to sell this property to a developer for a mere $1.4 million (less site material removal) while simultaneously time jacking up the value of the land by approving density 2.5 times the limit specified in the Transportation Center Specific Plan. It was a gift of public funds at least ten million dollars.
Here’s the fun part. The original and completely unqualified baby daddy of the project, Craig Hostert, didn’t have the wherewithal to make the deal. After years of failing to perform on his Exclusive Negotiating Agreement and numerous extensions, Hostert’s West Park Investments, LLC joined its non-existent forces with TA Partners Development of Irvine, Johnny Lu, proprietor.
Mr. Lu, the new face of the project, appeared at council meetings to seal the deal with a ration of gobbledygook bullshit.
It seems that Johnny has gotten himself in over his head on two projects in Irvine, including second bridge loans that he has now defaulted on. And of course Sunayana Thomas, Fullerton’s crack “business development” director seemingly failed to inform the City Council of Mr. Lu’s impending financial embarrassment, something that should have been revealed in even a cursory perusal of TA Partners’ asset to debt ratio and its balance sheet.
And then, of course there is the problem with the completely incompetent concept of rushing the approval to transfer of title to the land, before the deal had received final approval.
By now the Council has possibly, though not necessarily been informed by the Fullerton City Manager, Eric Leavitt, of the problem, but where does the deal stand? Title to the property has been transferred from the City to and through Lu’s companies*, presumably for the original sale amount. But if TA Partners can’t perform, will the City get its now very valuable property back, or will it be encumbered by bankruptcy receivers? Will the City, in order to save face as it always has, permit Mr. Lu to assign his rights and interests to another party as a face-saving strategy? If that happens, will the original bad idea still go forward, or will the Council approve something even worse as a sop to a new developer so to avoid admitting their horrible mistake in the first place?
You can try asking Whitaker, Charles, or Zahra, the architects of this inexcusable and completely avoidable mess, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.
Those Fullertonions who know about the Fullerton Observer are well aware of the bad habit of this operation of passing along editorial content as news.
Here’s an example.
An “article” running under the heading: Union Pacific Trail advocates hold peaceful demonstration asking to use the $1.78 million grant for its intended purpose.
Reading this headline you might suppose that somebody had been shot by the cops, and that violent protest could have broken out at any moment, and kudos to the protestors. But no. This drama was about not wasting a couple million bucks for a useless Trail to Nowhere that runs through one of the most dangerous parts of Fullerton. Were those octogenarians and 13th graders likely to break out in a rage-induced riot?
The editorial under the headline, written by one S. Kennedy, followed suit. Readers were not informed why the trail might have been considered a poor idea, for that would have been real journalism. Instead we learn the identities of a few of the those who spoke against giving the dough back to the state. We are told that nobody spoke against the Trail to Nowhere, a stupendous mislead since there was no agenda item to discuss it and the only people there had been orchestrated to yak about they knew not what during open mike public comments.
Readers were helpfully informed that there going to be another protest at today’s council meeting just in case some of the eager didn’t get Ahmad Zahra’s memo.
What the author of this piece didn’t tell you was that she was one of the cheerleaders of this event; that speaker Egleth Nunccio is a part of a conspiracy to ignore the City Council majority’s previous direction; that speaker Diane Vera is an Observer scribbler.
Of course the authoress, Saskia Kennedy, got up and spoke her ignorant piece. (She did so again today, above -10/3/23 – and then plopped down in the audience to smugly encourage the “outraged” protesters she helped stir up). In other words the Observer, which calls itself a newspaper, is actually helping create the crap it is “reporting” on – and not telling anybody.
Comments were varied, some calling out the obvious Astroturf protest. One happy soul named Angela offered: “Civics in action. Love to see it!” Except, Angela, this was a lot less about civics and a lot more about a petty political game by Zahra to embarrass his opponents. The Trail to Nowhere isn’t coming back, the public at large doesn’t care, and Zahra knows this.
As I started this essay (see I know the difference between opinion and news) I pointed out that none of this should really come as a surprise to those who have been around a while. And as the Observer passes from one generation of ignorant, self-righteous Kennedy to the next, it would be foolish to expect otherwise.
The other night I watched an old movie from the 80s called Field of Dreams. Somehow I managed to get through an hour and a half of the worst Hollywood schmaltz imaginable. Some guy hears voices and builds a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. And guess what? Magic happens! Long dead baseball players show up to knock the old horsehide around.
Today I realized that 90 minutes of my life hadn’t been wasted after all.
“If you build it, he will come…” He did, and he did. I noticed the same blind faith in principalities of the air in those who kept, and keep yammering about the Trail to Nowhere.
These folk believe that simply building something will cause users to show up on their field of dreams. Somehow. Sometime. Even though they never bother to identify who those users are going to be. And I suspect that this one practical effort is dutifully avoided because at some visceral level they don’t even care if the trail is used by anybody.
Field of Dreams is all about the suspension of reality if you really, really, really just wish it hard enough.
As has been pointed out by several FFFF commenters, there is a mindset that cherishes gesture, not effectiveness, good intention over good outcome. And when this is compounded with the old liberal attitude of happily patronizing minorities (ahem, underserved populations) by granting them government largesse, the recipe is complete.
Anybody who has been along this strip of real estate knows a few things. They can’t figure out who on earth would want to use this as a trail and that the so-called Phase I has been at utter failure in use and design as a recreation facility – even when its terminus, Union Pacific Park, was open. The proposed Phase II runs through desolate industrial buildings, used tire stores, plating and asphalt business; it traverses junk yards parking lots with junk cars. Somehow this bleak, linear experience offers a golden shower of dreams to government employees with too much money and their do-gooding camp followers who seem to think that spending money is more important than spending it well. See, it’s the thought that counts. Just build it. You’ll feel good about yourself.
On Tuesday night the Fullerton City Council again shit-canned the moronic recreation trail proposed on the old Union Pacific right-of-way.
Councilmen Bruce Whitaker and Nick Dunlap both presented compelling reasons; that the proposal failed to address requests from the Council in 2021 that the area be addressed wholly, not by piecemeal projects. Mayor Fred Jung joined them in voting to turn back the grant money.
Naturally, Ahmad Zahra championed the wasteful project, pretending to be offended by Dunlap’s observation that maintenance was issue since Fullerton can’t take care of the parks we already have. It didn’t seem to occur to him that his position was grossly patronizing to his own constituency who must be separated from the hard truths of fiscal realty. He was joined in his profligacy by Shana Charles who giggly gushed over the opportunidad to bestow a top-down gift to the community – and after all, it was free money and wasn’t going to cost anything.
A gaggle of speakers showed up to defend Option 1 – a bike trail that would pass through some of the worst, least safe parts of Fullerton. A couple opined that a useless trail was desperately needed. A few Spanish-speaking women appeared to regurgitate the talking points of Zahra, but as usual displayed a complete factual deficit. Their job was to bad-mouth Option 2 that could have include an auto passage along the trail, and again to babble about “the children.”
One speaker named Jane Rands actually provided intelligent and pertinent points, to wit: the City staff had notdeveloped a general concept for the redevelopment of the area, and that the trail has no connectivity to anything else in the trail system, a point lost on the thoughtless Zaharites.
So in the end the council majority voted on Option 3 – give the money back to the opaque agency that took it from the taxpayers and doled it out in the first place. In a fun twist, Jung added a caveat to his Option 3 support: that the Up Park be re-opened ASAP.
After the vote was taken, one of Zahra’s lunatic followers began screaming at the Council about being racists and insensitive beasts, etc., and had to be removed from the chamber by the pit-sitting cop. And Zahra could be heard muttering under his breath into the open mike: “Bushala.”
The other day I learned that Fullerton’s nonsensical trail to nowhere has been magically resurrected, again, it seems, the beneficiary of some wasteful State grant meant to make people feel good about themselves. How do I know it’s wasteful and all about virtue signaling? Easy. Just consider the “Trail To Nowhere.”
City staff is no longer even pretending that the the proposed “trail” goes to the Transportation Center, or that it could ever make its way to the Hunt Branch and points northwest. At least those lies have been dispensed with. Now it’s all about connecting a refurbished UP Park and Independence Park, a connection that means nothing to anybody outside the hallowed halls of City Hall. The proponents of this absurdity still can’t identify a single likely user, nor can they spit out the cost of maintaining this trail. They don’t know and don’t care. Build something and someone’s bound to use it, despite the fact that it runs through a dangerous, dilapidated, and dismal industrial zone of junkyards, used tire shops, asphalt plants and metal plating operations. The gesture is what counts, not the aftermath!
But I have already digressed.
The real point of this post is to ask how this miserable idea sprang back to life after the City Council expressed their displeasure with the bureaucratic piecemeal planning of this area, questioned the wisdom of the proposal and said they wanted to see alternatives that might actually help innovative development in the area. They got none of that.
It’s true that Fullerton has had four City Managers in the past three years or so; it’s pretty easy to spot the vacuum here. Plus the new guy, Eric Levitt, seems to have the backbone of a jelly donut when it comes to saying no to his staff. He appears to be cruising for a pension spike and an imminent decampment.
Who was it that organized the happy field trip to explore the potential wonders of the trail? How come nobody knew about it except select invitees? How did the Parks Commission come to be presented with a choice that was no choice and how on Earth did this get on the City Council agenda? Obviously there has been a conspiracy to revive this idea and Mr. Levitt is all on board. Why? And why has the City Council permitted the same proposal it rejected last time, to reappear in the same form? These are rhetorical questions only.
The fact that D5 Councilmember Ahmad Zahra and his minions wanted this so badly last time – a gesture, (no matter how expensive and hollow) to the communidad – leads me to suspect this thing has been orchestrated by him and Parks staff to embarrass his colleagues into going along with the scheme this time.
So characterized by Councilman Nick Dunlap is the no-longer ongoing attempt by City staff and liberal virtue signalers who were working hard to put Associated Road on a “diet.”
Mr. Dunlap seems well aware of how things that the bureaucrats want never seem to expire, and that meeting upon meeting are sometimes used to thin the herd of opposition until just about everybody has given up.
This seems to be what was going on with the rather unnecessary attempt to modify Associated by adding parking as a buffer for bike riders, along with the elimination of two vehicular traffic lanes. Meeting upon meeting were held to shore up support for the plan to get rid of two traffic lanes on Associated Road.
Here’s what happened at the council meeting study session on Tuesday. The City’s traffic guy announced that he had given up on the proposed new on-street parking, used to create a Class IV bikeway. Even staff could see the handwriting on the wall. The few citizens who were present (see herd thinning, above) still commented on the parking, but also remarked on the need for 4 traffic lanes. Those in favor of the project were all about big picture ideas that, in the context of this short stretch of road, seem sort of comical.
When the council finally started chatting about the project, Nick Dunlap almost immediately made a motion to leave the damn thing the way it is – tabling the item for good. Shana Charles fought a losing rear-guard action as she tried to waste more time and effort on this scheme. Bruce Whitaker wisely pointed out that the total daily traffic counts don’t reflect peak hour traffic when having four lanes might actually be useful. Finally, with the dubious assistance of lawyer Dick Jones of the I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm, the council finally just gave staff the direction to proceed with the planned repaving and to reproduce the existing lane and bikeway striping. And so without a decisive action by the City Council, the Associated plan in social engineering sputtered to an unceremonious demise, Whitaker, Dunlap and Jung seeming to agree to a collective adios.
Will this plan really die, despite the seeming death blow? This is Fullerton, where no idea, no matter how bad, really dies if staff really wants it to live.