I checked out the upcoming Fullerton City Council agenda and noticed an appeal of a Planning Commission decision to approve a new, 185,000 square foot warehouse project at 801 S. Acacia Avenue.
The appeal is being made by Fullerton Heritage who believe that the PC failed to receive enough relevant information about the existing building’s historical significance.
Apparently the structure was designed by noted SoCal architects A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons. It’s front elevation sports a mid-century modern aspect.
The back doesn’t seem very distinguished – metal buildings and canopies. According to FH they used to make sliding doors here including those requested by well-known architects.
Well, good luck to Fullerton Heritage, say I. The City government has almost always turned a blind eye to historic preservation, pretending otherwise, of course. And in the old days “historical” meant old and cutesie – in City Hall it probably still does, and it’s not hard to see staff blow past something like this.
Of course Historic Preservation is generally a more “liberal” idea and in this case the property in question is standing in the way of “economic development” a concept so near and dear to every politician’s self-promotion. It should be fun to observe District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra navigate his way between some of his natural constituents and his proclaimed dedication to the hustle of economic development.
I’ve been watching Fullerton politics and governance for for a long time – since 2008 or 2009, in fact. One thing that has consistently struck me is the way in which Fullerton’s elected officials have completely and almost happily abdicated their responsibility to determine the direction of policy.
It has always been the goal, in principle if not in practice in modern representative democracy, that policy would be established by electeds, and administrated through a protected civil service bureaucracy.
Determining policy – the philosophical direction you want the town to take – isn’t easy in the “City Manager” form of government, a form deliberately created to remove any sort of executive authority from elected representatives. But with that set-up came something else, too: the difficulty of people’s representatives in establishing policy direction, and doing it without violating the Brown Act strictures on open meetings.
Nevertheless, the responsibility is still there, even if it easier to have photo ops, and ribbon cuttings and the like. Sadly our electeds have failed; failed with remarkable banality and complacency. Former Councilman and Fullerton Police Chief Pat McKinley once illustrated the point when challenged for his “failure to lead.” He exclaimed that councilmen weren’t there to lead – that was the City Manager’s job.
Lately the policy role abdication has been seen with the regurgitated, spit out, re-consumed and regurgitated again noise ordinance, an ongoing embarrassment that has plagued honest citizens for over fifteen years. I read the staff report on the recent noise effort, a report that justifies a decision to actually increase acceptable levels, protect offenders by including an ambient noise mask, and locates the noise metering away from the source whence it can be muddled by an equally noisy neighbor.
The staff report is nothing but a list of events that have occurred since 2009 when the City Council last expressed a coherent position. Nowhere in the staff report is there any discussion on the policy decisions behind any of the activities. Why not? Because there weren’t any. In the same way that the incredibly costly, drunken binge known as Downtown Fullerton has escaped any intelligent policy conversation, the noise nuisance issue, a subset of the former, has evaded policy discussion as City staff – behind the scenes – has diligently avoided doing anything to enforce existing code, and worked very hard to reduce the requirements.
So what has happened is a vacuum in which each new action seems disembodied from policy conversation; that’s because it is. And our council steadfastly refused to have an open and honest conversation of what it wants, abdicating its responsibilities.
There is a long list of issues that our elected representatives should be addressing from an overarching policy level and aren’t. This sort of thing takes thought; and some hard work in ascertaining whether your city employees are really doing the thing you want; or not, as in the case of the Trail to Nowhere. It’s easier just to ram through the Consent Calendar on the nod, rubberstamp the ridiculous, clean your plate like good kids, and move on to the photo ops and the trophy ceremonies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I came across this video gem the other day. Look and sound familiar? The Australian TV show Utopia, goes after high speed rail as never making economic sense. But economic sense ought not to get in the way of progress, and the idea of intercity transit going real, real fast is irresistible to some, including the army of consultants, engineers, union construction workers and land grabbers who make bank on the concept.
California’s HSR Authority has been a sink hole for billions and billions of dollars, escalating costs, tortuous delays, etc., etc. And yet it gasps on, staggering along thanks to its own bureaucratic inertia – an idea sold to the voters over 15 years ago and with little hope of opening the easiest segment before 2030.
Meantime, this titanic boondoggle is scoping the all-important line from Anaheim to Los Angeles where the line currently under construction in the Central Valley may never reach in this century. Cutting through this urban landscape, including Fullerton, will cost a fortune, of course, and the HSR won’t be able to go much faster than existing train service. What would it mean for us if this dopey authority cut a swath through Fullerton? It won’t be good, that’s for sure.
But who cares? In California it’s not efficacy that matters. It’s the grand gesture, and in this case the laughable assertion that California will be appreciably better off by spending hundreds of billions of dollars to buy a few train trips per year.
On FFFF’s last post we got some comments from a frequent FFFF critic who was trying desperately to justify the idiotic Trail to Nowhere, the disembodied, half-mile, $2,000,000 taxpayer funded boondoggle that serves no apparent useful purpose. One sentence in the one of this person’s comments is worth posting about because it so clearly points to a complete failure of the Trail to Nowhere to be a facility that anybody would use.
The inability of its advocates to describe real persons, any real persons who might want to use this trail has been one of FFFF’s most frequent criticisms of it. Instead we have been presented with the same generalities and clichés over and over and over and over again. Trails good. Healthy children good. Poor need services. Trees good. Fresh air. Blue sky. Cars bad. Bikes good. Good things for south Fullerton. Right-of-way conversion good.
But back to our visitor. Here’s the quotation:
“So say you lived in a home near UP Park and wanted to ride a bicycle to the DMV.“
In and of itself this comment is just an absurd disconnect from reality in so many ways; but it points to the inability of Trail to Nowhere boosters to describe real users of the proposed project that could justify its cost; and it’s the reason they stick to useless generalities.
The grant application for the Trail to Nowhere is full of useless general statistics of an area with absolutely no connection to the specific land use of the immediately surrounding area – present or future. From these general numbers (half of which are north of the BNSF tracks and not even germane) our City staff educed all sorts of things that aren’t remotely true. Things like connectivity to businesses, to Downtown Fullerton; connectivity between east and west Fullerton, and between schools, etc. In one of the most breathtaking of outright lies, the creators of the application claim to the State of California that they project annual users at 105,000.
Others, like our visitor, have even relied on the dearest hope of all bureaucrats looking for make-work stuff they can’t justify: if you build it “they” (somebody, somehow, somewhere) will come. Of course there is no accountability when something fails. Suddenly, no one is around anymore to take the rap, even if government culture had a rear view mirror (it doesn’t).
The Trail to Nowhere is the brain child of the long gone, $100,000 per-year pensioner, Susan Hunt. More recently it was shepherded along by Hugo Curiel and the egregious Alice Loya; the former was fired and the latter just retired. Six City Managers have presided over this incompetence from soup to nuts, and the latest can blame the other five if he needs to.
Only in this environment of unaccountability could anybody propose a project without being able to give a specific and credible analysis of who would actually use the facility.
FFFF has been diligent chronicling the fate of the so-called Trail to Nowhere since last summer when City staff began a selective process of pushing for approval and acceptance of the State Natural Resources Agency grant.
Previously the City Council had directed staff to explore an option for the UP right-of-way that would be multi-modal option planned in conjunction with a wider area. This option became the step-child of City Hall, virtually ignored as staff brought back the original plan and worked an approval from the clueless Parks Commissioners.
In this way Parks employees ginned up their own special brand of momentum in which the ludicrous becomes the unavoidable.
Except the City Council disagreed and voted to reject the grant unless it could be spent on something useful to somebody, somewhere else in Fullerton.
But let’s think about it for a bit.
Why doesn’t the multi-modal paradigm that became known as Option 2, work? Running a motor viaduct between Highland Avenue westward alongside a green belt makes sense if there must be a bike path.
Such a design could easily be incorporated into the 50 ft+ easement width. In fact, the exact same thing was already done in the City’s much vaunted Phase 1. The additional flexibility would be of tremendous benefit in the future development of the adjacent 30 acre area, where in-fill development is inevitable, given recent land planning requirements.
A roadway passing through the right-of-way could open up properties on both Truslow Avenue and Walnut Avenue to new configurations and provide commercial opportunities. Ultimately, the numerous deep properties on Valencia Avenue could have access to the new roadway as well.
Meantime, a Class 1 or a Class IV bikeway could built to the desired 10′ wide standard for a 2-way path with a 5′ DG path alongside, with plenty of room to spare. This configuration happens all the time. CalTRANS shares a design image:
As an aside, it’s kind of ironic that all the Trail to Nowhere advocates seem to think it’s a travesty to have a bike path running alongside what would essentially be a paved alley, but they never seem to mention the issue of their beloved bucolic facility running immediately adjacent to the busiest rail corridor in Sothern California.
Oh well. We cant’s expect consistency from those guided by compete ignorance and political animus.
You’ve got to hand it to some of Fullerton’s lefties. Their blind devotion to abstractions, knee-jerk reaction to anything threatening their cherished causes, and blindered view of a world of injustices perpetrated on the “underserved” is pretty impressive. One way or another.
But one thing that has really struck me lately is the way in which these folk identify themselves with the biggest thing in a democratic republic: the people.
It must be part of human nature to think that what you hold dear must be what everybody should want. But in some, the misidentification takes on a delusional quality – it is what everybody wants.
I’m referring to the recent hubbub about the ridiculous “Trail to Nowhere,” in which a tiny Ahmad Zahra claque have bi-monthly wasted hours and hours and hours talking about how their desire is the will of “the people,” and how the City Council majority is not listening to “the people.”
Why repeat the numerous reasons why the proposed trail was idiotic? FFFF has already done that convincingly. Instead, let’s look at the nature of the chatter.
Such talk could easily be dismissed as just meaningless political rhetoric, but these people seem to actually believe they do speak for everybody, obviously, because they are so right. It’s hard to understand where such a blind self-righteousness comes from, but I suspect it comes from decades of educational indoctrination into certain ways of thinking.
But, consider the reality.
A dozen or so speakers nattering on about something they stubbornly refuse to actually understand, but believing that they speak for the citizens of a mid-size city of 145,000 people is preposterous.
The vast majority of Fullerton’s residents don’t know anything about the Trail to Nowhere and, if presented all the facts instead of weepy and outraged propaganda of the Fullerton Observer, might possibly conclude that the Council majority acted in their interest.