The Fiscal Cliff

The Fullerton City Council is holding a special meeting tonight – a 2024-25 Budget “workshop.” No work will get done but there will be shopping going on as staff begins its formal press to raise a sales tax.

There is a lot of self-serving verbiage about how well our City staff has performed its tasks up ’til now, but then the hard reality hits because budget numbers can’t pat themselves on the back.

There are some harrowing numbers in the proposed budget – including a $9,400,000 draw-down from strategic reserves. This means of course, that the budget is no where near balanced as City Hall apologists like Jennifer Fitzgerald and Jan Flory claimed when they ran the place into the red almost every year.

M. Eric Levitt. Will he save us from ourselves?

Let’s let our City Manager, Eric Levitt tell the tale:

Financial Stability. The City has been able to over the last two years (for the first time in recent history of the City) to reach and maintain a 17% contingency reserve level. This budget maintains that reserve level; however due to an operating deficit, we will be utilizing one-time excess reserves this year and coming close to that 17% level in FY 2024-25 and below that in years beyond next year

Read. Weep.

The overall picture gets even worse as the levels of reserves slowly dwindle away. After this year Fullerton continues to be upside from $7.5 to $8.8 million each year until the end of the dismal decade. We are not favored with the running reserve funds balances.

Infrastructure is supposedly a big deal. Which reminds me of a quotation attributed to Mark Twain: Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. But this year we are told, we can push get going on our deteriorating infrastructure along by borrowing! Once again let’s heed the words of Mr. Levitt:

I have also put together a strategy to increase that funding level to closer to $14 million over the next four years through the use of financing. However, there are both upsides and downsides to this approach which will be discussed with you in more detail at today’s presentation.

Now this should be a red flag: borrowing to perform maintenance, a basic accounting no-no. And what form will the borrowing take? Not a municipal bond, you can be sure, It would likely be by selling certificates of participation or some other dodge to avoid municipal debt restrictions. Here’s the table that shows our Maintenance of Effort (MOE) shortfall without financing.

Now we all know that interest payments are made by somebody, somewhere, and that somebody is you and me. We get to pay the interest on debt incurred by years of municipal mismanagement by people like Joe Felz and Ken Domer and Jeff Collier who get to sail off to a glorious and massively pensioned retirement at 55 years of age.

And finally, to circle back to the story lead, here’s a distasteful nugget carefully slipped into the City Manager’s report:

“Staff recommends City Council review options over the next year to stabilize the budget and ensure the City remains financially sound.

Jesus H. There it is. Not quite explicitly stated, but we know very well where this is going. Another general sales tax effort, just like the ill-fated Measure S of four years ago. The seeds for this have already been planted, of course, in a nasty little taxpayer-funded fishing expedition in the guise of a community survey. Last November I regaled the Friends with this slimy maneuver, here.

How did things get so bad?

By the way, this is exactly the same process City Hall rolled out four years ago. And we will be told By Ahmad Zahra, Shana Charles and Vivian Jaramillo that if we don’t pony up we will be morally deficient.

Well, good luck Friends. This is going to be a long year and you can bet the farm that we will be asked to pick up the check – again.

Friday Photo Fun

Every now and then I look down from doggy heaven and see something entertaining. Then I ask you humans to come up with a caption for the image. Here’s an picture that just cries out for a caption. Your councilman Ahmad Zahra, beloved by my former mistress, Jan Flory, and others of her ilk. My canine instinct senses something is off-putting about this man, but, arf. I’m only a dog, and a dead one at that.

Please give it a whirl. I am informed the best effort will receive special FFFF recognition.

Kitty Throws Hello Party For Self

A couple weeks ago FFFF posted about Fullerton’s 4th District Council election this fall. Incumbent Bruce Whitaker will be incumbent no longer – finally termed out. One of the subjects was the candidacy of Ms. Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo, a former City employee, former council candidate, and most recently an annoying presence at City Council meetings.

Well, it turns out the wheels of another Jaramillo candidacy were indeed in motion. Here’s an invite to her coming out party. Oops. Somebody doesn’t use spellcheck.

“Appetisers” for all…booze is extra.

Josh Newman and Sharon Quirk-Silva are taking time out of their busy schedules messing up California to be there, so Ms. Kitty must have the backing of the OC Democrat operation, although this time there will be no fake candidates created to protect an incumbent.

So the first battle line is drawn: do we want another former public employee on the Fullerton City Council? Do we want one who will certainly be willing to raise our taxes to support her pension? Do we want Ahmad Zahra to have a third vote to promote stupid vanity projects that will promote his “brand?”

The 2024 4th District Election

As the Friends know, Fullerton’s First, Second and Fourth City Council District representative jobs are up for election this fall. And while it’s a little early to speculate on who’s going to run and what the outcome might be, it’s fun to do a little introductory review.

Dunlap-Jung

Incumbents Fred Jung and Nick Dunlap are incumbents in the First and Second Districts, respectively. If they want to run again, and I haven’t heard they won’t, the power of incumbency is hard to beat.

Going, going, gone…

The Fourth District, currently represented by Bruce Whitaker will be wide open. Whitaker is termed out after 12 long years on the Council and his replacement will decide the balance of the Council if Dunlap and Jung run, and are re-elected. The current 3-2 division is based on ideological difference, the difference is between looking out for the taxpayers – at least once in a while – and doing whatever idiocy the bureaucracy wants to perpetrate.

Yes, I do so live here.

At this point the candidate pool seems weak. Last time Whitaker squeaked by past a dude named Aruni Thakur, a school board member who didn’t live in the district. Could Thakur do the (fake) carpetbagger routine? He had the full support of the unions and the County Democrat Party four years ago, but it wasn’t enough for poor Aruni, who was hammered with his carpetbaggery. With no incumbent this time around his political greed might pull him in.

Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo

Then there is a woman named Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo, an individual who has made a nuisance of herself recently attacking the Council majority with the usual feigned outrage. Ms. Jaramillo is retired from “work” as a life-long municipal employee whose professional career started in Fullerton handing out parking tickets and graduated into being a code enforcement busybody. She would be a perfectly reliable yes vote for anything floated by city staff, and just the sort of running buddy Ahmad Zahra dreams about to support a sales tax. Word on the street is that the OC Dems are already behind her candidacy, which would preclude the aforementioned Thakur from getting involved.

Jaramillo ran for the City Council in 2012 and came in 7th in a city-wide election. Two years ago she was appointed to the redistricting committee where she championed the failed, ridiculous district map meant to keep the lamentable knucklehead Jesus Quirk-Silva in office.

Jaramillo’s other claim to fame, besides pestering the City Council these days, is suing the City in 2015 to create city council districts – very likely so she could run herself someday when Whitaker termed out.

So far no one from a more responsible philosophical perspective has raised their hand in D4, but as noted above, it’s still early in the year and filing doesn’t take place for almost another five months.

Trail to Nowhere Pests Throw Party

A Friend just forwarded notice that something called South Fullerton Community is holding a “recognition” celebration this Saturday. The cause? Recognizing “community leaders” for succeeding in pestering, insulting and generally annoying Councilmembers Dunlap, Jung, and Whitaker until the latter finally caved in and approved the $1.7 million State grant to build a recreation trail through the middle of the worst industrially blighted, drug-riddled and gang infested strip in Orange County.

Hubris doesn’t seem to be something the South Fullerton Community folk worry about.

Of course this unheard of group was obviously created by and exists solely as a prop for Councilman Ahmad Zahra. Ironically, they won’t be holding their victory party anywhere near the site of the Trail to Nowhere. That would be a bummer for the celebration.

The announcement says that Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk Silva will be there to recognize the achievement, which makes sense because she doesn’t have any. Senator Josh Newman knows better than to bless this disaster-in-waiting by his presence; but maybe Gas Tax Josh doesn’t know better. This is the same guy who passed a regressive tax increase on his constituents the day before he left town for a Caribbean vacation.

And still the problems of the Trail to Nowhere appertain: a fraudulent grant application that omitted mention of contaminated soil and lied about the number of potential users; 10 active testing wells for trichlorethylene on the site; gang graffiti everywhere; homeless encampments; and of the cost of ongoing maintenance that no one has accounted for. Then there is the rosy, 5 year old budget that won’t get the deal done and will require additional money that could be used on other facilities.

RIP

Will any of the celebrants care about the true facts of the Trail to Nowhere? They haven’t so far. Will any of them stand up in a couple of years and apologize for the harebrained scheme? Of course not. All the people in charge of this mess know it as a fact that government has no rearview mirror and that mistakes may have been made (passive voice) but:

  1. Not enough money was spent.
  2. The people in charge have retired.
  3. Critical information was withheld by someone, possibly, but it was all a worthy gesture.
  4. It’s not a disaster it’s a victory!!
  5. Hindsight is 20/20.

Of course this being Fullerton the subject probably won’t come up at all, just as no one even bothers asking about the 20 year old embarrassment known as the Union Pacific Park.

I wonder if the party-givers have invited Messrs. Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker to their fete. They deserved to be recognized, too, and maybe even get a certificate of achievement.

A Tale of Two Trails

A Friend has alerted us that the on-line version of the Fullerton Observer posted a story by somebody named “Emerson Little” about a little known Fullerton trail called the Lucy Van Der Hoff Trail. The title? “Lucy Van Der Hoff Trail Needs Maintenance.” It seems that almost nobody knows about this .9 mile “asset” even though it is City-owned.

Unfortunately, the “trail” is overgrown, full of trash, and is yet another shining example of neglect by our top-notch Parks Department. Fortunately, the intrepid Emerson took the trail and generously provided images. But let’s let Emerson tell it in his own words: .

“It’s maintained by the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Department and is listed on the city’s website as a connector. However, when I walked on the trail, it was rather overgrown and poorly maintained. In certain spots, there were quite a few lost objects and pieces of garbage, possibly swept down the pathway by rainwater.”

Put on your walking shoes…

So, the City has completely failed at maintaining the Lucy Van Der Hoff Trail – even as a simple mountain bike trail. They seem actually have completely ignored it – a facility that should cost almost nothing to maintain. It’s alleged “connector” value is almost useless.

It’s the thought that counts…

More from Emerson: “I stepped around some discarded plastic bags, bottles, pillows that were torn open, unidentifiable articles of clothing, pieces of broken wood, old soccer nets, and cans, making my way forward.” When the overgrown vegetation became too thick our brave explorer had to ditch the “trail.”

Finally, here’s Emerson wrapping up the tale of his Big Adventure: “So, while my hike was interesting, I really wouldn’t recommend taking the Lucy Van Der Hoff trail.”

And now, Friends, here’s an observation that seems to have escaped the keen notice of the Observers. The advocates of the infamous Trail to Nowhere on the old Union Pacific right-of-way tacitly believe (or pretend to believe) it is going to be maintained – 170 trees, hundreds of shrubs, water lines, irrigation systems, benches, paths, signage, light fixtures – and let’s not forget graffiti removal, etc. – even though there is no budget to do this, and the money can’t be looted from the Park Dwelling Fund which can’t be used for maintenance.

We’ve already seen the maintenance fiasco of UP Trail Phase I – the plant denuded, trash filled, urine soaked predecessor of Phase II that nobody in City Hall has given a rat’s ass about. And Fullerton is also facing a fiscal cliff thanks to years of budgetary mismanagement.

Several months ago FFFF received a comment from former City Manager Chris Meyers, warning about the foolishness of building something that doesn’t have a plan for maintenance cost. But Ward 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra believes even talking about maintenance issues south of the tracks is “offensive,” the idea being that it’s great to give the “underserved” barrio “something nice,” but who cares what happens to it later. It’s like giving somebody a car when they can’t afford to buy gas, or insurance, or keep it running. Looks like Zahra’s colleagues all agree – even though the very same people can’t figure out how to open Union Pacific Park – another embarrassing disaster.

Preservation Attempt in South Fullerton

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.

The Abdication

Lots of Indians, but no chiefs…

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.

One size fits all…

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.

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.