The Trail to Nowhere Complaint

It’s a total waste of money, but it sure is short…

As has been predicted, a concerned Fullerton Friend has decided that the dismal Trail to Nowhere was such an insult to California’s taxpayers and to any commonsensical Fullerton resident that he was going to do something about it.

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So he wrote a letter to the State of California Natural Resources Agency and addressed it to the Agency’s boss, Mr. Wade Crowfoot. I understand that the letter was sent by registered mail so it may be hard for Mr. Crowfoot to claim he didn’t get it.

Well, well, well…

Cynics will say that the California bureaucrats at these agencies don’t care how their grants are spent, or in this case, misspent. Their jobs are to dole out the dough without a backward glance. In this case there was no real forward glance either; judging by the initial approval, they swallowed Fullerton’s tale by the proverbial hook, line, and sinker.

Anyway, it’s a good synopsis of the various inaccuracies and falsehoods in Fullerton’s grant application. Here is the text of the letter, forwarded to us by its author:

Mr. Wade Crowfoot
Secretary for Natural Resources
California Natural Resources Agency
715 P. Street, 20th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mr. Crowfoot,
I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of the City of Fullerton, to inform you of irregularities in a
Grant Application made by the City of Fullerton to your agency which resulted in the award of a Urban
Greening Grant to build a recreational trail on an abandoned section of the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way.
This is a 2022 grant for $1,777,200.00, under Grant Agreement U29194-0 which itself was authorized by
Senate Bill 859.
The irregularities in the Grant Application falls into two categories: first, omission of pertinent
information required by the application; second, outright falsehoods about the projected positive
aspects of the project.
The application failed to alert the State that one of the adjacent properties to the proposed trail is
contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), a known carcinogen. The property (311 South Highland
Avenue) is identified by the EPA and the State of California Department of Toxic Substances Control
(DTSC). Reports have indicated a TCE plume emanating from 311 South Highland in a southerly direction, precisely under the proposed trail site. There are currently 10 Monitoring test wells along the proposed trail site and several others in adjacent properties.
The proposed project budget does not include any cost for additional testing, remediation, and/or
export. There is no inclusion of the need to rework or replace the existing test wells.
Beyond the unmitigated environmental concerns, the City of Fullerton Grant Application asserts
“connectivity” as a positive feature of the proposed trail. These assertions are demonstrably false. The
proposed trail does not connect to any businesses; it does not connect to Downtown Fullerton; it does
not create connections between parks and schools; it does not connect different parts of the City and is
actually contained within the same compact area. In fact, the proposal for Phase II does not even
connect to its predecessor, Phase I, which itself was a selling point in the Grant Application.
In truth, the proposed trail is a disembodied half-mile length of property that starts and stops without
reference to any other transportation corridors.
To the West, Phase II terminates with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right-of-way at the back corner
of Independence Park, a park so poorly maintained that the playground, courts, and gymnasium have
been closed off to the public for several years. On the East, Phase II abruptly ends at a sidewalk adjacent to Highland Avenue, a North-South thoroughfare serving approximately 11,500 vehicles daily, per the City’s own traffic study in 2019.
Even if Phase II connected to Phase I, which it does not, Phase I itself stops at the back of the abandoned
Union Pacific Park which was closed due to contamination 15 years ago. There is no practical extension
in either direction.
Despite these facts, the City of Fullerton’s Grant Application included a projected 105,000 annual users, a number that is simply preposterous on its face.
The proposed trail does not pass through a residential neighborhood, but rather a blighted industrial
strip situated between two dilapidated, neglected, and run-down parks. In short, it doesn’t go where
anyone with common sense would want to go.
The existing abandoned right-of way has provided plenty of evidence of being unsafe. There is rampant
drug use, homeless encampments and two violent deaths over just the past few years.
The City of Fullerton cannot afford to maintain the proposed facility, as is clearly witnessed in the
condition of the trash strewn, dilapidated, weed-infested Phase I, a condition deliberately omitted from
the grant application. The idea that this area has been so poorly maintained but somehow the City will
be able to be good stewards of the area only AFTER the State grants it nearly $2 million more, is
insulting.

The $1.77 million grant represents resources that could, and should, be used elsewhere.
Fullerton’s Application was disingenuous, at best. At worst it included falsehoods dressed up in words
echoed back from the stated objectives of the Application Form in order to defraud the State.
In writing this I am hoping that your Agency will reevaluate this project, rescind the funding, and find a
better use of this valuable Grant money.
Thank you for consideration of this matter.

Trail to Nowhere Gets Use

The other day FFFF noticed a gentleman who was actually an active bicycle user of the City’s much-vaunted recreation trail through the industrial wasteland of central Fullerton. In fact, this fellow has two bikes!

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This poor chap seems harmless enough, but guy’s presence once again raises the several issues regarding the proposed $2,000,000 trail, mostly about safety and maintenance, but also about the homeless problem that has plagued the City’s Union Pacific right-of-way for two decades and actually helped close the dead Union Pacific Park years, and years ago. Potential users, even if there were any identified beyond the insane projection of 105,000 per year, would surely think twice about the neighborhood and the company they would be keeping whilst recreating on the Trail to Nowhere.

No one in City Hall, not staff, and not the incurious City Council who unanimously approved this waste of money, explained why the fate of the UP Park won’t also be visited upon the Trail to Nowhere. The physical conditions still appertain and the existence of the homeless and the Fullerton Toker’s Town gang is as prevalent as ever.

You would think that no one would want their fingerprints on this new disaster-in-waiting, but there seems to be the understanding that in Fullerton all you have to do is wait for a year or two and all past sins will be forgotten if not forgiven. This is called no-fault government, and man, we got it bad.

I Think I’ve Seen This Movie

It’s real expensive, but it sure is short…

When thinking about the Trail to Nowhere it seemed to me that I had seen this same sort of thing before. Then it struck me. Of course.

An expensive and unnecessary project that dragged out for years, and that was supposed to be paid for with other people’s money, “free money” as it is known in City Hall, I recalled.

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

I remembered because I wrote about it, here. The second elevator towers at the Fullerton train station, a project so ridiculously over-engineered, so expensive, so reliant on phony ridership projections and so expensive and mismanaged that it ended up raiding Fullerton’s own Capital Budget to the tune of $600,000. In the end no one knows how much was actually spent on that boondoggle when everything was said and done. But one good thing that came out of it was teaching me to appreciate how things are done in Fullerton, and how there isn’t one cent’s worth of accountability on the part of anybody.

If the Trail to Nowhere actually ever gets built but is way over budget, unused, unmaintained and falls into decrepitude, who will stand up to take responsibility? Not the City Council who approved it without question. Not City staff – the chief architects of this disaster in-waiting are already gone – nor will the City Manager, who will be gone as soon as his pension formula tops him out. None of the people stirred up to insult and harangue the City Council will be in evidence and the proprietors of the Fullerton Observer, if they are still around annoying people, will not be searching for those accountable. No one else will be, either.

Maybe the less said, the better…

Remember the multi-million dollar Poison Park intergenerational fiasco? Has anybody ever taken responsibility for that poster child of bureaucratic incompetence and political indifference? Of course not. That would be a horrible precedent. Fullerton.

The Desecration of Emmanuel Perez

RIP

In a post only a month ago I wrote about the presence of a memorial shrine on the now-approved, ill-conceived “Trail to Nowhere,” likely evidence of a mortality, causes unknown. But we knew the name of the victim because a small cross gave his name, Emmanuel Perez, and his vital dates:1990-2018.

On a recent tour of the Trail to Nowhere FFFF noticed that the cross bearing Mr. Perez’s name has vanished, removed by somebody after having been there unmolested for many years judging by the age of the shrine.

Gone, not forgotten…

Who did it, and why?

The only plausible reason is that someone who reads this blog, or knows someone who reads this blog wanted it gone, and took it.

It’s possible that family members or friends removed it, but that sort of defeats the purpose of a memorial, and why, after all these years?

It could have been a City employee, dispatched for the purpose of removing an embarrassment to the City’s beloved boondoggle. That would be ironic given the trash, industrial waste, homeless and drug addicts that are the hallmarks of both Phase 1 and the proposed Phase 2 of the Trail to Nowhere. The City has never shown any interest in maintaining the existing property it owns.

Nothing to see here…

Or could it have been a zealous Trail to Nowhere advocate, those busy Zahra minions, who decided that a memorial to dead man was not the sort of landmark that would make good publicity for an allegedly safe facility. Or maybe it could have been a Fullerton Observer.

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It might even have been taken by the fellow who is currently making his abode about 100 feet from the memorial site, to add to his collection of Fullerton memorabilia.

Mr. Perez is gone and so is his cross. But neither are forgotten. FFFF is offering a reward for information about who purloined the memorial cross of Emmanuel Perez. Send us an email.

The Compartmentalization Effect. Or Worse.

It’s a total waste of money, but it sure is short…

Now that the Council majority of Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung have done a 180 flip-flop and accepted the so-called Trail to Nowhere grant, it seems like a good idea to remind Fullerton about some things that the City still doesn’t want us to know.

Well, well, well…

About eight weeks ago – several weeks before the Council flip-flop – I wrote a post about the presence of test wells on the Trail to Nowhere. These wells were installed to test the levels of trichlorethylene (TCE). Not only were the wells situated on the trail but also farther south, in the middle of the street in the 300 block of West Truslow Avenue.

I offered the fact that no one can do this sort of thing on public property without permits from the City of Fullerton and that surely the Engineering Department or Development Services Departments has records of those encroachments. The scope of the actual TCE contamination has been known for 20 years or more, and the State of California and the Environmental Protection Agency have known all about it. So has City Hall, since groundwater contamination in north Orange County was the subject of a massive lawsuit involving the Orange County Water District. Plus, someone was installing test wells on City property.

I asked how was this contamination could be omitted from the City’s grant application to the State Natural Resources Agency.

The grant has finally been accepted by the City, but the problem remains. Two problems, in fact. The contamination is still there, of course, and so are the test wells – an issue not addressed in the project budget. But an even bigger question remains. Was the omission due to a management problem – complete compartmentalization of City departments? Or, worse was the problem deliberately ignored?

In either case Fullerton has a fundamental problem the cause of which is clear: complete lack of accountability that appears cultural. City Manager Eric Levitt was preceded by a long leadership vacuum in which City Managers like Joe Felz and Ken Domer were simply along for the ride – chosen, apparently for their elastic sense of responsibility. Yet, Levitt has been around for two years and seems to show the same flexible attitude.

If departments are sequestered behind opaque compartment walls, there is a failure of corporate leadership, and an inevitable decentralization that was, and is, a recipe for costly failure. That’s on Mr. Levitt. If City employees knew about the contamination issue and either said nothing or deliberately lied to the State, that’s a problem of employees who feel utterly secure in their behavior, knowing that consequences for bad actions is not a problem; this is on Levitt, too.

In the specific case of the Trail to Nowhere, the three councilmembers who flipped their votes have some explaining to do, and not just about a matter of opinion, good idea/bad idea. They need to explain how and why the City application for the grant omitted mention of a real and present issue, and also what their City Manager (who just got an 8% raise) is going to do about it. If they don’t they’re part of the accountability problem.

The Sound and the Fury

A couple weeks back I posted that once again the issue of nuisance noise was coming to the City Council for yet another stab at, well, just another stab.

Just kidding…

In December the proposed ordinance was deemed lacking by Mayor Dunlap who asked that it come back in February; what that delay was supposed to accomplish is unclear, but return the item did. It resurfaced on Tuesday, and once again was half-heartedly examined and pushed away by the Council. This time they sent the matter back to the Planning Commission, that had already approved the existing proposal in November, 2023. This stall seems even more pointless than the last one. Fullerton.

The staff report was virtually unintelligible. It was nothing but a disjointed litany of actions taken (or, to be more precise, not taken) over the past 15 years to avoid doing anything and letting the scofflaw bar owners continue to scoff at the law. It didn’t say that, of course, but such was the unmistakable implication. A common thread seemed to be the difficultly in enforcing anything, which was just an excuse for not trying.

More Orwellian language…

The thrust of the revised ordinance is to raise the legal noise threshold in Downtown Fullerton. In fact the only thing the Council was considering, according to the oral staff presentation was this commercial aspect, although you’d have a hard time knowing that fact based on the material presented to the public.

The ordinance itself has baked-in failure written between every line, most notably in the increase in decibel level at 50 feet from the sources, combined with the issue of “ambient noise,” a loophole our fine Downtown club operators would be sure to drive a diesel semi through.

Joshua Ferguson made an appearance to show the nonsense of the 50 ft from property line part and noted, correctly that the the thresholds could actually create OSHA violating conditions within buildings themselves. He succinctly pointed out that the City (despite the self-congratulatory recitation of its recent enforcement efforts) wasn’t really enforcing anything at all, and showed that scofflaws were rarely even punished per the Municipal Code.

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Staying awake long enough to break the law…

The proposed ordinance language seems to have been written by a staff member. But nowhere can one find evidence that any of this was approved as to form by Dick Jones, Esq. of The I Can’t believe It’s A Law Firm. What’s the point of having a lawyer if their job doesn’t include reviewing a potential law before it’s passed?

The Cost of Calamity

The trail was expensive, but it sure was short…

Something that nobody has talked about when discussion of the controversial “Trail to Nowhere” occurs, is the inflation of construction cost in the 5 years since the grant application was submitted.

what’d that scary man say?

ENR cost indicies show a construction cost increase of 27% percent since December, 2019. It’s very fair to apply the same percentage for soft costs as they tend to closely follow the trajectory of hard construction cost. Ditto the cost that in-house “contract management” add to the budget, since that is a fixed percentage. This means a likely cost increase of $540,000 on the original estimate of $2,000,000 for the Trail to Nowhere, give or take.

Off we go, into the Wild Blue Yonder…

And the project still requires detailed working drawings and all the necessary permits. Then the mess has to be let out to bid, undergo bid review and contract award. Of course, if the bids blow the budget out of the water, more delay will ensue.

Abandon Ship!

Since the State Resources Agency grant allocation can be assumed to be fixed, this means that the City of Fullerton’s Park Dwelling Fund will be on the hook for over $800,000, with a concomitant hit to other, real park facility construction/improvements. And of course these numbers presuppose an accurate project budget to begin with, a presupposition I wouldn’t place a bet on.

Children at play…

Our City Council doesn’t seem to take this sort of thing into their thinking about the silly trail that no one will use, but it’s the kind of thing that should be ever-present in their minds. The problem is not only maintaining the linear park strip (as the City has proved completely incapable of on Phase I), but now of building Phase II at all.

Who Was Emmanuel Perez?

While I was strolling along the ill-fated Trail to Nowhere the other day, I came across a small shrine-like set-up just where the UP right-of way starts its parallel run with the BNSF mainline.

This is what I saw.

This small memorial is dedicated to somebody called Emmanuel Perez who died at 28 years of age, six years ago. I did some quick searching and found no news references to anybody dying here, whether by foul play or by train accident. But Fullerton has a history of keeping bad news out of the news.

Naturally, Voice of OC “photojournalist” Julie Leopo failed to publish this image after she took her guided tour of the area, helpfully provided by “journalist” Skaskia Kennedy. That would not have been good for the pre-arranged narrative.

Death on the Trail to Nowhere is not new, but this is one I hadn’t heard of. If anybody can shed some light on the life and death of Emmanuel Perez, let FFFF know.

Mr. Average Gets A Raise

What do you do when your City Manager is spectacularly unspectacular? If it’s Fullerton you give him a raise.

I’ll drink to that!

See, in Fullerton if you’re a City Manager who avoids getting drunk and driving over a tree before trying to evade the law, you’re doing pretty darn good.

Don’t let the amorphous shape fool you. Oh, wait…

And so Mr. Eric Levitt, who has been City Manager for less than 2 years is getting an 8% raise from $250,000 to $270,000. This gentleman is hardly any different than the two temps who preceded him and gives precisely the same deference to an incompetent collection of underlings. In the past 20 months he hasn’t shown any interests in establishing a corps of excellence – just the opposite in fact, and this must be cause for comfort for a City Council that thrives in a culture of not bad is outstanding – just try not to let us make ourselves look too bad.

Last year, the City Manager predicted dire economic issues ahead for Fullerton, massive deficits, of course; and by the end of 2023 Levitt had already started paving his own path of least resistance by hiring a public opinion pollster to drum up support for a general sales tax. This year’s mission will be to revive the ill-fated Measure S, give it a new letter from the alphabet, and let the cops and emergency medics pitch it to the public.

What a performance.

The Walk on Wilshire

Closed but not forgotten…

The Voice of OC did a story yesterday on the future of outdoor dining in Orange County. Featured in the piece was Fullerton’s own “Walk on Wilshire,” a pandemic-related action that let a few restaurants in the 100 Block of West Wilshire Avenue avail themselves of outdoor tables by closing the street to through traffic.

By 2021, the program had become a full-fledged bureaucratic effort in City Hall with signage, barrier squabbling, permanent bollards in the street and rent schedules; and even new lingo was trotted out, as the heretofore unheard of term “parklet” was applied – a meaningless designation, but one clearly calculated to inspire the notion that some sort of public recreation was going on.

Like all bureaucratic operations, Walk on Wilshire had taken on a life of its own. Most recently the “program” (for indeed, a program it had metastasized into) was extended until mid-2024. No one in Fullerton should have been surprised by this calcification, especially Councilman Bruce Whitaker who has been supporting the road closure. We’ve seen this sort of silliness before.

It’s Redevelopment lite. The mountains of play money are gone, but the completely misplaced can-do confidence of City Hall lingers on.

And almost nobody has showed much concern for traffic circulation or the impacts on businesses to the rest of the downtown area. The Voice piece did the usual interviews with government employees masquerading as experts in “economic development,” the folks who couldn’t prove that their efforts even pay for their own cost to the taxpayers. Of course they were touting hard.

Put it back the way it was…

Coincidentally, a recent letter from Wilshire property owner Tony Bushala put the City on notice that the road closure had a negative impact on his business and he wanted the street closure removed. This missive was immediately leaked by Councilman Ahmad Zahra to the Fullerton Observer, where apparently a couple of the zanies broke into high hosannas about what a wonderful thing “WoW” is with its splendid parklets and bike passage. But is it widely regarded as such a civic amenity?

According to downtown sources, many of the businesses there are unhappy with the road closure as they see it benefitting just a few restaurants (and government rent collectors) at the expense of the greater good. So far none of these business operators have coalesced into a united group, but if they do we may hear a loud voice in opposition to parklets, barricades, and tables in the middle of a public roadway.

If there is action by the City Council to continue this program, the sailing may not be as smooth the parklet promoters hope.