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.
Orange County Register reporter Barbara Giasone finally sunk her teeth into a red meat issue with her surprising interviews of high school kids that appeared in the April 30 issue of the Fullerton News tribune. Surprising you ask? How so? Because it might actually smack of criticism of Fullerton City Council and its staff who are promoting a six million dollar pay out to the largest fast-food corporation in the history of mankind in order to move a McDonalds 200 feet closer to a bottomless supply of junk food junkies – high school students at Fullerton High School.
We find it interesting that Barbara followed up on her usual fluff piece of April 23 with her theme of the 30th: she got the idea from us! Although we got no credit from Babs, a professional courtesy we can forgo since neither of us are professionals, we are encouraged that she is reading our blog and is willing to follow our lead. Heretofore she has been regurgitating City hall press releases; if she is willing to use FFFF as a source of her journalistic inspiration we can only envisage good things for Fullerton.
Our only suggestion to Barbara at this point is to get the rest of the story: the subsidy to a vast corporation; the crappy McSpanish architecture; the use of the “save the Fox” movement by city staff to leverage a titanic McBoondoggle.
Barbara: how did the Fox preservation project morph into the endomorphic mess it has become?
On May 5th, the Fullerton City Council will once again take up the matter of a vast new Redevelopment land grab in Fullerton. The bureaucrats in City Hall want to appropriate all the property tax that they can by throwing the Redevelopment net over a huge swath of the City. In order to do so they must find “blight” and they must be able to prove it. So far they haven’t. They never will.
What does “redevelopment” mean in practical terms? It means the diversion of property taxes from other government agencies; it means the power of eminent domain over law-abiding property owners; it means more massive developments by favored developers; it means more design mediocrity – or worse.
Devoted Friends of Fullerton, over the past few weeks we have favored you with a litany of loose accountability and lax responsibilty exhibited by Fullerton’s Redevelopment Agency over the years. These sad stories have detailed incompetence, government overreach, bureaucratic usurpation of sovreign authority, the serial uglification of downtown Fullerton; and worse still, our tales have shown the happy compliance and enthusiatic support of the City Councilmembers for all this misfeasance.
Although some of the Redevelopment case studies of mismanagement and boondogglery we have related occurred in the 1990s, nothing has changed. The fact that Don Bankhead and Dick Jones can still cheerlead for this failed – and failing – government entity only goes to show how irresponsible it would be to permit the metastasis of Redevelopment in Fullerton. Harnessed side by side, these two have trudged through the last twelve years approving most of the Redevelopment disasters we have recounted to you Friends.
So now we are at the proverbial eleventh hour; what will happen on Tuesday? Jones and Bankhead(Joneshead?) are on safely board. Nelson is on record as opposing the expansion; Keller seems to be opting out because of a conflict of interest. This leaves Sharon Quirk as the necessary third vote. Although every instinct in her body must be telling her to go with the staff and the good old boys, to just follow on the slip-stream of inertia, we think she may be entertaining some nagging doubts. Even if these doubts are of a political character, we will embrace them as if they were the heartfelt and genuine response to our brilliant posts on the history of Redevelopment disasters in Fullerton.
On Tuesday we will be watching Quirk. She will have the rare opportunity to do the right thing – to refuse the expansion and to say why: Redevelopment does not work. It is a scam. It invests authority in people who are not qualified to exercise such authority and it engenders both incompetent government action and lack of accountability for those who act ineptly or even illegally.
Is La Habra city councilwoman Rose Espinosa going to run for County Supervisor? Apparently she has made an “intent to run” filing – the first step in the campaign process. At this early junture it may be too soon to tell if she is serious or merely posturing – going for a deal with County Dems and union honchos.
Her entry into the 4th District fray in 2010 to replace our Sopoforic Supervisor would certainly have an impact. As a liberal Democrat she would immediately cut into Tom Daly’s base, especially in blue collar La Habra. She might even be able to attract more militant union support (although it didn’t do her any good against Norby in 2006). Daly certainly can’t be happy about any of this, especially if Lori Galloway were to get in as well. We still wonder cyber-aloud whether or not Pam Keller and Sharon Quirk may not have experienced premature endorsolation with Daly – showing up at his coming out party, and all.
All of this seems like excellent news for Fullerton’s own Shawn Nelson. A split Democratic vote means that the Dems will end up going after each other – not him in the primary, and, who knows, a solid Republican candidacy might get 50% +1.
Fullerton Friend Jerome (Jerry) Mahoney, 21, formerly of Domingo Road, St. Juliana’s and Servite High School, relaxes with the latest FFFF blog post while attending St. Simplicius Seminary in Youngstown, Ohio where his thesis involves translating the Apocrypha from the Vulgate into Esperanto.
Thank you Forebearing Friends, for following this pathetic revelation to its conclusion. The unwinding of this concatenation of miscreance and misfeasance must be as hard to read as it has been to write. And yet now the conclusion is finally at hand!
By May 1997 the SRO deal was done. The final meeting was a mere formality. Everybody who was paying attention knew that Dick Jones – yes, all hat and no cattle Dick Jones – was going to eat up the tasty morsel that his own staff and collegues had put in front of him.
Terrified of personal loss, and with apparrently no confidence in City indemnification, he caved in to the ridiculous threats to protect his own pelt. All of his brave words of March were just so much verbal gas.
The meeting came and went. The project moved ahead and was ever so slowly built. Two years later the Fullerton City Lights was added to the Downtown scene. The city bureaucrats congratulated themselves on another job well-done: 7 years and several million dollars of public funds in the making – a large stucco box. The erection wasn’t much to write home about.
Perhaps the sorriest part of this saga was the behavior of Dick Jones – during and after the sad episode. He had eaten his crow – the feathers were still there on his bib for everybody to see. And councilwatchers were wondering if his former fulminations would now be directed at the staff and fellow councilmembers who had placed him in his embarrassing predicament. The answer came quickly. No accountability, no responsibility – nothing. Nothing but loud and consistent praise and support for the bureaucrats who had orchestrated his humiliation; he soon became notorious for his knee-jerk and unquestioning support of almost everything put in front of him by the City staff.
All that remained was the peridoc bluster: homespun nonsense, loud, rambling and often incoherent perorations. Deep-fried bloviations, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Loyal and Patient Friends, our long narrative of the City Lights SRO is coming to a sordid climax, and a merciful denouement. We have witnessed incompetence, vindictiveness, cultural vandalism and bureaucratic usurpation of authority, But we’re still not finished. The SRO project appeared dead. The elected representatives had killed it. Democracy at work! But as long-time city-watchers know, the project is only dead when staff says it’s dead, and none of the architects of this disaster – City Manger Jim Armstrong, Planning Director Paul Dudley, or their puppet, Redevelopment Director Gary Chalupsky, wanted it dead. Because that would be an admission of what everybody else already knew – they were largely incompetent.
We left off with Dick Jones at a March, 1997 meeting waxing voluble about drug users and their nefarious ways. Nuh-uh, not in my city! Unfortunately, Jones discovered that getting the foot into the mouth is a whole heckuva lot easier than extracting it.
Jones was not acute enough to pick up on clues that the City Manager, Flory and Bankhead were not going to let this die. He should have been clued in during the March meeting by the Agency attorney, who, at the insistence of Flory, Bankhead, and a clueless Julie Sa, gave a legal opinion in public stating that Mithawalla could have a case against the Agency. Here’s where the story gets a bit murky, culpability-wise, and who orchestrated what, so rather than accuse anybody we’ll just let you – the Friends of Fullerton – draw your own conclusions.
A civil rights lawsuit was adventitiously filed against Jones and the City by some guy nobody knew, claiming that the targets of Jones’ tirade were protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act; Mithawalla was waiting in the wings to go after the City for breach of contract – although clearly no contract had been established. With enough proper coaxing from people who wanted this project to live, Dick Jones, the Big Man with The Big Mouth suddenly experienced a case of shrinkage.
A new hearing was held in May 1997. The stage was re-set to take up the SRO project one more time. It didn’t matter that the Council majority had already spoken. The City Staff, the Redevelopment Attorney, Flory and Bankhead were determined to have the last word in order to remind everyone who really runs the City of Fullerton.
Loyal Friends, when we left off our last post the City’s chosen SRO “developer,” Caleb Nelson” was gone: whether he left voluntarily or was shoved aside is a moot point. He left behind an unstarted project, a history of City bungling, and an embarrassing hole in the cityscape. Sometime in 1996 Redevelopment Director Gary Chalupsky discovered a replacement. Apparently on his own authority he chose Agit Mithawalla to take over the project. No public hearing, no RFP, no prequalifications, no City Council approval. Behind closed doors a new deal was hatching.
And the City Council had changed. And changed again in the fall of 1996. Jan Flory was now on the Council since 1994, trying to rewrite Recall history and a sure bet to cover up any staff misfeasance. But the newly minted councilman Dick Jones was on the dais. He had run as the voice of conservatism in Fullerton and it was known that his pals in the Chamber were dead set against an SRO across the street. Public housing – the horror!
When the final agreements with Mithawalla finally reached the Council for approval in March 1997 a showdown was prepared by irate citizens who opposed the SRO project for one reason or another. Some cited inflated construction costs; some objected to deal for financial reasons; other attacked Mithawalla’s record of shoddy building in LA. When the vote came down the agreement was voted down 3-2. Bankhead and Flory, predictably, backed up the staff mess completely; Chris Norby rallied Jones and Julie Sa to oppose. Dick Jones gave the very first of his corn pone diatribes, in which he hurled invective against the project, its likely denizens, and the methadone clinic next door.
He was Big. He was Brave. He would soon come to regret giving voice to his peculiar worldview…
Gentle Friends of Fullerton, we left off our sad narrative with one Caleb Nelson, fly-by-night promoter, in possession of a multi-million dollar City subsidized “affordable” housing project on Commonwealth Avenue; a project that he had as much ability to undertake as a ling cod. Our “expert” City staff had chosen this dubious individual to build a multi-million dollar “SRO’ although they must have known he didn’t have the wherewithal to build a birdhouse. They had rejected a reknowned architect; they had helped destroy an historic building; and they were just getting warmed up.
As this venture entered its third year (1995) the Redevelopment staff had finally seen enough. Director Gary Chalupsky, who ostensibly joined the city in 1992 as an independent agent of change, but who, by this time, had lost most of his rigid members, acted. Caleb Nelson was shown the door, and in his place Chalupsky unearthed a low-income housing developer from LA by the name of Agit Mithawala.
The only difficulty was that Mr. Chalupsky had been given no authority to re-assign the development rights conferred upon Caleb Nelson to anybody. He did it all by himself. And he had to get the City Council help him cover his tracks…
By this time a politcal revolution had come and gone in Fullerton. Molly McClanahan and Buck Catlin were long gone, replaced by Jan Flory and, in 1996, F. Richard Jones. Fullerton was about to witness one of the most inglorious retreats in its history. Stay tuned for more…
Damn. Another Fullerton Redevelopment Agency saga of screw up. This one is a bit long and I bring it to you Dear Friends of Fullerton in serial form.
Way, way back in the early 90s the Redevelopment Agency was still trying to figure out how to buy down the ever-increasing affordable housing set-aside monies it had illegally accumulated over the years, and which a lawsuit had forced it into spending. One type of project that was acquiring some cachet at the time was the SRO – Single Room Occupancy – a long term hotel-type rental for people in fairly marginal economic circumstances. The County had pledged a million bucks of its own to sweeten the deal.
The City solicited proposals. One came from the Bushala family for a site they already owned at Harbor and Truslow. Their partners were to be Baronne-Galasso who had done numerous similar efforts in San Diego, and their architect, the well-published Rob Quigley. http://www.robquigley.com/
The City entertained a second proposal from a gent named Caleb Nelson who seemed to be living out of his truck, along with the very silent “San Gabriel Partners” whom the public never saw. The City staff went so far as to select a site for Mr. Nelson since he owned nothing and couldn’t find City Hall without a map. Unfortunately, the chosen site on Commonwealth Avenue, included the historic Grimshaw House, a Victorian stick-style house c. 1894 that had mysteriously been left out of the 1979 historic survey – maybe because a block building then housing a thrift store had been plunked down in front of it and it was easier just to ignore.
For reasons too complicated to explain here, there was no way the City staff was going to do business with the Bushalas. Some bad blood there! So behind the scenes an ambush was orchestrated by a couple of city council members, senior staff, and an enterprising housing tax-credit entrepreneur, Doug Chaffee, to undermine both the Bushalas as slumlords, and Baronne-Galasso as bankrupts at the final hearing. On a 4 to 1 vote the SRO project was awarded to Caleb Nelson in the Spring of 1993. An opportunity for forward-looking architecture had been deliberately squandered.
Once the deal was done Redevelopment moved in to vacate the property. The historic Grimshaw House, intentionally put in harm’s way by the City, became an attractive target and was set on fire – twice – by an arsonist.
It was finally razed. A rare Nineteenth Century house, the oldest remaining structure in Downtown Fullerton, and connected to one of the early pioneer families of the County was gone – with nothing but sighs of relief from the good folks at the City.
Years passed. 1993 rolled into 1994, and 1994 into 1995 with nothing happening on the site. Despite the City’s attempt to portray him as a sound individual, it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide the truth about Mr. Nelson and what he might be able to build, given the resources at his disposal.
Not Friends for Fullerton’s Future. We subscribe to the opinion that good architecture – innovative, attractive, engaging architecture, need cost no more than bad architecture – non-functional, boring, banal, tacky architecture. So there’s really no excuse for housing developed by non-profits to be substandard, especially when it relies on huge governement subsidies.
Here’s an example of a subsidized housing project on Chapman Avenue. A hodgepodge of “styles”It was built during the mid-90s and can only be described as, well, really bad. The building closest to the street is a stucco box with flush, cheapo windows, and fake shutters – which have been removed, or mercifully fell off. Well maybe we’re just imagining the shutters. The parking structure actually has little roofed stucco boxes stuck on to the front of it, no doubt to make it look “residential” from Chapman Avenue. We wonder what kind of an idiot would mistake a parking structure for a house; or who wouldn’t be offended by someone’s effort to fool him.
A more recent aesthetic travesty was perpetrated by Habitat for Humanity on Valencia Avenue in the barrio. The theme here seems to be fake Craftsman; the awkward angles and ridiculous fenestration make it look as if an untalented child drew the elevations. Oh boy! fake rock plinths for the porch posts.
Hard to believe, but the apartments the City is buying and demolishing in order to build this other stuff looks better – even boarded up with plywood!
Now, our purpose here is not to belittle people trying to do good, or even to make fun of untalented children. But rather to point out that neither of the these two examples needed to end up like they did – if in fact an intelligent design review process had decided that low income people shouldn’t have to live in cheap-looking, ugly housing.
Of course we have an ulterior motive for this post. First, the Redevelopment Agency is going to be spending ever-increasing amounts on subsidized housing in the coming years, with or without expansion. Regardless of one’s opinion about this sort of government activity we want to make sure that these projects achieve the highest design standards – not the lowest – as has been the case (see also the recent post on the Allen Hotel). Second, and more specifically, we are extremely concerned about the upcoming Richman project. The selected developer, the Olson Co., is not known for their aesthetic creativity, and will, if allowed, cough up another McSpanish McMess. Their architect is the same individual responsible for the Habitat for Humanity project.
It’s time for Fullerton’s Friends to insist on better, sustainable architecture when it’s subsidized by the taxpayers.