Don Bankhead has been on the Fullerton City Council so long many say his tenure precedes the discovery of dirt.
Well, actually, Bankhead clambered up on to the Fullerton Council dais in 1988, and except for a six-week hiatus between his Recall and his re-seating in December 1994, he has been ensconced there ever since.
Since we have previously promoted a 12 year limit on councilmembers we naturally feel it’s time for Bankhead to call it a wrap. He is up for re-election in 2010 and we sincerely hope he decides that he has done enough for Fullerton.
We are having trouble recalling a single instance when Bankhead hasn’t schlepped for the city staff in the past 16 years – from the unnecessary Utility Tax, the SRO debacle, and the Basque Yard catastrophe through the horrible giveaways to “the Pinnacle,” “City Pointe” (why do these people so often stick an e on the end of their monstrosities?) , “Amerige Court” and the soon-to-be-renamed “Jefferson Commons.” He cheerfully went along with the sidewalk grab by the Florentine Family to protect city staff and even approved a retroactive pension spike for the cops. Lately Bankhead has been rah-rahing for more Redevelopment, even going so far as to sign a staff essay to the Observer in defense of Redevelopment expansion.
Don’s recent embarrassing shilling for an absurd railway museum suggests that maybe it’s time for Bankhead to lay down his gavel and explore the exciting world of model trains in his basement.
In the year 1992 Fullerton’s City Manager Bill Winter was just about out of gas. He had been running on fumes for quite a while and figured it was time to rest on his threadbare laurels. He could also see the handwriting on the wall. A practical cipher, he had let Hugh Berry run the city and the Redevelopment Agency. A culture of permissiveness obtained at City hall during his tenure. Things were about to change – but not for the better.
The Council hired James L. Armstrong to replace Winter. He had been in Anaheim as an Assistant City Mananger and had also done a term at Hanford located somewhere out in the miasma of the San Joaquin Valley.
Armstrong arrived just as the 90s recession was beginning to sink its teeth into the local government wallet. Revenue was falling and something had to be done to protect city workers. Lack of revenue threatened automatic “step increases,” raises, and City PERS contributions. Perhaps Armstrong felt he had the solid backing of the City Council, but the Fullerton novice certainly had no reading of the mood of the electorate.
Within six months of assuming his new job, Armstrong had persuaded Molly Mc Clanahan, Buck Catlin, and Don Bankhead to go along with the imposition of a new Utility Tax. They deliberately denied a plebescite – knowing as they did that it would be rejected. And so they held the usual dog-and-pony budget hearings, passed a budget based on the Utility Tax, and approved the tax, too. Bankhead and Catlin were allegedly conservative Republicans, but that soon became an apparent farce; even worse, Bankhead had run for re-election in the fall of 1992 promising no new taxes!
The citizenry rose up in fury! Raising taxes during a recession just to protect city employees? The tocsin was sounded and an strange new locution echoed through the corridors of City Hall – Recall! The word had never been uttered in staid, conservative Fullerton before. The statists and the public employee unions, and Fullerton’s good-government liberals were aghast. The newly energized pro-recall crew were seen as outsiders – who are these people, they’ve never served on one our precious committees! Barbarians at the gates! God, almighty! Civilization itself was at stake.
Within a year the Recalls Committee, gained their signatures, placed a recall on the June 1994 ballot, and successfully recalled Catlin, Bankhead and McClanahan. He had only been on the job eighteen months, but our hero Armstrong had instigated a municipal civil war, and had managed to mismanage three of his supporters into ignominious political humiliation.
The way things ultimately worked out, the new Councilmembers were no better than the old. But the Utility Tax was repealed during the interregnum; without it the City got along just fine. But because the Old Guard had managed to hang on to elected office the managers in City Hall never had to confront the consequences of their point-blank refusal to reconsider the way they ran their departments. This was Fullerton after all.
Meantime Jim Armstrong was a busy fellow. He presided over just about every Redevelopment fumble, boondoggle, and cover-up of the 1990s; he made it very clear that when bureaucrats blundered the wagons were to be circled and nobody (in City Hall) would be any the worse for it. The jewels in his tarnished crown were the attempt in 1993 to forestall the Depot corrective work caused by incompetent design (full story coming soon), the complete mismanagement of the new Corporate Yard project, the deployment of attack dog Susan Hunt – whose job was to kick all citizen groups out of city facilities and keep them out, and his mania to turn public facilities into cost centers administered by city employees (see related post on Hillcrest Park).
An aura of arrogance clung to City Hall like the ripe aroma surrounding the local Materials Recycling Facility; the City Council was just there to ratify Armstrong’s policy. If they liked that, so much the better. And they sure seemed to.
Armstrong’s miserable misrule came to an end in 2001 when he took the top job in Santa Barbara – you see in Jim’s line of work nothing succeeds like failure. And he set the bar high for his successor, Chris Myers, who learned from the best: when you find a cushy spot like Fullerton where nobody demands accountability, stick to it like a barnacle – until something better comes along. In the meantime – close ranks, clam-up, and cover up.
The twisted narrative of how the Florentine Family’s “Tuscany Club” managed to expropriate a public sidewalk is yet another tale of woe showing how badly our elected officals and their alleged professionals have manged to screw up Downtown Fullerton.
Back in 2003 the Florentines made an agreement with the Redevelopment Agency and City for an “outdoor dining” lease on the Commonwealth Avenue sidewalk at the intersection with Harbor Boulevard (forget for a moment that any outdoor patrons there would have to spend their time looking at the architectural monstrosity across the street).
Now, outdoor dining to you or me would suggest an open air space surrounded with a moveable fence or rope, and with furniture that could be picked up and taken inside. Well, that’s not what it meant to the Florentines who started construction of a foundation and a masonry wall in the public right-of-way! Sure, there were outcries of anger and dismay among the community over this blatant grab of public property, but these seemed to fall on deaf ears and the construction kept going until in the end the whole thing was completely enclosed. A private room addition right there on the public sidewalk!
Many months passed by, but the issue refused to die quietly. Finally, a big hearing was held, ostensibly to explain the situation to an outraged group of citizens. Mr. Florentine proclaimed his innocence – a victim of circumstance! The Director of Development Services, an obviously affronted F. Paul Dudley, stood up to say how he had been in control the whole time, had done nothing wrong; and that if he had to do it all over again he would do the same thing!
The only problem with this near-tearful oration was that Dudley had no authority to let any one put a building on public property. Only the Agency and Council could do that – after a public hearing. So the building was an encroachment into the public’s right-of-way, and the offending structure should have been immediately removed. Naturally the Fullerton City Council went along with the sham. After all, nobody really expects accountability or responsibility in Fullerton, right?
Sometime later the terms of the lease of were officially (and very quietly) modified, effectively whitewashing the whole sorry mess; but not before some valuable lessons were learned by careful observers about how things work in Fullerton.
It’s bad enough that the City of Fullerton has always shown a penchant for fake old, with its attendant brick veneer and styrofoam cornices. Sooner or later we may actually come to accept this affront to taste by the bureaucratic boobeoisie. What really adds insult to injury, however is the cavalier way that modern architecture is treated by the City. By “modern’ we really mean functional, original architecture that encloses space creatively that employs abstract patterns, uses modern materials, and that expresses its structure in its outward appearance.
What really bugs us was to watch last year’s “Jefferson Commons” abomination approved unanimously by the City Council. Bad enough was the proposed monstrosity; we’re used to architectural crap. Even worse was the propsed demolition of three mid-century modern gems on Chapman Avenue without so much as a backward glance.
So why do we bring this up again? Last night the Council voted to extend the permit deadlines for an additional two years since the new developer (the old one already bailed out) can’t get financing. Several speakers pleaded the case that the buildings in question have historical merit that was not recognized by a faulty CEQA process (wow, no surprise there!), and that demolition should be postponed at least until a final project looks like it could start. These seem like a pretty prudent path to us.
Why these buildings were not originally identified as historic resources is not hard to explain. The City ignores anything not listed on their register of significant buildings; that accomplishes the bare minimum of CEQA requirements, but doesn’t say much for the integrity of the process. The out-of-town lobbyist had done a good job of spreading around the wealth and the buildings never stood a chance. Meanwhile, Fullerton’s Heritage group, that should have been raising Holy Hell, was apparently too busy putting brass plaques on things and telling NOCCCD administrators how much they prefer fake old to modern architecture.