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.

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.

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.

dick-jones
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?

Suffering The Stolen Sidewalk Saga

Gone, but not quite forgotten…

Two months ago I reminded the Friends that the never-ending story of the stolen Commonwealth public sidewalk was alive and well. The provocation was a closed session agenda item listed as “significant exposure to litigation” between the City of Fullerton and Mr. Mario Marovic, the owner of the building at the northeast corner of Harbor and Commonwealth. Marovic had submitted some sort of claim against the good folk of Fullerton, often an aggressive gambit to stall and temporize.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

A quick rehash of the facts: Marovic took over the space from the decamped Florentine crime family and immediately gained access to the “bump out” on the sidewalk; and he then began remodeling it along with the rest of the first floor space for his new bars. He had no authority to do so because, of course, the City acquired responsibility to dispose of the building add-on after the Florentine’s bugged out on their lease with the City. In his application for CUPs for the new bars Marovic even included the City owned space as his own.

In the late summer of 2022 Marovic was well-along with his remodel even though his CUP hadn’t been approved, but the issue of the egregious bump out resurfaced, thanks to FFFF. In September, 2022 the City and Marovic reached an agreement that was signed by Eric Leavitt, our esteemed City Manager, and not the Mayor at the time, Fred Jung.

The terms of the agreement were simple enough, and FFFF has shared them before. The thrust of the deal was that Marovic could open his new bars (including the bump out) and he would then undertake to remove the bump out and restore the public sidewalk. Here is the actual clause describing terms and deadlines of the deal:

As you can see, demolition was to have begun at the end of March, 2023 – almost ten months ago – and be the rework complete by July, 2023 – five months ago. Marovic opened his businesses, alright, but never started demolition, and probably didn’t meet any of the other deadlines, either.

A little late, Kimberly…

So when is an agreement not an agreement? Apparently, when it’s written and approved as to form and content by Kimberly Hall Barlow, the obnoxious member of Dick Joneses “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm” crew.

I almost know what I’m doing…

It’s interesting to note that Barlow didn’t approve the six month old agreement until March, 2023 – 4 days before demolition was to supposed to have started.

Of course Dick Jones and his fine stable of attorneys have been bungling the case of the stolen sidewalk from the very beginning, including personal conflict of interest, embracing ludicrous legal rationale at the behest of the Florentines, and even countenancing forgery on an official City document by Joe Florentine.

Still, one has to wonder what our elected officials themselves have done about this. Clearly the unwillingness of the City to enforce a legal agreement, signed by Marovic stems from fear of legal action. But Marovic is undeniably in breach of the contract he voluntarily signed, even though there is zero evidence that it was signed in good faith.

The City can and should begin the process of revoking Marovic’s CUP, the permit that has allowed him to make a lot of money over the last 10 months while failing to live up to his side of the bargain. As owner of the bump out the City has every right, at least, to revoke the CUP that covers its own property, as gotten fraudulently.

The City can also notify Marovic that it intends to remove the building addition itself, since he won’t do it, and bill the scofflaw for the cost.

dick-jones
Staying awake long enough to break the law…

Of course neither of these remedies will take place, because this is Fullerton, where the elected officials are feckless and beholden to the Downtown Liquor Cartel; and because they insist on, decade after decade, following the dismal advice of Dick Jones.

A Walk on the Wild Side: The Sights and Sounds and Smells of the Trail to Nowhere

So, the other day I decided to take a trip along the Trail to Nowhere, the second phase of a supposed recreation trail that doesn’t even line up with the disastrous failure known as Phase I.

FFFF has shared lots of images of the proposed trail, yet hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the, er, ahem, colorful neighborhood through which it passes. Well, “neighborhood” isn’t quite the right word to use, because except for a couple of Truslow Avenue house backyards it is bordered on both sides by land zoned for industry with all of the sorts of uses, legal and non-permitted, one might expect.

Of course we’ve read all about the ill-designed and ill-conceived Phase I, ballyhooed by City staff as the predecessor that makes Phase II inevitable. Well, plausible, anyway. Phase I is a repository of graffiti, garbage, and occasional residents. The start of this alleged trail is on the old UP bridge over Harbor Boulevard. FFFF readers may remember this site as the nocturnal murder of a gentleman.

Murderer’s Row…
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…

The complete lack of maintenance on Phase I ought to have been a warning to our City Council. But it hasn’t even been noticed. The pungent smell of human urine permeates the weeds behind the Elephant Packing House. But, so what? It’s trail-ish.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.

The view looking westward from Phase I isn’t promising. Here you see that Phase I doesn’t even line up with the proposed Phase II corridor; and the slope of Highland Avenue as it dips down to its railroad underpass makes the cross-slope ADA non-compliant.

The Phase I trail has disappeared.

Crossing Highland (damn, watch out for traffic!), we get to Phase II. FFFF has already shared multiple posts about soils contamination in this location. There are lots of testing wells for carcinogenic Trichlorethylene (TCE), but nobody in City Hall seems to be concerned about moving and exporting, or alternatively, remediating these soils. It certainly isn’t in the project budget submitted in the grant application to the State.

Well, well, well…

The folks who frequent the Trail to Nowhere habitually leave evidence of their presence.

Further west we get a glimpse back eastward of the long, blank backsides of old industrial buildings, a view not likely to cause cries of elation among the brainwashed green grass/blue skies crowd.

Is it safe? Is it clean?

Across Richman Ave in our westward trek is where things really get fun. Razor wire seems to be the decoration of choice among the junkyards in this segment of the Trail to Nowhere.

Small auto/tire use is prevalent along the trail, of course. And more backsides of buildings.

The trees won’t block the view…
You mean there’s more?

As we press onward we see the view of more businesses that we would enjoy if we were recreating on the trail.

Bring on the niños.

There’s a metal coating business along the route, and even an asphalt plant! The odors are unmistakable, and the industrial education value is priceless!

Smell that smell, bike riders.

We would be remiss if, at this point, we didn’t pause to pay our respects to Emmanuel Perez, fate still unknown.

RIP

A bit later we come across a long masonry wall on which some talented young urban artists have left their mark for aesthetic posterity.

Sure is colorful…
Garbage in, garbage out. Indeed.

The final four or five hundred yards of our journey run parallel to the Burlington Northern/ Santa Fe main line tracks that run about 50 feet away, and about 3 feet higher than the “walking and bike” trail. I leave it to each reader to judge the propriety of this strip as a positive recreational opportunity. But see below for the “sound” part of the program.

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

Now, finally, we arrive at our all-important destination. The back corner of an empty Independence Park parking lot. This is a park you might want to go to if you lived in this part of Fullerton; but really, what soft-headed urban adventurer would choose this route?

You have arrived at your destination.

Finally I offer a sample of the auditory delights awaiting the hopeful recreation enthusiast on the Trail to Nowhere – apart from the sounds of auto repair, metal work, spray painting and tire changing. The BNSF mainline freight trains rumble alongside our trail, and are not shy in expressing their presence. You can barely hear yourself think. These trains are often a mile long.

Now Gentle Friends, my photo essay is over, and my duty to show Fullertonions the ambiance adjacent to the proposed Trail to Nowhere is fulfilled. Most people, when asked, would say an old railroad right-of-way conversion to a rec trail is good, because it is good – in principle. But folks perusing these images would be well-advised to traverse the strip themselves, perhaps with police escort; and, after enjoying the sights and sounds and smells, consider whether or not the Trail to Nowhere should be redeveloped with the area, in a thoughtful broader plan, instead of the way it proposed now; and, whether the State grant money might be better spent elsewhere.

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.