High Speed Rubbish. Mate.

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.

Where Are They?

The trail wasn’t useful, but it sure was short…

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.

Over there is run and play and enjoy… (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

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.

Suddenly, users appeared out of the cornfield…

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).

Hugo and Alice. The radioactivity was undeniable…

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.

The Poisoned Trail to Nowhere?

The subject of trichlorethylene (TCE) contamination along the proposed Trail to Nowhere has been the subject of discussion on this blog. The adjacent factory at 311 South Highland Avenue was the site of TCE spills for years and has been identified as such by the State Department of Toxic Substance Control and the federal EPA. The agencies identified a southerly moving plume off the property and directly under the trail site.

The contamination was included in a lawsuit brought by the Orange County Water District, but has not been remediated.

In previous posts FFFF identified old test wells on property to the west of 311 S. Highland.

It turns out there are new ones, too. Six of them, in fact, that were actually drilled on the trail site strung out along several hundred feet.

There are also new test wells that have been placed very recently even farther south – in the west 100 block of Truslow Avenue.

These test wells have been placed without any notification to the residents of District 5, so they told me when I traversed the area today; but, obviously the City is aware of these installations since encroachment permits are required to do this sort of work on public property.

So the question remains: what is the level of toxicity in the area – and not just on the impact to ground water, but to surface soils that might need to be excavated, treated, and removed. There is no budget to do toxic soils remediation, either in the Trail to Nowhere grant application, or in the City’s budget.

Maybe the soils along the Trail to Nowhere are clean, or at least of a level of toxicity that is not considered hazardous. Maybe not. Maybe it’s time to find out.

The Trail to Nowhere Penalty

Although its advocates keep whacking it like the proverbial dead horse, the near-disaster known as the Trail to Nowhere isn’t happening. We can thank Fullerton City Council members Dunlap, Jung, and Whitaker for pulling the plug on “Phase II” of the so-called Union Pacific Trail back in August. The proposal made no sense: it had few, if any potential users, ran through an area of heavy industry, was and would never be connected to anything else, cost nobody knew how much to maintain, didn’t even line up with its alleged Phase I, and cost $2,000,000 to build (if you can trust a City budget).

Perhaps most importantly, the council majority had previously requested that various trail options be considered in the context of a wider area plan. City staff essentially ignored that request and began a behind the scenes effort to drum up support for the original plan – an act of insubordination, really.

At the time no one told the three councilmembers that there was adjacent property with trichlorethylene contamination in the 300 block of Highland Avenue and plumes had drifted south, even though this information had been in the City’s possession for decades. Fortunately, Messrs. Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung had plenty of other excellent reasons to deny the grant funding for its intended purpose.

Another thing the City Council didn’t know was that if the grant application contained “false representations” – either intentionally, or through lack of reasonable effort – the grant could be rescinded and the State could demand whatever of its money had been spent. Here’s the relevant paragraph in the grant acceptance agreement:

In other words, had contaminated soils been detected on the “trail” the State may well have been inclined to demand whatever had been spent, particularly in light of the fact that the grant application falsely stated that environmental testing had been performed in 1998 and was not an issue.

We know this isn’t true because in the early 2000s the UP Park (after construction) was found to be contaminated, requiring mitigation; there is no way that the “trail” was somehow tested, but not the park site. We also know that very recent PRA requests identifying this specific issue returned no relevant documents.

Of course the State could have revoked the grant on the basis of the fraudulent application alone, had they discovered the misinformation, a municipal embarrassment, to be sure.

Fortunately, for the City employees who manufactured the grant application and snuck it past an incurious City manager, there will be no repercussion, not even a mild “talking to.” And fortunately for the rest of us, the City won’t be saddled with a stupid white elephant of Phase II that would have ended up looking an awful lot like Phase I.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.

So everybody should be happy, right?

Stupid Observer

A guy named Mike Ritto writes a periodic column for our Friends at the Fullerton Observer called The DOWNTOWN Report that ostensibly deals with happenings in our economic sinkhole known as Downtown Fullerton, or DTF, for short.

The story no one wanted to talk about.

In his latest piece Mr. Ritto promises A Brief History of Union Pacific Park. Hmm. This might be interesting, I thought. And so it is, but not for what it says, but for what it intentionally leaves out. It begins talking about the Union Pacific RR, the Santa Fe and even the Pacific Electric. Ritto eventually gets around to the park itself:

“…remnants of that UP line are the fenced-off, such as Union Pacific Park just to the West of the former station, where the tracks used to run.

That neighborhood needs a park, and as the residents look through the chain links and see, finally, grading and other preliminary work that is taking place right now, they know it is on the way. Approval of the park revitalization was covered in our August 7 issue. In addition, we are following developments in the proposed Union Pacific Trail, which would be an open space trail between this new park and Independence Park to the West.”

Somehow the UP Park history has become no history at all, just a mysterious space with a fence around it.

Children at play…

Of course Ritto omits mention that the UP Park was a park on which the City spent several million dollars in land acquisition and construction, and that the City closed down first because of toxic contamination, and then because of abundant crime. This latter fact gets no mention because Ritto is insistent that “the neighborhood needs a park” and remembering that the last effort failed would be extremely awkward – so let’s just forget it. Like his Observer pals he repeats the nonsense that the Trail to Nowhere is still a real thing.

To perpetuate the propensity for misinformation of which the Observer is (in)famous, Ritto remarks that approval of park revitalization has occurred, as reported in the Observer on August 7th. What really happened was the Parks Commission voted to recommend the the Trail to Nowhere to the City Council. The article itself, despite the erroneous headline, is really just a propaganda piece for the now dead Trail to Nowhere and has nothing to do with the UP Park site.

Fullerton Observer readers are often told that the effort is an all-volunteer affair, as a sort of apology for bad reporting, opinion masquerading as news, factual misrepresentation and basic spelling mistakes. The Kennedy clan has been doing this for forty years or more and there’s no likelihood that this will change.

Mario’s “Bump Out” Heist Subject of Litigation?

This item popped up on tonight’s City Council Closed Session Calendar.

Could this relate to the northwest corner of Commonwealth and Harbor? If so we are dealing with one Mr. Mario Marovic, who opened two bars on this property that he owns at this corner. Why anticipated litigation? What claim did he make against the City? Let’s review a bit of history, shall we?

Sit down and grab some sidewalk, fratello…

By now the Friends are well-familiar with the Saga of the Florentine Stolen Sidewalk, one of Fullerton City Hall’s more egregious and embarrassing fuck-ups, a high bar to clamber over, indeed.

Back in 2003 the Florentines purloined the public sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue by putting a permanent structure on it without permission. The whitewash was that the City would now lease the land under the building addition to the Florentines. And the Florentines owned the addition, not the owner of the adjacent building to which the addition was attached! In the lease the Florentines were held responsible for removing the addition at the City’s discretion.

But the underlying problem of who owned what and who was responsible for what, never went away.

The comic opera took a new turn in 2020 when the Florentine Mob bugged out, abandoning their addition and their responsibilities for their sidewalk leasehold. Who owned the “bump out” as the encroachment was now charmingly referred to? Why, the people of Fullerton, of course. We assumed ownership, and responsibility. But this didn’t stop the owner of the attached building, Mario Marovic, from trespassing into the bump out and from beginning to modify it as he was remodeling the rest of the old Florentine establishments for his new bars.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

What a mess, all predictable and all avoidable had the City staff and the City Council done the right thing back in 2003. Well, if the Queen had…never mind.

The most recent twist became public last fall when, behind the scenes, our feckless City Council made deal with Marovic. He could assume the Florentine ground lease, and open his new establishments; in return, he would be responsible for removing the encroaching structure from the City sidewalk, and all would be well with minor embarrassment to the City. Marovic’s deadline to start demolition was the last week of March 2023, to be complete by July.

Still crazy after all these years…

Well, March came and went. So did April, May, June, July, August, September, and now October; and nothing has started. Nada. Marovic has been in breach of the agreement for seven months, reaping revenue from his saloons and from our property, too.

I really hope this item about a claim made by Marovic because it will inevitably raise the issue of his delinquency, although if it is, and this being Fullerton after all, I suppose the Council will end up letting the scofflaw keep renting our bump out on our sidewalk and maybe even pay him for the honor. It would be yet another effort to keep the City from more institutional embarrassment. Can’t have that, can we?

Here’s what should happen since the City has inexplicably decided not to go after the Florentine Mob for damages. The City should suck it up: cancel the existing ground lease with Marovic, demolish the bump out once and for all, and replace the open wall with whatever was there before this whole damn thing started.

The Trail to Nowhere Phase I Scam

You know, the more I have looked into the ill-fated “rec trail” that would have wasted $2,000,000 in public funds, the more I notice a trend of ignorant misstatements and misdirection; outright prevarication and a lot of hopeless wishful thinking.

Since it’s so hopeless, I can dispense with the wishful thinking (for now). The deliberate lies will be the theme of another post. This post will deal with the misstatements concerning the so-called “Phase I” of the Trail to Nowhere that City staff and trail supporters keep talking about as some sort of achievement. I really wonder if any of them have ever actually seen what they are talking about. I went there today, and I’m here to help.

First, here is a satellite image of “Phase I” that was put in place at the same time the Union Pacific Park was built. The black line is superimposed over the “trail” – a sidewalk running next to a decomposed granite path along which an horse railing was thoughtfully added, presumably for the equestrian enthusiasts in the barrio.

The trail, such as it is, doesn’t even start at the UP Park. It starts just west of it. It runs a few hundred feet and makes an abrupt 90 degree turn, crosses the paved alley about 50′ and then it makes another 90 turn to the left and eventually follows the descending grade of Highland Avenue where it stops at Walnut Avenue at the bottom of the railroad underpass.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.
90 degree turns ahead…
Down she goes…no Phase II in sight.

Does any of this “trail” meet any sort of basic requirements? It sure looks like a design mess to me. And of course this “facility” has been completely neglected by City maintenance and is covered in weeds, broken railings and strewn with trash and vandalized by graffiti.

It’s perfectly obvious to anybody with a modicum of commonsense that this effort has no broader connectivity at the east end. It has no connection to the Transportation Center, Downtown Fullerton or parts east, as continuously claimed by promoters of the “Phase II” extension. It has no connection to anything except the fenced off UP Park. In fact, the thing is so obviously useless for its intended purpose that the City used the adjacent parking stalls for homeless car campers. Who would care? The route behind the Elephant Packing building smells like it’s been used for public urination. A lot of it.

The sad fact is that of course nobody uses this trail for recreation purposes, and for obvious reasons. It’s useless and it’s often dangerous.

Local youths recreating on Phase I…

The answer? Phase II of course! The problem with this little useless zig-zag is to connect it to Independence Park with a two million dollar extension, and the problem is solved.

Here’s the City’s plan:

But how is that supposed to work, exactly? If you look at the City’s proposal image above you can easily see that the Phase I part doesn’t even line up with the would-be Phase II to the west, indicated above by the arrow. But the asphalt alleyway does.

Uh, oh. It’s Fullerton, Jake…

This would have meant that Phase I isn’t even finished and would require further modification, a scope of work not discussed by anybody, not shown on the plan above, not budgeted, and one that would mean the horror of a bike trail running alongside the existing paved road to get to Highland Avenue. And then of course there’s the problem of actually getting across Highland and traffic line of sight safety – another impediment to recreational fun.

While the questions of Phase I’s utility and connectivity to Phase II are now, fortunately, moot, it’s instructive to observe the design failure and the real truth: this would never have been a connection to any other part of eastern Fullerton or linkage to any regional trail plan as relentlessly cited by staff. The only way Phase I was useful was its availability to justify an extension. Unless you were to look at an actual map.

The Scam

Disillusioned Ex-Hippy has just written a nice piece about how the Voice of OC got conned into publishing a completely one-sided story on the defeated Trail to Nowhere, replete with the same falsehoods being printed by Saskia Kennedy and her mother, Sharon, who are responsible for the editorials of the Fullerton Observer.

The narrative is simple: poor, underserved Latinos are fighting City Hall to get “nice things.” Of course it was lapped up by Voice reporter Hosam Elattar who took the bait and the hook along with it. The whole thing is a genuine and popular uprising of hard working folk taking time away from their jobs, etc., etc.

But there’s a problem with this story, one that we already know about. And that is that the ongoing “protest,” such as it is, was ginned up by D5 councilman Ahmad Zahra to embarrass his political opponents on the Fullerton City Council. And this little scheme has been aided and abetted by the Kennedy clan every step of the way.

So get this.

On October 4th the Fullerton Observer is inviting people to show up at Independence Park that afternoon to talk about ways to improve Fullerton. No mention is made of protest signs and walks along the railroad tracks with narration provided by one Egleth Nunnci, Zahra’s loyal, go-to Latina foot soldier. Anyone seeing this message might believe they were going to discuss improving Independence Park and would hardly expect to hear the propaganda that has nothing to do with Independence Park. Neither would they expect a photojournalist (and maybe even a reporter) to be in attendance to report on a political protest, with signs handed out for fun.

What a sad, albeit sort of funny little scam, but just the sort of small-scale chisel Zahra watchers have come to expect. Now, it’s likely that nobody seeing that message even showed up, and that the trail hikers were all Zahra brand crisis actors. Nevertheless, the willingness to deliberately mislead citizens like this is pretty reprehensible even for the self-important and self-righteous Kennedy family.

Voice of OC Played By Trail to Nowhereists

Addendum: I apologize for not providing a link to the story in Voice of OC. Here it is. And after reading it again and Elattar’s phone interview with the egregious Egleth, I really have to wonder if he even went to the site at all. Why would he have to call her if he was there listening to her nonsense? Could this whole tale be simply the result of phone interviews? If so, that would be pretty bad, and seeing Leopo’s pictures still should have made his journalist’s antennae go sideways – if he has any.

DE-H

People who read the online news source known as the Voice of OC know that it reflexively leans toward stories that promote the notion of the local underdog up against monied interests entrenched in the corridors of power.

And that’s okay – up to a point. And that point is crossed when their “reporters” buy into some shenanigan or other without delving at all into the issues. It’s the narrative that counts, of course: rich vs. poor, good vs. evil, and the narrative must not change.

And so when Voice of OC reporter Hosam Elattar got a call from Ahmad Zahra (or one of his brain-washed followers) about the “popular” uprising in Fullerton about a rejected “greening” grant it must have been irresistible. And so the Voice scribe showed up for some sort of Trail to Nowhere romp where the usual suspects – Egleth Nunnci and Saskia Kennedy of Fullerton Observer infame – were ready for him, with a gaggle of followers bearing the usual “home made” signs of protest.

Over there is the run and play and enjoy railroad tracks. We need that fresh air. (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr. Elattar to ask why protesters with signs were parading down the abandoned UP right-of-way where exactly nobody could see them, except Julie Leopo, the Voice “photojournalist.” A real reporter, or an honest one at this point would know he was being played. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to inquire into Nunnci’s absurd statement that he later published:

“This is an area that is overpopulated, overdeveloped – where people are not thinking about green spaces,” Nuncci said. “Mental health (issues) are happening because our children don’t have the opportunity to go and play and run and enjoy.”

The trail didn’t go anywhere, but it sure was short…

Elattar didn’t ask why those poor, mentally affected kids couldn’t “play and run and enjoy” themselves in nearby Richman Park or Lemon Park or Independence Park. Nor did he inquire into the question of how these little victims of society were going to get to the Trail to Nowhere, since only one street – three short blocks of Truslow Avenue – is closer to the right-of way than to Richman Park or Independence Park. And he didn’t bother to notice, or at least inquire about the graffiti and ask Ms. Nunnci if maybe the industrial zone with its obvious blight, might not be the best place to build a linear park. The Leopo pictures themselves betray the problem by showing the beloved Trail to Nowhere as it runs along the no man’s land next to and lower than the Santa Fe mainline tracks.

Did Elattar bother to continue along the route to see what it passed through? Did he even bother to look at a google satellite image?

Did Elattar bother to interview any of the residents of the adjacent Liberty Walk community at the western end to find out if they were even notified of the Trail to Nowhere proposal that had lights shining into their backyards? What about SOCO Walk on the eastern end? Did he ask anybody who actually lived on Truslow whether they would use this silly facility? Why would he do that? He already had his tale from the get-go.

Elattar, moreover, took it as gospel that this rump trail would have provided connectivity to other trails and “several parks.” It would not have – previous lies that even City staff have finally abandoned, although The Fullerton Observer keeps using to dupe the gullible kids and the elderly Observers who just can’t know better.

And finally I would be remiss if I didn’t share this charming image:

Why just write about stuff when you can try to make your own news! (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

This is Saskia Kennedy, directing traffic for her photo op actors, creating the news before her Fullerton Observer writes opinion “news” articles about it.

One hopes that Hosam Elattar’s superiors at the Voice of OC cotton on to the scam pulled on their ace reporter and advise him to delve into the issue more closely. But I’m not counting on it.

The Poison Trail to Nowhere?

Is it safe? Is it clean?

Is the ground under the now deceased Trail To Nowhere polluted with a toxin that nobody bothered to tell our City Council about?

I don’t know. But I do know that the question came up the other day and has the ring of truth to it.

In the last FFFF post about a bike trail that runs parallel to the now dead Trail to Nowhere, one of our Friends by the name of Observer pointed out the existence of trichloroethylene contamination at 311 South Highland Avenue and provided a handy link to a government website that indicates polluted sites.

Sure enough, 311 S. Highland Avenue is indicated on the map, and this address runs adjacent to the proposed trail west of Highland Avenue. The blue square represents an active contaminated address.

A trail runs through it…

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used as a solvent for degreasing metal parts during the manufacture of a variety of products. This is really nasty stuff, and was used by manufacturers of circuit boards to clean stray solder and other unwanted material off the boards. Guess what? Hughes used to make circuit boards on this property several decades ago.

Did our crack city staff know about this situation? If they did, they sure weren’t talking. We know that 20 years ago the same folks bought the former UP property without doing any due diligence – which is why the UP Park had to be closed right after construction for remediation of toxins and gained the moniker “Poisoned Park.” Did anybody in City Hall learn anything from that previous disaster?

The test of that question is whether anyone commissioned a so-called Phase I Environmental Study, used to assess potential environmental issues on a given property, in this case, the long, skinny trail site. If they had they surely would have discovered the history of 311 S. Highland, and that it was long ago identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as contaminated. At that point a Phase II study should have been conducted to determine if indeed, the long UP right-of-way was contaminated like the eastern end of the UP property was.

Of course, none of this was discussed at the City Council meetings pertaining to the State grant or the trail design; fortunately Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung made the right decision without knowing any of the back story about the proposed trail’s neighbors.

Tanned, rested, and ready.

There is more to be learned about what happened, or, to be more precise, what didn’t happen in this process. Rest assured, our crack team of investigators will be pursuing this issue, and as we learn more we’ll be reporting what we know with the Friends.