Amerige Court—How to Give Away Public Land for $500

Mid-Evil Circus Revival revival

Last December The Fullerton Redevelopment Agency approved yet another extension to Pelican, the hapless developer of the gigantic Amerige Court project downtown. Readers will recall that this project was approved in 2008 over the objections of hundreds of people who saw it for what it was, yet another cheap looking, insipid  copy of the retail/loft model that is supposed to revive downtowns.

This time the now unemployed redevelopment staff allowed the developer to plan to rent the housing units at first, even though when it was first approved years ago it was supposed to be all about classing up the area by inviting the landowning gentry to move in and stare down the lawless drunks of Fullerton’s bar culture.

So two months ago, despite several people speaking out against the fourth (!) amendment to the original agreement, and no one speaking in favor of it, the extension was granted. Bruce Whitaker and Sharon Quirk-Silva dissented, having had enough of developer excuses for why they haven’t been able to build anything, but Bankhead, McKinley, and Jones predictably went along with this giveaway of taxpayer owned land in the heart of the city.

Well, that was back before Redevelopment disappeared last week, so now they have to do it all over as the City Council tonight.

Show up to watch developer owned politicians try to give away your land once again, if you let them.

Last week we showed you why the Three Dinosaurs were so willing to perpetuate this disaster of a project.

When you take their money, you have to do their bidding. Besides, if you can give away public land to build a monstrous and unneeded architecturally appalling project that will add more traffic to the area and tear down some really old buildings to do it, why wouldn’t you? Especially when the half of the development partnership that’s still in business gives you $500 to keep you from being recalled?

Get Your Own Task Force

Who cares about the homeless and mentally ill? Lots of people, it seems, but only some of them were approved to serve on a task force investigating the issues on behalf of the city. At the city council’s most recent meeting on September 20th City Manager Joe Felz presented a proposal entitled Fullerton Task Force on Homelessness and Mental Health Services. The city council had asked for such a proposal during a previous meeting on August 16.

The staff identified five specific tasks for proposed group, and went so far as to recommend sixteen people as members. They included representatives of various non-profit organizations and churches and for some reason the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce, as well as three individuals, including Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas. OC Human Relations Commission CEO Rusty Kennedy was proposed to lead the group.

About a dozen people from the public spoke to the issue or ranted about unrelated homeless issues. A few of them offered their assistance as prospective members of the task force, including people who described themselves as homeless or formerly homeless. Mayor Dick Jones suggested that the membership of the task force could be determined at the next council meeting. Perhaps he either did not understand that the council was recommended to adopt the supplied list or did not agree with it. Don Bankhead rambled about having known Rusty Kennedy’s father and said he was extremely glad about something or other that can’t quite be heard in the tape because he habitually does not speak into his microphone.

Both Bruce Whitaker and Sharon Quirk-Silva supported making the task force as inclusive as possible. Whitaker suggested that of the five tasks identified, it might be best to hold the fourth one listed in the proposal first, namely to hold a public forum to solicit ideas on the subject. Quirk-Silva, noting that the idea was not to duplicate already existing services, made a motion to move forward with Whitaker’s idea.

But Pat McKinley would have none of it. He offered an alternate motion to approve the task force membership list recommended in the proposal, but curiously left off the three unaffiliated people, Kitty Jaramillo, Janice DeLoof and Ron Thomas. Bruce Whitaker characterized McKinley’s proposal as “the epitome of top down organization,” saying that it would bring no new energy or ideas to the task. Quirk-Silva joined Whitaker in voting against McKinley’s motion, but McKinley was predictably joined by Jones and Bankhead, although Jones did clarify that other members could be added to the group later.

It cannot be stated too often that homelessness and mental illness are real problems for many people, but addressing those issues should not be confused with seeking justice for a man beaten to death by police officers. Even so, it is remarkable to watch the video of the meeting to see Jones, Bankhead, and McKinley treat yet another problem with the wrongheaded approach of excluding people asking to be included in a solution. In the words of a later speaker, they squandered the opportunity to engage the very public who had been criticizing them week after week for their inaction in the face of a crisis. In the end the Three Arrogant Amigos proved once again that institutions trust institutions, and individuals need not apply.

Power to the People, their Courage, and their Cameras

The Killing of Kelly Thomas & The Power of New Media by Paul Detrick of analyzes the effectiveness of amateur video, internet communication and the perseverance of ordinary citizens against the intransigence of institutional power.

Note CSUF Professor Jarrett Lovell’s assessment of the Fullerton Police Department’s Public Information Officer.

Don Bankhead vs. Free Market Speech

Word has it that Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead was not so happy to see volunteers gathering signatures to recall him from office outside of Ralphs supermarket on Harbor Blvd. earlier this week.

Petition gatherers say that he and the Mrs. suggested that they shouldn’t be there and were then seen to be speaking to a store manager inside.  A couple of days later the signature gatherers were told by both the manager of Ralphs and the manager of the shopping center that they were not welcome there, and had to leave. Volunteers collecting signatures in front of Albertsons on Raymond Ave. were told the same thing.

Fortunately Fullerton Recall Coordinator Chris Thompson knew that petitioners have the right to collect signatures on some private property as long as they are not causing a disturbance. The California Supreme Court upheld this right in something called Pruneyard vs. Robins, that basically holds that any place that is normally open to the public, like a mall or shopping center, is covered by free speech rights, even if it is private property.

Thompson called the city of Fullerton and had none other than City Manager Joe Felz and the city attorney confirm that the signature gatherers had a perfect right to collect signatures in front of both Ralph’s and Albertsons. Thompson then met with police officers at Ralphs, who agreed. One of them even gave the signature gatherers his card and told them to call him if they had this problem again.

Don Bankhead, who has no problem giving away millions of dollars in public land to developers is suddenly bothered by a couple of people collecting signatures in front of a busy supermarket. I guess he hasn’t learned much since the last time he was recalled from the Fullerton City Council 17 years ago.

Should Fullerton Have A Police Commission?

The most frustrating thing about the awful story of the death of Kelly Thomas and its aftermath is not knowing what goes on behind the closed doors of the Fullerton Police Department. Certainly a position of leadership comes with the obligation to take responsibility for what goes on within a department, but even if a Police Chief falls on his sword and resigns or is forced out of his job we really don’t know what is happening with the individual officers who comprise the police force. One of the most repeated statements heard from the many irate speakers at Tuesday night’s council meeting was that the police work for us, not the other way around.

Fullerton has commissions for parks and planning, and committees for transportation, infrastructure, the library, energy, community grants, investments, technology and even bicycles and the arboretum. One way or another, they oversee or at least review the activities of various city departments, namely Parks and Recreation, Engineering, the Library and Community Development. Why is there no commission to oversee the Police Department?

Other cities have them. A Fullerton Police Commission won’t prevent every mistake or outright crime committed by individual officers, but it could create appropriate policies and procedures, review individual cases, have access to all documents and recordings (like the notoriously unreleased tape of the beating of Mr. Thomas),  advise the city council on matters of employment before the city council, and generally audit the effectiveness of the department.

If we are truly in charge of the Fullerton Police Department we should assert our authority and acknowledge our collective responsibility to oversee its policies and actions. It’s our department, let’s treat it that way.

To Redevelop or Not to Redevelop?

Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed in to law two bills designed to drastically diminish, or at least change redevelopment in California.  Assembly Bill x 126 eliminates redevelopment agencies (RDAs) altogether in municipalities across the state on October 1, 2011. It also prohibits RDAs like Fullerton’s from any new beginning any new activities or issuing any more bonds, loaning money, buying more property and number of other things they normally do. Once the RDA disappears, the City of Fullerton would take over all outstanding duties like debt service while the rest of the agency’s revenues are distributed to schools and other things usually underfunded by the diversion of tax monies to RDA districts.

That’s it. No more redevelopment except finish off outstanding projects and pay off the bond debts that make them possible. However, an alternative exists that would allow RDAs to continue. Gov. Brown also signed AB x 127, which would allow redevelopment agencies to continue as long as a significant portion of their property tax revenue is redirected to schools and other local agencies. On Tuesday night the Fullerton City Council is scheduled to decide which of these paths to take with Fullerton’s RDA. And yes, the redevelopment staff are recommending option #2, which would keep the agency they work for alive.

According the agenda item’s report written by the RDA staff Fullerton would have to pay an estimated “$ 6,259,348 million in FY 2011-12 and $ 1,472,788 million in FY 2012-13” to schools and everyone else, but it would still be worth it for the city to keep the RDA in existence. These figures are based on old numbers that don’t $ 29 of bonds issued by the RDA for housing last year, so the an appeal is planned. The recommendation is based on the idea that more money would be available for redevelopment oriented activities if the RDA is kept in existence.

FFFF readers, and anyone paying attention in town, will recall that last March, in anticipation of the Governor’s actions Fullerton’s RDA gave a laundry list of properties and other assets to the City of Fullerton to keep the state from grabbing it and selling it off to the highest bidder. But AB x 126 made this action retroactively illegal, meaning that the city has to give it all back to the RDA so the state can take it and sell it if the RDA is dissolved.

But wait, there’s more. In 2010 the RDA’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund still has about $ 35 million to spend, most of it form a 2010 bond offering. At the last council meeting developers lined up to explain why they should each get a piece of it (more on that in the days to come, I promise).

Don Bankhead Working Just Fine Says Manufacturer

Humanoid robot Don Bankhead, is “working just fine”, says the robot’s chief engineer.  DON, as he is known to his inventors, is actually an acronym for “Do Nothing”, the project’s original name.  “DON was supposed to just be a placeholder who would maintain the status quo while we ramped up a couple of newer models, but he proved to be so good at what he does that we’ve just kept him active for all of these years.  Unless they really screw up, once they are launched it’s usually just a matter of keeping them adequately funded, but DON has set a few longevity records around here.”

DON the Humanoid on display at a recent CSUF symposium.

Another member of the team added  “He’s already fulfilled his primary objectives.  We’re always delighted to see one of our models go into the bonus mission phase.”  Bankhead, who has been in office on the Fullerton City Council almost continually since 1988, has sometimes been accused of losing touch during meetings and casting votes for stated reasons confusing to others.  His inventors disagree.  “Perhaps some new folks in Fullerton are alarmed at some of his behavior, but let me assure you, he’s the same DON (Bankhead) he’s always been.”

The mission hasn’t been entirely trouble free.  “We did had that glitch in 1994 when his trajectory was derailed for a few months.  It was a tricky maneuver, but with the whole team working together we brought him back online.  Other serious situations have arisen along the way, but fortunately nobody seems to notice.”

How long do engineers expect Bankhead to last?  “Of course any machine slows down with age.  DON has developed an intermittent loss of verbal/audio transmission, but most of the noises we hear from him are pretty unintelligible at this point anyway, so we really don’t consider it a problem.”

Attendance Ain’t Mandatory

What do you call missing one third of your work days?  Grounds for dismissal.  Since January 4th there have been twelve meetings of the City Council/Redevelopment Agency, including a special or emergency meeting here or there.  Our dear Mayor F. Richard “Dick” Jones has missed four of them.  That’s a 66.6% attendance rate.

Ain't got no time fer mayorin' 'n suchlike.

Little wonder that the Three Aging Amigos felt the need to install Don Bankhead as Mayor Pro Tem instead of letting the position go to Sharon Quirk-Silva, who was next in line for it.  They knew their good buddy was going to miss a few in the coming months, and didn’t want Quirk-Silva taking the helm while the Col. was skipping his watch.

But don’t yah’ll worry!  The next city council meeting will reconsider the Coyote Hills development proposal, and you can bet yer boots Dick Jones will be there to ram it home!

Job Search for City Manager, Or Just Hire That Guy We Already Know?

At the end of the last City Council meeting on April 5 Councilman Don Bankhead, supported by fellow Councilman Pat McKinely, requested that the agenda of the next council meeting on April 19 include an item to remove the term “acting”  from the title of the job currently held by Joe Felz.  Joe Felz was appointed Acting City Manager last December following the retirement of Chris Meyer.

Joe Felz certainly has a great deal of experience working for Fullerton.  According to the city’s December 2010 press release he began working for Fullerton while still in college.  He served as Director of the Parks and Recreation Department in 2007 following a two year stint as assistant to Meyer when he was City Manager.

Is Joe Felz the right person to hire as City Manager, a position that currently pays $166,250.00 per year, plus benefits?  Don Bankhead and Pat McKinley seem to think so.  McKinley worked for the city for over 15 years himself as Chief of Police, and Don Bankhead has been on the city council for over 22 years and also worked for Fullerton’s Police Dept. for many, many years before that.

Is Felz a good candidate for the job?  Maybe, but is he the best person we can get for the money?  We may never know, because two city insiders on the council want to hire another one for one of the highest paid and certainly the most powerful position in the city government.  Shouldn’t the city conduct a search to find the best candidates for such an important job?  They did for the Chief of Police position after McKinley retired from FPD.

Bankhead seems to be in a big hurry to hire Felz permanently because he is “a little tired of using the term acting city manager.”  Is it possible that Bankhead is just tired in general and doesn’t want to bother with a job search?  Don’t we deserve to know that our City Manager is the best person for the job, and not just the one that has been around for the longest amount of time and knows the most people?

The State of Redevelopment in California

Remember State Controller John Chaing’s review of  “Selected Redevelopment Agencies” in California?

His office’s five week study of a sample of 18 agencies (Fullerton was not in the sample of agencies) in the state has released a report:

The authors have come to some disturbing, but not unexpected conclusions beginning with “The Controller found no reliable means to measure the impact of redevelopment activity on job growth because RDAs either do not track them or their methodologies lack uniformity and are often arbitrary.”  No one who follows the travails of redevelopment in our state should be surprised by this revelation.

The full report is replete with examples of agencies in different cities improperly filing required reports or not filing them at all as well as using funds improperly.  Chiang concludes that “The lack of accountability and transparency is a breeding ground for waste, abuse, and impropriety…”.

Even this short term study confirms what many people in Fullerton and elsewhere have maintained for years, that redevelopment law in California has allowed local agencies to abuse their mandates with impunity from the very start with the dubious establishment of the areas themselves.

“The report notes that the 18 RDAs share no consensus in defining a blighted area.”  The definition of blight was, of course, at the very crux of challenges against the unjustified expansion of the Fullerton Merged Redevelopment Area.  It is encouraging to see the state government challenging agencies to define the blight in their cities in clear terms instead of allowing laughable images of gum wrappers and aluminum cans in a vacant lot to stand as justification for the wholesale diversion of tax dollars away from vital city services.