What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Downtown Fullerton saw a ribbon cutting this week for “Madero.” It’s not a new place. It used to called “Matador” but an El Matador already existed in Costa Mesa and the story goes that Mario Marovic, proprietor of the Fullerton place, got sued and had to change the name of his establishment. So an event was held and here’s the scene:

All smiles…

The guy with the green hat is Mario Marovic. That name sure rings a bell.

Right. He’s the scofflaw who got caught squatting on the City’s property on Commonwealth Avenue – the legacy of the Tony Florentine sidewalk theft. When that came out Marovic made a deal with the City to remove the egregious “bump-out” and to be complete by July 2023. Oops. Nothing has even started, 14 months after the start of work deadline. And we know that the City Council has been presented with some sort of legal claim by Marovic, because it was on their Closed Session agenda.

And who is the little guy on the left standing next to Marovic? Why it is none other than the District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra, dressed in his usual ribbon-cutting attire, palling around with Marovic and even giving him some sort of City proclamation!

Will not work for new clothes…

Now, we all know that little Ahmad is a notorious attention hound and desperate photo-op seeker. We also know that a City Council agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But this is really too much. Marovic is still squatting on public property and it looks like no one in City Hall has the balls to enforce an agreement signed by Marovic himself. Instead the City seems to be actively socializing with him.

The Opportunity Site

A few days back I shared a couple of upcoming agenda items that the City Manager had forecast for the May 21st Fullerton City Council meeting.

I observed the reference to a development agreement with some entity called “Frontier” and also to an item simply called “Fox Block.” The two are related, but oddly, not listed together. Fullerton being Fullerton.

What I didn’t notice at the time was another item called “Chapman Parking Lease” another non-descriptive term, possibly not meant to attract attention.

A helpful Friend point out my oversight and got me thinking. Chapman parking? What the Hell is that? Then the other shoe dropped. There is a city-owned parking structure on the south side of Chapman Avenue, between Lemon and Pomona. It was built by the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency back in the ’90s the heyday of Fullerton Redevelopment, when they had so much money they could build parking structures that nobody even needed. Could this be what the cryptic agenda item referred to? Supposedly the facility was meant to help out Fullerton JC and maybe this is the entity with whom a lease was worked out.

The Junior College District has now built parking structures of its own, using our property tax increases to do it. Maybe the Chapman structure is now superfluous.

Could be. Check this out:

This satellite image has been used to accompany information/propaganda relating to the development known as the “Fox Block.” And the violet shape over in the lower left side of the image is the parking structure.

Hmm. Can this possibly be the site of yet another butt-ugly, monstrously overbuilt, under-parked housing project? Why not? It would be the only part of a Fox Block fiasco that could be worth anything to anybody. And since the City can no longer hand over piles of cash to “developers,” they can certainly hand over free land, enriched by the necessary zone changes.

I’m sure it’s all a big secret now. But in a couple days the May 21st agenda will be posted and maybe we can find out what “Frontier,” whatever that is, might be getting gratis from the people of Fullerton.

Coming to a Theater Near You

On this week’s Fullerton City Council agenda I caught a glimpse of the upcoming May 21st agenda forecast:

AGENDA FORECAST (Tentative)
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

  • APRIL 2024 CHECK REGISTER
  • MONTHLY COMMITTEE ACTIVITY AND ATTENDANCE REPORT
  • DISPOSITION AND DEVELOPMENT AMENDMENT FRONTIER
  • COSTA COURT AREA STREET REHABILITATION PROJECT
  • ALL CITY MANAGEMENT SERVICES CONTRACT
  • SENATE BILL 1383 COMPLIANCE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVICES AND PROGRAMS
  • CHAPMAN PARKING LEASE
  • FOX BLOCK
  • REVENUE OPTIONS

Not all that interesting until you get to the bottom.

Yeah, it was ugly as sin, but there sure was a lot of it…

The Fox Block, a never ending saga and a classic example of a tail wagging a dog. For years the “rehabilitation” of the historic Fox Theater structure has been used to support all sorts of God-awful lunacy, including residential land acquisition and demolition, new grotesque clown architecture, and the six million dollar relocation of the McDonalds restaurant a couple hundred feet to the east. The “Fox Block,” as the boondoggle came to be known, is a living fossil of the bad old Redevelopment days, when any nonsense could be got away with by City staff playing with Monopoly money. Damn accountability. It’s the Fox Block!

Why this is on the agenda is as yet unknow, but I noticed that one of our Friends “Fullerton Historian” suggested it may have to do with extending a development agreement or some other similar concept. Then I saw the third bullet point above: Disposition and Development Amendment with Frontier. “Frontier?” That’s all? What is this? Frontier Real Estate is our “partner” on the Fox Block, meaning we’re probably taking the risk and they’re goon get any reward – if there is any.

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

And finally we see an item simply called “Revenue Option” an oatmealy sort of phrase, but one that FFFF has already discussed. At this meeting the City Manager, Eric Levitt, will try (without too much unseemly enthusiasm) to tie dangling threads heretofore described here: a push poll created to drum up support for enhanced public services; a review of the likelihood that general sales tax might pass at 50%; and a precipitous budgetary cliff looming ahead.

See where this is going? Let’s see who stands up and demands that for our own good we must have a tax increase.

Congrats to Fullerton Planning Commission

It’s pretty rare when one of our commissions really does its job, so when they do I’m happy to advertise the fact. Last week the Fullerton Planning Commission re-reviewed the noise ordinance that was kicked back to them by the City Council for further consideration, and they excelled themselves.

Their performance was so rewarding it almost makes me want to overlook the first time this group unanimously passed virtually the same proposed ordinance in November, 2023. This time they really took their jobs seriously.

The staff report for the item, given by some guy named Edgardo, was the same nonsense they pitched before, and they essentially asked the Commission to rubber stamp it yet again.

But this time there is a problem. It seems that no matter how many words they throw at the issue, staff can’t talk around their own complete lack of effort at code enforcement in Downtown Fullerton. They admit it now, claiming (without a shred of evidence) that the existing noise level is unsupportable in court, and begging the question of why amplified music is then allowed outdoors at all – it wasn’t for decades. We were informed that a “vibrant” downtown (pictures of happy people) requires more noise, not less. The underlying theme was the usual tripe: DTF is an economic asset whose saloon proprietors must be coddled at all cost. Look the other way, fast!

Incredibly, our new friend Edgardo informed the Commission that current levels of noise are acceptable to the citizenry based on the fact that so few complaints are lodged. Complete balderdash, of course. Naturally the bald declaration of “acceptability” was unsupported by any complaint data, suggesting that if there is a record, it is an embarrassing one. And the Commission learned from public speaker Joshua Ferguson that the City doesn’t bother with code enforcement and almost never has, leading Commissioner Patricia Tutor to wonder if this lack of responsiveness might have caused citizens to give up complaining.

One poor lady, the owner of Les Amis was there to push for the proposal. Unfortunately, as she admitted, she does live music in her establishment without the benefit of the required entertainment permit. Oops. Code enforcement to the rescue!

Local hero…

Tony Bushala got up to speak, sharing his story of being driven out of his downtown home due the noise. He also produced a lengthy list of errors and omissions in the proposed ordinance and stuff that was just contradictory. It turns out that the public and the Commission were not presented with a complete underline/strike-out version, showing pretty clearly that counsel Baron Bettenhauser of the I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm, had not, as he claimed, looking up from his cell phone, read the damn thing.

Edgardo and Baron work their magic…

One zoom caller named Maureen said the smartest thing of the night. She actually suggested that without actually hearing the sound on site, she (and presumably everybody else) was at a loss to really fathom the mystery of decibel levels.

Tutor tutors staff.

Commissioner Tutor was particularly effective in asking pertinent questions, one of which, was how come, after 10pm when music is supposed to move indoors, isn’t the decibel level lowered. A really commonsensical question. She didn’t get a commonsensical answer. The acoustical consultant from some operation called Dudek explained that during their noise collection procedure, that seemed to be the general noise level.

What’s going on here?

Oops again. Commissioner Cox pounced on the fact that the collected data was based on a noise level that was one, currently illegal; and two, based on a situation where there is no code enforcement, thus kicking up the noise level that staff was claiming was acceptable! He didn’t say so, but it was pretty clear that Mr. Dudek Guy had been receiving coaching from staff on the noise levels they found acceptable.

Mansuri ain’t buying it.

The other main sticking point was where to measure noise from – a certain distance from the noise source or a certain distance from the property line; two choices were offered with the greater distance being recommended. Commissioner Mansuri was unpersuaded by staff. That issue tied everybody up in knots off and on for the better part of an hour. Finally it was concluded that the noise sampling site needed a rethink.

Thanking God it’s over…

Finally, mercifully, Commissioner Arnel Dino moved that the whole thing come back in May with the entire code changes organized and clarified and that in the interim the Planning Commissioners would go out themselves with decibel monitors and experience for themselves the problems of sound accumulation, reverberation, etc. So that’s what is going to happen. Imagine that – first hand experience without the muddled abstraction of decibel levels on a piece of paper.

As usual it was obvious that our hand-wringing staff was pursuing their path of least residence by raising sound thresholds, making it harder to enforce even that, and refusing to enforce the requirements of the bar-owners’ entertainment permits – things like closing doors and windows. How many times have we seen staff guide the consultant they chose to get what they want? Happens all the time. And how many times must the public be subjected to uninformed or misinformed opinion passed along as Gospel truth by our public employees? Happens all the time. And when will the City Council demand honesty and competence from its bureaucrats? I’m afraid we all know the answer to that.

Fullerton, being Fullerton.

An Unhappy Anniversary

And what anniversary might that be, Friends may be asking.

Not gone, but almost forgotten…

This Wednesday, March 27th, marks the one-year anniversary of a deadline date agreed to by the City of Fullerton and one Mario Marovic, a downtown bar owner. Not much of a deadline, huh?

Hey, that’s not yours!

By March 27th, 2023, Mr. Marovic was required to have started demolition of the so-called “bump out,” an illegally constructed room addition built by the Florentine Mob two decades ago on City property. Marovic had gotten rid of the Florentines, finally, but decided that the leasehold on the room addition was somehow ripe for the encroaching. So he began remodel work on the leasehold right along with the rest of the building that he does own.

Busted.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

But Fullerton being Fullerton, where nothing seems to be done right in City Hall, and where downtown scofflaw saloon owners do whatever the Hell they please, Marovic seems to have decided that the deadline meant, and means, nothing. And why should he believe otherwise? He has seen firsthand how the City bureaucracy and the City Attorney bent all the way over for the Florentines – instead of making them obey the law.

Well, the Earth has made an entire revolution of the Sun.

The City Council may occasionally talk about this in their hush-hush, top secret “Closed Session” meetings, but the public is not to know what is happening, even as our money and property are being frittered away. We do know that Marovic has threatened a claim against the City, but so what? Why would that be cause for the City to ignore Marovic’s breech of contract and seize the public property that Marovic encroached on illegally?

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

The reason could be that our esteemed lawyer, Dick Jones of The I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm, believes upholding agreements is not a winning strategy. Of course this third rate pettifogger has won so few cases for us, and has lost so many that we may feel confident questioning his judgment.

Or, it could be that the feckless and spineless City Council has been individually persuaded by Marovic that it’s in their best interest to ignore the deal, and that they should just let Marovic keep raking in the bucks thanks to a Conditional Use Permit that was contingent upon the removal of the room addition.

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?

The Walk on Wilshire

Closed but not forgotten…

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

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

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

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

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

Put it back the way it was…

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

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

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

The Trail to Nowhere Grant Application. A Tissue of Lies

Oh, the potential!

As you might expect, the application form is boilerplate and gives the applicant the opportunity to pick questions that put its proposal in the best light. Reading it gives one the impression that the State doesn’t do a lot of particular investigation; takes applications at face value, assuming applicant to be honest; and doesn’t condescend to concern itself with real field investigations.

The application is replete with traffic and demographic data of the most useless sort. This tripe can be dismissed as bureaucratic string tying and gobbledegooking. The literary answers in it sounds like somebody describing the Yellow Brick Road leading to the fabulous Emerald City.

But there are specific questions on the application that are germane to effective spending of public money, and the answers elicited shed light into the mindset of our Parks Department personnel.

Let’s look at Lie Collection #1. The City is asked to describe boonful economic impacts of the Trail to Nowhere:

Visit local businesses? What the Hell? Like the back of industrial buildings and junk yards? Countless opportunities for economic renewal and growth? Name just one along this dismal “trail.” We now know the proposed “trail” doesn’t even line up with Phase I, a fact omitted in the project budget and description. We also know it doesn’t go east past the abandoned park and doesn’t reach the Transportation Center. An affordable way to travel? For whom, for God’s sake? And how much does it cost to walk to Independence Park, using safe streets? That’s right, nothing. The “trail” links no disadvantaged community with schools (there aren’t any), or local businesses, and of course the “trail” doesn’t get to the Transportation Center. It stops at Harbor Boulevard.

Here’s another packet of misinformation, Lie Collection #2. Get a load of this.

Somehow the author of this application “anticipates” 105,000 users annually, an astonishing 288 users each and every day – 24 every daytime hour. In order to get where? Why to the back parking lot in the northeast corner of Independence Park, that’s where. The statistics thrown into the mush to support this nonsense are of the most generic kind, and .prove nothing. Of course we already know that there is no physical linkage to the half-circle north of the tracks. Calling this strip an “active transportation corridor” is hysterically funny to anyone who has walked the abandoned right-of-way.

I included the paragraph above the c.2 in the snippet just to show the repetition of the lies and the nonsense that this “trail” would be used, miraculously, by bus and train riders. There are no points of connection from the “trail” to either service. And notice that the application includes the names of all sorts of disembodied parks that are nowhere near the “trail” and that are not remotely accessible to it.

Is it safe? Is it clean? Who cares? It’s a transportation corridor!

Now we arrive at Lie Collection #3. This is more of the same rubbish.

This block of lies is nothing but a bureaucratic word salad of nonsense and misinformation. It’s comical that the described location of Independence Park is actually where the large DMV facility is located. You’d think the Parks Department would know where their parks are, but this geographical illiteracy may explain how the “trail” proposal was cooked up in the first place. And we know the “trail” provides no access to Richman Park, and of course the Big Lie about connectivity to Downtown Fullerton, the High School and Fullerton College must be repeated, and repeated and repeated – ad nauseam.

A trail runs through it…

Lie Collection #4 is crucial to understanding how this grant was approved, rather than booted out the door with guffaws of laughter.

Whether this hot mess was really “shovel ready” as confidently asserted here is a matter of conjecture, based on the presence of carcinogenic toxins adjacent and below a significant part of the “trail.” But observe in the red box how the application writer avers that some sort of “Environmental Review process” was completed in 1998, and how no elements of the “trail” were found to require mitigation. There’s a body buried here and it’s toxic, too. We know this claim is a lie because the UP Park was acquired at the same time as the linear right-of-way, and was found to be contaminated much later – in the 2000s, demanding that we accept the idiocy that the “trail” was tested in 1998, but the park site was not. It’s an inescapable conclusion that no environmental “process” was undertaken by the City in 1998 at all. Furthermore, we know that two recent Public Records Act requests for specific information about testing on the “trail” returned no relevant documents. This means that if any documents for Environmental Phase I and Phase II research and testing were performed in 1998, the City is withholding that documentation. Or, alternatively, no documentation exists, meaning that the claim in the application couldn’t have been verified.

Finally, the application conveniently omits any mention of TCE contamination along part of it, and under it, a fact well-known in City Hall and by the State of California for decades.

Wow, this makes my lies about myself look like amateur stuff.

And that leads to a significant question: would the State ever have approved a grant based on this dodge about environmental assessment? I seriously doubt it.

Fortunately the question is moot so far as the future of the infamous Trail to Nowhere is concerned. That proverbial train pulled out of the station with the wise vote by Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker. That’s not what these series of posts have been about. They are about what goes on in City Hall, how decisions are made, or, as the case may be, not made; how there seems to be be little or no accountability for things that are done poorly, illegally, illogically, and untruthfully.

And that’s why FFFF is here.

The Strange Tale of Johnny Lu’s Grant Deeds

Enhanced with genuine brick veneer!

By now Fullerton City Hall is aware that their partner in a boutique hotel/apartment high-rise on Santa Fe Avenue, TA Westpark LLC, is in trouble. TA Westpark Fullerton., AKA Johnny Lu has defaulted on a massive loan, previously borrowed to complete projects in Irvine.

Why is Johnny smiling?

The fallout from this embarrassment remains unknown, although there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and sooner rather than later.

One of the questions involves the transfer of the public property ownership at the site to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC before proper project approval, a desperate, and of course, totally unnecessary act. And the actual documents supporting ownership of the land in question need to be examined, too.

On December 22, 2022 the City sold the land at a huge discount to Lu. Check out the grant deed:

By now Craig Hostert, whose brain-child the boutique hotel was, is scratched out and TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a Delaware corporation, is the proud owner of the land and the transfer is signed by a “managing partner” of a whole other entity – “TA Partners.” Looks like Hosteret was bought out or walked away, abandoning his baby.

But, as they say in the infomercial, wait, there’s more. A quick check of the State of Delaware’s corporations roster doesn’t turn up any results for TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC. Hmm.

No responsive records…

And here’s something else. A few months later a new grant deed was promulgated and recorded at the County of Orange. Here, the hard to find Delaware corporation deeds the land in question over to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a California corporation.

Something is odd here, and it’s not just the amateur hour handwritten changes on the original deed. Did the City sell this property to a non-existent corporate entity? If so, hasn’t some sort of fraud occurred? Why the shell game here, and could the original deed be considered invalid in retrospect?

No, I wasn’t asleep. I was praying…

We could ask these question of Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm” law firm, because I doubt the City Council will make inquiries of their ace lawyer. Getting an honest answer from ol’ marble mouth? A rare and precious jewel.

Some might think this entire fiasco is going to get worse before it gets better. I’m not sure how that’s possible.

Ground Zero for Inertia

My latest essay detailed the problem of corporate inertia and described how Fullerton’s government as a corporate body displays all the problems associated with stagnation, ossification and an inability do things any differently. And then of course, there’s the arrogance and secretiveness.

Here’s a prime example of a culture that is in need of electric shock therapy.

Last April I wrote a post about how the the City and property owner Mr. Mario Marovic had come to an agreement in the fall of 2022 about the latter’s removal of the infamous Florentine hijack of the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue. In return, Marovic got to open his two new saloons on the corner.

We now know what a foolish bargain it was for the City.

Marovic was supposed to start demolition the last week in March. That was five and a half months ago. As of mid-September this has not started, and there is no sign that it will ever start. Why not?

Cheers!

Some people may suspect that Mr. Marovic has cast his bread upon the City Council water, so to speak, either above or below the table. But there is also a more likely scenario: the City is simply continuing to cover up its own incompetence in the long, sad history of the sidewalk theft.

No, I wasn’t asleep. I was praying…

And at the center of this tale? City Attorney Dick Jones, who is the only player who has been involved in this mess from the proverbial Day One, and who continues, no doubt, to dispense his legal wisdom that has been so disastrous, and has included turning a blind eye to his own conflict of interest, and justifying forgery of an official City application.

There’s also a bigger picture.

The government of Fullerton has developed a noxious habit of ignoring its own rules and regulations in the downtown area; it has systematically ignored the scofflaws who own the bars, and in fact has coddled and pampered them. Both bureaucrats and elected have continued to portray downtown Fullerton as an achievement, a great success, a municipal asset, when in fact, the saloon culture has never been anything but an annual $1.5 million drain on the City’s budget.

Of course the pages of FFFF are full of stories that confirm the nature of the stasis that defines our city’s governance. What is the solution? That’s the theme of a future post.